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

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

  1. Salectric

    Salectric Forum Resident

    Location:
    Maryland
    A decade or so ago, I kept track of each LP side played after getting a new cartridge. Nothing fancy, just a sheet of paper with dates and hash marks for each side. I estimated 20 minutes per side so one hour for 3 hash marks.

    After doing this for an a few months following each new cartridge, I discovered that my LP listening time is very consistent, averaging 30 hours per month. Now that I know this, I no longer bother keeping track. I just know that every year equals 350 hours more or less.

    I also know from experience that my Benz MC cartridges last slightly more than 1000 hours before they need replacement or need a new stylus, which was the point of the article Bill posted. I know this because they start to become less clean in the highs especially in inner grooves.

    For the last 12 years or so, I have mostly used the same cartridge—a Benz LP which I happen to like very much. It has been retipped by Soundsmith twice and I plan on sending it back every 3 years for as long as it holds up, hopefully forever. The Benz is like a brand new cartridge after each retip.
     
  2. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    You are, in my mind at least, the Poster Boy for this thread.

    But then someone is going to come along and tell you that tip is good for another 1,500 hours, at least. :cussing:
     
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  3. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    I noticed that those cartridge tips were offset as you noted here. I did not ask Ray Parkhurst about that so the wear pattern you note could be spot on. However, I wondered if part of the appearance was not related to how the image was tilted. That is to say, the image is not as level on the left as it is on the right. On the right, it appears to me to be a straight down view. On the left, not quite. That does not take away from your point, but what we see on the worn N99E could be in part from photo alignment.

    When considering photographs for the article, I tried to get another source to agree also to use his images, but he never responded to several emails I sent. In the end, Ray Parkhurst had a really great collection of photomacrograph images. The one shown above was important to me for the article since it shows a critically worn and new spherical stylus tip. It appears in the article early, and the Weiler research was discussed about that place in the text.

    The third Ray Parkhurst image was of a line contact Sumiko stylus tip. Since the Ortofon Cadenza Black is a similar Shibata contact, Ray selected this image to be appropriate to the discussion of my experience.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
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  4. You’ve found you can go 1,000 hours on the Benz? I haven’t kept track of sides played, but I’ve had my Benz Wood SL since October 2017 and I’m pretty sure it’s done. Initially I found it wouldn’t track as well unless I bumped it to 2.0g VTF (up from 1.8g), as I started noticing distortion in highly modulated passages. I got worried it was damaging records and stopped using it. I doubt I’m anywhere near 1,000 hours though, as I would guess I’m around 30 hours per month as well, more or less. I also clean all records on a VPI machine and clean the stylus after every side.

    I’ve started tallying sides on a new cartridge and will try to gauge an average per month – maybe I’m listening more than I think.

    I assume you’re pleased with the Soundsmith re-tip? Do you just have him put a new microridge on the existing cantilever?
     
  5. Salectric

    Salectric Forum Resident

    Location:
    Maryland
    The 1000-1250 hour mark has held true for me with a Benz L2 and twice with my current Benz LP. The LP is on its third lifetime since it has been retipped twice by SoundSmith. Each time SS did a “retip only” which means they put a new diamond in the stock cantilever. This is actually more expensive than getting a new cantilever and stylus combo. But the sound quality after the retip was as close to factory new as my memory permits. Each time it was like getting a brand new Benz LP for $450. That’s the best deal in audio as far as I’m concerned.

    I should add that my cartridges always have more wear on one side than the other (per Peter at SS). This is presumably due to my not using any Antiskating. I prefer the sound without AS even if this perhaps contributes to more rapid wear.
     
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  6. That price is better than I thought. Does he use the same micro ridge stylus?
     
  7. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    I wonder if it is ever possible to get anti-skate to be precise enough to prevent uneven wear given how it works. I use a linear tracker as my main arm (though recently added a more conventional pivoted arm) and though the linear tracker has a theoretical benefit in this respect, it is also imperfect to set up beyond some rough tests for arm travel at certain intervals along the play area. Those pivoted arms with articulating headshells may address the problem to some degree in terms of alignment, but not anti-skate as far as I know. I haven't played with any of those. Intriguing issues in set up as well as the impact of frictional wear.
    Right now, I'm trying to solve a center of mass question involving multiple massive turntable parts on an iso-table, the Minus K. I'm not good at the math part (I've reached out to someone in the University where I teach part time in another department). Trial and error and rough eye-balling haven't been very effective. One other approach suggested to me which involves weighing the objects in situ may also be a way to solve this one.
    Ah, what we contend with to play records- I had an AR XA back in the day- 1970? it was fairly straightforward though even that had some adjustments to suspension if you got down into the details.
     
