How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed?

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Post by desktop » 04 Mar 2009 18:22

Being an old fart has its advantages because I can remember little info-bits from my early days in audio. Back in the late 50s/early 60s CBS did some destruct tests on styli and vinyl. They played discs for 500 hours, regularly cleaning the disc and the stylus and no disc was played more than twice a day. Their tests were on Shure M44 E types of cartridges at 2.5 grams and Stanton 500E cartridges and some others of similar ilk.

At 100x inspection, there was some wear on both the styli and the discs, with the worst wear showing up on discs that had recycled vinyl in them. Also since 45s were being pushed by RCA who competed with CBS, CBS enjoyed showing that 45s created more stylus wear than 33s (45s usually had much more recycled vinyl in them because returned 45s were regularly crushed, since many were "new" returns from record stores for items that didn't sell. RCA incorrectly assumed that new 45s could be crushed up because the vinyl hadn't be contaminated much by cigarette smoke, dirt, etc. In fact, simply pressing the vinyl "donut" was enough to make the vinyl brittle and hard to melt again.

At 1000 hours all the styli showed substantial wear. They went from being small wedges that fitted "across" the groove and easily filled the high frequency spaces allowing them to "track" easily, to wedges that had "turned" sideways to the groove and whose sharp edges could easily slice off the high frequency "bumps".

With discs containing 45 minutes of sound, the real point of these tests was to find out if a certain production run of discs had a much shorter lifespan than the general average. Testing styli and record wear was secondary. But the idea we should take away is that disc deterioration is so gradual that we will NEVER hear it happening. If you can actually see stylus wear with a 10x or 20x loupe, then you are certainly damaging your discs. The fact that a new stylus doesn't sound any different, means that the damage has reduced the highs forever, no matter what stylus you use now. I use a 100x-200x stylus check. For me the key is to protect the vinyl, because that can never be replaced. The stylus can be replaced easily.

Sometimes I can use a slightly worn stylus for really damaged records or even 78s, depending on how the diamond has worn down, but the first time I see that a stylus is no longer properly shaped, it has become a hazard to my precious vinyl.

I've don't this testing using a 100x stereo microscope for many years. I've noticed that some manufacturers use quality diamond that are unflawed, and straight with the grain, and mounted nude. While others use diamonds with any kind of "salt and pepper" inclusions, mounted in any direction on a bushing. Some manufacturers use high pressure plastic coatings to prolong stylus life and others don't. Worst of all, sometimes a company with great diamonds and mounting will cheapen a product and if you don't check it right out of the box, it may not have any life in it at all. Usually the better diamonds, with the best polish, and the best glues and coatings last much longer than those without.

Light tracking styli have been good in some slight ways, but really bad in others. With higher compliance, there is the likelihood that stylus life and disc damage will be improved (in my testing about 5%-10% under the best of circumstances. But even the slightest amount of reduced tracking force that allows the stylus tip to lose contact with the vinyl surface (even inaudibly) allows the sharp diamond stylus to crash back to the disc surface, usually cutting a tiny notch where it remade contact. On perfectly smooth disc grooves, or cut with a single frequency, when the stylus breaks contact with the groove due to dirt or overmodulation, the stylus is resonating and the wave has not been fully damped out so it may remake contact with a "soft landing". But since real music has constantly changing groove modulations, breaking contact for even an instant will often send the stylus tip back towards the groove modulations in a direction that is perpendicular to the vinyl and with a very high force depending on tip mass. This tendency to bounce on and off of the vinyl itself is extremely damaging to vinyl. Better to always track at the top limit of the tracking force to keep the stylus firmly planted on the vinyl surface than to risk the stylus ever leaving contact and bouncing around on the disc surface.

Additionally recent developments in stylus design like the Ortofon Replicant, Shure MR, AT ML, Garrot MicroTracer, Stanton Stereohedron, Gyger and VdH full contact multifacet styli, allow the disc to be played properly in spite of some stylus wear, because the worn stylus tip has exactly the same shape as the new stylus tip, until it is catastrophically worn. These styli can play a disc for 1200 or 1400 hours and show no problematic vinyl damage in spite of substantial wear on the stylus. Unfortunately spherical and elliptical styli may not have even half that much stylus life before they start creating substantial (unfixable by a stylus replacement) damage to vinyl.

