The stylus, often known as the needle, is an important part of any turntable. It’s the link between the record player and the record itself; without it, a turntable is nothing more than a spinning platter.
This is how it goes. When the stylus is put on a spinning record, it rides along the grooves of the record, gathering up and relaying vibrations to the tonearm and cartridge. The cartridge then converts the vibrations into electrical impulses, which are amplified (either by a separate amplifier or by the turntable’s built-in preamp) and sent to your speakers.
Today’s entry-level turntables include a tonearm, counterweight, cartridge, and stylus, as well as everything else needed to play records. They’re essentially plug-and-play machines; all you have to do is put the record in, drop the stylus, and you’re ready to go. The stylus (and tonearm) will even drop for you if you have an automated turntable.
However, a stylus, like anything else, is vulnerable to wear and tear over time. The entire process is dependent on friction between the stylus and the record being played, and the stylus will eventually become dull and worn down. You’ll have to replace it at some point in the future.
How do you know when stylus should be replaced?
There are auditory and physical signs that indicate when your stylus needs to be replaced. On the audible side, if your stylus is old or damaged, your records will not sound as good. More distortion, crackling, static, and overall fuzziness will be heard. Basically, if your records aren’t sounding as well as they used to, check the stylus on your turntable.
There are a few ways to tell if your stylus is damaged on the physical level. Check to see if it’s crooked or otherwise out of shape first. Even if there is no visible distortion, you may notice that the stylus is skipping or jumping out of the grooves while it plays. If this happens, it’s time to get a new stylus.
If you buy a used turntable, the stylus should always be replaced. You have no idea how a used stylus has been used, and a damaged stylus could cause damage to your records. It’s not worth the risk.
How long does a typical stylus last?
Most styluses are composed of diamond or sapphire, two of the hardest natural materials on the planet, so you won’t have to replace them very often. The stylus will obviously wear down faster the more you use the turntable. After 150 or 200 hours of gameplay, most manufacturers recommend changing the stylus. However, some more expensive styluses can last up to five times as long.
Are there ways to extend the life of a stylus?
Yes. The simplest approach to extend the life of a turntable’s stylus is to simply look after it — and your records, as well. Anything that causes excessive friction, such as dust or debris caught in the grooves of a record, has the potential to harm the stylus, lowering the audio quality.
What kind of stylus should you buy?
If you’re considering about replacing the stylus on your turntable, you should also consider replacing the cartridge. You might not be able to do both, though. Tonearms on certain turntables allow you to swap out the stylus and cartridge. Others allow you to replace the stylus but not the cartridge (in case you’re considering doing both). A fair rule of thumb is that if the cartridge is screwed to the tonearm, the cartridge and stylus can be replaced. If there are no screws visible, the stylus is most likely the only component that can be replaced.
There are some restrictions on the type of stylus you can use to replace your existing one. It’s always a good idea to consult the product manual or the manufacturer’s website for recommendations. If you want to upgrade to a different stylus than what’s recommended, keep in mind that not all styluses are created equal. Styluses can be spherical (also known as conical) or elliptical in shape, with the latter having a significant impact on sound quality.
An elliptical-shaped stylus is generally more accurate than a spherical stylus because it makes more contact with the record grooves, allowing it to retrieve more data. Because these styluses make more contact, they can wear down more quickly; however, this is dependent on a variety of factors, including the stylus’ substance.
How do I know when to replace my turntable stylus?
Your stylus may erode, bend, or even fracture over time. When you turn on your turntable, no one wants to hear static instead of music.
A word of caution: a broken or worn-out stylus might do catastrophic damage to your vinyl collection. Please don’t use your record player until you’ve replaced your stylus if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed below.
A close-up of the stylus on a turntable:
Reasons to Replace the Stylus on Your Turntable:
How do I know if my record stylus is bad?
A worn needle or turntable stylus can be diagnosed in a number ways. The experts at VintageSonics recommend testing with a clean, inexpensive record that you don’t mind breaking.
Visible Damage to the Needle or Cartridge
Before you do anything else, look over the turntable needle, also known as the stylus, for any signs of wear and tear. When listening to older vinyl records, a stylus can often pick up dust and grime from the grooves.
This could be the cause of your music being distorted or muffled. When inspecting this, there should be a coagulation of dust on the stylus’s point.
If there is no dirt or debris on the stylus, it is unlikely that you will need to replace it! Use a needle brush to clean your stylus by brushing it forward and back (towards you) a couple of times. This should be sufficient to clear any undesired debris.