  8. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Peter is awesome, and his work is a bargain. He does take time though. So you should have an alternate cartridge to use while waiting for Soundsmith to do their magic. He's also a really nice man.
     
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  9. Salectric

    Salectric Forum Resident

    Location:
    Maryland
    That’s a good question and honestly I don’t recall whether SS claims their stylus is a Micro-Ridge. I just followed Peter’s advice for getting the closest to a stock Benz stylus. Whatever stylus shape he used, it works. As I said, the retip seems to sound the same as when the cartridge was new.
     
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  10. Drewan77

    Drewan77 Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK/USA
    A lot of good information on this thread relating to wear and more importantly, damage happening to vinyl much sooner than most of us believed. I applaud BendBound for bringing this to our attention and for the research he has done.

    I'm prompted to conduct a purely non-scientific experiment when I get back to my main system in July so I can test this for myself:

    I have three LP copies of one album - Dreamboat Annie by Heart (don't ask me why, it has couple of really great songs but a lot of bland stuff too) plus four copies of Selling England By The Pound & a recently retired Goldring 1042 stylus with at least 1000 hours on it. My cartridges are aligned accurately, VTF, azimuth & bias are as precise as I can make them, all LPs have been RCM cleaned and stored in new anti static sleeves, vinyl & stylus are brushed before/after play and the lid remains down during.

    I will take the oldest copy of each album, check first with a listen then play one of the end side tracks over and over with the worn stylus at least a dozen times. I will then listen and compare this to my current 'spare' 1042 stylus that has around 60 hours on it, using the least used copy of each album. If chiselling and wear to the vinyl is apparent then I should be able to hear it.

    If I can't detect anything amiss then I may continue to use styli as previously, changing around 1000 hrs. With over 3000 LPs (plus a lot of digital music) and at my age, it is unlikely I will live long enough to play many (or any) LPs beyond this number of times!

    I hope this doesn't appear cynical or disrespectful to the intentions of this thread, it's just that I like to sense-check everything in this hobby before changing from something that has seemed to serve me OK up to now.
     
  11. Optimize

    Optimize Forum Resident

    Location:
    EU
    According to Peter the grove modulation varies. And therefore the the amount of antiscating varies with it.. :(

    So it was therefore I said that in the image of the conical with the two flat spots. That one spot is little bigger than the other. That it is valuable information for the user and his AVRAGE modulation for the music he has listened at. :)
     
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  12. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    If you go to this page on the Sound-Smith site, you'll see the various options he offers: Cartridge Rebuilding / Retipping | Soundsmith
     
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  13. jeffmackwood

    jeffmackwood Forum Resident

    Location:
    Ottawa
    Fascinating stuff indeed but irrelevant to me given how many times I play anything from my vinyl collection nowadays. My current stylus probably only has 100 hours on it. So even assuming a worst case super-conservative estimate of 500 hours minimum before any appreciable wear, and at a rate of probably 2 hours playing time per year.... Yeah, I think I'll never have to buy another stylus again.

    But boy will I ever be pissed if I live to be 260!

    Jeff
     
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  14. Optimize

    Optimize Forum Resident

    Location:
    EU
    Good idea I have two different albums that has one thing in common. That they are pressed 2-3 years ago.
    I use the MP-110 bounded diamond (=heavier) and rather big eliptic 0,4 x 0,7 mil.
    That were new and I have clean records.

    They got "groove chew" from the MP-110.

    But I have not noticed that in the same extent on other records..
    Why is that? Can some records be harder and some be softer?

    Plastic gets harder and brittle with time. And some goes that process faster depending on type and storage (direct sunlight and temperature for example)

    This rather new records are maybe softer than the old records that were pressed in the 70-ties. Those I have not noticed any "groove chew" on.

