The Finish Line for your Phono Cartridge- Stylus Wear by Mike Bodell

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Bill Hart, May 24, 2019.

  1. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    I often use animated gifs to make comparisons between images. Here is an animation of the Left Contact at time zero versus 12 hours:

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    24 Hours. I cleaned the tip, though it did not look any dirtier than it did at 12 Hours. The record was pristinely clean, no visible residue on the dry brush. I don't see any wear yet on the stylus.

    Tip
    [​IMG]

    Left Contact
    [​IMG]

    Right Contact
    [​IMG]

    Front Profile
    [​IMG]


    Now it's on for 24 more hours, next read point 48 hours, or ~144 sides.
     
  3. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Well, it looks like some real contact areas are starting to develop at 48 hours. I'm seeing some polishing of the contact "points", so they are starting to become "flats". It looks like 48 hours is enough to start visible wear on this elliptical stylus.

    Here are the pics:

    Tip
    [​IMG]

    Left Contact
    [​IMG]

    Right Contact
    [​IMG]

    Front Profile
    [​IMG]
     
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  4. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Here are animations of the two contact areas, T0 vs T48. You can see that the contact area has increased in contrast with the sourrounding surface, and that the roughness has been reduced or eliminated. With the increased contrast, contact length and width measurements may be valid, but I don't plan to publish any measurements until after next read point.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It's spinning again, on its way to 96 Hour read point.

    PS: Forgot to mention...the record was pristinely clean, no visible dust or debris picked up by the dry brush.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2019
  5. 33na3rd

    33na3rd Forum Resident

    Location:
    SW Washington, USA
    Very impressive Ray!

    Thank you for sharing your hard work!
     
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  6. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Ditto on the impressive and thanks. What's interesting is that 40 hours is within the range of use often cited for the 'break in' period of many cartridges-- when they start to sound "better" than out of the box. I always attributed that to the mechanical aspects of the cartridge- the working of the suspension.
    Not that it is determinative, since part of it is subjective, but have you 'listened' at this interval, Ray and do you plan to at later intervals?
     
  7. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    I have always noticed the "short" break-in periods associated with the suspension and such, with improved sonics after a couple record sides, but I've also noticed a "long" break-in period that I hypothesized was due to "flat" formation. The initial contacts are quite small, and as you can see in the images are not very smooth on an un-polished stylus like this one. I am only assuming at this point that a flat is forming, but in reality it may be that the surfaces are still quite curved, and all I'm seeing is increased contrast due to the polishing of the diamond. This is why I am waiting to make the flat measurements.

    So far I have not noticed any significant change in sonics. My experience with an identical cartridge was that it noticeably improved around 100 hours, with lower noise and distortion. This model is not the greatest sounding cartridge when new, but after break-in it sounds pretty good, but 50-100 hours is a lot of break-in time. I expect that a nicely-polished stylus may have a lot shorter break-in period, and indeed may not need the long break-in period at all. I have been playing a AT312HEP for a few weeks now, and it sounded broken-in immediately. Its stylus is highly polished out of the box new.
     
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  8. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    Brilliant work Ray.
     
  9. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    Shure did it and published some of the results in the late 1970s. JICO did it and published minimal results in the mid-1980s. Ortofon did it in the 1980s, I believe, but I cannot find the research. I was able to piece together their thinking as reflected in their owner's manuals. If others have done this, I was not able to find it.

    I find it interesting that Shure (in 2017) would reprint Harold Weiler's 1954 pamphlet The Wear and Tear of Records and Styli. The work is dated in that it was pertinent to a 7gram VTF, and microgroove mono records, at a time when cleaning records was a rinse and wipe method. Still the method Weiler used is still valid, it just needs to be done on modern equipment with modern records, well cleaned at they can be today.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2019
  10. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    96 Hour results. I see a slight improvement in definition of the edges of the contact patches, but really very little change vs 48 Hours. I'm still seeing no real flat formation in the profile view

    Tip
    [​IMG]

    Left Contact
    [​IMG]

    Right Contact
    [​IMG]

    Profile View
    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Mike reminded me of the Shure study, which says "Another test revealed the increased abrasive action of playing a stylus continuously on the same record as opposed to a limited number of plays (20) on several records". I would presume this added abrasion occurs when the diamond wears and deposits dust on the groove surface, causing accelerated wear. I've been cleaning the record at each read point, and indeed I cleaned it after 24 hours, in the middle of the 2nd 48 hours before 96 hour read point. I have seen no dust or debris on the cleaning brush (or on the tape used to clean it) since the 2nd read point, but it may be that once the diamond wears I may find more debris. I may continue the daily cleaning on the way to 192 hours to try to alleviate the accelerated wear.

