Your cartridge is responsible for converting vibrational energy from the stylus to an electrical signal that your amp/speakers turn into music. This is an important job and the cartridge has a big impact on playback quality. All of our turntables come with the cartridge installed, calibrated, and ready to play. But upgrading the cartridge is a great way to take your turntable's performance to the next level.
Many record and audio shops will help you change cartridges. But it is also easy to do on your own. All you need is a flat-head screwdriver and a stylus gauge like this.
Let's get started
First, use a flat-head screwdriver to loosen the headshell screws on your current cartridge.
Next, gently unplug each of the four tonearm wires. Make sure you hold the wires by the plastic sleeve (do not pull on the wire itself, or else they will break).
Now you are ready to install the new cartridge! Begin by attaching the tonearm wires. Each colored tonearm wire has a corresponding colored pin on the cartridge (if your cartridge does not have colored pins, please consult the cartridge's manual). Since the stylus is very fragile, it is best to leave the stylus guard on during installation.
Now, insert the headshell screws into the slots on the headshell and then through the slots on the cartridge housing. Using your finger, hold the headshell nut in place and turn the screw until the threads catch. Repeat with both screws. Make sure the screws are snug, but don't tighten all the way just yet.
With the cartridge mounted, use a Stevenson Protractor to align the cartridge. You can print the protractor here (courtesy of vinylengine.com). If you have our newer OA2 tonearm, then you can align using Stevenson, Lofgren A (i.e. Baerwald), or Lofgren B geometries. We recommend Lofgren A. These protractors can be found here.
Drop the stylus on the grid closest to the spindle so that it is perfectly centered on the grid and the cartridge body is parallel to the grid lines. Rotating the cartridge relative to the headshell will allow you to adjust alignment. Repeat this process on the other grid. You'll know that the cartridge is properly aligned when the cartridge body is parallel to the grid lines on both grids. Once alignment is set, finish tightening the two headshell screws and then check alignment once more.
Use a stylus force gauge (like this) to check that your vertical tracking force (VTF) is correct. For MM cartridges, the VTF range is usually 1.5-2 grams, but this varies. The manufacturer's recommended VTF will be listed on your cartridge's spec sheet.
If you need to adjust VTF, loosen the thumbscrew on the counterweight and adjust the counterweight's positioning on the back of the arm. Moving the counterweight backwards will decrease VTF and moving it forward will increase VTF. Once the counterweight is positioned correctly, tighten the thumbscrew.
That's it! Your cartridge is now installed and ready to play. The new cartridge may need a few hours to break in before it really starts singing.
- For any Orbit manufactured before October 2016, the counterweight will only work with cartridges that weigh 6 g or less (newer Orbits a different tonearm that will accommodate heavier cartridges up to 7.2 g). If you have an older tonearm and want to install a heavier cartridge like the Ortofon 2M or Shure M97XE, you will need to add some additional mass to the counterweight. To do this, please shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can send a magnet to attach to the back of your counterweight. This magnet will provide additional mass while preserving proper mass distribution along the length of the tonearm.
- The Orbit's headshell can be removed by loosening the small set screw on its underside. While some people prefer removing the headshell to install a new cartridge, we generally don't recommend it (since this requires adjusting azimuth upon re-installation).
- It is best practice to replace the stylus on your cartridge every 2000 hours or so. This does not mean that you need to replace the entire cartridge - the cartridge itself will last a very long time. Replacement styli are easy to install. They typically "pop" into place like this, with no further adjustment or calibration needed.
- The above installation instructions are specific to the Orbit Turntable (Ortofon OM5E cartridge shown). Other turntables and cartridges may have slightly different instructions. For a more comprehensive guide to cartridge setup, check out this great Needle Doctor article.