The pros and cons of moving magnet vs. moving coil carts

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Grant, Mar 11, 2012.

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  1. Grant

    Grant Audiophile and Music Fan Thread Starter

    Location:
    United States
    I will, sometime in the future, but a new cart. I love my AT 150mlx, but am growing tired of the loading issue, since my phono preamp has no settings for it, and I don't have the inclination of motivation to fool around with testing resistors.

    I have heard great things about MC carts, but have heard a couple of them in person. What I heard was an overly-bright sound. The guy who demoed them for me loved them because he was aging and losing his hearing. But, I have also heard needle drops made with MC carts and they had just the sound I have always looked for.

    I have only ever used MM carts, so can anyone tell me what the differences are in sound quality and surface noise?

    Discuss. Debate. I'll just sit back and read and learn.
     
  2. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    I also would like to kick back and learn, however:

    I just did this to change the loading on my AT 440MLa, and it's exactly what it needed. It really isn't very difficult at all. I picked up a couple cheapie Y adapters at best buy for like $4, and a handful of resistors. I absolutely despise soldering, it only took me maybe 15 minutes to whip up a bunch of RCA ends with various resistors. If you've never done anything electronic, it may be intimidating, but it can't be more intimidating than the $$ spent on a new cartridge...
     
  3. I have very limited experience with moving coils: The lower end one that I owned for a short time (Ortofon X3, moving coil) sounded too bright and thin to me, while the Ortofon Super OM (a moving magnet) has that great all-around sound. I have heard that some more expensive MC cartridges are great sounding, but are well beyond my (ever so limited) budget. As for surface noise, sometimes the stylus can be a determining factor there. At least with most MM cartridges, the styli can be changed, and with my Ortofon Super OM, I can change between a nude elliptical (20) super elliptical (30) and FG70 (40) styli. Same with the mid-priced Audio Technica MM (AT440MLa, AT120E and the similar designs within that group).

    On the plus side of MC cartridges, they're said to be great for classical music and such, and they have their place in an audio system. I even heard from the local used record store owner that he really enjoys his Dynavector 10x5 cartridge on his VPI HW19 turntable setup with ? tonearm (and I've heard others who were satisfied with that cartridge choice). Again, the only MC that I had was the Ortofon X3, as mentioned in the first paragraph.

    As for myself, I just can't get used to the idea of a non-replaceable stylus and inability to quickly change. There's just too many variables for me to choose a cartridge with the limit of having 1 stylus choice. A moving coil just doesn't quite suit my own personal needs, but it may be a good choice for someone else.

    My favorite MM cartridge for my own setups has been the Ortofon Super OM with either 20, 30 or 40 stylus. I just set up a stock Linn Axis/Akito combo where I installed an AT130E stylus'd AT125LC cartridge and it sounded awesome, so that's another favorite. My own experience has been that the Audio Technica is a great all-around cartridge, while the Ortofon Super OM doesn't quite like the heavier arms (such as Linn Akito or Ittok). I even ran the Shure V15 V before their styli were made of unobtainium (still preferred the Audio Technica AT440MLa just slightly better overall though).

    My thoughts.

    OH, I should mention, I got my RANE phono stage back from a friend when he changed to a USB based phono box. The Rane PS1 has loading for 100pf (Audio Technica) 240pf (many common MM cartridges), and 450 (the odd Shure M55 and perhaps the original V15). This way, loading the Audio Technica or even my odd vintage Shure M55 will now be possible, without modifying the phono stage - I'll just use the Rane PS1 (unfortunately, it's no longer available). In an email I received early last decade, Shure recommended the Rane PS1 as their phono stage of choice.
     
  4. TLMusic

    TLMusic Musician & record collector

    I think the result you would get from different types of cartridges would be greatly affected by the type of phone stage you intend to mate it with.




    Anyway, for many years I used MM cartridges (Grado, Sumiko, Linn).

    Last year I switched from a MM Linn Adikt to a high output moving coil Dynavector 20x2H. This was primarily done to match the gain with my newly acquired Audio Research SP6 preamp--the Adikt's output was too hot for the ARC phono stage and there was clipping. The change in sound from MM to MC was quite dramatic, as the MC has a much more detailed sound and faster response, to my ears. Tracking is cleaner, and there is less surface noise. Maybe some rock records may have been more pleasant to listen to with the MM type cartridges, as they have a less 'delicate" sound.


    I have never stepped up to the low output MC cartridge plan. As far as I can tell, it takes seriously big bucks to do it right. Not only is the cartridge (with a non replaceable stylus) setting you back $900-5000, but because of the miniscule output, the electronics have to be first rate as well.

    I have heard fantastic demo's of low output MC cartridges with appropriate electronics in hifi shops. Perhaps someday I'll take the plunge and go that route...
     
  5. MikeyH

    MikeyH Stamper King

    Location:
    Berkeley, CA
    I don't design cartridges, but have used a few.

    I believe there's a fundamental difference in impedances when you're waving a tiny magnet (or magnet surrogate) around by a set of big coils and waving a tiny coil around in a comparatively huge magnetic field. My gut feeling from looking at the physical arrangements is that MC, particularly the low output MC, is fundamentally more linear over it's movement range.