    So another way to test that is to have two records one that are undergoing accelerated aging and another that stored normally.
     
  15. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Apropos of nothing and everything, I seem to remember some discussion by someone who knew more than me about cantilever skew over time- I'm not talking about a bent or damaged cantilever, but one where, over time, it can be seen to skew. My recollection- I did a quick search thinking it might have been Peter L. from Sound-Smith who addressed it-- was that the performance over time may cause this as the cantilever settles in- and I'm not sure it is the result of incorrect set up or abuse.
    Whatever the cause, this adds to the complications in set up and could probably exacerbate wear, if not of the record, then of the stylus.
    All this stuff happens at such a 'micro' level, it's amazing that it actually works! And we buy old records and somehow manage to get the things to play together nicely.
    FWIW, and not to flog or shill, but a fellow audio buff compiled a list of cartridge retippers and rebuilders from around the world. It's not exhaustive, but it's pretty good. And in my intro, I emphasize that the first stop should be the original cartridge manufacturer, if only to get information. Some folks regard third party retips as sacrilege- it ain't a Koetsu, Airtight, Lyra, etc., anymore unless you have the original manufacturer do the work. I'm not personally that adamant particularly if it is the difference between a tired old cartridge that may be worn, have some cantilever skew or suspension issues and something that, once refurbished, is likely to outperform it in its tired, old state. Sometimes, it is just a matter of cost, too.

    Here's the link to the list courtesy of the great, humble and very knowing "Rob" (who as far as I know, doesn't post here at Hoffman ranch): Worldwide List of Phono Cartridge Retippers and Rebuilders - The Vinyl Press
     
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  16. Thanks. I saw that, but it wasn’t clear what the charge would be for just the re-tip on the existing boron cantilever. I don’t think Benz does this work anymore (are they even still selling new cartridges?) so I’m either looking at re-tipping or trading it back to my dealer towards another brand.
     
  17. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Call 'em on Tuesday. Monday's a holiday. You may not get Peter L, but I think the other guy who deals with phono cartridge rebuilds there is also named Peter. Just to confuse you. :)
    Enjoy the long weekend~
     
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  18. fmuakkassa

    fmuakkassa Dr. M

    Location:
    Ohio
    Very interesting thread indeed. I have not been paying attention to the amount of time I played records on my Dynavector DV-XX2MKII cartridge. Could be past 1500 hours. I don't hear any distortion but how can I have my stylus inspected for damage and possible re-tipping. I don't want to damage my precious record collection. Do I have to send the cartridge to the US distributor for inspection?
     
  19. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    If you have a local dealer with a microscope and stylus inspection skills, you could ask them to take a look at it for you.
     
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  20. fmuakkassa

    fmuakkassa Dr. M

    Location:
    Ohio
    Thanks. I'll check if my dealer can do that.
     
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  21. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    This is my first post on this forum. Not sure why I did not find it before.

    When I started doing the high resolution stylus imaging a few years ago, I expected to find that the contact wear was somewhat "rounded" as @harby has stated above. It is the conventional wisdom since the grooves are not flat. What I have actually found is that the contact flats, especially on well-worn styli, are quite flat indeed. If you look at the photograph of the well-worn N99E, you can seen how very flat it is, with sharp corners. I did not use the ringlight imaging technique for those images, instead relying on a hybrid Shure technique, but the contact flatness and sharp transition to unworn diamond is still quite evident.

    I'm not sure why the conventional wisdom fails here. Could the lead-in and lead-out grooves cause more wear than the modulated ones? Could it be an amplitude spectral density effect, ie most of the modulation on most records is of low amplitude and low frequency? I do see that the wear on a new stylus seems to conform more to the "rounding" theory, but as the wear increases it seems to get flatter. That N99E is essentially gliding over higher frequency modulation, so there is less opportunity for wear on the sharp corners to cause rounding.
     
  22. harby

    harby Forum Resident

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    The wear pattern seen optically via incidental light is mostly speculars, the illumination reflecting off the tip directly into the microscope. It's either there or not.

    More informative would be electron microscope examination that can go beyond optical diffraction limits, as was done on a 100-hour stylus by a forum member. That would reveal the true geometry of wear. Here we zoom in we only see the center of the bonded tip (and some debris). A radius of .7 mil is 17.8 um, and at this angle we expect the contact area to be 12um from the center, on each side.

