Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with that comes the need for a good turntable stylus. But what should a turntable stylus look like?
How do you know when it’s time to replace it? In this article, we’ll explore the physical and audible indicators of a damaged or worn-out stylus, as well as the different types of styluses available.
Whether you’re a seasoned vinyl collector or just starting out, understanding what a turntable stylus should look like is essential for getting the most out of your record collection. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of turntable styluses!
What Should A Turntable Stylus Look Like
A turntable stylus is a small but crucial component of your record player. It’s responsible for reading the grooves on your vinyl records and converting those movements into sound. So, what should a turntable stylus look like?
First and foremost, it should have a sharp point in the middle of the assembly that sticks out of your cartridge. This sharp point should be visible to the naked eye, but you may need a magnifying glass if you have trouble seeing it. If the sharp point appears dull or looks more like a raised pimple than a sharp tip, it’s time to replace your stylus.
Additionally, the stylus should be straight and not crooked or misshapen. If you notice that your stylus is skipping or jumping out of the record grooves when it’s playing, it’s likely that your stylus needs replacing.
It’s also important to check for any visible signs of damage, such as jagged edges or bending of the needle head. If you see any of these signs, it’s time to replace your stylus immediately.
The Physical Indicators Of A Damaged Stylus
There are a few physical indicators that can help you determine if your turntable stylus is damaged. One of the most obvious signs is if the stylus appears bent or frayed. If you notice that the tip of the stylus is no longer sharp or straight, it’s time to replace it. A damaged stylus can cause serious damage to your record collection, so it’s important to address this issue as soon as possible.
Another way to tell if your stylus is damaged is by examining your vinyl records. If you see any scratches, divots, or other signs of wear and tear on your records, it’s possible that your stylus is the culprit. This is especially true if you notice these signs of damage on multiple records.
In addition to these signs of physical damage, you should also be aware of any changes in the sound quality of your records. If you notice more distortion, crackling, static, or overall fuzziness than usual when playing your records, it’s possible that your stylus is damaged. This can be caused by wear and tear on the stylus over time, or by an accident that causes physical damage.
It’s important to keep in mind that a damaged stylus can also cause damage to your turntable itself. If the stylus is not properly aligned or is bent out of shape, it can cause the needle support (cantilever) to bend or break. This can result in permanent damage to your turntable and may require costly repairs.
The Audible Indicators Of A Worn-Out Stylus
Aside from the physical indicators mentioned above, there are also audible indicators that your turntable stylus is worn-out and needs replacing. If your records are sounding distorted, crackling, or fuzzy, it’s a clear sign that your stylus is old or damaged. You may also hear static or an overabundance of sibilance (excessive “ssss” sounds by vocalists) where there was none previously on your favorite album.
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, it’s important not to use your record player until you have replaced your stylus. A damaged or worn-out stylus can seriously damage your record collection over time.
It’s worth noting that if you’ve purchased a used turntable and aren’t sure how many hours of usage the unit has, you should replace the stylus immediately to avoid any potential damage to your records.
Some audiophiles recommend replacing their needle every 800-1,000 hours of playing time. However, it’s important to pay attention to the sound quality you’re getting and the level of dust in the environment. If you start to notice sounds that aren’t as bright as they should be, it’s a clear indicator that attention to the needle is needed.
Different Types Of Turntable Styluses
There are several different types of turntable styluses available, each with their own unique characteristics and benefits. The most common shapes of styluses are conical and elliptical.
Conical styluses have a rounded tip and are typically more affordable. They were the preferred type for mono records in the past and are still used for vintage records. However, they may not provide the best sound quality, especially for new records with courser grooves.
Elliptical styluses have a smaller contact radius than conical styluses, which allows them to trace grooves more accurately and extract more musical information, especially high frequencies. They are polished needles with small diameters that track well with minimal pressure on the grooves. They produce less sound distortion than conical styluses and are generally considered to be better for playing new records.
