A guide to DJ cartridges

By in Features





Complete your vinyl set up with our cartridges guide.

You’ve got your home DJ turntable setup ready and are eager to dive into your vinyl collection, but you’re unsure about which DJ cartridges and stylus to buy. While most turntables come with basic components to get you started, upgrading your DJ cartridge and stylus can significantly enhance performance and sound quality.

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand the difference between a cartridge and a stylus. A DJ cartridge is the complete unit, including the housing for the needle and headshell, which attaches directly to the tonearm. The stylus, on the other hand, is just the needle and its housing, which mounts to a compatible cartridge. This is especially handy if you only need to replace a worn-out needle. However, not all DJ cartridges allow for stylus replacement, so if you have a fixed cartridge, you’ll need to replace the entire unit when the needle wears out.

DJ cartridges differ from regular home listening cartridges in several ways. They are designed to withstand the tasks of DJing, including scratching and back-cueing, and often have higher tracking ability and output voltage. These features ensure stability and reduce needle skipping during performance, which is crucial for DJs.

When selecting a new cartridge, consider your intended application. Whether you’re performing with analogue vinyl or a digital vinyl system (DVS) such as Serato or Rekordbox, there are options for both. It’s also important to think about whether the cartridge needs to be good for scratching–while there are versatile all-rounders available, choosing a cartridge tailored to your performance style will offer the best results.

Styli for DJ cartridges fall into two main categories: elliptical and spherical. Elliptical styles have greater contact with the record groove and produce rich and detailed sound, making them ideal for studio and club settings. Spherical styli offer better tracking ability, reducing needle skipping and staying in the groove during rapid record movements–making them perfect for scratching. Their shape also causes less vinyl wear and, if they have high output voltage, they’re well-suited for use with timecode records (DVS).

Beyond the stylus type, consider technical aspects like output voltage when purchasing a DJ cartridge. Higher output voltage means a louder audio signal, crucial for club settings or DVS use. Not all cartridges have a flat frequency response, which is associated with a balanced sound. Some emphasise the bass range–beneficial for a club environment.

Proper care will ensure your stylus lasts a long time. However, if you notice a decline in sound quality or tracking ability, simply replace the worn stylus with the correct model; there’s no need to replace the entire cartridge.

Audio-Technica AT-XP5 DJ Cartridge

Price: £74 / £148 for a pair.

Pros: Designed for maximum visibility of the stylus tip, aiding in cueing, fits standard half-inch mount turntables.

Cons: N/A

Verdict: The Audio-Technica AT-XP5 offers high output, durable build, and precise tracking making it a reliable choice for DJs needing excellent performance and stylus visibility.

The Audio-Technica AT-XP5 DJ Cartridge is a top-tier choice for DJs seeking reliability and performance. With a strong 5.5 mV output and durable polymer/glass fibre construction, it ensures robust and accurate sound reproduction. The elliptical bonded stylus and carbon fibre-reinforced cantilever deliver precise tracking, while the design maximises stylus visibility for easy cueing. Compatible with standard half-inch mount turntables, the AT-XP5 is ideal for active DJing, balancing durability and high-quality audio at a reasonable price of £74.

Stanton DS4

Price: £75 / £150 for a pair.

Pros: Durability, suitable for all DJing styles including scratching, mixing, and DVS.

Cons: Weight, high tracking force.

Verdict: The Stanton DS4 is an affordable, durable, versatile cartridge with excellent sound quality and high output, perfect for any DJ style.

This cartridge stands out for its durability and versatility, making it perfect for any beginner DJ style. Its fine circular diamond stylus ensures minimal record wear while delivering crystal-clear fidelity across a broad frequency range. The high output and enhanced tracking make it ideal for scratching, mixing, and DVS. Gold-plated tonearm connections further enhance performance. Despite being slightly heavier and requiring higher tracking force, the DS4’s exceptional build quality and sound clarity make it a top choice for discerning DJs.

Ortofon Concorde DVS

Price: £135 / £270 for a pair.

Pros: Optimised for digital vinyl, durable design, versatile, low record wear.

Cons: Primarily optimised for digital vinyl, which may not be necessary for analogue-only DJs.

Verdict: The Ortofon Digital Concorde MKII is excellent for digital DJ setups, offering durability, high output, and versatility while minimising record wear. A reliable, high-quality choice.

If you’re a DVS DJ this cartridge should be on your radar! This cartridge excels in digital DJ environments, optimised for systems like Serato and Traktor Scratch. It boasts a high output for stronger signals and superior sound quality, whether using digital or standard vinyl. The redesigned durable construction ensures longevity and better groove holding. Its wider grip area and easy connectivity make setup a breeze. Additionally, low record wear protects your vinyl collection. For both mixing and scratching, this cartridge delivers outstanding performance, making it a top choice for digital DJs.