    Both can work well, particularly at the middle price range (say $600-2000) but above that the MCs really rule.

    What you get from an MC with a good preamp or step-up is a lot more audible bandwidth and for want of a better term, transient 'snap' - on everything you play.

    What you also get is a mechanical trade-off - you fundamentally need the right arm and turntable to handle all the energy created by MC cartridges tracking records. Sometimes this trade-off is too much for some users (increased comparative record wear, some reduced tracking headroom etc.)

    But in a medium-high end system I'd not imagine using anything other than a MC for serious listening despite this. non-MC cartridges just aren't the same.
     
  6. roberts67

    roberts67 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Pacific Northwest
    Hello!

    I can just speak from my own experience. Going from MM to MC was a revelation! I am on my 2nd MC cart. I currently use the AT33EV and love it. Robert
     
  7. TLMusic

    TLMusic Musician & record collector

    Mike just made another point I've heard told numerous times before. That is, many inexpensive turntables and cartridges cannot handle a moving coil cartridge. I am not an expert. But have been told that before upgrading cartridges one must critically evaluate the intended tonearm.

    That said, in addition to the Linn/Ittock 20x2H, I also have a Rega RP2 turntable fitted with a Dynavector 10x5 high output moving coil. Seems to work fine.
     
  8. bluemooze

    bluemooze Forum Resident

    Location:
    Frenchtown NJ USA
    MM/MI cartridges I have are Grado Reference and Clearaudio Aurum Beta S. MC cartridges are a Dynavector DX-20L (original one), and Denon DL-160, DL-301 II, DL-S1. I prefer the Grado (bought it a while ago, currently it's called The Reference1.) Music sounds more "real" to me with it. As an example of what I like about it, it's the only have that reproduces guitar exactly how it sounds coming from an amp. The difference compared to the others is in the full body of the guitar notes. The others give you outline of the notes, mostly in the treble. I've got some nice Fender tube guitar amps which enable me to recognize what the Grado is doing.

    As a general rule (there are always exceptions and synergy is everything) for classical music I prefer the DL-S1 and for everything else the Grado. Want Joni Mitchell in the room with you? Well they all do that to an extent but the Grado does it best. Harpsichords and pianos work best with the DL-S1. Have some green label WB Black Sabbath records? Grado. Want to hear the powerful mix on Nantucket Sleighride (if you can find a decent copy?) For me, only the Grado - the others fall short. The Grado’s midrange excellence is perfect for jazz. And forget about female vocals – absolutely beautiful.
     
  9. laughalot

    laughalot Forum Resident

    +1 on the Grado
     
  10. Balthazar

    Balthazar Well-Known Member

    this has always been my impression, too, however there are a number of people happily using denon dl103's with reasonably priced step up devices, so i may need to re-evaluate. if anyone has used any such budget low output MC carts and step ups i'd love to hear about it.

    i know this is a bit of an aside from the original question, but i just wonder if you're better off getting an better MM cart for the amount you would spend on the MC cart, a step up, and an extra set of interconnects. keeping in mind the fact that this would be for someone who is not handy and could not macgyer it themselves.
     
  11. Metralla

    Metralla Joined Jan 13, 2002

    Location:
    San Jose, CA
  12. MikeyH

    MikeyH Stamper King

    Location:
    Berkeley, CA
    It's not really 'can't handle', it's just that if you try you might not see the point of the cartridge. Back when I had a couple turntables and arms to try, cartridges I put in an s-shaped arm on a rega-type table I built sounded the same. When I put the cartridges on my Sondek./Ittok the performance and sound improved and so did the musical distance between them.
     
  13. MikeyH

    MikeyH Stamper King

    Location:
    Berkeley, CA
    I only have MMs now. They're fine if you're not trying for the best, is all.

    Having rebuilt some MMs, there are common problems that the MCs generally avoid without realizing it:

    Mechanical integrity: some the A-T old models have this, as do some of the current models. I really love the metal body Signets with the screw-in stylus! All MCs are this strong by design, some particularly so like the Lyras and Koetsu.

    Symmetry: The Grado and B&O (soundsmith) MM models have symmetrical generators and coils. Others don't. Take them apart and look. I believe this affects their transient response and resonances adversely. One way to deal with this is like the way speaker makers control bad drive units by loading up correction in the crossover - by increasing loading in the coils, shaping the pole pieces to reduce the distortion... MC internals are generally symmetrical in all planes.
     
  14. Coldacre

    Coldacre Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Melbourne
    there are 2 aspects of a cartridge that are important (to me anyway). how they sound (meaning bass, mids, treble, soundstage & pace) and how they track & handle the inner grooves. assuming all things are equal and that you have a phono stage that has the correct loading for the intended cart; I've found that while MM carts can be equal to MC carts in the second department, they simply dont compete in the first. as for why, I don't have the technical expertise to explain why. but there must be a reason why the top end Koetsu's & Dynavectors are MC right?

    in my limited experience of hearing 4 different brands of cartridge (Ortofon, Audio Technica, Dynavector, Koetsu ) I've heard around 15 different models spanning the brands. the better MM track well and sound good, the better MC's, in particular the low output models, track well and sound wonderful. by that I mean a much quieter noise floor, detailed sound and bigger soundstage.
     
