Cartridge 101: Parts of a Turntable

Cartridge 101: Parts of a Turntable

Record players are amazing devices that produce far better sound than CD players, cassette players, and MP3 players. For this reason, many audiophiles today still utilize an analog sound system to get the best listening experience possible.

Since the best sound possible can come from a vinyl record set up, anyone who has never heard a record player’s hi-fi sound during playback may wonder how it all works. If this is your first turntable purchase, it’s important to know the parts of the turntable. This will help you know what needs to be replaced if a component breaks.

Parts of a Turntable

The record player has changed quite a bit since the invention of the phonograph. However, most turntable parts are very different from the first one that was built in 1877. Let’s look at some of the parts of a turntable that you should be familiar with for high audio quality.

Isolation Feet

You need a solid foundation to build anything, whether it’s a tower made out of Legos, a concrete home, or a turntable. The feet on record players are often overlooked, but they serve an essential purpose to ensure that the record player does not vibrate during playback. The more stability the device has, the better the sound will be. The feet also help keep the record player from making full contact with another object. This prevents vibrations from transferring to the styli from external sources.

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The plinth is basically the base of the record player. It sits on the feet, but every other turntable part is located on the plinth. This part of the record player can be made out of wood, metal, or plastic material. A solid base will help to control resonance when records are played, but there are also hollow options that some DJs prefer. This hollowed-out space is ideal for housing electrical components that may be needed for certain types of music.

Drive System

The drive system, which is effectively the motor of the record player, will either use a direct drive or a belt drive design. With belt-drive systems, a belt goes around both the platter and the motor, so when the motor runs, the platter spins. Many audiophiles prefer this type of drive system because the motor creates a resonance that transfers to the vinyl and is often heard during playback. Unfortunately, the belt will need to be replaced from time to time with this option.

Direct-drive turntables are designed so that the platter sits directly on top of the motor. This means that instead of the belt driving the turntable, the motor does it directly. This style of direct drive system is ideal for DJs because with a higher level of torque, spinning records is easier.


The platter, also known as the turntable, is the part of the record player that the vinyl sits on during playback. The platter is often made of metal, acrylic, or glass, and each option sounds different. Metal platters like steel are not as resonant as aluminum. There is a metal rod in the center of the platter that stabilizes the vinyl as it’s played.

Tonearm and Cartridge

The tonearm and the cartridge work in tandem with one another to play the music on the vinyl. The tonearm is designed to pivot the phono cartridge from the outside of the record to the center. At one end, you will see the headshell, which holds the cartridge. The other end will have a counterweight to help adjust the amount of tracking force on the records. This end also has an anti-skate mechanism to offset any movement of the stylus and the phono cartridge during playback.

Some tonearms have a straight arm, while others are curved. Curved arms tend to have higher sound quality at both high and low-frequencies. DJs prefer to use straight arm technology because scratching is easier with this type of tonearm.

When it comes to turntable cartridges, there are two schools of thought about which of the two available types are better: moving coil vs moving magnet. Moving magnet or MM cartridges are typically made with a removable stylus, which means they tend to be a cheaper option to produce. Moving coil or MC cartridges have a higher frequency response and tend to cost more.


The stylus is the needle of the record player that makes contact with the records. There are several different types of tips that a stylus might have, which include:

Spherical: This type of tip is rounded like a ballpoint pen. It is the least expensive option that you can purchase, so it’s easy to replace. The rounded radius of the tip is relatively large, so it traces less of the record. This makes it ideal for listening to higher frequencies. Since it only touches the vinyl at two points, this stylus’s overall wear is less than others.

Elliptical: Elliptical styli have two differing radii, which means there will be less distortion because the tracking is more precise. Since more of the needle touches the grooves of the vinyl, this type of stylus tends to wear more quickly than a spherical stylus.

Hyperelliptical: This type of stylus is also often called a Shibata Stylus. It has a sharp point that gets deeper into the grooves of the records. Because of better groove tracking, there is less wear on the records and the needle. This means that you won’t need to replace the needle as frequently. With this type of stylus, you’ll also get a higher frequency response and less distortion.

Microline: The microline stylus is the highest quality tip that you will find. It is designed to be very close to the shape of the cutter that cuts the grooves in the vinyl, so the performance is exceptional. The lifespan is also much longer with this type of stylus than with others. With such precision, they also tend to be the most expensive option.

Preamps and Amplifiers

The cantilever vibrates the stylus and creates an electrical signal that can be amplified by preamplifiers and amplifiers. Older audio receivers use phono preamps like you would see on an old gramophone. Still, newer models often use built-in preamps to pick up audio signals using cables inside the tonearm. To boost the sound quality of your records, try an external preamp – you won’t regret it. This allows you to determine both treble and bass sound frequencies with ease using RCA turntable jacks.

Always Cover Your Record Player

Now that you know all of the parts of a record player, it’s imperative that you use a dust cover to ensure that you get hi-fi sound quality the next time you play records.

This will help keep the dust off the needle and the platter when your record player is not in use.

It also ensures that dust is not transferred into the record grooves when playing vinyl records on the device.

Overall, knowing these parts and caring for them ensures that your turntable will give you the most powerful and faithful reproduction of your favorite records for years to come.


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