Ortofon Club Concorde MKII DJ Cartridge

Price: £150 / £300 for a pair.

Pros: Durable, great sound, high output voltage.

Cons: Pricey, specialised stylus might not preferred by all DJs.

Verdict: The Ortofon Club Concorde MKII offers exceptional sound quality and durability, ideal for club DJs. Its high output and elliptical stylus enhance performance.

A top-tier choice for club DJs, offering exceptional sound quality and robust performance. The elliptical stylus provides detailed audio, making it perfect for both vinyl and digital DJing. With an increased output of 8 mV, it ensures vibrant sound while reducing preamp gain needs and minimising feedback in live settings. The redesigned body features a wider grip and robust construction, enhancing durability and ease of use. Though pricier, its performance and reliability justify the investment for DJs who are on the top of their game. 

Audio-Technica AT-XP7 DJ Cartridge

Price: £179 / £358 for a pair.

Pros: Elliptical stylus, stylus visibility: designed for maximum visibility of the stylus tip, aiding in cueing. Adjustable tracking force of 2-4 grams for optimal performance.

Cons: N/A

Verdict: The AT-XP7 offers high output, durability, and precise tracking, making it an excellent choice for professional DJs seeking reliable and high-quality audio performance.

The Audio-Technica AT-XP7 DJ Cartridge is a premium choice for DJs needing durability and exceptional performance. With a robust 6.0 mV output and a highly rigid PPS/glass fibre body, it ensures excellent sound reproduction. The elliptical bonded stylus and carbon fibre-reinforced cantilever provide precise tracking, while its design maximises stylus visibility for easy cueing. Featuring an adjustable tracking force of 2-4 grams, the AT-XP7 is tailored for active DJing. Though priced higher than the XP5, its superior quality and reliability make it worth the investment for serious DJs.

Taruya 08M Black Cartridge

Price: £185 / £370 for a pair.

Pros: Versatile tracking, works well with both analogue vinyl and DVS, dynamic sound.

Cons: Specialised use: best suited for professional DJs, might be overkill for casual users, ships from Japan.

Verdict: The Taruya 08M Black Cartridge excels in high output and robust performance, making it a top choice for professional DJs seeking dynamic sound and reliable tracking.

A standout for professional DJs, Taruya’s 08M offers exceptional sound quality and performance. With a high output voltage of 6.5-12mV and an anti-skip damper, it ensures energetic sound and smooth scratching. Designed to handle intense scratch play, it also performs excellently with both analogue vinyl and DVS. Despite its higher price, the Taruya 08M justifies the cost with its robust build and dynamic sound. It’s a perfect fit for DJs seeking reliability and top-tier audio fidelity in professional settings.

Jico Omnia J44A 7 

Price: £200 / £400 for a pair.

Pros: Headshell included, smooth output, Shure M44-7 reminiscent.

Cons: High channel separation.

Verdict: The Jico J-AAC0202 Omnia J44a offers robust bass and smooth output, perfect for those looking to replace the discontinued Shure M44-7.

The Jico J-AAC0202 Omnia J44a 7 Imp DJ Nude Black cartridge is a superb choice for DJs seeking powerful bass and smooth output reminiscent of the original Shure M44-7. Made in Japan with a high-quality nude spherical stylus, it provides dynamic and vigorous sound, ideal for rocking a party. Its 8 mV output voltage and versatile tracking force range also make it perfect for scratching. 

Honorable Mention: 

Shure M44-7

Price: £300+

Pros: Ultra-high skip resistance, ideal for scratch DJs and turntablists who demand precision during intense scratching sessions, used by champion DJs worldwide.

Cons: Discontinued, prices in the second-hand market may vary and could be higher than original retail.

Verdict: This cartridge’s renowned durability and powerful sound reproduction make it a staple for scratch DJs worldwide. However, its discontinuation may require sourcing from second-hand markets or third-party sellers, potentially at a premium. Nonetheless, its legendary status and unparalleled performance continue to attract DJs in search of top-tier equipment for their craft.

The Shure M447 cartridge is engineered to endure the demanding rigours of turntablists and DJ battles, featuring robust construction and high track force. Its polished natural gemstone stylus is adept at preserving vinyl during intense scratching, spin-backs, and back-cueing. Despite being discontinued, its revival ensures accessibility through second-hand markets or third-party sellers, maintaining its status as a symbol of DJ excellence.

Read more: A guide to DJ mixers