If everyone goes to the JICO website and clicks on their "SAS Information" link you will see that now JICO is claiming that their stylus will meet spec for 500 hours. The story about the stylus is interesting too.
When I first started publishing test information about loudspeakers for dozens of Disney technicians to use as the "speaker guide", most distortion numbers for compression horn systems had more than 10% THD for all frequencies, and most cone speakers were over 10% distortion at many frequencies before they went beyond 3 watts continuous input. I think that since JICO doesn't really want to print poor looking distortion figures, they are taking the safe approach and simply listing the number of hours playing vinyl, that an SAS stylus would hold to its "new" spec.
I also think it is true that the SAS stylus may not be for everyone (certainly not NHK broadcast engineers), but it is designed to have "the longest possible lifespan, due to the way the stylus tip deforms with use (or some reasonably similar language).
The rest of the stylus designs would seem to wear more poorly, although a few "super styli" might wear out a little more slowly. JICO's goal was to design a stylus with the shape that should play with "line contact" clarity for the longest possible time, now rated by JICO at 500 hours.
We should still buy line contact or even more extreme stylus profiles, ... Because Of The Way They Sound. Even if an AT ML stylus wore out in the same time frame as a shibata, or a VdH it's what they sound like that makes us want the better styli.
I'm pretty fussy about cleaning my styli, and discs. But I will have many pressings with ground up vinyl in the formula and that is extremely abrasive. I always begin to feel less confident in the sound quality of most line contact (or better) cartridges after 200-300 hours. Maybe that's unreasonable but when I compare a new cartridge with a fully broken in suspension (Stanton 681s arrived at radio stations broken-in), with a cartridge that has 200-300 hours use, the newer one always sounded better to me. With ellipticals the usage available seemed less than half that much.
Most of you don't remember that CBS "wrote the book" on vinyl wear and cartridge longevity in the 50s for 33 and 45 rpm discs made of vinyl. They tested diamond spherical tip styli, sapphire tips and there was one other material that was used/measured. The cheapest material had a 30 hour recommendation for replacing the stylus, sapphire was 60 hours and diamonds were rated for 250 hours. These were for spherical 0.7 mil tips which should have a very long lifespan. But CBS measured lifespans of styli at the point where the tip wore down to the bushing, or when the stylus tip showed a distinct elliptical shape, but facing parallel with the groove. In other words CBS was measuring the wear-out point on a stylus by whether it was destroying the disc or not. The quality of playback was a lesser consideration.
With the upsurge of prerecorded material being used on radio, especially FM radio, the radio station owners had 2 huge expenses; transmitters, and record libraries, and those were the items the station owners tried to preserve. So for radio stations they started out checking stylus on-air to be sure they weren't damaging records, and then in the Stanton 681 era, you calibrated your station once a week or so. The NAB tapes and phono setup (primarily your cartridges) just kept being used until the station couldn't meet specs like channel balance, distortion at the transmitter etc.
Radio stations were the entities that made the issue of anti-skating important, because without antiskating on a turntable, the styli wear out much faster on one side. thus limiting frequency response on one channel. It is no surprise that an elliptical stylus would have a fairly short life too. Ellipticals are sharpened wedges with 2 bearing surfaces that each have an infinite amount of pressure per sq measurement. But if the top of the pile seems to be a "special" design and yet the warrantied SAS lifespan should be 500 hours, then everything else should be less.
My usual problem with styli is dirt on incoming bargain records. But often enough I will use a stylus that sounds Really noisy on a disc, so usually I will try a different stylus profile cartridge. Often the reduction in background noise is breathtaking. But then 25 discs later when I have high background noise and I switch BACK to the first cartridge mentioned in this story, I get the same dramatic reduction in noise by changing cartridges in the reverse order.
Being irritated that I have to mark a plastic album sleeve with the stylus that has to be used, I usually test again after a cleaning of both cartridges, using them on either the Pionner PL 800 pair or the Luxman pair (the PX 101 uses a standard headshell so that is easiest). 99 times out of 100 it seems the "wear track" somewhere on the groove walls is the culprit. Some previous user of those vinyl discs, played a cartridge either outside of the proper tracking pressure, or wore down their stylus until it plowed a track into the vinyl. Here comes I, later trying to match the correct stylus profile to "track around" the damage done to the groove walls.
