I had originally purchased the Audio Technica 120 E/T Standard Mount Cartridge for use with my first turntable. I had done my research and decided the AT 120 E/T was a quality upgrade suitable for my budget. Unfortunately, I also never checked whether or not the cartridge could be changed on my current turntable, which was a supremely budget-minded Audio Technica USB turntable (and a Japanese model at that). Turns out, the cartridge on the USB turntable was soldered on. Shit.
I wasn't going to go out like no bitch, though. The turntable was 4 years old, my first one, and well overdue to be replaced. After reflecting a moment on the fact that I own over 75 records, a pair of KRK studio reference monitors, a NuForce DAC, and several pairs of Grado headphones, it was easy to justify the purchase of a replacement turntable. Some research followed and I arrived at the Rega RP1.
The Rega RP1
The Rega RP1 is a beautiful turntable and sits at a crossroads between generous features and practical value that could most closely be compared to the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. It's stock cartridge is the Rega Carbon is mounted on Rega's improved RB101 tonearm, which is a simpler variant of the legendary RB300. I listened to my vinyl for some time with the stock cartridge to get a healthy baseline understanding of the audio quality. I was more or less thrilled with the difference in fidelity, as it was a far cry from what my original turntable could offer.
- Turntable: Rega RP1 (in white)
- Current Cartridge: Rega Carbon (RP1 stock)
- Target Cartridge: Audio Technica 120 E/T
- Phono Preamp: TCC TC-750LC
- Headphone Amp: NuForce Icon HDP
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD 650
Upgrading the RP1's Stock Cartridge
The RP1 user's manual that Rega provides is laughable. At two (2) pages in length, it provides little information about the components of the RP1, much less any indication on how to replace the cart. I scoured the Internet for answers and found a few tutorial videos and articles on how to replace turntable cartridges in general, but none specifically about the RP1. As a result, I decided to photograph the process as I cautiously proceeded. These instructions are my findings that will hopefully help those of you out there looking to replace the cartridge on your own RP1. I am not a professional and have do not work at a fancy hi-fi shop. I'm just a regular guy who loves music with some tools that can follow instructions reasonably well.
- Vinyl slip mat (for protecting the RP1's painted finish)
- Needle-nose Pliers
- Allen wrench multi-tool
- Shallow cup (for keeping track of incredibly small screws)
- Bright desk light
Step 1: Disconnect the 4 Cartridge Terminals
Important: The RP1's tonearm does not have a proper, detachable headshell. This makes installation far more delicate and different from other tutorials because the entire time you must make sure not to damage the tonearm!
- Remove the platter from the RP1.
- Place the vinyl slip mat between the tonearm and the RP1's surface for cosmetic protection.
- Hold the cartridge housing steady with one hand, and gently use needle-nose pliers to grip & remove each female metal terminal connected to a colored wire in the backside of the cartridge. There should be four, most typically colored red, green, blue, and white.
- Be sure to be mindful of the angle of your pliers when removing each terminal. You do not want to bend any part of the delicate female terminals attached to each wire.
Rega Carbon cartridge with 3 terminals detached. I had accidentally done part of step 2 first, that's why there is one bolt missing as well.
Step 2: Remove the Mounting Bolts
- Use needle-nose pliers to grip-steady one of the two bolts affixing the current cartridge.
- Use the allen wrench from the underside to loosen and remove each bolt.
Step 2 in action.
The Audio Technica cart (L) with removed stylus housing (R)
Step 3: Reconnect Signal Terminals to New Cartridge
- Remove the stylus from the new cartridge and set aside.
- Carefully reverse the process you applied in step 1 to affix the female terminals to the new cartridge: Hold the new cartridge in one hand, grip a female metal terminal with the needle-nose pliers and apply mild pressure to install.
Important: Be very mindful to not use excessive force when reattaching the signal terminals, or you may damage the wiring or tonearm itself!
New Audio Technica cartridge with 2 terminals attached.
All terminals attached to the new, hanging cartridge.
Step 4: Affix New Cartridge with Supplied Bolts
This should be self explanatory. Use the supplied hardware from Audio Technica to fully attach the new cartridge in place. Use the same technique with the needle-nose pliers and wrench.
Important: Do not over-tighten!
Step 5: Align the Newly-Installed Cartridge
Welcome to the most meticulous step. Use the RP1-supplied cartridge alignment protractor to fine-tune the mount points of each bolt affixing the cartridge to the tonearm. You're basically trying to make it so that the stylus glides across the vinyl at the proper angle. If you do not have a cartridge alignment protractor, there are many available online that you can download and print out.
The protractor simply placed on the turntable platter.
- Reattach the stylus to the newly installed cartridge.
- Place platter back onto RP1.
- Place protractor onto platter, with the hole cutout over the record spindle.
- Rotate the platter and angle the tonearm so that the cartridge and alignment track printed on the paper approach each other in a parallel fashion.
- Place the needle directly on the crosshairs of the protractor. Does the cartridge alignment appear to be perfectly parallel to the track print-out on paper? (see step 6 or 7)
- No? Then loosen, reposition, and retighten the cartridge mounting bolts and repeat step 5 as many times as necessary until satisfaction.
- Yes? Awesome. You're done aligning the cartridge.
About to place the needle directly on the crosshairs of the protractor.
Hrm... Not Quite Right
NO. Damn, I did not get it right the first time. Very few people do, so I made some adjustments.
Another angle of the test.
Yes, More Like It!
YES! Notice how the bolts relate to one another. They're quite even in position.
YES! Another look of the alignment from the backside. Looks pretty good!
Calibrating your tonearm and anti-skate to have proper settings is outside the scope of this article. It basically involves adjusting the weight at the back end of the RB101 tonearm and the "bias" adjustment underneath the base of the arm. Every cartridge's recommended tracking weight differs, so do a bit of research before you give it a go.
Opinions turn into flamewars quickly in the audiophile world. I'm a true believer in the idea that you could spend a modest amount of cash (by audiophile standards) and arrive at 85%+ fidelity that any budding enthusiast would respect. Your system is only as good as its weakest link, and the cartridge is arguably the most important link. All you need to know is that I'm very happy with the Rega RP1 and, in my circumstance, the upgrade to the AT120 E/T provided a phenomenal difference in audio quality compared the stock cartridge. Good luck!