The 9 Best DJ Cartridges
9. Shure SC35C
- clear sound at all frequencies
- suitable for scratching and mixing
- included needle is generic
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
8. Audio-Technica AT95E
- produces strong bass tones
- standard half-inch mount
- professional djs may find it sub par
|Rating||3.8 / 5.0|
7. Ortofon OM PRO S
- balanced tone reproductions
- sounds crisp and warm
- skips a little too easily
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
6. Numark CS-1
- circular diamond-tipped stylus
- rarely ever skips
- not intended for scratching
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
5. Ortofon Q.Bert
- back cues smoothly
- cutout head design
- aluminum tube cantilever
|Model||OM QBERT SINGLE|
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
4. Shure Whitelabel
- doesn't need to be heavily weighted
- reliable tonearm contacts
- adjustable stylus overhang
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
3. Stanton Skratchmaster.V3 MP4
- part of the company's master series
- good choice for all skill levels
- comes with a protective storage case
|Rating||5.0 / 5.0|
2. Shure M44-7
- known to last through years of use
- emphasizes low frequencies
- causes minimal record wear
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
1. Ortofon Concorde Nightclub MK2
- special elliptical stylus
- bright fluorescent tip
- good low-end reproduction
|Model||Concorde Nightclub MK2|
|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.