does cartridge output level affect surface noise?

I have a dartzeel phone preamplifier that requires the phono cartridge to be between .3mv and 1mv.

I am currently using the benz low output mc micro ace which is .4mv.

Benz also makes a .8mv medium output micro ace.

I love the sound of the cartridge but wonder if the medium output cartridge all else being equal (with the amp, cartridge alignment, turntable (technics mlk5g), tonearm, and isolation) would be more or the same or less sensitive to surface noise.


it would be the same.. with a higher output cartridge you would turn down the volume control, but all that the cartridge is picking up would be louder...including the music, the pops and the clicks. If you use a higher output cartridge, however, your preamp and therefore your ultimate sound would probably sound better. The less your preamp has to work, the better it sounds.
Less sensitive, the low output MCs are noted for their ability to pick up fine detail.
However this is of minor signicance compared with the amplification of your Phono Stage. I use an out of control high--- way too high-- gain in the phono section of my ARC SP6B followed by a very similiar circuit in the line stage. Every mote of dust sounds like a cannon shot.
Sorry I cannot report any findings of an a vs B comparison.
Yes, and no.

Some surface imperfections can cause extremely fast or large stylus displacements, which will send unnaturally fast and large transient signals to the phono. If your cartridge is already near (or above) the design headroom of the stage, such excessive transients could cause a (momentary) overload, resulting in distortion or over-amplification of the transient.

This effect will be less true with really good phono stages like yours, but the general principle is the same.

OTOH, the mere fact of changing to a HO from a LO output version of the same cartridge means that all else is NOT the same. HO cartridges produce slower transients and lower peak amplitudes than their LO twins (all else being equal of course!). This would somewhat ameliorate the effect described above.

The net result from these two conflicting factors will depend on the individual components involved. So the best answer to your question is, "It depends."


I have found that what most significantly affects how signal-to-noise is heard, is cartridge/arm set up and alignment. Since acheiving what has to be perfection, or awful close to it, I am able to listen to old lp's that were unlistenable before. Try getting a Mintlp tractor, and see how much less surface noise intrudes in your lp listening.
Regards, and good listening,
Stringreen is right. It should be the same. Since you are at the low end of your phono preamp's input sensitivity it is doubtful that you'd ever overload its input.

The only other thing to consider is whether or not using more gain from the phono preamp adds to the noise level. If it's a well-designed unit, that should be about the same too. Also, sometimes changes in VTA and tracking force can have an effect on the groove noise. Happy Listening!
If you use a higher output cartridge, however, your preamp and therefore your ultimate sound would probably sound better. The less your preamp has to work, the better it sounds.
That's certainly true with lower quality phono stages. But the faster transient response and greater dynamic extension of a low output cartridge easily outweigh any diminution in sound quality caused by pulling more gain from a really good phono stage (like the OP's).

That isn't just theory. It's born out by our own A/B comparisons of LO vs. HO MC's, both Benz's and ZYX's, using a top class phono stage. With good quality amplification, the sound quality using the more sensitive lower output version of a cartridge is always better.

Getting back to the original question, as Plato said, the LO cart he's using now will rarely if ever overload his phono inputs. The HO version might, or might not. The only way to know is to try. Every system's gain structure and behavior when overloaded at the source is unique.