Kansas City has a research facility at the Univ of Missouri, Kansas City (called KCMU, go figure). The college is large (30K-45K students) and many commute from Kansas City. The Marr Research Library for Recordings is a special little place trying to provide a special service. Many of their rare vinyl records have music which is unavailable anywhere. The climate controlled library area has thousands of wax cylinders, and discs of all types and sizes. They stock at least one playback unit that will play every disc they stock so the place is full of various 78rpm acoustic playback units, as well as a group of more modern turntables. Their goal is to digitize music and they will provide a sample of this music to requesters from Missouri for free online.
The Marr Library's highest priority (as they articulated at an AES meeting held there), was to carefully digitized all 75,000 of the music sources in the library, but there are thousands of more discs on this facility's wish-list, dozens to hundreds coming in any week In addition The Marr (as they call themselves) want to keep every disc in a perfect condition. They are currently using a simple AT line contact cartridge in their 4 working turntables (for consistency plus quality sound at a reasonable cost). The college is spending allot of money to keep The Marr going, and they are not extravagant.
But The Marr constantly checks for groove damage microscopically. Since there was a thriving local record production and recording industry for jazz musicians like Count Basie and Charlie "Bird" Parker, there are hundreds of different old jazz titles that show up at auction in Kansas City many of which are not cataloged, with no other copies known to exist. Protecting this collection is the only thing the staff does (except produce a local radio show each week using these discs/wax). The Marr is not interested in the highest level of absolute fidelity, and ease of use is important.
My own playback system is far superior sounding to the one I auditioned at The Marr during our AES meeting/debate. Using The Marr's playback system as a working "studio monitoring system" shows that doing the job takes precedence over hearing the finest details. But The Marr now uses a line contact cartridge stylus in their turntables because it doesn't have as much background noise, because the stylus is not riding in the same worn track, carved out by spherical or elliptical stylus. The Marr cleans every incoming disc very carefully, so the reason they use a line contact stylus is for better sound and less damage to discs.
Maybe we shouldn't all get worried about using the same cartridge styli we've been using all along (and we've been generally happy with most of them). I have hundreds of cartridges with dozens of different stylus profiles. By playing so many different cartridges, I am probably extending the life of my vinyl discs. The minimum stylus profile I use is a shibata, but I also use many "higher-end-profiles" like Hyperelliptical, Line contact, Stereohedron, VdH and ML.
I brought this topic up because my "gut feeling" has always been that I don't like sound of most styli that have more than 200-300 hours on them. When I worked retail I was a sales manager and I tested every system "for sale" personally. I changed almost all the cartridge styli or the cartridges themselves once a week, and then put that item in the "used packages" area because we never had enough functioning, used cartridges for the used turntables we sold. Sales often depended on consumers bringing in their favorite records to use as the test source. Some of these discs were visibly dirty, so wear might have been greater. I could chart the change in sales if the cartridge styli were changed on a Sunday instead of a Friday, since Saturday was the biggest sale day of the week. It cost money, but it made money
When I moved to manufacturing, life got so much simpler. Cartridge manufacturers gave cartridges away to speaker manufacturers before every CEShow so that if a loudspeaker sounded great the cartridge maker could take some of the credit. If the display sounded bad, everyone used the excuse that the "set-up was wrong" in the cartridge-turntable match, or the amp-preamp match, etc. excuses. If a cartridge donated to me sounded bad, I returned it, saying we had others "enough" before we got their items. If a cartridge sounded good with our loudspeakers we used them in the show and then made sure salespeople had them for demos.
So until I retired, I had a constant flow of nice phono cartridges. After retirement, I had to buy cartridges and styli (ouch, makes me shiver to think of it), so I started doing my own testing and making lists of the cartridges I'd like to buy inexpensively, and which cartridges/styli I never wanted to listen to. I get reasonable cost retipping, and once in a while when VdH USA has a sale, I use them to get more exotic styli. I listen to vinyl, every day I am home, and often when I visit friends. I have only been testing cartridge styli for the last 12 years since my first retirement and that period of time also coincides with my attempt to buy older stock cartridges and styli, when I realized many of the makers of cartridges and styli were going out of business. Here are some other opinions I have beside the fact that I seem to be able to hear the degradation in sound that occurs after a cartridge is used 200-300 hours.
