THE CARTRIDGE: The Sound of Moving Magnets and Moving Coils

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There is an ongoing controversy among connoisseurs and designers as to which—.MC or MM—is sonically preferable. A number of designers who have ready access to any cartridge choose to listen to MMs. Along with detail and speed, MCs can also have a hard, edgy sound, often characterized as “zingy.” They tend to be spitty, as they exacerbate sibilants. They are particularly sensitive to proper setup and are relatively poor trackers. MC styli are also not user-replaceable (be cause of the superfine coil secured to the cantilever), but this is a minor consideration since good-quality MM cartridges should also be returned to the manufacturer for stylus replacement.

In the end, the sonic differences between a good MC and a good MM are, like much else in audio, a matter of tradeoffs. There can be as much difference from one MC or MM to the next as between the two categories. Neither design is free of characteristic colorations, so it’s largely a matter of choosing which colorations you prefer and how these match with the rest of your system. MMs could perhaps be broadly characterized as having a “warmer” sound, MCs a cooler, dryer, more analytic sound. However, you can in most cases probably get a better- quality MM than MC for the same price—the Audioquest 404B MC and the Adcom are two possible exceptions.

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Updated: Friday, 2016-05-13 19:17 PST