    So far, I'm a bit surprised at how little wear I'm seeing at ~100 hours. I would have called this stylus "new" if I had purchased it as-is. As far as the record is concerned, it still looks pristine, and is not showing any lightening of color as I've seen on worn records. After imaging the stylus, I listened to the record side on my regular SL-10 using the AT312HEP. The record sounded great, without distortion, but the background/surface noise was noticeably higher. With the AT312HEP, the noise was "unstable", modulating in volume on both left and right. I replaced the AT312HEP with the 480LT, and the noise stabilized on both channels at the highest level. My hypothesis is that the record has wear which increased surface noise, and the 480LT is contacting the worn areas. The AT312HEP has a bit different tip profile, with longer contacts, so it may partially avoid the wear areas from the 480LT. I think this hypothesis is consistent with conventional analog wisdom.

    The test is in play again, on its way to the 192 hour check point.
     
  12. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Rather than playing all the way to 96 hours straight on the way to 192, I pulled the record at 48 hour point to check on its cleanliness. Dry cleaning removed a small amount of fine "dust", so I pulled the stylus and checked it. There was a buildup of this dust on the stylus, see below. I wet-cleaned the record and brushed the stylus tip, and it's back on play for another 48 hours.

    I presume what I am seeing below is vinyl dust from record wear:

    [​IMG]
     
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  13. missan

    missan Forum Resident

    Location:
    Stockholm
    Very nice work, and pictures. Yes, I would also presume it´s vinyl dust. The high forces are crushing some vinyl molecule layers.
     
  14. Ripblade

    Ripblade Well-Known Member

    Location:
    The Six
    Is this the first time you had cleaned the stylus?
     
  15. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    This post adds some context to Ray Parkhurst's terrific experiment. Ray's equipment specifics are added to a figure from Shure's findings on the impact to stylus tip wear of tracking force (VTF). The Shure research paper is here: www.shure.com/en-US/support/find-an-answer/high-fidelity-phonograph-cartridge-technical-seminar. See Figure 18 in "The Stylus Tip and Record Groove--The First Link in the Playback Chain" by B. W. Jakobs and S. A. Mastricola (1978). The chart also includes reference to JICO's research and Ortofon's mid-1980s owner's manual advice on stylus lifespan. The sum of data, research and advice from these cartridge manufactures is incomplete and leave more questions than answers. While it is unlikely to be done, it would be great if cartridge manufacturers would publish comprehensive new research on stylus lifespans in much the way Ray is doing it.

    Toward the end, I add a modified chart patterned after Shure's 1978 research on the role of vertical tracking force on diamond stylus tip wear. While based on the work of Shure, JICO and Ortofon, what I add qualifies as conjecture, back calculations, estimates, guesses, and assumptions. Take it a grain of salt. ;)

    [​IMG]

    A search of their website under FAQ, Shure's advice on lifespan is all over the map and also it has evolved over time. You will find 500 hours, 500 to 800 hours, 600 to 800 hours, 800 to 1,000 hours, and 500 to 1,000 hours. Each is dated. The oldest dated advisory is 500 hours (repeated several times) and a more recent one from a guest contributor is 500 to 1,000 hours. For the Finish Line article I took the oldest advice from Shure at 500 hours as stemming from their 1978 research. Shure evolved the lifespan to 500 to 1,000 hours in recent years, in the same way Ortofon evolved their advice. For a discussion on Ortofon's evolution in stylus lifespan hours for line contact stylus tips from owner's manuals see post #131 here: The Finish Line for your Phono Cartridge- Stylus Wear by Mike Bodell. Ortofon in the mid-1980s advised 500-hour lifespans, now on their website, they advice up to 2,000 hours.

    Shure’s 1978 technical paper does not outline actual hours of use, per se. They do indicate that line contact and biradial (e.g., elliptical) tips shapes have about the same lifespan, with variations on different tip samples. The authors use relative lifespans for Figures 17 and 18 in the technical paper; never actually say when a stylus tip is worn out in hours of use. The authors do not mention diamond quality. Natural diamonds can have variation in hardness from inclusions or impurities embedded in their crystal structure. Dark diamonds have impurities and may be less than 10 on the Mohs relative scale.

    The Shure experiments in general used 2.0 grams VTF, yet for lifespan versus VTF research they made 3.0 grams the reference baseline for graphing purposes in Figure 18. I modified Figure 18 using Shure data to show 2.0 grams as the baseline. Then I add work by JICO with 'calculated' hours on when distortion may be audible at mid-range to high frequencies (5 to 10kHz) below 15kHz. These frequencies are possibly audible to a human expecting it and trained to know what the listen for (see this excellent bit of research here: Blog - How Much Distortion Can We Hear With Music? | Axiom Audio). Now that “guess” on my part is 30% more wear hours to the JICO 3% distortion threshold. This 30% adder is not completely arbitrary, it fits user experience and tags into both Shure’s and Ortofon's earliest published 500 hours lifespan for stylus tips.