Sometimes a good idea produces a poor sounding stylus. Sonus Blue styli sounded good for a month or so out of the packaging, but then the beryllium cantilevers would crack/oxidize/something, and sound bad. The Dynavector 20B had a beryllium cantilever too and they seemed to hold up well (I'm getting 2 retipped).
The original Benz Glider had suspension failure and catastrophic bottoming more than 1/2 the time when the cartridge was first introduced, so don't buy original NOS Gliders. I have 5 Grado cartridges, 2 new Blacks, a new Red, an MX8, and an FT3+, and they all humbuzz in my turntables more than any other cartridges (the Supex 900# Super and the 901 Super were the 2 former humming-est cartridges, but they were MC types). The stylus on the MX8 sounds great, although the noise level is way too high. Every time I plug an energy-saving 60w fluorescent bulb in my listening room the noise level buzz gets louder on all my Grado carts (the USA now mandates now the severe reduction of production of incandescent light).
I always preferred the sound of induced MM cartridges like Nagaoka/Nagatron or ADC, but I still listen to Stanton, AT, and even better Shure MM cartridges. And of course, I listen allot to Deccas. These have some of the nicest, grain oriented, gem quality, large diamonds you can find for audio. I also find that Denon, by polishing their stylus tips more than anyone else, cause their styli to last the longest for a given stylus profile.
I wear out many styli each year (I get 3-10 or so, retipped each year), and most of those are MC types. Almost all my MC cartridges/styli have shibata tips or other more high-end profiles. I use them because they are sturdy, they sound good, and retipping is reasonably available. I'd get hyperelliptical or line contact retips, but the prices are much higher. If I am going to spend more money, I wait until VdH USA has one of their $300 retipping special prices and I get better quality stylus profiles. There seems to be an unending supply of Stereohedron styli that are NOS, so I buy them all the time, same for AT ML styli, but this only works on MM cartridges and I listen 70-80% of the time to MC cartridges because they sound better (to me).
While I was unprepared for JICO to say - We warrant our longest lasting stylus for 500 hours - I've always used that rule in general anyway. From my retail days in 1971-76, then working for manufacturers I was spoiled with new styli. Only the hassle of replacing cartridges without separate styli, when using a fixed cartridge mount tonearm would cause me to be so lazy that I didn't remove certain cartridges for 300 + hours of use. So now I will stop being overly optimistic about cartridge/stylus life. I need to protect my records more than styli. There may be some styli that Might last 800 or even 1000 hours playing average vinyl discs, but why take the chance? I'm sure that long before we hear sound degradation, a worn stylus is causing groove damage.
I know it sound like "ole grandpa" telling stories about how things were worse in the "old days" (50s). I promise you that CBS labs did do tests for stylus and vinyl groove wear in the 50s, randomly pulling records out the production line to run destruct tests on them. The "old days" of the Grand Stereo HiFi Business is also history. Now cartridge manufacturers make you buy cartridges for CEShow in Las Vegas (unless they are trying to steal someone else's business). Don't be upset if the cartridge stylus you use is probably more short-lived than most of us thought. But it is your vinyl collection that is most important, so keep that in mind.
If you noticed a concern in many of my previous posts, about which stylus profile did the least damage to a piece of vinyl, my opinion is now focused in a slightly different direction. Now I am more concerned about when styli wear out, because worn styli do more damage to discs, than any amount of playing vinyl with an unworn stylus. I buy allot of styli from JICO, and they can make a nice stylus. But if they say their longest wearing, best sounding stylus (SAS) is good for 500 hours, I will be sure to check my styli at 200 hours. I guess I'll need a new microscope set up so I can see styli properly at 500x. I can't clean my styli or discs too much more than I do already. I just have to be less lazy about changing a stylus in a tonearm with a fixed mount. I'm trying to keep my vinyl collection in the best shape possible, and when I listen to it, I want it to sound the best it can. That's the goal at least.