The 9 Best DJ Cartridges
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in September of 2015. 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 prices to suit aspiring and professional performers, we've included models engineered for scratching and others that are ideal for clubs that require long sets. Some may even make old records playable again. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 17, 2020:
Just like a musician needs a good instrument, a DJ needs high-quality equipment. This includes not just the turntable, headphones, and mixer, but needles too. Any DJ worth their salt will tell you that a good cartridge and stylus make a serious difference in how your vinyl sounds. They also boast different designs that make them better suited for certain applications. For example, the Shure M44-7 and Ortofon OM Q.Bert are built with a focus on scratching, while the Numark CS-1 is specifically engineered with a high output and wide frequency response range for electronic music.
As we mentioned in the editor's note during our last update, Shure is no longer producing their DJ cartridges and, as predicted, they are becoming harder to find. While we expected the Shure M44-7 to become scarce first, as it is a favorite among experienced turntablists and has been for a long time, it seems the Shure SC35C is actually disappearing from the market quicker, most likely due to the lower price tag. It is because of this that we decided it is finally time to remove the SC35C from our list. We did still retain it as a special honor, though we will be the first to admit, you may have trouble finding one for sale anywhere. For now, the Shure M44-7 still retains its place, and as before, we recommend that you scoop a few up quickly if you want them, since we fully expect them to be almost impossible to find by the next time we update this list.
With Shure mostly out of the market, the next best DJ cartridges are going to be from Ortofon and we wanted to include one of their models to suit each type of need. With that in mind, we have the Ortofon Concorde MK2 as our all-purpose club choice. It works well for most music genres, won't cause excessive record wear from backcueing or scratching, and offers accurate sound reproduction. For the turntable wizards who have decided it is time to finally say goodbye to the M44-7, there are few better replacements than the Ortofon OM Q.Bert.
Recently Audio-Technica has been gaining ground in the DJ cartridge market and is one of the few companies still releasing new models. One of the new additions to their lineup is the AT-VM95E, which is a successor to the Audio-Technica AT95E. That being said, newer isn't always better and we feel most beginner DJs and hobbyists will prefer the overall performance-to-price of the AT95E, so we haven't yet replaced it on our list. However, that will change once the AT95E becomes hard to find. Another new addition from them is the Audio-Technica AT-XP5, which we do think worthy of inclusion. It is their middle-tier model in the line, between the XP3 andXP7, and we think represents the best value of the three.
June 05, 2019:
Anybody who has spent some time behind a turntable knows that not all needles perform the same. Some are better for scratching, while others get deeper into the groove to pick up more nuances of the music. On this list you'll find both varieties to ensure there is something for everyone. Shure has dominated the DJ cartridge market for decades, but recently they announced they will no longer be manufacturing them, which is a serious blow to turntablists who have been using them religiously for years. If you fall into this category of people, or even if you have never used one before, we recommend you pick up a few now because soon you may no longer have the chance. When it comes to scratching, you can do no better than the Shure M44-7. The Shure SC35C is the essentially the budget version of the M44-7, but doesn't have the same level of skip resistance and will produce slightly more record wear. The Shure Whitelabel is better for mixing and recording analog tracks to digital files.
With Shure leaving the market, the next best option are generally Ortofon models, and in fact many experienced DJs actually prefer Ortofon over Shure. Currently the best all-around cartridge from this brand is the Ortofon MKII DJ. It is just as suitable for scratching as mixing and has a high output voltage to pull maximum sound from your vinyls. True turntable warriors that want the best scratching cartridge from this brand should look to the Ortofon Q.Bert, though the Ortofon OM Pro S runs a close second.
Of the last few models on our list the Numark CS-1 has been specially designed for EDM music, making it a good choice for dubstep DJs, and the Stanton 500.V3 and Audio-Technica AT95E are decent budget options best suited to beginners and casual hobbyists.
Shure SC35C The Shure SC35C requires a little more tracking force than many other models, which will cause increased record wear, but considering its impressive sound quality, it's a sacrifice many are prepared to make. It is suitable for both scratching and mixing, and is extremely durable too, making it a smart choice for beginners who might not yet know how to handle their needles. shure.eu
How DJ Cartridges Work
While many people use all of the terms for DJ cartridges interchangeably, they are actually different components of the same device.
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.
Audiophiles prefer elliptical needles because they can pick up more information, resulting in a fuller sound.
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.