MC vs MM - phono cartridge

Can someone please explain to an analogue novice the audio difference between the two? Pros/Cons of both? My premp will accept either.
Moving coil is more delicate. The coils actually move and the 'iron' stays still. And the tonearm needs to be designed for them. (If it doesn't say so, it usually ain't.)
Also moving coil to be 'retipped' is expensive, as the cartridge must be sent to a pro to do the work.
Moving Magnet is more robust, the stylus usually can be changed by the owner. Nearly all tonearms are designed for a moving magnet. The magnet moves, and the coils stay still.
Some vinyl mavens swear by the MC as being more reveiling.
But remember, the MC needs far more gain, hence it is more likely to gain some hiss from a midfi preamp.
For a neophyte: stick to a moving magnet. my$0.02
Elizabeth explained things very well. Go with the moving magnet.
thats the best 'matter of fact' explanation i've read in regard to mm vs mc....well done
The conventional wisdom is that MC is better if you've got the $$$ to invest in a high quality phono stage and tonearm. MC cartridges are also generally more expensive.

If you're not thinking about getting into super-duper phono amps and space-age tonearms, go with MM.

There's also a third option, the high output MC cartridge. You can use one of those with your preamp set for MM.

Think of what an electric motor is. You run an electric current through a coil of wire which in turn surrounds a magnet. A force is generated which can be harnessed to turn a fan blade, or a vacuum cleaner brush, whatever.

It works in the other direction too.

If you take a magnet and move it in and out of a coil of wire, an electrical current will be generated in the wire. Kind of like a reverse electric motor. That's what a phono cartridge is.

The stylus rides along a record groove on a little metal cantilever. It moves with the vibrations in the record goove, which should be an analog of the original music signal. The little vibrations cause a magnet and a coil of wire to move in relation to one another. That tiny electrical signal, which should also be an analog of the record groove vibrations, is then transmitted to the amplifier.

With an MM cartridge, it is the magnet that moves. The magnet is attached to the opposite end of the cantilever that the stylus is attached to. The coil of wire is fixed and is in the body of the cartridge.

With a MC cartridge, the coil of wire is attached to the end of the cantilever and it is the magnet which is fixed in the body of the cartridge.

So for both cartridges, you have the same thing: a magnet and a coil of wire. One is fixed and the other moves, thereby generating an electrical signal.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

One advantage of a MM cartridge is that it is easy to replace the stylus. Since the magnet is not attached to anything in the body of the cartridge, you can pull the stylus/cantilever assembly out of the cartridge and replace it. You cannot do this with a MC stylus because it is the coil of wire which is attached to the cantilever, which is then attached to the body of the cartridge. If you pulled it out, it would break the wire. So to replace the stylus, it has to be sent back to the factory to be rebuilt or "retipped". Expensive.

Another advantage of the MM cartridge is that it is cheaper to manufacture. You don't have the added construction complexity of attaching a coil of wire from the cantilever to the cartridge body. Again, expensive.

Well, why bother with MC cartridges? As it turns out, they have advantages over MM cartridges on other points, not in cost but in performance.

We would like not to have a stylus/cantilever being weighed down by a magnet, which is a chunk of metal. The weight could inhibit the ability of the stylus/cantilever to move with record groove vibrations, some of which are in the order of billionths of an inch. Rather than put a realtively heavy magnet on the cantilever, if you put a lighter coil of wire on the cantilever,it will be much more nimble and able to respond to more subtle record groove vibrations.

There is another advantage to a MC pickup. You can use a smaller coil of wire than with a MM pickup.

If you have a small magnet on the MM cantilever in to avoid weight problems, you need a larger coil of wire in the cartridge to generate sufficient electrical signal.

With a MC cartridge, you can use a small coil of wire on the cantilever, which makes it light and nimble, and then put a relatively larger magnet in the cartridge body in order to generate sufficient electrical signal. It's better to have the relatively heavy magnet in the cartridge than on the cantilever, although you still don't want it too big and heavy in the cartridge either. But here's the other benefit of a small coil. It's becoming a bit technical, but here it is. A coil will cut off high frequencies. It's a filter. So a MM cartridge acts like it has a buit in high frequency filter. You can compensate for this, but it's causing more problems that have to be dealt with. On the other hand, if you have a small coil, as in a MC cartridge, the fitering effect is decreased. And you have the other advantage of adding less weight to the cantilever. But again, the finer the construction, the more expensive it is.

Because the MC cartridge has such a small signal, due to the coil being so small, the more likely it is to be overwhelmed by hiss, or by the noise floor of your other components. Although the MC is more sensitive to record virations, it follows that it is also more sensitive to other noise as well. So, although a MC is a significant upgrade in performance over a MM, the rest of the system must be commensurately good or you've wasted your money by reproducing hiss and noise as well as more subtle signal, which may in fact be overwhelmed the increased hiss and noise.

