Even if you’re lucky to have the best phono cartridge, and enjoy your turntable sound in full, there’s still a need to get a new one upon the time. The needle tends to wear out, as constant friction along the grooves makes the diamond tip blunt. Even if your cartridge is still full of juice, you might need to install a new one to hear the difference in the sound output. So, replacing a turntable cartridge is inevitable for any vinyl sound lover.
The cartridge is a central part of a record player influencing the width of the frequency response, the soundstage, the channel separation, etc. The optimal sound output is possible only if a phono cartridge is positioned, aligned, and secured properly. It’s important to adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions during the record player cartridge replacement to ensure a safe procedure. For example, setting the tracking force higher or lower than the indicated range, you risk damaging the record and wearing out the stylus quickly.
Some types of cartridges are easier to change than others. However, the procedure is similar in many steps.
How to Replace a Turntable Cartridge
- Define the cartridge mounting type and prepare the necessary tools. For a P-mount phono cartridge, you’ll need a small flat screwdriver, spare screws (just in case), an appliance for measuring the tracking force, and an alignment mold piece. For a half-inch cartridge, you might need a pair of small pliers as well.
- Turn off and unplug the record player.
- Lower the needle cover, if it’s present in your phono cartridge, or remove a stylus. For most cartridges, it’s enough to gently slide out the stylus with a small piece of plastic. However, in some cartridges, the stylus is non-removable. In this case, make sure that the needle doesn’t contact anything during cartridge replacement — if you plan on using it on your record player afterward.
- For a P-mount cartridge, unscrew the bolt with a screwdriver, and pull at the cartridge mildly. It should get off the four prongs. Make sure to secure the lower part of a headshell with your palm so that the cartridge wouldn’t fall to the table / ground. For a half-inch phono cartridge, make a snapshot of the wiring scheme, and then release the leads. Pull at the connectors (not the wire itself) one-by-one. If you have large hands, apply the pliers for this. When the cables are disconnected, hold your palm beneath the cartridge, and unscrew two bolts fixing it to a tonearm / headshell.
- Take a replacement phono cartridge, and perform the procedure in reverse. For a P-mount, plug in the prongs and tighten a screw. For a half-inch unit, secure it with two screws, then connect the wires. Make sure not to tighten the screws fast. The cartridge shouldn’t be loose, but you must be able to turn it to the sides, and also slide back and forth.
- Regulate the tracking force. Put the device for tracking force measurement on the platter, and lower the needle. Place the counterweight closer to the needle in order to increase the force, and put it back to make it lower. Aim to set the force in the middle of the range recommended by the cartridge manufacturer. For the range of 1.8 to 2.2 grams, set the force at 2.0 grams or so.
- Perform the cartridge alignment using a special template and going from the outside part of the platter to the inside. Adjust the cartridge’s position if needed.
- When all is set, tighten the screws with a screwdriver. Make sure not to move the cartridge during the record player cartridge replacement procedure at all.