    JICO’s 1980s research only addresses the point in hours for each tip shape to reveal 3% distortion at 15kHz. Many of us cannot hear that high frequency and if we can, we might not know what to listen for. I was not able to hear high frequency distortion on my system. A friend of mine, a musician and a woman, was able to hear it and that actually set me off to learn about stylus lifespan. For a line contact shape (e.g., Shibata), JICO advises 400 hours to get to that point. Interestingly, for their Super Analogue Stylus or SAS Micro-Ridge cartridge, JICO notes a 500-hour lifespan. That happens to be when that tip shape reaches 3% distortion at 15kHz according to JICO. The JICO research as posted on SoundSmith is not complete; it differentiates by tip shape but it does not show VTF employed or mention the quality of diamond. Nor do we know what JICO did to keep records clean or how the experiments were performed (continuous play or?). Yet for the JICO SAS, a nude gem quality, crystal lattice aligned diamond, they recommend a VTF of 1.25±0.25 grams and still publish a 500-hour lifespan in their owner's manual.

    Ortofon recommends for the Cadenza Black (MC) a VTF of 2.0 to 2.5 grams, 2.3 suggested (which I use). For their 2M Black (MM) with the same nude gem quality Shibata (line contact) tip shape, they recommend 1.5 grams, no range. Poster 5-String on SHF had his 2M Black examined at 650 hours and found it worn out and needing replacement. Using Shure data, I back calculated to estimate that my Cadenza Black at its higher VTF was likely worn out by 550 hours, if not sooner. I had to assume that 650 hours for the 2M was the wear out point since that was the earliest it was examined. Regardless, those hours for the 2M Black and for my Cadenza Black are well short of the 1,000 Ortofon advises to examine the tip on its way to a 2,000-hour lifespan, assuming great care to the tip and records. And both 5-String and I vacuum cleaned our records. My experience is that at 800 hours when I had the Cadenza Black evaluated, Expert Stylus reported it was "badly worn" and should have been replaced much earlier to avoid damage to my records and to get optimal sound reproduction.

    This chart uses a 2.0 gram baseline for the Shure data (instead of 3.0 grams) and includes information from JICO and Ortofon. The column shapes are the same as Figure 18. The percentages above the dashed baseline indicated time to subtract from or add to baseline hours to get to where Expert Stylus recommends examining an advanced stylus tip for critical wear. I calculated possible hours to critical wear by assuming a 30% longer hours on top of JICO published values for 3% distortion at 15kHz. The 30% adders is not entirely arbitrary, it is the lifespan hours determined by Shure and Ortofon before both companies moved to longer stated ranges. Those calculated hours for each VTF ranging from 3.0 grams to 0.75 grams are shown as Shure did. While JICO does not differentiate lifespan by VTF, it makes sense it has a bearing. For one example, if SoundSmith high compliance cartridges use a low VTF, e.g., 1.0 to 1.25 grams, they may last longer than the stylus tips on a Cadenza Black or 2M Black. Again, more questions than answers.
    [​IMG]
    Despite available research, the number of wear variables in diamond quality and crystal alignment, stylus tip shapes, cartridges, tonearms, and alignment setup and degree of our record cleaning, even vinyl formulation make it difficult to find a pat answer. That leads to compromise, 500 to 1,000 hours. A definitive answer does not exist; lifespan is like “how long is a piece of string.” To complicate matters, cartridge and diamond tip manufacturers, even retippers, have their own unique views. That established using Occam’s Razor principle, the paramount factors are, 1) VTF, 2) very clean records, and 3) stylus tip shape (if JICO is to believed). Finally, all users who have taken a stylus to verified “early” critical wear—as I did—have firsthand knowledge and semi-qualified opinions. In my search, I was surprised to see how many experiences pointed to ~500 hours for an advanced stylus tip lifespan. Except for the experts, everyone else is guessing, taking what cartridge manufacturers say on faith and/or listening for distortion they may or may not be able to hear.

