Determining your turntable’s cartridge compatibility can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re a casual listener.

Dozens of factors go into choosing the right cartridge, including generator type, trackability, mounting options, and others. You’ll also have to choose between bonded stylus vs. nude stylus, as well as round shank vs. square shank.

Without prior knowledge, these are far too much for a beginner to comprehend. Even audiophiles struggle with it, sometimes!

In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about turntable cartridge compatibility, including how to choose the right cartridge for your turntable for maximum sound performance.

Let’s dive right in!

What Cartridge Should I Buy for My Turntable?

Turntable cartridges come in two basic types: Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC). 

MM cartridges transfer mechanical vibrations directly into the cartridge’s magnet, while MC cartridges have a mobile coil within the magnetic field created by the fixed magnet.

Choosing the right cartridge all comes down to your home system, mount type, and budget.

How to Determine Turntable Cartridge Compatibility: Factors to Consider

Choosing the right cartridge for your turntable isn’t as straightforward as it may initially seem. There are multiple factors that go into the buying process, such as:

Generator Type

Turntable cartridges come in two main generator types: Moving Coil and Moving Magnet.

Moving Magnet

MM cartridges are the most common type of generator. They convert sound by connecting the vibrating needles to a fixed magnet, which creates a small electrical current in the coil.

MM cartridges are often more robust than MC cartridges. They produce a moderate to high output level and don’t need as much tracking force as the alternative, so they help reduce record wear.

MM cartridges are compatible with most household stereo equipment, including standard phono inputs. They also have a user-replaceable stylus, so you won’t have to replace the whole cartridge if the stylus wears out.

That said, MM cartridges are much heavier than MC setups. The cartridge’s high inductance can negatively compromise the flatness of frequency response, which results in less nuanced sound quality and lack of transient detail.

Moving Coil

Like MM cartridges, MC cartridges also move music through magnets and coils. However, the coils move when the stylus is reading the record instead of the magnet. The coils attached to the cantilever move within the field of the permanent magnet and the electrical generator.

MC cartridges have a lower mass than MM cartridges, resulting in less downward pressure and a more fluid movement. This means that the tracking, frequency response, and overall sound quality are more precise and high quality. 

Cartridges of this type are a lot more expensive than the standard MM. MC cartridges are extremely delicate, and thus more costly to manufacture. It’s for this reason that they’re usually only found in high-end turntables.

Turntable Cartridge

Because the coils are so light, MC cartridges have a lower output signal. As such, they require a phono preamp with an additional gain stage to listen to the sound they produce in full glory.

Unlike MM cartridges, the stylus of MC cartridges is near-impossible to replace without professional aid, resulting in more costs. This makes MC cartridges a bit of a tough sell, especially for casual listeners.

 But if you value sound quality over anything else, MC cartridges are the no-brainer option.

Mounting Type

When it comes to mounting, your choice depends on the system you already have and overall convenience. Turntable cartridges are available in P-mount and standard half-inch variations. 


Half-inch mounts, also known as standard mounts, are the most common type of mount. As the name suggests, these mounts have two screws located half an inch away. The screws are threaded through the cartridge body and secured to the headshell.

At the rear end of the cartridge’s body, four prongs of different colors are attached to the male plugs. The wires’ other ends are attached to the headshell plugs.

Half-inch cartridges are compatible with most modern turntables, including the recent models from Pro-Ject, Audio-Technica, Fluance, and U-Turn.

When it comes to installation, half-inch cartridges require a bit of patience. Since the screws are tiny, they can be difficult to properly install. You also have to properly connect the blue, red, green, and white cables from the cartridge to the headshell.

Must read: How to tell if turntable cartridge is bad?


P-mount cartridges don’t have screws on top, so they don’t require a headshell. Instead, they’re simply inserted into the arm and held in place with a screw near the end of the cartridge, through the tonearm.

This design makes them desirable for people who want a fuss-free installation. 


If you’re all for versatility, it might be best to get yourself a universal cartridge. It’s not the most common, but it does exist.

A universal cartridge has the same build as a p-mount, but it comes with a half-inch mount adaptor.

Popular universal cartridges include the Audio-Technica AT85EP and AT81CP.

Audio-Technica AT85EP Turntable Cartridge with Elliptical Stylus P Mount, 0.3 x 0.7 mil elliptical cartridge

Stylus Type

Another factor to consider when buying cartridges is the stylus type. There are dozens of stylus types on the market, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. Here are the most common ones you’ll encounter:

Conical Stylus

The vast majority of styluses come in conical form because they’re the easiest to manufacture.

As the name suggests, conical styluses have a spherical tip. They’re compatible with most entry- to mid-level turntables, as well as a select few older turntables that can play 75 RPM records with wider grooves.

As you might expect, conical styluses don’t produce the best sound. They pick up less detail and create heavier tracks on record grooves, resulting in quicker wear. However, they’re cheap and easy to replace—perfect for budget audiophiles, beginners, and casual listeners.


Elliptical styluses, also known as bi-radial, are the second-most common type of stylus.

The tip of elliptical styluses is polished and smaller in diameter, allowing them to pick up on subtle sonic information and create fewer grooves on records.

Audio-Technica AT81CP Replacement Phonograph Cartridge with Conical Stylus for P Mount Turntables

They track vinyl grooves with great precision, resulting in a more voluminous, enveloping sound.


