What about the tonearm?

In my last post (Why the need to upgrade your turntables, Part 1) I mentioned that I personally prefer not to touch the tonearm wire as I consider the replacement of tonearm wire a specialist job unless it's absolutely necessary, i.e. when the wire has become the weaker link between the turntable/tonearm 'combo' and the phonostage/amplifier.

Care must be taken to choose the right tonearm wires for replacement. If the wire is too thin with high impedance it would cause signal attenuation whereas a thick or stiff wire would retard the movement of tonearm. Either way the end result will be poor sound quality.

When do we upgrade the cartridge?

I would upgrade the stylus/cartridge only after I have exhausted all possible upgrades on the 'turntable proper' and tonearm.

Why? You may ask. This is because to me the stylus/cartridge is one of the most 'expensive' upgrade for a turntable. Moreover, it is a recurring cost for every 800 hours. So find out first whether the turntable deserves a better cartridge. The cost of replacing stylus/cartridge often could be much more than the humble turntable itself.

Go for a cartridge just as 'capable' as the turntable is the logical answer. That's what I usually do as there is no point spending money to buy a cartridge more capable (also more expensive) as it could not out-perform the capability of the turntable.

I would normally test first before deciding on the 'right cartridge' to 'match' the turntable. For example, if my turntable comes with an Ortofon OM5e cartridge, I would first test it with OM10e. Then do likewise for OM20e, OM30e and OM40e until no significant improvement is shown. So the 'right' stylus/cartridge combo is : the one preceding the last one. You may try the newer Ortofon series from 2M Red to 2M Black.

As for Grado cartridges, I would try Grado Black first, followed by Grado Red and the Grado Silver or Gold etc.

What about the Phono-stage or Phono-preamp?

The signal level produced by the cartridge is very low, in the region of several mili-volts(~5mV) for moving magnet(MM) cartridge and even much less (~0.2mV) for moving coil(MC) cartridge. Therefore phono-stage or phono-preamp (a preamplifier) is specifically designed for the record players or turntables to boost the signal produced by the cartridge to the required level. Another important function of the phono-stage is to provide RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) equalization which is essential for proper reproduction of sound/music by the amplifiers and speakers system.

Some amplifiers come with built-in phono-stages and thus external units are not required.

A phono-stage should be as capable as the turntable/cartridge combo. Anything more would be a waste of money. You only need to upgrade when it becomes the weak link.


Ng Nicholas said...

Hi Michael. I am intending to upgrade my RP1 and want to start with the acrylic platter and sub platter as well as the silicon belt. Is there a way that I can email you to discuss more? I am based in Singapore. Thanks.

Michael Lim said...

Hi Nicolas,

You can email me at : lpturntables@gmail.com

Best regards,

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