Vinyl FAQ 06: How to fit or replace a cartridge

By in Features, Turntables & Tech





Everything you always wanted to know about vinyl but were too afraid to ask.

Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or a new recruit, our FAQ series aims to tackle questions big and small about records, turntables and everything in between.

From quizzical musings like “What does dust actually do to my records?” to the more fiddly “How do I change the cartridge?” or just handy information like “What’s the difference between a belt and direct drive deck?”, this series will have you covered.

Before we get into the scary stuff, I have to quickly mention the Ortofon Concorde-type with its integral headshell. Fitting this is a snip and, in general terms, involves inserting the unit into the designated arm and tightening the tonearm tube’s collar. Sorted.

Onto a typical hi-fi cartridge now. The type without a built-in headshell and offered for sale via dozens of brands, from all over the world.

1: Keep the protective stylus guard in place on the cartridge. Thus, if you put your finger in the wrong place, you wont harm the stylus.

2: Gently ease the four wires, one at a time, by the metal termination away from the cartridge end with your fingers (ok) or tweezers (better). Don’t tug the wires themselves.

3: Grasp the cartridge from above with your thumb and first finger of one hand while unscrewing the cartridge from the headshell with the other. If the screw is held fast by a small nut, place a receptacle underneath to catch it, just in case.

(You can reverse 2 an 3, if you feel more comfortable that way.)

4: Collect the screws/nuts together in a container, so as not to lose them.

5: When attaching a cartridge, keep that stylus guard on. Then attach the wires first, before adding the screws. That way, if you slip and drop the cartridge accidentally, at least one or more of the wires will ‘save’ the cartridge from dropping on the floor. It’s also easier to locate the terminals.

6: When attaching the wires, follow the colour code. The white wire attaches to the white plug and so on.

7: Attaching the two securing bolts to the headshell is easy if the headshell holes are threaded (don’t over tighten). Dropping the screw through the headshell and cartridge and locating the other end to tighten a bolt can be frustrating. One tip is to invert the bolt and have the nut threaded on top of the headshell. Again, take your time with this one.

Illustration by Abigail Carlin