Why Do Ceramic Phono Cartridges Become Intermittent? Experts Explain

If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you know the importance of a good phono cartridge.

It’s the tiny device that sits at the end of your tonearm and translates the grooves on your record into sound.

But what happens when your cartridge starts to fail? Specifically, why do ceramic phono cartridges become intermittent?

In this article, we’ll explore the common causes of signal degradation or total loss of signal in ceramic cartridges.

We’ll also discuss why fresh replacements of recent manufacture are often preferable to old stock Tetrads.

So sit back, grab your favorite record, and let’s dive in!

Why Do Ceramic Phono Cartridges Become Intermittent

There are two common reasons why ceramic phono cartridges become intermittent.

The first reason is due to the bridge that the shank of the stylus rests in. Over time, this bridge can collapse, go hard, or crumble. Since the bridge connects directly to the ceramic reeds, this failure always causes signal degradation or total loss of signal.

The second reason is due to the mounts for the reeds inside the cartridge body deteriorating. Sometimes they go soft, other times hard. If they go soft, the reeds will become misaligned and yield too easily. If they go hard, the reeds will get more and more immobile.

These issues can cause a scratchy sound in one or both channels, and then “drop out” in one or both channels. This can be frustrating for vinyl enthusiasts who want to enjoy their records without any interruptions.

Understanding Ceramic Phono Cartridges And How They Work

Ceramic phono cartridges are a type of cartridge commonly found in record players from the 1960s. They were originally equipped with sapphire or diamond tips, but nowadays all ceramic cartridges come with diamond tips.

The ceramic cartridge is held in place by a screw or metal clip, and it tracks at a higher force of 4 to 7g, causing faster record wear. Additionally, ceramic cartridges have a limited frequency response compared to magnetic types and less separation between channels. Thus, they are not capable of high fidelity reproduction.

Ceramic cartridges require a high impedance input to give the correct equalization curve. Plugging it into the magnetic cartridge input will give poor results. However, if used correctly, ceramic cartridges can provide a cleaner and more pure sound compared to magnetic cartridges, eliminating contaminants that may have tinted the taste one is inhaling.

Ceramic cartridges do not vibrate as much as magnetic cartridges, which means they are more accurate in tracking and do not need to be re-aligned regularly to keep them sharp. They also outperform magnetic cartridges in terms of playback fidelity and record wear. Therefore, if you want a high-quality cartridge that will not damage your records, going with ceramic is a good choice.

Common Causes Of Intermittent Signal In Ceramic Cartridges

Ceramic cartridges are commonly found in record players from the 60s and are held in position by a screw or metal clip. These cartridges have limited frequency response compared to magnetic types, and the separation between channels is also less. They track at 4 to 7g which causes faster record wear.

The main reason why ceramic phono cartridges become intermittent is due to the bridge that the shank of the stylus rests in collapsing, going hard, or crumbling over time. This bridge directly connects to the ceramic reeds, causing signal degradation or total loss of signal.

Another common cause of intermittent signal in ceramic cartridges is the deterioration of mounts for the reeds inside the cartridge body. When these mounts go soft, the reeds become misaligned and yield too easily, leading to scratchy sound in one or both channels. On the other hand, if they go hard, the reeds become more and more immobile, causing a drop out in one or both channels.

It is important for vinyl enthusiasts to properly maintain their ceramic cartridges to avoid these issues. Regular cleaning and inspection can help identify any potential problems before they become significant enough to cause signal interruption. Additionally, replacing worn-out parts can help restore the cartridge’s performance and extend its lifespan.

The Importance Of Regular Maintenance For Ceramic Cartridges

It’s important to note that regular maintenance can help prevent these issues from occurring and prolong the life of your ceramic phono cartridge. One of the best ways to maintain the health of your cartridge is to keep your records clean. Dirty or dusty records can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the stylus, which can lead to signal degradation or total loss of signal. Investing in a record cleaning kit, like the one from EVEO, can help ensure that your records are clean, dry, and dust-free before each use.

In addition to keeping your records clean, it’s important to ensure that your turntable is set up correctly. Poorly configured azimuth, anti-skate, and tracking force can contribute to excessive wear on the stylus. By ensuring that your turntable is set up correctly, you can help prevent unnecessary wear on your ceramic phono cartridge.

Lastly, it’s important to handle your cartridge with care. Avoid touching the stylus with your fingers or any other objects, as this can cause damage. When not in use, store your cartridge in a protective case to prevent any accidental damage.

By following these tips for regular maintenance, you can help prevent issues with your ceramic phono cartridge and enjoy uninterrupted listening pleasure from your vinyl collection.

Why Fresh Replacements Are Often Better Than Old Stock Tetrads

When it comes to replacing a ceramic phono cartridge, some may opt for old stock tetrads. However, it’s important to note that there are potential issues with using old stock tetrads.

Firstly, the suspensions of old ceramics can harden up over time, causing dropped channels and signal degradation. Secondly, some vintage ceramics may have issues with compliance and frequency response.

On the other hand, fresh replacements offer a reliable solution to these problems. They are less likely to have hardened suspensions and are designed with better compliance and frequency response. Additionally, purchasing from a reputable vendor who stands behind their products ensures that you are getting a high-quality replacement cartridge.

It’s also worth noting that the consistency of new manufactured parts may not be as good as it was in the past. However, fresh replacements are still a better option compared to using old stock tetrads that may have potential issues.

Tips For Extending The Lifespan Of Your Ceramic Cartridge

If you want to extend the lifespan of your ceramic phono cartridge, there are a few things you can do.

First, make sure you handle the cartridge with care. Avoid dropping it or exposing it to extreme temperatures or humidity. Also, make sure to clean the stylus regularly using a stylus brush or cleaning solution. This will prevent buildup of dirt and debris that can cause premature wear on the stylus.

Secondly, be mindful of the tracking force when playing your records. Ceramic cartridges typically track at 4 to 7 grams, which can cause faster record wear. Make sure to adjust the tracking force according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and avoid playing records that are excessively dirty or damaged.

Finally, consider upgrading to a magnetic cartridge if you’re looking for higher fidelity reproduction. Magnetic cartridges have a wider frequency response and better channel separation compared to ceramic cartridges. However, if you prefer the sound of your ceramic cartridge, make sure to take good care of it and follow these tips to extend its lifespan.