Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to upgrade your turntable’s stylus?
With so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to determine which one is right for you.
From stylus shape to cantilever material, there are several factors to consider when selecting the best stylus for your turntable.
In this article, we’ll break down the differences between conical and elliptical styli, explore the impact of cantilever construction on audio quality, and discuss the pros and cons of different generator types.
Plus, we’ll provide some tips on selecting the right mount type and cartridge replacement for your turntable.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of turntable stylus selection.
What Stylus Do I Need For My Turntable
When it comes to selecting the right stylus for your turntable, there are a few key factors to consider.
First, let’s talk about stylus shape. The two most common shapes are conical and elliptical. Conical styli have rounded edges and cover a larger surface area on a spinning record. While they may be the standard for lower-end turntables, they tend to produce inferior sound quality compared to their elliptical counterparts.
Elliptical styli, on the other hand, have a smaller contact radius and are able to trace grooves more accurately, especially high frequencies. This results in better channel separation and overall sound quality.
Next, let’s discuss cantilever material. The cantilever is responsible for transferring vibrational energy from the stylus tip to the generating element. It’s important that the cantilever be as stiff and light as possible for optimal audio reproduction. Common materials used in cantilevers include aluminum alloy, carbon, boron, and certain copper alloys.
Trackability is another important factor to consider when selecting 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. Look for a higher trackability spec for better performance.
Generator type is also worth considering. The two main types are moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). MM cartridges are more common and tend to be less expensive than MC cartridges, which require a preamp with a special MC setting.
Finally, make sure you select the right mount type for your turntable. Most cartridges are standard mount, secured to the tonearm by 2 vertical screws spaced 1/2″ apart and featuring four small posts for connecting the tonearm leads. P-mounts have four slender pins that plug directly into tonearms specifically made for use with P-mount cartridges.
When it comes time to replace your stylus, consider a diamond stylus for smoother listening sessions and longer lifespan (around 2,000 hours). And if you’re looking to take your turntable to the next level, consider upgrading to an elliptical stylus or even an MC cartridge like the Denon DL-110.
Conical Vs. Elliptical Styli: Which Is Right For You?
One of the most important decisions you’ll make when selecting a stylus is whether to go with a conical or elliptical shape. Conical styli are the more affordable option and are widely used in lower-end turntables. They have a rounded tip and cover a larger surface area on a spinning record. While they may be suitable for listening to older, damaged records, they tend to produce inferior sound quality compared to elliptical styli.
Elliptical styli have a smaller contact radius and are able to trace grooves more accurately, especially high frequencies. This results in better channel separation and overall sound quality. If you’re a music lover who wants improved phase response and lower distortion, an elliptical stylus is the way to go. However, they can be fussier to set up and pick up more surface noise than conical styli.
Ultimately, the decision between conical and elliptical comes down to personal preference and the type of records you’ll be listening to. If you want to listen to older, perhaps more damaged records, a conical stylus will allow you to enjoy those records while hearing less of the imperfections. If you want a richer sound and improved accuracy, opt for an elliptical stylus as you will get to hear those higher frequencies that are not tracked as precisely with a conical stylus. Some record enthusiasts prefer to have both on hand depending on the records they are listening to.
The Impact Of Cantilever Construction On Audio Quality
The cantilever of a stylus is a critical component that affects audio quality. Its material, size, and construction all play a role in how well a cartridge can reproduce a range of audio frequencies. A cantilever that is too heavy or too light will result in poor sound quality.
The most common material used in cantilevers is aluminum alloy, which strikes a balance between stiffness and lightness. Carbon and boron are also popular options that offer greater stiffness and lighter weight, respectively. Certain copper alloys are also used for their unique properties.
The construction of the cantilever affects its ability to transfer vibrational energy from the stylus tip to the generating element. It’s important that the cantilever be as stiff and light as possible to achieve optimal audio reproduction.
Size is another factor to consider when it comes to cantilevers. A longer cantilever will offer greater tracking ability but may be more prone to resonances. A shorter cantilever may offer better rigidity but may sacrifice some tracking ability.