Hyper-elliptical styluses, also known as stereohedron, Shibata, or fine line, have a sharper, more defined design to allow greater contact with record grooves.

When properly aligned, they offer incredible high-frequency performance, lower record wear, and improved tracking. They’re quite a bit more expensive than the former two options, with some costing double or even triple the price of elliptical styluses.

Hyper-elliptical styluses are developed and perfected by Japanese audio engineers, hence the term “Shibata” which was named after the Japanese inventor Norio Shibata. They’re best suited for turntables with four channels of sound.

Must read: How to align your turntable cartridge?


Micro-ridge, also known as micro-line, is the most advanced out of all stylus types.

Styluses with micro-ridge tips use a computer-designed multilevel “ridge” shape, similar to what you’d see in master discs.

They have extremely accurate tracking and even wearing, producing authentic, high-fidelity sound performance. They’re the rarest and most expensive type of stylus as they’re difficult to manufacture and perfect.

Bonded vs. Nude

In a bonded stylus, a diamond tip is glued onto a steel or metal shank on the cantilever. It doesn’t use a lot of diamond, so it’s less expensive to manufacture.

But with that comes one big disadvantage: because of its higher combined mass, it can negatively affect the transient response. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it produces low-quality sound, but it isn’t as defined or detailed.

Turntable Cartridge

On the other hand, nude styluses are manufactured entirely from diamond material. Naturally, they’re more expensive than their counterparts. They have a much lower mass than bonded styluses, so they track records more accurately.

Generally, bonded styluses are found in entry- to mid-level turntables while nude styluses are found in higher-quality styluses. Until 1977, nude styluses were made from actual diamonds. But that soon changed when artificial diamonds became an option.

Round Shank vs. Square Shank

For the uninitiated, the stylus shank is the section that connects the needle tip to the cantilever.

The round shank is the simplest and most common form of shank, often found in entry- to mid-level cartridges.

Its round shape makes it a bit more difficult to align when affixed to the cantilever, which can lead to misalignment. This makes them a bit more difficult to manage than the square shank stylus.

The square shank stylus costs quite a bit more than the round shank stylus, but it comes with one big advantage: precise alignment and mass reduction. So you won’t have to think too much when positioning the shank as it automatically aligns itself.

Are Styluses Universal?

Unless stated otherwise, styluses aren’t universal. Specific types are used on specific players, especially if the player is of high quality. As such, you should always use the right needle for your record player.

To find the correct needle for your record player, you can contact the manufacturer and ask them for a replacement or advice on recommended needle types.

You can also search online by inputting the full name of the record player including the model number, and tacking on “needle.” You’ll be given a list of results as well as real-life user recommendations and advice.

If your turntable is old with no identifying brand or model, visit a specialized turntable store and ask the employee for needle recommendations. You can also post a picture of the device on forums for audiophiles, like Steve Hoffman Music Forums.  

How Do I Know If My Cartridge or Stylus Needs Replacement?

You’ll know it’s time to replace your turntable cartridge and/or stylus through audible and physical indicators.

If your turntable cartridge/stylus is old or damaged, your records won’t sound as good as they did before. You’ll hear static, distortion, cracking, and fuzziness when playing music.

As for physical indicators, you’ll need to replace your cartridge or your cartridge’s stylus if the tip is crooked or misshapen. If you can’t tell, check the stylus under a microscope.

A crooked skips and jumps out of record grooves when it’s playing, so if you notice that happening a lot, you might want to check the stylus. 

Turntable cartridges don’t need to be replaced as often as the stylus, maybe once every five or so years. If the cartridge becomes wobbly, makes noise, or doesn’t play your records as it should, it’s time for a replacement. You’ll notice a significant change in audio quality and performance if you do.

If you’re buying a second-hand turntable, it’s always wise to replace the cartridge regardless of how new it looks. After all, you don’t know its history or how it had been cared for. Replacing the cartridge ensures the turntable works optimally and won’t damage your records.

Do All Turntables Have Removable Cartridges?

No, not all turntables have removable cartridges. Most entry-level turntables use a non-removable cartridge but support stylus replacements.

To check whether or not your turntable has a removable cartridge, look at your turntable’s tonearm. Do you see screws mounting the cartridge to the end of the arm? If so, then it’s replaceable. Determine if your turntable uses a half-inch or p-mount cartridge and go from there.

In most cases, the user manual will guide you through any replacements and give you a list of recommended cartridges.

Does Tracking Force Matter?

Yes, but it’s not as important as generator type, mounting type, stylus type, etc. These factors should always come first before tracking force.

Tracking force determines the amount of weight the cartridge sits on the vinyl. It is directly influenced by stylus shape, tonearm compatibility, and cartridge alignment.

Trackability is listed in micrometers (μm). The higher the trackability, the better. 

Users also read: Why Do Vinyl Records Sound High-Pitched

How Long Does a Cartridge Last?

The lifespan of your cartridge depends on many factors, including its frequency of use, material type, stylus type, and others.

Naturally, entry-level cartridges don’t last as long as expensive models. As such, they need to be replaced every three to five years.

High-end cartridges last nearly as long as the turntable itself, with an average lifespan of five to 10 years—sometimes longer, if fitted with nude shanks.