The 9 Best DJ Cartridges

Updated May 15, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

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We spent 44 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Get into the groove -- literally -- with one of these DJ cartridges. They will fit most modern turntables and produce sound qualities ranging from good to outstanding, at price points to suit aspiring and professional performers. We've found models specially engineered for scratching and others that are ideal for clubs that require long sets. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best dj cartridge on Amazon.

9. Shure SC35C

The Shure SC35C requires a little more tracking force than many other models, which causes a little more record wear, but considering its impressive sound quality, it's a sacrifice many are willing to make. It's extremely durable and a smart choice for beginners.
  • clear sound at all frequencies
  • suitable for scratching and mixing
  • included needle is generic
Brand Shure
Model SC35C
Weight 3.5 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

8. Audio-Technica AT95E

The Audio-Technica AT95E is available with or without a headshell, and it is a great value either way when comparing the price to performance. It tracks records extremely well, and features dual magnets for superior clarity and detail.
  • produces strong bass tones
  • standard half-inch mount
  • professional djs may find it sub par
Brand Audio-Technica
Model AT95EHSB
Weight 1.8 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

7. Ortofon OM PRO S

The Ortofon OM PRO S is one of the most budget-friendly options in this company's line of performance-level models. It features a wide stylus that causes less record wear, making it good for scratching and back cueing without the worry of vinyl damage.
  • balanced tone reproductions
  • sounds crisp and warm
  • skips a little too easily
Brand Ortofon
Model 4330174871
Weight 1.6 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

6. Numark CS-1

EDM fans will love the Numark CS-1, as it has been optimized specifically for dance music. It offers true full-range frequency response, so your audience can hear every little nuance from the deepest bass tones all the way up to the tinkling highs.
  • circular diamond-tipped stylus
  • rarely ever skips
  • not intended for scratching
Brand Numark
Model CS-1
Weight 2.4 ounces
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

5. Ortofon Q.Bert

The Ortofon Q.Bert bears the name of the famous DJ who helped design it. Anybody who knows anything about "turntablism" knows that he is the master of scratching, and while this cartridge won't make you sound like him, it lets you practice without destroying your records.
  • back cues smoothly
  • cutout head design
  • aluminum tube cantilever
Brand Ortofon
Weight 1.6 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

4. Shure Whitelabel

The Shure Whitelabel may seem pricey, but it's worth every penny. It is a single-piece headshell and cartridge that is ideal for those who often mix between analog records and digital files, as it produces minimal sonic coloration.
  • doesn't need to be heavily weighted
  • reliable tonearm contacts
  • adjustable stylus overhang
Brand Shure
Weight 7 ounces
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

3. Stanton Skratchmaster.V3 MP4

The Stanton Skratchmaster.V3 MP4 offers a four-coil pickup for maximum stereo imaging, and it can be realigned on the headshell to enhance the tracking response. It comes as a set of two units that are already mounted on tonearm connectors.
  • part of the company's master series
  • good choice for all skill levels
  • comes with a protective storage case
Brand Stanton
Weight 10.4 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. Shure M44-7

The rugged and durable Shure M44-7 has been the go-to option for scratching masters for years. It is engineered to perfection with an almost unnatural skip resistance, making it perfect for performing in crowded areas where the turntable might get bumped.
  • known to last through years of use
  • emphasizes low frequencies
  • causes minimal record wear
Brand Shure
Model M44-7
Weight 3.8 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

1. Ortofon Concorde Nightclub MK2

The sleek looking Ortofon Concorde Nightclub MK2 is a high output model that lets you get a little boost from your records without having to push your mixer as hard, making it ideal for club DJs who need to get the party jumping.
  • special elliptical stylus
  • bright fluorescent tip
  • good low-end reproduction
Brand Ortofon
Model Concorde Nightclub MK2
Weight 2.1 ounces
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

How DJ Cartridges Work

Phono cartridges, more commonly referred to as DJ cartridges or styluses, are electromechanical devices that can read the audio data on a record and translate it into a signal that your audio system understands. They can do this because they contain a transducer that converts one type of energy into another; in this case, variations in the groove walls of a record into electronic signals. This is not a new technology, and it was actually pioneered over 100 years ago by Thomas Edison.