If you don’t have a needle brush, you can use an old toothbrush or a steady hand. Just make sure the brush is clean before using it.
Inspect the needle and cartridge on your turntable if there is no debris. Is everything in its place, and nothing appears to be bent or misaligned? To properly track on a vinyl record, the needle’s tip should appear sharp.
The point of the stylus will brush up against the groove walls if the tip is too dull, making the music seem abrasive and harsh. Also, double-check that your cartridge’s leads are properly attached.
Scratchy or Raspy Sounds
Scratchy-sounding audio is one obvious symptom that a needle needs to be replaced. This is a fairly simple diagnosis, and if your turntable is set up correctly, it can be an obvious clue that a stylus replacement is required.
If you buy a used turntable, it’s a good idea to change the needle at the very least. The stylus cantilever will lose its bouncy bounce after many hours of use. When listening to records, this has a considerable effect on the playing quality.
Thin Sounding Records
While you may not notice a scratchy sound when playing your records, your music may sound thin or missing in bass when played. You’ll notice this as cartridges and needles wear out and need to be replaced.
Check to see whether your EQ settings are normal. If you hear a lack of bass and treble, it could be a sign that your needle is worn and needs to be replaced.
What to Know
If you’re replacing an old, broken item or upgrading to better sonic performance, this article will show you how to choose a new turntable cartridge or stylus.
No one said collecting vinyl records was gonna be an easy hobby.
There’s a lot to think about: where to store your records, how to clean them, how to cross stuff off your Wantlist without going broke, and so on. Let me add another factor to this rapidly growing list of vinyl concerns: Is it time to replace the stylus on your turntable?
Which part is the stylus?
This is the needle that reproduces an audio signal by tracking the grooves in your vinyl records. It’s the cantilever’s cone or ellipse-shaped tip, which is commonly composed of diamond or sapphire. The cone rests in the grooves and reads data from both sides to produce a stereo signal.
What’s the big deal?
Your stylus is undoubtedly the most difficult and time-consuming of all your turntable components. It’s there in the middle of your records, battling dust and whatever else comes its way in order to recreate a signal and play those wonderful tunes you love. Apart from being on the front lines against dust and debris, hour after hour of contact during playback takes its toll on your stylus, even if it is a diamond. If you don’t treat your stylus with the respect it deserves by keeping track of how many hours it’s been running and retiring it when necessary, the consequences will be more than just slowed playback. You could potentially be causing damage to your records by using a worn needle that is gouging micro-chips or bearing strongly against the grooves. A few crooked styluses could potentially start etching your vinyl. This isn’t the kind of thing you want to take a chance on.
When does a turntable stylus need to be replaced?
The majority of manufacturers recommend replacing your stylus after 1000 hours of record playing. If you use your turntable for an hour or more per day on average, the stylus should be replaced every couple of years. This varies based on the company and the materials they’re working with. When you obtain your stylus, make sure to verify the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan. Some hi-fi enthusiasts will argue that sticking to the manufacturer’s lifespan is excessive caution (as long as you clean the stylus properly and play well-maintained records in good condition), while others will argue that replacing your stylus within its lifespan is critical to preserving your records and getting the most out of your setup. It’s entirely up to you how brave you want to be.
Finally, it’s not an exact science, and various things will influence the rate at which your stylus wears out.
Can old records damage the stylus?
No, they cannot. The needle, also known as the stylus, is composed of a hard precious stone, and the records themselves are constructed of plastic. Because these stones are tougher than plastic, they can stand up to the demands of an uneven surface.
The pop you hear when the needle traces its way over a scratch, on the other hand, is enough to bring your heart to a halt. It’s got to be doing some damage, right?
Let’s take a closer look at this, starting with the needle. This tiny, sharp tool, also known as the stylus, is composed of diamond or sapphire. As you may be aware, diamond is an extremely hard substance that is difficult to damage or shatter. And sapphire isn’t any easy to shatter.
The records aren’t quite as impressive. It’s constructed of vinyl, which is a form of plastic. It’s also not the most durable of polymers.
Records are scratched for a variety of reasons, none of which necessitate a great deal of force: being dropped, being stacked on top of each other or otherwise improperly stored, being placed on surfaces other than the turntable, being removed from and slipped into their covers, and even, according to one particularly vehement Quora forum contributor, being dropped “entrusting them to the care of others.”
Which would you bet on to win if you had to pit the two against each other in a fight? Isn’t it most likely the needle?
