Is My Turntable MM or MC?

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)
Vintage turntable cartridge.

Covering the terms related to the technicalities of DJing, such as the basic parts of your equipment, gives an overview of how you’ll be able to grasp the fundamentals of this skill—now heading to the heart of the turntable–the cartridge. This is one of the controversial aspects of DJing, no matter how basic it is to identify a suitable cartridge for your turntable. This, in particular, is subject to much debate among Audio and Stereophiles as knowing its effect on the sound quality you produce on stage. 

We are here to discuss the following questions: How do we determine a type of cartridge? Which one is appropriate with your turntable–a Moving Magnet (MM) or Moving Coil (MC)? Which is better between these two cartridge topologies?

Moving magnet and moving coil are the two most common cartridge topologies. Other types include strain gauge, moving iron, variable reluctance, and induced–these are the less popularized types. In modern turntables, moving magnets (MM) are widely used than other cartridge counterparts because they are inexpensive and quite durable as a sufficient tool for most turntables. 

The MM focuses on the movement of its magnet that is connected to the stylus cantilever. It moves in a back-and-forth motion making signals that are then transmitted to a coiled wire corresponding to the grooves engraved on the vinyl record. Meanwhile, MC follows the same principle of the MM but mainly includes two coils that also move in the same manner.  

In hindsight, the two are the same in terms of how they correspond as a lens for decoding the information in the records, but upon close inspection, not only the material used is different but the weight itself. Magnets are made of iron, a ferrous material, heavier than coils, and this, in effect, has a lot of mass weighing down on the needle as it moves along the record. Therefore, MM’s traces and swings are exaggerated and rougher, compared to lighter materials such as those used in MCs, which delicately trace along the grooves. 

How Do Cartridges Work?

Cartridges translate the movement of the stylus as it traces along the grooves of the record into signals. The vibration that goes from the movement of tracing by the stylus runs through the cantilever then moves the magnet that is attached at its other end. 

A cantilever is a tube with three parts attached to it–the stylus (placed at the tip), rubber suspension, and magnet. The stylus is the only part that is placed on the exterior of the cartridge, while the rubber suspension and magnet are the interior parts. 

How To Tell Whether Your Turntable Is MM or MC?

The movement from the cantilever incites a voltage into a coil of wire positioned by pins at the back inside the cartridge. In a stereo cartridge, two sets of coils and the pins represent the positive and negative poles for each end. 

With the presence of a magnet, this is how the MM creates a signal. Meanwhile, an MC goes in the opposite direction–the coils of wire move in a sideward motion while the magnet stays as is. With wires as the cartridge’s moving component, this makes a lighter, smoother motion, which is preferred by audiophiles and engineers alike. However, the material for the coils is not that easy to produce, since finer wires are needed to create a moving coil, making cartridges a little more pricey than MM.

With the small motions made by the cartridge, this only serves as signals, and this requires the use of a phono preamplifier, which resonates with the voltage created by the cartridge, and this will be read by the amp. Between an MM and MC, voltages made by MC are lower and need an even lower preamp than MM. 

Choosing the appropriate cartridge for your device and how well it will perform will vary on many factors such as the condition, shape, and material of the stylus, the cantilever’s material, and the positioning of the internal parts of your cartridge especially the magnets or coils. The stylus is made from hard materials like diamonds and even precious stones like Jade. Cartridges can also be made with various materials that are compatible with its use; in particular, Japanese manufacturers make these out of a hardwood. Some cartridges don’t have bodies to make the material lighter, though more susceptible to weaknesses.

MM Vs MC Cartridge

MC & MM Tonal Quality Test & Comparison

MM (Moving Magnet) Cartridge

MM cartridges are known for their durability and popularly used in radio broadcasting companies, archives, and live DJ performances. In general, it produces medium to high output levels and is paired with standard phono inputs on stereo amplifiers. Its stylus is user-friendly in terms of replacing it once it wears out.  

Audio Technica brand improved its own Moving magnets cartridge. The outline of the AT cartridge follows the same principles as an ordinary MM, and its innovation lies in the arrangement. The magnets are fixed with sets of coiled wires with extended poles. This ensemble creates an electromagnetic generator. This makes it seem like its quite hefty, but with the use of a fulcrum and mounting this onto, it minimizes the weight of the cartridge, making it more accurate as the stylus responds accordingly to the grooves. 

MC (Moving Coil) Cartridge

MCs have a considerable advantage than MMs though the cons for using these are quite particular even for experienced DJs. In terms of structure, positions in an MC cartridge are reversed in comparison to that of MM. Wire coils are fixed with the cantilever, which vibrates along with the movement of the stylus, and the magnets are in the interior, which acts as the generator for creating voltages. Finer coils made out of copper are used in MCs, this material is very light and fine, and has considerable leverage when it comes to outlining information from the record. This produces low-output signals, which may come as a hindrance at first, but can respond to wider frequencies. MCs make more accurate responses and intricate sound production that can detect the smallest of signals that are usually missed out by MM cartridges. Still, because of its low output level, it requires a supplementary amplifier to reach the standard volume. Luckily, for many cartridges, there are already sets dedicated to MCs, and it is indicated in their labels. Otherwise, if it is not indicated, especially for MCs, then an MC phono stage is required for the set-up to get over the gap. 

MC has an advantage in terms of sound quality, though the cons for MCs are as observed since MM brands are much more popular like the Audio Technica. You see, MCs are more expensive and fragile than MMs, and most types do not have replaceable needles.

Is your turntable MM or MC suitable?

Most turntables are manufactured with MM cartridge suitability, while MC is well-known around the high-end Stereophile audiences in the business.

MM cartridges are popularly used among turntable brands, from budget-friendly Audio Technica and Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, which appeal to larger audiences rather than more expensive turntables such as what Rega Planar offers. Some are versatile, including both types of cartridges like the Clearaudio Concept. 

In matching your phono cartridge with your turntable, three main aspects affect your system: type of cartridge and how it matches with the preamp, as well as the tonearm. 

Following the prescribed cartridge for your set according to your brand and model will help you get the best turntable outcome. 

Why Is It Essential To Choose Correctly Between MM and MC?

Matching the right type of cartridge to your turntable is like correctly putting your shoes on and not the other way around. If you’ve paired an MC cartridge with a turntable that requires an MM and vice versa, then the signals will be either too low or too high in terms of volume and music quality. The impact will also damage your hardware if you’re intentionally trying to boost the scales in the frequency.

Which is best: MM or MC?

Music enthusiasts, as we call them Audiophiles and Stereophiles–both terms referring to audio and ‘hi-fi’ enthusiasts recommend MC since it produces better sonic performance than MMs despite its pricier demands along with its partner gadgets for improving and supporting the sound quality. It gives a level of satisfaction for the sounds it will produce as to its investment. 

MM cartridges paired with turntables still appeal to the masses because of its affordability and fewer gadget requirement. The leverage that makes a difference in the sound quality between the two is their weight. MCs are made with lighter material that can delicately trace and read with more detail the grooves on a record than MMs. High-end MMs can be on par with MCs on sound quality with a plus on the advantages of maintaining it for easy replacement of the needles like those of the Ortofon 2m bronze and Rega Exact MM cartridge. 

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