    [​IMG]


    If the cartridge was placed on a rotating bearing, centered under the tip, one could rotate back and forth for the optical examination, getting a feel for how and where the threshold edge of wear changes.

    Then: are we just looking at diamond surfaces polished smooth like a mirror around the contact contact area, while the rest of the tip is relatively rough, dispersing light?

    We can see how the elliptical faceting polish (front and back) is smoother in the electron microscope image than the conical turning. It may be even a benefit to have coarseness of the crystal polished by wear, like how a tungsten tip was recommended to be broken in by one play (up until it starts to affect the radius dimensions). Perhaps we can imagine a bit of that in the electron microscope image.

    You can see how small the true contact patch is.

    The stylus ultimately fails any standard of acceptable wear when the 45 degree sides of wear converge at the stylus tip. Then you no longer have a radius, you are cleaning the bottom of the groove. That you have wear showing much higher than the contact area in the worn stylus is geometrically puzzling, unless we allow for some cantilever twisting, perhaps by a variety of skating forces, and polishing by debris.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2019
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  23. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Nice SEM, but this essentially shows a new cartridge. Only a tiny amount of wear on the contacts is present, just enough to begin to polish the contacts a bit, but not enough to begin to create the "flats" which characterize a worn stylus. Personally I would not even say this cartridge is broken-in yet, though many folks believe the suspension has more to do with break-in than does the stylus itself.

    My issue with rough tips like the one in the SEM is that I believe they will cause much faster wear on the record surface. I'm more a fan of tips which have been polished during manufacturing, since these present a much smoother contact to the record during break-in. That said, most tips are rough, so we work with what we have. The roughness is an intentional part of the manufacturing process, needed in order for the diamond to hold together with the cantilever, but I would not play my best records with a new, un-polished tip.

    You can see from the SEM that the "elliptical" facets are of course quite flat, indeed flatter than we all expect the wear flats to be. Yet on their surfaces you can see imperfections either from the diamond itself or perhaps from small debris. This gives a good sense of how very flat this surface is. Here is the N99E stylus tip, zoomed-in a bit, showing the many imperfections on the contact surfaces. It is from these imperfections, similar to those shown in the SEM, that give the sense of how flat the flats are.

    [​IMG]

    Regarding the terminal wear point, the tip will generally "drag" the bottom of the groove before the contacts converge. Indeed the contacts will likely never actually converge, since the bottom of the groove usually has a radius rather than being square. I'd expect a brand-new cutting stylus to have a sharp tip, such that the pressed records from a master cut using a new tip is quite sharp at the bottom, but the spec is up to 0.2 mil, about 20% of the minimum contact width of a fully-modulated groove. I believe the N99E tip is so worn that it "hit bottom" on many hundreds of record plays, and you can see that it has pretty ugly damage at the very tip, yet the contacts don't actually converge.
     
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  24. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    This is from a P-Mount cartridge, so if it was used on a clamshell linear tracker, likely the only variable available to the user was VTF. It looks to me like the VTA was set too high, which would help to explain the extreme wear.

    Note also this stylus is an elliptical, Shure N99E. It might appear to be conical, but that's because the focus stacker had issues with focusing on the polished/faceted front and rear surfaces.
     
  25. harby

    harby Forum Resident

    Location:
    Portland, OR, USA
    Your stylus may indeed have wear to the very tip, it is just not highlighted well by the lighting. I expect that, as you say, the diamond is now shaped by your average cutting head's stylus - some records being cut with a new sharp one, and others having seen many mastering discs. Worn stylus + worn lathe tip + worn stampers = losing contact with the groove sides.

    With it being elliptical (impossible to have discerned from images), at least the tip has a third facet in back that truncates the wear that would make for a groove-shaped "screwdriver" - when it has allowed to go this long.

    Would love to see the same tip also in a SEM to satisfy our inquisitive minds. It is information that won't alter the requirement to simply change the needle when it starts sounding bad.

    I would even be interested in reviews of big brands using the imaging. It doesn't take extreme resolution to see modern flaws, though - diamonds faceted off-side, mounted crooked, mounted twisted, in a cantilever that is skewed, all passing the lack of QA.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2019

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