Scratch Cartridge Comparison

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Cartridges: by DJ Swayde

It's a common question asked by beginning turntablists—which cartridges am I supposed to use for scratching and beatjuggling!?

If you ask an average turntablist, the answer they will give you most of the time would be the Shure M44-7. Shure has had several hi-fi turntable cartridges in the past that were successful, but in my opinion, their biggest claim to fame was the M44-7. The M44-7 has been in the turntablist industry for over a decade, and it has an extraordinary ability to stick to a record even under the most demanding scratches. The M44-7 is also notorious for having the least known record wear out of any turntablist cartridge, which is a big strong point for turntablists, as they go through many records scratching and beatjuggling, especially on the same grooves repeatedly. However, over the years, there have been different competitors to the M44-7, especially by the Danish company Ortofon Inc and the US' own Stanton Magnetics. Although adored by turntablists, the sound quality on the M44-7 is nothing fantastic; it has booming basses perfect for hip-hop, but its highs are harsh and can be unpleasant to the ears. However, almost every famous turntablist has used this cartridge in battles, which says something.

For decades, Ortofon has established itself as one of the best in the hi-fi audio industry. Known for its outstanding quality hi-fi turntable carts, Ortofon is respected by many throughout the world. However, in recent years, Ortofon has dabbled in the DJ cartridge industry, primarily belting out cartridges for mixing music. Fortunately for Ortofon, these cartridges work perfectly well for scratching too, as they can hold onto the groove as well. Ortofon has recently honed in on the turntablist industry as well, and released the Scratch and Q-bert, respectively. Both have been well-received by turntablists, as they can hold the groove very well, and sound great, as expected of Ortofon. The Scratch was Ortofon's first foray into the turntablist market. The Q-bert, named after and designed by the legendary turntablist of the same name, fiercely rivals Shure's M44-7 in terms of skip resistance, but clearly wins in the sound quality department. Ortofons other DJ cartridges are very good too, however. Let's not overlook the Pro, DJ S, Nightclub S, and Elektro carts. The Pro is Ortofon's budget DJ cart, however, it has good tracking ability and sounds great. The DJ S has similar sound as the Pro S, except has a alightly higher output. The tracking ability was also improved over the Pro model. The Nightclub S is possibly Ortofon's most popular DJ cart, as it is used in clubs worldwide for its amazing sound and clarity as well as bass response. The Elektro is another great Ortofon cart, it takes the great tracking ability from its Scratch model, but its sound is similar to that of the Nightclub S' models. As a result, with Ortofon's signature sound quality and great tracking ability, the Elektro is great for any turntablist and mix DJ alike. It should be noted that 2002 DMC World Team Champions Birdy Nam Nam use the Pro model for their scratching and beatjuggling needs, and legendary DJ Grandmaster Flash uses the DJ S for his scratching and beatjuggling needs as well. 1995 DMC USA champion DJ Swamp uses the Nightclub S, as well as many national DMC champions worldwide. The Elektro was used by 2006 DMC World Champion DJ Netik, which held more than its own under his extremely demanding scratches and technical juggles.

Stanton is another company that started out manufacturing hi-fi carts, but began producing DJ gear very early on. Stanton has been manufacturing turntables, CD players, mixers, and cartridges for DJs for decades. Their turntablist cartridges, the 505SK and 520SK, also known as the DJ Craze signature cart, have been moderately successful in the past, although seemed to have been beat out by Shure's M44-7. However, they had decent tracking ability and moderately little record wear. A low point in Stanton's turntablist cartridges, however, was the sound, which to me seemed to have been muddy on almost all levels. It should be noted that the 505SK is what DJ Craze used in most of his battles.

So who and what is exactly king in the turntablist cartridge industry?

Shure M44-7:

Pros:

-Amazing skip resistance

-Extremely low record wear

-Booming low end perfect for hip-hop DJs

-Extremely high output (9mV)

Cons:

-Harsh highs can hurt ears

-Only comes as a headshell mount, which means you need to buy headshells as well if you don't have any already

Ortofon Pro / DJ S / Nightclub S / Scratch / Elektro:

Pros:

-Great skip resistance, especially the Scratch and Elektro

-Great sound quality, especially the Nightclub S and Elektro

-Concorde series can be directly screwed into the tonearm making things easy

Cons:

-Record wear much higher than that of the Shure M44-7

-For the OM series, like, the M44-7s, headshells are needed

Ortofon Q-bert:

Pros:

-Same as all the other Ortofon models, but skip resistance greatly improved, just as good as the M44-7, if not better

-Extremely high output (11mV), which is even higher than the M44-7's

Cons:

-Same as all the other Ortofon models

-Very expensive, especially in the United States

Stanton 505SK / 520SK:

Pros:

-Good skip restance

Cons:

-Muddy sound quality

-Headshells needed

So what should I get?

If all you do is scratch and beatjuggle, it might be best to get the M44-7. With extremely low record wear and amazing skip resistance, that's all you might need. It can also be used in clubs. However, if you intend on sampling records as well, the Ortofon Q-bert should be looked into, as its sound quality is considerably better than that of the M44-7. Of course, if money is an issue, the other Ortofon models mentioned above should be looked into as they are cheaper; if money is a huge issue, look into the Stanton 505SK, as they are the most budget turntablist carts.

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