Fine-line styluses are the most expensive and have thin polished tips that provide the most sensitive groove tracking. They can produce incredibly detailed sound, but they are also delicate and require careful handling.
In addition to shape, the material of the stylus is also important. Osmium is a common choice but wears down quickly, while sapphire needles can survive up to 75 play sessions. Diamond turntable needles are the most durable and can last up to 1,000 hours.
When choosing a turntable stylus, it’s important to consider your budget and the type of records you’ll be playing. A high-quality elliptical or fine-line stylus may be worth the investment if you’re looking for optimal sound quality, but a conical stylus may be sufficient for vintage or lower-end turntables. Ultimately, the right stylus for you will depend on your personal preferences and needs.
How To Choose The Right Stylus For Your Turntable
When it comes to choosing the right stylus for your turntable, there are a few factors to consider. The shape of the stylus is one of the most important factors. The two most common shapes of styli are conical and elliptical. Conical styli have a wider contact radius and are generally less expensive than elliptical styli, but they may not be able to extract as much musical information from your records. Elliptical styli have a smaller contact radius and can trace grooves more accurately, especially high frequencies, resulting in better sound quality.
Another factor to consider is the cantilever. The cantilever is the part of the cartridge that holds the stylus and transfers vibrational energy from the stylus tip to the magnet or other generating element. It’s important that the cantilever is as stiff and light as possible for optimal sound quality. Materials commonly used for cantilevers include aluminum alloy, carbon, boron, and certain copper alloys.
Trackability is another important spec to consider when choosing a stylus. This spec describes how well the stylus can track a modulated record groove without distorting the signal. It’s influenced by factors such as stylus shape, cartridge alignment, and tonearm compatibility. The higher the trackability spec in micrometers (μm), the better.
The generator type is also a consideration when choosing a stylus. The two main types are moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). MM cartridges are more common and less expensive than MC cartridges, but MC cartridges tend to offer better sound quality. Keep in mind that MC cartridges require a preamp with a special MC setting.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider the mount type of your cartridge. Most cartridges are standard mount, which means they’re secured to the tonearm by 2 vertical screws spaced 1/2″ apart and feature four small posts for connecting the tonearm leads. P-mount cartridges are an alternative option that plug directly into tonearms specifically made for use with P-mount cartridges.
Maintaining And Replacing Your Turntable Stylus.
Maintaining and replacing your turntable stylus is essential to ensure that you get the best sound quality from your vinyl records. There are several factors that can influence when a stylus needs to be changed, including the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan, its actual age, the hours of use it has had, its audible and visual performance, and its general condition.
If you’re only using your turntable occasionally, there’s no need for a weekly or monthly cleaning schedule. However, it’s important to clean or replace your stylus when you start to notice sounds that aren’t as bright as they should be, as this is a clear indicator that attention to the needle is needed.
Some audiophiles recommend replacing their needle every 800-1,000 hours of playing time. Since a stylus is made of diamond, it’s often more attractive to clean the needle than to replace it. However, if you have an older turntable or one that has been damaged in some way, replacing the stylus is the only way to go.
When it comes time to change your stylus, be sure to select a compatible stylus for your specific turntable. For instance, if you own an RT85 Turntable, you can purchase a replacement stylus online.
There are both audible and physical indicators that will let you know when your stylus should be replaced. On the audible side, your records won’t sound as good if your stylus is old or damaged. You’ll hear more distortion, crackling, static and overall fuzziness. On the physical side, check to see if it’s crooked or otherwise misshapen. Even if you can’t see any distortion, you might notice that the stylus is actually skipping or jumping out of the record grooves when it’s playing. If that’s happening, your stylus needs replacing.
If you buy a used turntable, always replace its stylus. You don’t know the condition of a used stylus or how it’s been used, and a damaged stylus could damage your records. The risk isn’t worth it.
In conclusion, maintaining and replacing your turntable stylus is crucial for getting the best sound quality from your vinyl records. Be sure to keep an eye on the visible signs of damage and replace your stylus when necessary to avoid any damage to your record collection.