  15. If you go the MC route you will have to get SUT's to mate with a phonopre to get a good sound. Of course this is $$$$. See Bob's SUT's. The BEST MM loading resistors and capacitors pale in comparison to SUT's as far as cost is concerned.
     
  16. TONEPUB

    TONEPUB Forum Resident

    Location:
    Portland, Oregon
    If you have that Cambridge 640 you list in your profile, you're good to go. Grab a Denon 103 and have a blast. Both the Denon 103 and the Ortofon Vivo are both excellent MC designs that you can get your hands on for about $350-$400. And both will work perfectly with your current phono stage.
     
  17. Chris Schoen

    Chris Schoen Rock 'n Roll !!!

    Location:
    Maryland, U.S.A.
    I like my Denon DL-110, it is high output and can be used with any MM pre-amp input. I have used an AT-440mla for many years, and wanted to try something different. After doing some research and carefully reading many reviews, I decided to add this cart to my second TT setup. I am very happy with the sound and performance. It is definately more "musical" than the AT, but is also more sensitive to surface noise. I only play minty records with this cart. Everything else gets played with the AT cart.
     
  18. Grant

    Grant Audiophile and Music Fan Thread Starter

    Location:
    United States
    Well, if someone can tell me the exact resistors that will work for that cart.

    I love my AT 150mlx, and it tracks like a champ, but it' just so bright! I'm sick of dealing with it!
     
  19. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    They cost like $0.95-$2 a package. You could just grab a handful across a range and whip up a handful of RCAs with resistors, then swap them out. I targeted 32kohm input resistance total for the 440 per the internets (so I used 82kohm resistors to start out, which yields about 30kohm). And it's basically great. I whipped up a couple others that will yield input impedances between ~30kohm and the unaltered 47kohm, but haven't even bothered to play around with them yet. I'm extremely happy at 30.

    If you're *really* unwilling to do it, or don't have a soldering iron or something, I could just whip up a couple for you and mail them to you. Even if you move on to a different cartridge entirely, it could still be useful to you for a backup cartridge, or just another option. You never know, you might love it.

    Now, if you want to use the "difficulty" as an excuse to upgrade your cartridge, then by all means don't let me slow you down! :righton:
     
  20. jriems

    jriems Audio Ojiisan

    I don't mean to intrude, but I also have the 640P/440mla combo, and I'm solder-challenged. I'd love to try what you describe, Chris, but know I'll never get around to doing it. PM on the way to you, if you don't mind...
     
  21. Grant, ChrisWiggles, Once you get the resistance dialed in get a good resistor like Dale RN series or some such. let me know what value is finalized and I can order it the next time I run a parts order. It gets to my house, I drop it in the mail to your USA address. EASY!

    The Cambridge 640 really needs mods to open up though. Just sayin'.
     
  22. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    Sweet! That was next on my research list was fancy resistors. I just got the 2% whatever was on the rack at frys.

    See? Teamwork! :edthumbs:
     
  23. Balthazar

    Balthazar Well-Known Member

    This is fantastic! I love seeing this. :edthumbs:
     
  24. Grant

    Grant Audiophile and Music Fan Thread Starter

    Location:
    United States
    Is there a way to test the resistance? I want the correct one, I don't want to guess where the sweet spot is.

    I really don't want to buy another cart, and I like the sound of the Cambridge Audio 640p,so there has got to be an easy way of getting the correct loading for this son-of-a-bitch! I will pay someone to make a plug that will work correctly. I can solder, but it's the part about swapping resisters until I get it right that is the pain.
     
  25. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    ^ you can test the resistance of the resistor with any simple multimeter, with varying degrees of precision depending on the meter of course.

    There isn't a way of testing what is 'ideal' for your cartridge without measuring the output using test tones, which means you'd need a test disc, etc. This also will vary based on the capacitance of the tonearm cabling, and the input impedance of the phonostage if it's something other than the common 47kohm. And of course, you could achieve flat by measuring, but not everyone is after flat per se. It's like any tone control, your deployment of it is ultimately subjective. Maybe your speakers are a little brighter, or a little laid back, etc. I just sort of went on what I found via googling as a starting point, which turned out to be great!

    As far as swapping resistors, that's why I just made a variety of plugs. Then it's just a matter of pulling the RCA plugs and swapping out another pair, which takes all of 3 seconds. I made only one pair to start off, then the other night I made a few more pairs using the variety of resistors I bought. I haven't even sat down and spent time playing around with the other options which will be somewhere between where I am and the unaltered cartridge, because I am not feeling the need to brighten it at all at this point. My main thinking was to have some other plugs around to easily brighten up the sound with some heavily worn/dull records I have.

    Anyway, this is just my newbie thinking and experiences, but if this fool can manage to do it with a minimal amount of lead huffing and finger-scorching, then well... :D
     
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