    Manufacturers are marketing their cartridges against fierce competition in a time of overall low vinyl sales in an audio world still dominated by a quest for personal convenience. Vinyl is decidedly not convenient. None of the stated potential lifespan estimates are supported by published research, JICO and Shure (who exited the business in 2018) being the exceptions. Clearaudio recommends in their owner’s manual checking the stylus tip for wear at 500 hours, and offers that the tip could reach 1,000 hours. That terrific advice is a worthy standard operating procedure for all, while I now take 1,000 hours at the VTF required for my Ortofon cartridges as an unlikely scenario and certainly not the norm. Further, in a highly competitive market it is unimaginable to me that any manufacturer would suggest their cartridges sporting advanced stylus tips shapes would last fewer hours than its main competitors. Therefore, 1,000 hour lifespan for advanced stylus tips has become the most commonly stated marker. That, however, is not what I experienced. If someone has taken their cartridge to 1,000 to 2,000 hours AND had the stylus tip examined properly at 500/600 hours to find it barely worn, please share that here. And let us the know the VTF used and how you clean your records.

    Folks must do what they think is right regardless of how they get there. After all it is their kit and frankly none of my business. Coming off my experience, however, if I elect not to have a line contact stylus tip checked at about 500/600 hours, I would never know if it’s critically worn then or not. And that is the salient point here. A poignant line in “Black-Throated Wind” from Grateful Dead member Bob Weir’s solo debut, Ace, is “You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t want to know.” To folks who are just seeking answers: Trust the advice from manufacturers…but verify. Verify being the key.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
  16. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Good info Mike! Looks like I should be expecting 600-700 hours of lifetime at 1.25g from my experiment.

    No, I've been cleaning the stylus at each read point. This is the first time that I've cleaned it between read points.
     
  17. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    I think you are right Ray. Given the minimal wear shown so far, I also expect this stylus to go the distance at that low VTF. Good job.

    On the "vinyl snow" you show, that is interesting. Do you have any thoughts on why its occurring and what it is? When you have cleaned the lp, is it just with a micro-brush, or have you rinsed it too? I have seen that type of white duff on my stylus before, but rarely.
     
  18. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    The white dust really could only be pieces of vinyl. I cleaned at 12 hours, and saw a greasy residue that I attributed to previous wet cleaning fluid. Then again at 24 hours and 48 hours and did not see much. I did an interim clean at 72 hours, then another at 96 hours. Each time there was just a little bit of residue, but in general the record looked very clean. This time I went 48 hours (~144 plays) before cleaning, and there was visible (though not a huge amount) fine dust on the cleaning brush. Going twice as long resulted in twice the residue, so it was more visible. I doubt if it matters if I wet clean or not, but I went ahead and did it anyway to wipe away the residues and start again with clean grooves.
     
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  19. HiFi Guy 008

    HiFi Guy 008 Forum Resident

    Location:
    New England
    Mold release is my guess.

    And cleaning the record usually does not remove it unless you use a special product.
    I use Nitty Gritty First rv before wet cleaning.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
  20. Ripblade

    Ripblade Well-Known Member

    Location:
    The Six
    I was going to ask about the sudden appearance of dust, but this answers my question. Thanks.
     
  21. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Here's a photo of my Airtight Supreme, before it went off for retipping. You'll see an accumulation of the same kind of stuff on top of the cantilever. All records were cleaned using either Audio Desk, KL and/or Monks. Stylus cleaned using dry brush after each side, occasional Magic Eraser dunk.
    It would be interesting to get an analysis of this stuff- apart from the mythic diamond dust, I suspect it is vinyl shavings and possibly the other detritus (for lack of a better word, "lint" of the type you can see under bright light) that collects, and is floating around in every room.
    https://thevinylpress.com/app/uploads/2019/02/needle-arc-1.jpg
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
  22. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    [​IMG]sorry about the multiple postings and deletions- i was having issues with my normal third party photo hosting site. This works! :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
  23. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    The record was essentially new, and did not have any mold on it at the beginning, so I don't know why there would be mold coming off now.

    For sure it's not dust or lint or whatever coming in from outside, since the SL-10 is a clamshell type, not open to the outside air. I do see a piece of lint or two fall on the record when I open the TT and remove the cartridge for imaging, but that gets cleaned off before play. The record is pristine when I start the next play period, so the dust is coming from the record surface.
     
  24. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Ray- @hifiguy008 is talking about so-called mold release compound, something that is a constant in discussions about record cleaning fluid; that is, something that is compounded into the vinyl formulation to make it easier for a record, once pressed, to be removed from the stampers. He's not talking about 'mold' in the fungus sense. But, that said, 'mold release' is regularly discussed as something that needs to be removed from records as part of cleaning. I'm not going to address the merits of that, other than to say I don't think you'll see deposits of "mold release" on the business end of a cartridge.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
  25. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Ahh, that's what he meant. Thanks. Couldn't for the life of me understand how mold could have formed.

    I was under the impression that mold release compounds for vinyl were soluble in alcohol, but perhaps not? The compounds are also not hard, though I guess they must harden over time? This record does seem to be wearing, since the background noise has increased. I still expect this is bits of vinyl, but looks like I need to do some research on mold release compounds.
     

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