Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with that comes the need for turntables and their components.
One of the most important parts of a turntable is the stylus, also known as the needle. But are turntable stylus universal? Can you just buy any stylus and attach it to your cartridge?
The short answer is no. In this article, we’ll explore why turntable stylus are not universal and what you need to know before replacing yours.
So, let’s dive in and learn more about this crucial component of your turntable.
Are Turntable Stylus Universal
Turntable stylus are not universal. Every turntable requires a specific type of stylus that is optimally suited to its design and compatible with the other parts. While some styluses are marketed as universal and can be used on any cartridge or turntable, this is not always the case. In fact, they may not fit or work on all record players and will only function on record players that require that specific stylus type.
It’s important to note that turntable stylus are also called needles, and the terms can be used interchangeably. A turntable stylus usually lasts around 1000 hours, after which it becomes worn out and results in reduced sound quality and more wear and tear on records.
When replacing the turntable stylus, you may have the option to replace only the needle or replace the complete cartridge. Whether both options are possible or not depends on the type of turntable you have. Some turntables have a fixed cartridge and only allow the needle to be replaced. This is most common on affordable turntables. On more expensive turntables, the cartridge can usually be undone and replaced.
It’s important to note that there are some cartridges that don’t have a replaceable needle. In these cases, you have the option to use a turntable repair specialist to replace the needle or simply buy a new cartridge. However, both options can be expensive.
Understanding The Anatomy Of A Turntable Stylus
The turntable stylus is an essential component of the turntable that makes contact with the record and translates the information in the grooves into an electrical signal. The stylus is attached to a cartridge that locks to the cantilever arm and headshell of the turntable for translation.
The stylus is typically made of diamond, one of the hardest materials known, which means it won’t degrade too much with the pressure placed upon it when it reads the information stored in a record’s grooves. The shape of the stylus tip plays a crucial role in how well it can track the grooves on the record. The two best and most common shapes are spherical and elliptical.
The stylus sends information as a signal to an amplifier for play-through via speakers. As the cantilever vibrates according to the groove shape, magnets and coils generate a tiny, passive audio signal that travels up the cables inside the tonearm tube. There are two types of cartridge design: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). MM cartridges are much cheaper to produce and allow the user to replace their own stylus. MC cartridges have superior detail and frequency response, but can be expensive and don’t typically allow for user-replaceable styli.
When replacing a turntable stylus, it’s important to ensure that you choose a stylus that is compatible with your specific turntable model. Some styluses are marketed as universal, but they may not fit or work on all record players. It’s also important to note that some cartridges don’t have a replaceable needle, so you may need to replace the entire cartridge or seek professional help.
The Importance Of Choosing The Right Stylus For Your Cartridge
Choosing the right stylus for your cartridge is crucial to ensure optimal sound quality and prevent damage to your records. When replacing a worn-out stylus, it’s important to consider the condition of the cartridge. If the cartridge is in good condition, it’s recommended to replace only the stylus. However, if there’s no removable stylus, you’ll need to replace the entire cartridge.
When selecting a new stylus, it’s important to set a budget and pick a stylus shape that’s compatible with your turntable. Cartridges differ in their mount type, or how they attach to the headshell and stylus. Each type of cartridge has its own type of arm, including standard, P-mount, and universal.
It’s also important to consider physical or sonic signs that indicate you need a new stylus, such as distortion, fuzziness, noise, channel imbalance, spitting, sibilance, skipping, or bouncing. Ignoring these signs can result in further damage to your records and equipment.
Compatibility Issues: Why Stylus Are Not Universal
The reason why turntable stylus are not universal is due to compatibility issues. There are different types of turntable cartridges, and each requires a specific type of stylus. The two main types of cartridges are P-Mount and Half-Inch. P-Mount cartridges attach directly to the tonearm and are held in place by a single screw. They are easy to replace and install and do not require adjustment. On the other hand, Half-Inch cartridges have two holes spaced half an inch apart with screws inside and are installed using a headshell. They are found on most modern turntables made by Audio-Technica, Fluance, Project, etc. Half-Inch cartridges can be tricky to install due to the small screws and are connected via three red, white, and green wires.