Since the range of stylus lives is so different, it is best to err on the side of safety and dump any stylus with any visible wear, unless you have a really powerful inspection microscope that you use often. I know that Denon tried very hard to use the best diamonds and their spherical styli seem to last much longer than any other spherical styli. Polishing expertise and quality diamonds seem like the keys to Denon's success here. Decca also uses great diamonds and older Ortofon diamonds were incredibly good as well. But most spherical diamonds aren't in that class, and will show wear at 500-600 hours and most ellipticals will show substantial wear at 800-900 hours. More than that is risking vinyl (which can never be fixed and often cannot be replaced), against styli which can always be replaced if you by cartridges with available or spare styli, or you get your MC cartridges retipped at the first sign of wear.

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Post by danmanch » 05 Mar 2009 00:49

I think most companies suggest inspection or replacement at 300 hours. Probably could squeeze a bit more but in the long wrong not cost justified. As you know my woes with some inner goove distortion issues may be directly related to previous owner cause. Which I'm starting to think may have been worn stylus problems.

By the way what brand is that M97xe A Shure set-up? Got my eye on a V-15 series on ebay. Whats the best working man's cartridge??


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Post by Whitneyville » 05 Mar 2009 06:36

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Re-cycled vinyl records wear faster and wear a stylus more. Super quality vinyl like the late Mobile Fidelity's and some Japanese pressings are easier on the stylus. 45's and 78's can eat-up stylii like candy. The 45's because many are re-cycled stuff and the 78's because of a half-century or more of dirt in the grooves. Even the kind of music you're playing has an impact on stylus wear. The higher the groove velocity, the harder it is to track, so more wear on the record and the stylus. I have an old-old-old Edumund Scientific 100x "Pocket Mircoscope" I've used in photograpy for 40 years with it's little penlite bulb in it I take a look at things with. When I worked for the oil company, I had the guys in the Scanning Electron Microscope Lab to do a 400-1000X shot for me of my Audio-Technica stylii. Took them maybe a minute to pull a P/N 55 4X5 Polaroid for me. I was amazed at what I saw, everytime. Far more wear than I expected(dreamed!). You think diamond=hard, vinyl=soft, but I remember from years ago hearing the average one side of an LP would streach-out to more than a mile.

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Post by 911 3.2 » 05 Mar 2009 14:42

This is a copy of stylus wear notes by Henk from audio selectief in NL. ( I have no reason to disbelieve his claims.

Maar gelukkig wel langzaam: Een gewone ronde naald heeft een levensduur van plusminus 600 uur. Een elliptische 1000 uur, een shibata 1500 uur en een fine line 2000 uur. Een Micro-Ridge haalt de 4000 uur en Jan Allearts maakt ze tot wel 20.000 uur.

So as follows; (please read as "life-expectancy up to")

round stylus; 660 hrs
elliptical; 1.000 hrs
shibata; 1.500 hrs
fine line; 2.000 hrs
micro-ridge; 4.000 hrs
Jan Allaerts can be up to 20.000 hrs.

Further remarks by Henk;

Dit betekent overigens niet dat je nu naar de winkel moet gaan rennen om een nieuwe naald of een nieuw element te gaan halen. Als je dagelijk 5 LP's draait dan is dat ca. 4 uur speelduur. Bij gebruik van een elliptische naald toch altijd nog zo'n 250 dagen spelen. De meesten van ons halen die 4 uur per dag bij lange na niet (helaas). Bij de betere elementen voorzien van een micro-ridge naald doe je er een paar jaar mee.

Which translate into something as;

Don't run off to the shop just yet. Daily playing of 5 albums means around 4 hrs playing time, which means expected elliptical stylus life of 250 days of use. Most of us do not play their TT that much, unfortunately.
Better cartridges with micro-ridge styluses will last several years...

Hope to have been of service, Gentlemen...

Best Regards,


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Post by davidsss » 07 Mar 2009 09:48

I work on the theory they should last about 3 years, then I replace the cart as I have a Moving Coil. It's 3 years about now so I'm about to order a new cart!


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Post by irwan_su » 11 Mar 2009 07:20

this is my first posting. I just bought a digital microscope made in china, I have posted some pictures taken by this microscope, please check, but I still don't understand whether it's still Ok or should be replaced. One of my object is M97.