Even if your ears can’t, diamonds and sapphires can withstand the shock of a scratch on a vinyl record. The plastic isn’t strong enough to inflict significant damage, so don’t be concerned.
That raises the question of whether styli are damaged at all if they only ever run over this softer material.
In a nutshell, absolutely, because of normal wear and tear. It finally gets to everything, including the toughest, highest-quality needles. Playing a lot of scratched records could help speed up the process.
Maybe you have a needle that was rapidly made worthless, and you’re thinking to yourself, “My needle couldn’t possible have been broken so quickly due to normal wear and tear…”
So, if it wasn’t scratched records or the ravages of time, what happened to your stylus?
What Can Harm The Stylus?
There isn’t much that can harm the stylus aside from time, i.e. hours spent running through the grooves of spinning records.
With the exception of dirt. There’s also dust. Don’t forget about the little bits of filth that get lodged in the grooves of your record.
They’re all awful for your record and your stylus, and they’re all harmful for your stylus. They erode and grind at your needle in the same way that running water erodes weathered stones.
Constantly playing dirty records will wear out your stylus faster than you think, and you’ll need to replace it sooner than you think. This happens with scratched records as well, but dirt is more worse. And when the needle deteriorates, it creates a cascade of difficulties.
Dust-caked needles retaliate, their jagged edges breaking the grooves of your vinyl recordings. If there was ever a reason to keep your records clean, this is it (apart from the fact that they sound better when they’re clean).
When To Get A New Needle
This is entirely dependent on how clean your records are, as well as how much damage unclean records have caused to your stylus.
Keep your records clean, people, I’ll say it again. If you do, your needle is likely to last at least 1000 hours of play.
At least, that’s what some manufacturers claim. According to the YouTube comments on this video, one needle can be used for up to 3000 hours.
That means you could use the same needle for just over 8 years if you used your record player for 1 hour a day, every day. Simply keep an eye on it and learn how to spot a bad stylus.
Even if you keep to the manufacturer’s 1000-hour recommendation, you’ll get almost three years of record listening from a single stylus.
If you only play records with dirt on them (please don’t do this! ), your needles won’t get as much love. It’s a little more difficult to estimate how many hours you’ll get out of it.
It all depends on how dirty your records are and how dirty your stylus becomes as a result of them. Here are some scenarios in which you may need to replace your stylus.
You may hear a popping sound that is enough to stop the blood from flowing through your veins, as we indicated previously. The first indicator that something is wrong is that pop, or any other distortion or muffling sounds that your record shouldn’t make.
Playing a vinyl that you’re familiar with is a good way to see if the needle is old or damaged, and so affecting the sound quality of the record. I’m not talking about knowing the lyrics or riffs; I’m talking about knowing the music. I’m referring to having a basic understanding of the record’s sound and subtleties. That way, if anything sounds unusual, you’ll be able to add the needle to your suspect list.
Once your needle has been identified as a suspect, you can examine it with a high-powered magnifier (if one is available) to examine the finer features. Jagged edges or bends in the needle head, as well as black filth on the needle head, are things to keep an eye out for. These are indicators that it’s time to replace your stylus.
If your needle ever performs that awful thing when it just jumps out of the grooves and skirts along the vinyl, it’s probably time for a new one. If it skips now and then, it’s most likely the record, not the needle.
If you’ve recently acquired a second-hand turntable, it’s strongly advised that you replace the needle before playing anything on it. There’s no way of knowing for sure how old the needle on the turntable is, the condition of the records the previous owner listened to, or how well the entire machine was cared for.
And, when that time comes, you’ll need to know how to change your needle.
How To Change A Damaged Or Old Needle
You have two options for replacing your needle: either change the needle alone or replace the entire cartridge. This is determined by the manufacturing process used to create your cartridge.
You can simply replace the needle on most moving magnetic ones. When it comes to moving coil carts, you’ll almost always have to replace the entire cartridge.
Replacing Just The Needle
Pull the plastic or metal case that surrounds the stylus out of the cartridge while holding on to and stabilizing the tone arm. The main thing to keep in mind here is that you don’t want to harm the cartridge, so take care when removing the stylus.
If you want to improve the overall sound quality of your turntable, you can either look for the serial number on the needle you just removed and hunt for a replacement for that specific model online, or you can upgrade.
If you decide to update, be sure the replacement is compatible with your turntable. A fast Google search will provide the answer. And, like with anything else, the higher the quality of the stylus, the more money you’ll have to spend.