Understanding Generator Types: Moving Magnet Vs. Moving Coil
When it comes to generator types, moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) are the two main options for turntable cartridges. MM cartridges are more common and tend to be less expensive than MC cartridges, which require a preamp with a special MC setting.
Inside the cartridge body, an MM cartridge uses magnets attached to the internal end of the cantilever. As the stylus traces the contours of the groove, it puts the whole cantilever/magnet assembly into motion. The motion of the magnets occurs near fixed electrical coils, creating an electrical signal that is sent down the tonearm wires and over to the phono preamp for proper amplification and equalization. The MM design is simpler to execute in production, thus they tend to be more affordable and have user-replaceable styli.
Conversely, MC cartridges use coils attached to the internal end of the cantilever that flutters correspondingly with the stylus/cantilever in the magnetic field of a nearby fixed magnet (or permanent magnet). The motion of the coils is what generates the electrical signal sent by an MC cartridge. MC cartridges tend to be lower output and require a preamp with a special MC setting. They are generally more expensive than MM cartridges due to their more specialized construction and delicate nature.
While MC cartridges may offer superior sound quality due to their sensitivity and precision, they come with added expenses in both manufacturing and upkeep. They are more delicate and require professional attention if anything goes awry, making them a choice for audiophiles with deeper pockets. On the other hand, MM cartridges offer a more affordable option with user-replaceable styli, making them a popular choice for entry-level turntables. Ultimately, the choice between MM and MC cartridges will depend on your budget and desired level of sound quality.
Selecting The Right Mount Type For Your Turntable
Choosing the right mount type for your turntable is crucial for proper installation and optimal performance. The two most common mount types are standard mount and P-mount.
Standard mount cartridges are secured to the tonearm by two vertical screws spaced 1/2″ apart and feature four small posts for connecting the tonearm leads. This is the most common mount type and is compatible with most turntables.
P-mount cartridges, on the other hand, have four slender pins that plug directly into tonearms specifically made for use with P-mount cartridges. These cartridges are less common and require a specific type of tonearm.
If you’re unsure which mount type your turntable requires, look for a headshell attached to the end of your tonearm. If you see a headshell, you need a standard mount cartridge. If you don’t see a headshell, you may have a P-mount cartridge.
Installing a standard mount cartridge may require more patience as the tiny screws required for installation can be easy to lose and challenging to install. You will also need to connect the blue, green, red, and white cables from the cartridge to the headshell. Be careful when removing these wires from your old cartridge as they can easily break.
After installing the cartridge on the headshell, you will need to use a protractor to properly align the cartridge for best performance. Once aligned, balance the tonearm and set the weight of the cartridge and anti-skating for optimal sound quality.
Cartridge Replacement: When And How To Do It.
If you’re experiencing issues with your turntable’s sound quality, it may be time to replace your cartridge. However, before you replace the entire cartridge, it’s important to determine whether the issue lies with the stylus or the cartridge itself. In most cases, only the stylus needs to be replaced.
One way to determine if your stylus needs to be replaced is by inspecting it for visible damage such as jagged edges or a bent needle head. Additionally, if you see black residue on the needle or hear audible hiss or static in places you never noticed before, it’s likely due to a damaged or worn needle. If you see the needle skipping or bouncing around on the record, it’s time to stop using it immediately until you can buy a new one.
If you do need to replace your cartridge, follow these steps for a successful replacement:
1. Open the dust cover and find the headshell/cartridge.
2. Remove the stylus from the cartridge.
3. Remove the entire headshell from the tonearm.
4. Release the cartridge by unscrewing turntable head screws.
5. Unplug attached wires from the pins on the back of the cartridge.
6. Match colors on new cartridge to the wire pins.
7. Attach the cartridge headshell back to the tower with stylus installed.
It’s important to note that cartridges rarely “break” and only need to be replaced when upgrading to a higher quality sound on your turntable. When selecting a new cartridge, consider factors such as stylus shape, cantilever material, trackability, and generator type. And don’t forget to select the right mount type for your turntable – standard mount or P-mount.
In summary, take care of your turntable and replace your stylus when necessary. If a full cartridge replacement is needed, consider upgrading for better sound quality. With proper maintenance and care, your turntable can provide you with years of enjoyment and high-quality audio playback.