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Post by 07bloomfieldb » 11 Mar 2009 08:32

irwan_su wrote:this is my first posting. I just bought a digital microscope made in china, I have posted some pictures taken by this microscope, please check, but I still don't understand whether it's still Ok or should be replaced. One of my object is M97.

Those pictures are pretty horrible, plus at odd angles. You need one coming down from directly above the stylus.

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Post by irwan_su » 12 Mar 2009 00:46

Thanks 07 for your comment, I'll try to fix that, hopefully my next picture will be better.

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Re: How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed

Post by kuad » 12 May 2013 23:57


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Re: How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed

Post by geoffcb » 13 May 2013 00:15

So a Shibata is expected to last 1500 hours? If I played vinyl for 10 hours per week (which I don't), that would give 3 years per stylus. I have two 2M Blacks; help! Maybe I should work on 5 years, then I might be able to afford replacements!

Any reports on the lifetime of a 2m Black? I clean each one with "Last" before each play.


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Re: How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed

Post by Catcher10 » 14 May 2013 21:05

I probably average 6 hours a week on vinyl. The last few years I have been running Nagaoka carts and I have been changing once a year roughly at 300 hours, so that is about 50 weeks of use.
Not too bad.....I have a MP-200 right now and I think it will go a solid year, although I will probably get something else soon....the MC bug is biting me :)

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Re: How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed

Post by duficity » 15 May 2013 18:22

I have never worn out a cartridge, but I have had the diamond drop out of a stylus before. I have more than a dozen MC cartridges, all with some version of fine line/shibata or other fancy profiles. I have inspected even my oldest, most used cartridges under a microscope and have not found a discernable difference between those oldest and my newest stylus. I have purchased many used cartridges and none have had a worn out stylus when I purchased them and they play beautifully. I believe that cartridges played at the recommended VTF of 1.5 to 2g should last at least 1500 to 2000 without substantial degradation to the stlus or wear on the vinyl. I cant speak for MM cartridges, because I dont have extensive experience with the lower end as the ones I have also use fine line or shibata profiles.

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Re: How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed

Post by LPM » 16 May 2013 01:58

It really is quite a fascinating topic as we are really trying to consider how much wear is too much. I’m sure some people think of this as a linear problem – wear as a constant – whereas to me, it’s exponential or accelerating. There has to be wear, however minor, on the first play with a new stylus but no-one is going to let their tip wear to a chisel and do major damage each play so when is it best to change? Personally, I’d rather it be early and discard some potential stylus life than too late and damage things.

My main styli are currently all SAS and Jico suggest changing at 500hours. My gut feeling is that they won’t be ‘worn out’ after that usage but they will be worn and I’d rather change them early than too late for peace of mind so 500 hrs sounds good to me. Doesn’t mean I can’t take them to be professionally checked and perhaps get a few more hours out of them but I probably won’t worry and simply replace them.

The way I think of it is that in my case at approximately $170 cost per stylus, that’s roughly about $1 per 3 hours or about 10c per LP side assuming 15 to 20 minutes per side. That’s not much compared to the investment in the LP itself, the rest of my system or even the electricity I’m consuming whilst playing it so trying to stretch stylus life to drop that to 5c a side is not worth worrying over. Sure, for someone that’s invested $1000 in a cartridge it would cost a lot more per play and proper inspections may allow safe life extension but I can’t help feeling that economizing on stylus replacement is not a wise way to go. :D

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Re: How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed

Post by datafone » 17 May 2013 15:23

I haven't been taking much note of my play time, now I have to work out when to replace #-o when in the hell did I get this cart, this gets harder the older I get :)

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Re: How Long Does A Stylus Last Before Replacement Is Needed

Post by trio leo » 17 May 2013 16:44

I have difficulty with the concept of worn styli. AFAIK diamond is still the hardest material known, now comparatively vinyl is pretty soft stuff, you can scratch it with your thumb nail, I appreciate the needle travels quite a distance on an LP, so what? if you keep your records clean why should it wear a diamond at all?
My friend exhibited at the Bristol HiFi show earlier this year using a Garrard 301 in a slate plinth and his 30 year old Nagaoka MP50 Super (which he uses regularly), it sounded fantastic.
I had a VdH tipped SPU for 10 years, tracking at 3grm it always sounded superb until the missus knocked off the cantilever!! I do miss her.

enjoy your music

regards Al

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