To begin, re-stabilize the tone arm. Slide the new stylus back into the arm with the needle pointed downwards. If you don’t hear a click once it’s fastened, double-check that it’s securely seated in the cartridge.
When you first receive the new needle out of the package, it’s perfectly calibrated, and you don’t want to accidently throw it off before you ever get to use it.
Replacing The Whole Cartridge
A wide range of cartridges can be used on most turntables. However, it’s worthwhile to investigate which models are compatible with your turntable.
Unplug the turntable first to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Slide the cartridge out after bracing the headshell. If your cartridge is connected to wires, gently remove them using pliers.
Remove the screws that hold the cartridge to the headshell with a screwdriver. While doing so, keep the tonearm steady to keep the cartridge stable.
Place it on the bottom of the headshell while holding it by the back half. Adjust it until the screw holes are aligned.
Brace the cartridge from the bottom and line the sides with your fingers. Once the sides of the cartridge are lined up with the sides of the headshell, double-check that the front of the cartridge is also lined up with the headshell. This makes sure your needle is parallel to the tone arm.
Insert the cartridge into the headshell and tighten it. Then, if required, carefully reconnect the wires to the cartridge’s rear.
How do you clean a stylus?
Knowing whether your needle is broken can be difficult to determine if you just bought a record player or have been collecting for years. After all, there could be a variety of items that need to be repaired or changed, and how can you tell if it’s the needle or something else?
In this post, we’ll look at how to identify if your needle has reached that point, as well as some recommendations on how to avoid it.
So, how can you know whether or not your needle is broken? Using your needle to play a record is the simplest technique to determine if it is broken. The sound quality will deteriorate slightly “The musical notes will typically become less distinct if you turn it off.” This is the most reliable indicator that your needle or stylus needs to be replaced.
To preserve the sound quality of your records as excellent as possible, most experts recommend replacing your needle every 1-2 years. Some even argue that if you listen to records all the time, you should change them more frequently!
Normally, the needle will not move “”Break” as in “into pieces” or anything similar. It will, however, become worn out and will need to be replaced. If your needle is damaged as a result of you dropping the player or any similar incident, replacing it isn’t too difficult or expensive.
The video below contains steps for replacing the needle. Simply click here to locate the best accessories for cleaning and storing vinyl records.
How do I replace my turntable stylus?
The needle on your record player may be made of diamonds, the hardest substance known to man, but it is far from impenetrable to damage.
They’re not as fragile as some people make them out to be, so don’t worry if you make a mistake or fumble with the tracking weight. They won’t be broken by a little roughhousing.
However, in order to lengthen their service life, it’s critical that you treat them with as much gentleness as possible. The diamond will ultimately wear out in the grooves of your records, but you want to listen to as many of them as you can before that happens.
How easy is it to damage a record needle?
The stylus on a turntable is actually a part of the cartridge. The stylus is the tiny “needle” at the end of the cartridge’s cantilever that actually makes contact with the record, while the cartridge is the housing section connected to the headshell.
The cartridge is the gold box branded Philips 422, as you can see in the photo at the top of this post. You can see the cantilever jutting down from the cartridge if you look attentively.
The stylus, which will make contact with the record and move back and forth and up and down in the grooves, is at the end of that cantilever. This modulation travels up the cantilever until it reaches the cartridge, where it is transformed into an electrical signal.
You can witness how the stylus on an Audio Technica turntable is replaced in the video below. This, I believe, demonstrates to newcomers how the stylus can be readily removed from the cartridge and replaced with a similar type.
It’s worth noting that he’s only removing the green plastic piece that supports the cantilever and stylus, leaving the cartridge attached to the headshell:
The following video will demonstrate how to change a complete cartridge by removing the old one and replacing it with a new one on the headshell:
Do turntable cartridges wear out?
Turntables function by running a tiny diamond across the grooves of a record, to put it bluntly. The job of the cartridge is to convert the vibrational energy into delicious, sweet analog sound. Because records contain a vast quantity of musical data, it should come as no surprise that the quality of your cartridge has a significant impact on sound quality.
On our turntables, we provide a choice of five cartridges, and we’re frequently questioned about the distinctions between them. This will be explained in more detail in today’s post. But before we get started, let’s go over some cartridge basics. Things are about to get a little more complicated.
What exactly is a phono cartridge?
