Question: How do I determine which Audio-Technica cartridge best suits my turntable?
Answer: When selecting a phono cartridge for your turntable, perhaps the most important cartridge specification to observe is the compliance. The compliance specification tells you how firm or how soft the suspension of the cartridge’s stylus assembly is. The suspension of a cartridge supports the stylus cantilever. This is the thin, angled tube extending from the cartridge body that the stylus tip is mounted to. Not all tonearms weigh the same, therefore not all cartridges will be suitable for a given arm. A heavy arm will require a firmer stylus suspension (lower compliance figure) in order to support the weight of the arm, but it cannot be so firm that it compromises the overall performance of the assembly. A light arm will require a softer suspension (higher compliance figure), but it cannot be so soft that it doesn’t adequately support the arm.
Among the areas of performance that can be compromised, one of the more crucial is the resonant frequency of a given cartridge/tonearm combination. Any combination will exhibit resonance at a specific frequency or frequencies. This resonance will cause a rise in the signal level at these frequencies. This rise can affect the quality of the sound produced, can cause tracking issues, or both. Ideally, this rise will be kept below the audible range, where it could be influenced by the music on the record, and also in a range that is not easily influenced by outside factors such as turntable rumble, record warps and footfalls. The ideal resonant frequency range is somewhere between 9 and 13 Hz.
To determine where the resonant frequency of a particular cartridge/tonearm combination will occur, you must first know a few things about your equipment. You will need to know the total effective mass of your turntable’s tonearm assembly, the compliance specification of the cartridge you are considering and the weight of the cartridge. Note that Audio-Technica specifies compliance at 100 Hz. Many resonant frequency calculators, however, use a compliance measurement taken at 10 Hz for their calculations. To determine the compliance of a cartridge at 10 Hz when only the compliance at 100 Hz is stated, multiply the 100 Hz measurement by 1.5 or 2.0. Once you have gathered this information, you can determine the resonant frequency using a resonance calculator such as the Cartridge Resonance Evaluator tool available at vinylengine.com. Enter the tonearm effective mass figure into the text box on the Evaluator and click the submit button. This will generate a resonant frequency table. Add up the weight of your cartridge and its mounting hardware and locate the total among the table’s column headings. Then locate the row designated by your cartridge’s compliance spec. The cell where this column and row intersect will display the resonant frequency for your cartridge’s weight-compliance combination. Green cells indicate preferred resonant points.
If you have any additional questions about selecting an A-T cartridge, please feel free to contact our Audio Solutions Department.