While many people use all of the terms for DJ cartridges interchangeably, they are actually different components of the same device. A DJ cartridge can be separated into two or three parts, depending on the design of the manufacturer; a headshell, a cartridge, and a stylus. Sometimes, the headshell and cartridge are combined into a single unit. If separate, the headshell is the part that plugs into a turntable's tonearm and has a little arm for lifting the entire unit when placing it onto a record.

The cartridge screws into the headshell and is connected to it via four electrical wires, which are used to conduct the sound from the stylus. The stylus plugs into the front of the cartridge and is the actual needle that runs along the groove of a record. Most often all three components will come as a package, but it is possible to buy replacement needles as they wear out over time. It is rare to find a cartridge that doesn't come with at least one needle, but cartridges can be bought without a headshell and vice versa.

When a record is in motion, the stylus moves vertically and horizontally along its groove. Inside of the needle is a small magnet and a coil of wire. These two components are what generate the audio signal. DJ cartridges come in two types: moving magnet and moving coil.

In an MM cartridge, there are two coils with a magnet, which is attached to the needle shank, suspended between them. As the needle runs along the record, the magnet vibrates and induces a small current in the coils. In an MC cartridge, the coils are attached to the needle shank instead of the magnet.

Choosing A DJ Cartridge

The first step in picking a DJ cartridge is determining what kind your turntable's tone arm can accept. DJ cartridges come in two types: the standard mount and the P-mount. A standard mount cartridge has two screws that are a half an inch apart. These screws thread through the body of the cartridge and secure it to the headshell. Then, the entire unit plugs into the tone arm. A P-mount cartridge has four prongs on the back which are plugged directly into the tone arm. A setscrew is then used to hold it securely in place on the tonearm.

The next consideration should be choosing between an MC and an MM cartridge. MM cartridges are available in a range of prices, are compatible with all stereo phono inputs, and allow for stylus replacements as needed. MC cartridges are preferred by many audiophiles, but are not the best choice for DJs. This is because the stylus cannot be replaced without replacing the entire unit.

DJs who scratch and perform other turntable tricks will wear down their needle more quickly than the average user who just listens to records. It can be costly to replace the entire cartridge instead of just the needle, especially since MC cartridges are much more expensive than MM cartridges. They also require stereo amplifiers which have a specialized MC input.

The final consideration is the stylus shape. Currently, nearly every stylus has an industrial diamond tip, but they are available in either a spherical or an elliptical shape. DJs are better off with a spherical needle as they sit higher in the groove, resulting in less wear on a record. It is also necessary for scratching and back-cuing. Audiophiles prefer elliptical needles because they can pick up more information, resulting in a fuller sound.

The Art Of DJing

The term DJ, which is short for disc jockey, was coined sometime in the 1930s. In 1943, Jimmy Saville threw the world's first DJ dance party and played jazz records. Just a few short years later, he also become the first person to use turntables for continuous music play in a dance party. In the 1960s new audio equipment hit the market, which had a huge impact on how DJs played music. The mixer allowed Francis Grasso to begin beat matching in 1969, creating seamless transitions from one song to another.

Another revolution in DJing was born in New York City during the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc, who would later come to be known as the father of hip hop, made a name for himself in 1973 by DJing huge block parties in the Bronx. He is the first artist known to simultaneously mix two identical records together to create a new sound. He also extended what he considered to be the best parts of the songs. This technique was eventually termed breaking and led to the huge break dancing craze in the 80s.

This was the era when turntablism grew into an art form on its own and DJs started to earn respect as musicians. They were no longer just playing back songs, but instead were blending beats and manipulating songs to create a sound and style of their own.

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Last updated on May 15, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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