The cartridge is an electro-mechanical device that converts data from record grooves into an electrical signal that may be amplified to make music. Cartridges come in a variety of shapes and sizes. We’ll concentrate on the operation of a moving magnet or MM-type cartridge to keep things simple (many of the principles remain the same for moving coil cartridges).
The only element of the cartridge that makes direct contact with the record is the diamond stylus tip. The cantilever vibrates as the stylus follows the grooves’ movements. A stylus is fixed on one end of the cantilever, and a magnet is mounted on the other. The rubber suspension allows the cantilever to pivot, allowing the stylus to track the grooves correctly.
The stylus tip vibrates, and the vibrations pass along the cantilever to the magnet. The magnetic field of the magnet changes as it vibrates. Due to Lenz’s Law, these fluctuations in the magnetic field cause a minor voltage in the coils, which corresponds to the movement of the magnet. Before reaching the amp/speakers, the electrical signal is transmitted through a phono preamp (for RIAA equalization).
(SIDE NOTE: This setup is essentially doubled to generate a stereo signal (left and right channels). Two magnets, each having its own set of coils, are mounted to the cantilever at a 90 degree angle. Check out this article for more information on how stereo cartridges function.)
What to Look for in a Cartridge
Stylus shape: The way the stylus makes contact with the record groove is determined by its shape. The stylus will be able to trace modulations in the groove better if the contact radius is narrower. Conical and elliptical styli are the most prevalent shapes. The contact radius of elliptical styli is less than that of conical styli, allowing them to trace grooves more precisely and retrieve more musical information (especially high frequencies).
The cantilever must be as stiff and light as feasible in order to successfully transfer vibrational energy from the stylus tip to the magnet (or other producing source). The cantilever’s material, size, and construction all influence how well a cartridge reproduces a wide variety of audio frequencies. Aluminum alloy is the most common material used in cantilevers, but carbon, boron, and certain copper alloys are also frequently utilized.
Trackability refers to how accurately the stylus can follow a modulated record groove. The greatest amplitude that a stylus can trace before the signal is corrupted is used to determine trackability. Many factors influence trackability, such as stylus shape, cartridge alignment, and tonearm compatibility. The trackability specification is frequently expressed in micrometers (m); the greater the trackability specification, the better.
The two most common generator kinds are moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) (MC). The most common cartridges are MM cartridges. Because MC cartridges have a lower output, they require a preamp with an MC setting. In general, MC cartridges are more expensive. Although all of the cartridges we sell are MM, if you want to take your Orbit to the next level, you should consider installing an MC cartridge like the Denon DL-110. Check out this post for more technical information on MM vs. MC cartridges.
The majority of cartridges (including ours) are standard mount. Two vertical screws spaced 1/2″ apart fasten standard mount cartridges to the tonearm, and four tiny posts connect the tonearm leads. P-mount cartridges contain four slim pins that plug into tonearms designed exclusively for P-mount cartridges (our tonearms are not made for this).
Here are a few examples of popular cartridges on the market:
The AT91B is a great moving magnet cartridge for beginners. With an aluminum cantilever and a slightly bright edge, it produces good musical detail. Because the AT91B uses a conical stylus, trackability and playback resolution are limited.
The Ortofon OM5E is a balanced and neutral sounding microphone made in Denmark. It’s an excellent pick for music fans that appreciate a wide range of genres. When it comes to tracking and overall clarity, the OM5E’s elliptical diamond stylus offers it an edge over the CN5625AL. The stylus may be replaced with any of Ortofon’s Super OM Series styli, providing a complete upgrade path for OM5E owners.
Since 1953, Grado cartridges have been handcrafted in Brooklyn, New York. The Black3 has a one-of-a-kind 3-piece cantilever and a proprietary Flux-Bridger generator that has more resolution than typical moving magnet generators. Grado cartridges are known for their warm tone and punchy bottom because of these distinguishing features.
Ortofon 2M Red
The 2M Red is a versatile cartridge that has received high praise from both reviewers and regular listeners. Its predecessor, the OM5E, had a less complex generator and a lower output level. The open and dynamic sound of the 2M Red is enhanced by the split pole pin design, which results in less coloring of your music.
Ortofon 2M Blue
The 2M Blue provides excellent detail with minimal distortion. Its highly polished nude-elliptical stylus, formed from a single diamond and pressed straight into the cantilever, sets it unique (instead of using an alloy rod like most cartridges). Because of the superior single-piece construction, the tip mass is reduced, which improves resolution and dynamics. The 2M Blue is a revealing cartridge for serious audiophiles.