To determine which type of cartridge your turntable has, you need to check whether it has a headshell or not. The headshell is a piece designed to attach to the end of a turntable’s tonearm. The cartridge is screwed into the slots on the headshell to hold it properly in place. Some tonearms will not have a removable headshell, but is actually part of the tonearm itself. You will still note the two screws on the top of the cartridge fastening it to the tonearm which will inform you it is a half-inch cartridge.
Apart from the type of cartridge, other factors such as stylus shape, cantilever, trackability, generator type, and mount type also affect compatibility. Stylus shape refers to how the stylus makes contact with the record groove. The narrower the contact radius, the better the stylus will be able to track modulations in the groove. Cantilever refers to how well a cartridge can reproduce a range of audio frequencies. Trackability measures how well the stylus can track a modulated record groove. Generator type refers to whether the cartridge is moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC). Finally, mount type refers to how the cartridge is secured to the tonearm.
How To Identify And Replace Your Turntable Stylus
Identifying and replacing your turntable stylus can seem like a daunting task, but with a little bit of research and some careful attention to detail, it can be done easily. Here are some steps to help you identify and replace your turntable stylus:
1. Look up the model number: The first step in identifying a suitable replacement stylus is to look up the model number of your turntable. This can usually be found on the turntable itself or in the user manual. If you cannot find the model number, you can try searching online for information about your turntable.
2. Determine the stylus type: Once you have the model number, you can determine the type of stylus that is compatible with your turntable. There are several different types of styluses, each designed for specific turntables. It’s essential to ensure that you identify a suitable needle before purchasing a replacement for your record player.
3. Check the current stylus: If you already have a stylus in your turntable, you can check it for any visible damage such as jagged edges or a bent needle head. If you see any of these signs, it’s definitely time to replace it.
4. Listen for signs of wear: You can also listen for signs of wear on your current stylus. If you hear any audible hiss or static in places you never noticed before, that’s likely due to a damaged or worn needle. A massive amount of sibilant “s” sounds from vocalists can also be a signifier, as well as the decreased sound quality of treble and bass (high and low frequencies).
5. Consider timing: Timing is everything when it comes to buying a replacement stylus. Waiting too long can cause serious damage to your records, but on the other hand, if you’re working on a budget, it can be expensive and stressful to feel pressured to upgrade to a new needle when your current one is still working like magic.
6. Replace the stylus: Once you’ve identified the correct stylus type and determined that it’s time for a replacement, you can follow these steps:
– Open the dust cover and find the headshell/cartridge.
– Remove the stylus from the cartridge.
– Remove the entire headshell from the tonearm.
– Release the cartridge by unscrewing turntable head screws.
– Unplug attached wires from the pins on the back of the cartridge.
– Match colors on new cartridge to the wire pins.
– Attach the cartridge headshell back to the tower with stylus installed.
Tips For Maintaining And Extending The Life Of Your Stylus
Maintaining and extending the life of your stylus is crucial to ensure the best possible audio performance and to avoid damaging your records. Here are some tips to help you achieve this:
1. Keep your stylus clean: Dust, finger oil, and other grime can build up on the stylus and cause it to wear down faster. Use a soft-bristled brush or a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to gently clean the stylus after every use. Avoid touching the stylus directly with your fingers as this can cause damage.
2. Use a stylus guard: A stylus guard is a small plastic cover that fits over the stylus when it’s not in use. It protects the delicate tip from damage and prevents dust from settling on it. Always use a stylus guard when storing your turntable.
3. Be gentle when lifting the needle: Never touch the cartridge or the stylus when lifting the needle off the record. Use the tonearm lift or finger lift that extends out of the turntable cartridge shell to lift the tonearm off the record and place it back onto the armrest.
4. Check your tracking force: Tracking force is the amount of pressure that the stylus exerts on the record. Too much or too little tracking force can cause damage to both the stylus and the record. Check your turntable’s manual for recommended tracking force settings and adjust accordingly.
5. Replace your stylus regularly: As mentioned earlier, a turntable stylus usually lasts around 1000 hours before it needs to be replaced. Keep track of how many hours you’ve used your stylus, and replace it when necessary to avoid damaging your records.
By following these tips, you can maintain and extend the life of your turntable stylus, ensuring optimal audio performance and protecting your precious vinyl collection.