Because the MC produces a smaller signal than a MM, it needs extra amplification. So phono preamps have a separate setting for MM and MC preamps to reflect the extra boost needed fo the MC. If you use a MM phono section for a MC cartridge, it will likely only produce a whisper in volume.

One last point. There are high output and low output MC cartridges. A high output MC cartridge is an attempt to have the advantages of both MM and MC cartridges. It is a MC cartridge so it is more nimble than a MM cartridge. However, it uses a larger coil of wire than a low output MC cartridge. With a larger coil, it may produce enough output than it will work with a MM phono section. The downside is that you start adding weight back on to the cantilever, and the filter effect will increase as the coil gets larger. In other words, you're reintroducing the reasons you went from MM to MC in the first place. Still, it's a a trade-off you may prefer.

Like Elizabeth says, if you're a neophyte, use MM. There are very good MM cartridges, and they're cheaper and can have a stylus replacement at a reasonable cost. When the rest of your system gets really good, then you can take advantage of the performance improvement of a MC.
Thanks for all the wonderful information.I wish we had more contributions like yours.
Best regards
high output moving coils can be used in moving magnet phon sections [say 39db+ gain]. The Denon DL-160 is under $200 and should last 2-3 years with good vinyl/stylus hygiene. Denon does offer retipping for that model. it inexpensive enough to buy another new one, ship the old one away for retipping and you are well stocked.

if you wanted to test moving coils and don't want to upgrade anything else and do it on the cheap Denon DL-160 or DL-110 is the way to go.
i would also like to thank you markphd, what a great explanation of the mm/mc cartridge, i had a idea of the differences but not to the detail you have described, glad i went with the lo output dynavector,
Dear Markphd : Great post!!! There are almost nothing to add but this:

the MM cartridges are very sensitive to changes on capacitance and impedance load and the MC ones are a lot less prone to that electric effect.

almost all the MM cartridge are better trackers than the MC ones due in great part to its high compliance design against a low/medium MC cartridge compliance. In some ways this compliance characteristic makes a more easy choice of tonearm for the MM than for the MC cartridges.

usually the MC cartridge has an overshoot on the high frequency response range that can cause some kind of distortions in the other way: MM cartridge this overshoot does not exist and the frequency response is smother than the MC one.

I agree with Mark: there are several high quality sound reproduction MM cartridges, a few of them compete bis a bis with the best MC ones.

Now, for you can really get the best out of a MC cartridge you must have a very good Phonolinepreamp that btw are expensive units.

Btw, you can try the Sumiko Blackbird that is a high output MC cartridge and very good performer.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I know this is way past the time of this post, but thought I would add that I am testing homemade MC and MM phone preamps developed by users on Audio Karma. So for around $100 you can build some amazingly high end preamps if you know how to use a soldering iron and have some electronics background.

Getting to my point, I have been running tests using the same quality MM preamp and MC preamp. While the MM is louder and more forward sounding, so is the noise it picks up between the tracks and when there are imperfections on the record. The MC is much more refined and because of the physical properties, as markphd described, much of the noise is reduced and the sound reproduction is much more open and "airy" in laymen’s terms. I can hear instrument and vocal detail I could never hear with a MM and I have a very good Stanton MM. I also have one of the least expensive Denon DL-103R MC cartridges. When I have more money, I will try a higher end MC.

If you have a good phone preamp for a MC that allows you to plug into the standard line-in like ’CD’ or on older amps ’TAPE’, the rest of the equipment doesn’t have to be as high quality except the turntable and the speakers. But the receiver does need to be good enough quality to have very low noise and reproduce the range of sounds from bass to treble without much deviation. But you can buy a receiver that does this for under $500. A reasonable pair of bookshelf speakers that can reproduce the awesome sound difference be had on sale for around $500 +/- $100. I picked up a pair of Klipsh RB-81 IIs for $450 (on sale for close to 50%) and they are head and shoulders above many others in that price range. And a turntable able to use a MC has to have what is called a low compliance tonearm (the tone arm isn't too light weight) and doesn’t have a builtin phono preamp unless it can be turned off. These can be had between $250 up to $500 for those with a budget. Read reviews and ask many questions before buying a turntable for use with a MC cartridge.

For most of you that don’t want to build your own a MC phono preamp the Emotiva XPS-1 is a great option (I don’t work for them). It supports both MM and MC and costs $179 retail direct from the manufacturer or through Amazon. It is on sale now and then and I got mine for $129. I use mine to test homemade preamps against as a benchmark.

IMPORTANT: many electronics, phono cartridges, speakers, etc. take time to "burn in" and sound much better when they do. Some people say this is bunk, but I have witnessed it first hand many times using blind tests with my friends.

I hope this helps someone.