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

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

  1. Catcher10

    Catcher10 I like records, and Prog...duh

    Really cool read....What I notice is that he includes the descriptor "may", as in it may increase or may cause groove damage. There is nothing 100% in this hobby.......I also am in the camp that I want the highest quality sound reproduction I can afford from my records. I clearly understand why someone would only want MM carts to easily replace the stylus, but as long as I have been playing records in my life nothing has given me the accuracy (for lack of better term) than MC carts.
    When I am 6 feet under and feeding worms, I don't want to think...."gee wish I would have done MC carts, I was always told they sounded great!" :)
     
  2. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    The contacts on this N99E are 0.5mil on left side, 0.6mil on right side, and the length where they meet is 0.4mil. This is much greater than the distance across the tip of a new cartridge, so the region where they meet, which looks pretty "chewed-up", has been worn well into the bulk of the diamond. This stylus hit groove bottoms for a very long time. It's the most "screwdriver" shaped tip I have found.
     
  3. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    If the cartridge manufacturers are oblique about stylus wear, it is because of nominal costs to play a record album with moving coil cartridges. The costs are very high, as you will see below. I’m not accusing these companies of hiding anything, but I can guess that they would rather you think an expensive cartridge equates to longer life. It does not, certainly not based on the research I did on this subject.

    Most styli today are made of diamond, the hardest known natural material. Diamond wears at the same rate more or less based on contact area to a groove, VTF, and how clean the groove is from deeply embedded dirt. Cost is no respecter of diamond wear. Expensive cartridges may use the best diamonds, the longest contact with the record, and manufactured to take advantage of the hardest face in a diamond's crystal structure. That may gain you 15 to 20% more life on the diamond. That is to say, you get to 620 hours versus 500. Any play above about 800 hours is likely taking it out on your vinyl records in progressive permanent wear.

    If JICO and Shure are correct, and I personally believe they are, different tip shapes can last a bit longer, but really the difference is between say 300 for an elliptical shape to 500 hours for a micro-ridge shape. Not 1,000 hours, not 2,000 hours, not longer than about 500 to 600 hours for advanced stylus shapes. This conclusion is supported by at least two companies that perform retipping (personal communication). And the anecdotal evidence from users like us, who can hear distortion and are religious about stylus wear examination, confirm this.

    We can argue that cartridge manufacturers would rather leave the topic of wear alone. It is fine if you think your advanced stylus tip will last 2,000 hours. Just have it checked at 500 to 600 hours. See for yourself. On the other hand, if your business is to retip cartridges, I can see the cynic arguing that they have a vested interest in 500 or fewer hours. All I am saying is that I have thought this through from just about every angle.

    What I know is that my Ortofon Cadenza Black MC cartridge was never played on a record that was not first cleaned on a VPI17 using AIVS cleaning solutions or a Vibrato 80kHz ultrasonic machine or both. I align my system well, Baerwald alignment on a very good turntable and a very good tonearm. I count every side I play, religiously. At 700 hours, perhaps a bit earlier, I heard sibilance distortion. At 800 hours, other folks could hear distortion who were not familiar with my system. I sent the cartridge to Expert Stylus & Cartridge Company. They examined my stylus and told me the Shibata tip was "badly worn" and need to be replaced. Like so many others here and on other forums, I thought this tip would last at least 1,500 hours if not 2,000 hours.

    At this point in my discovery, a cartridge company needs to supply me with real data and progressive photomacrographs of particular cartridge stylus tips to convince me they last longer than 500-600 hours. Show me the data. I hate to be so blunt. This is not rocket science. Show. Me. The. Data. Prove it. Because I have already experienced what others experienced in spades. Diamonds are not forever, and likely do not survive beyond 500 hours of record play. And that is what researchers learned 60 plus years ago.
    [​IMG]
    Economics Phono Stylus
    by Mike Bodell, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2019
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  4. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Personally I am not so worried about how much it costs per record. I've never spent more than a few hundred $ on a cartridge or stylus, and I only play a few hundred records per year.
     
  5. BrilliantBob

    BrilliantBob Select, process, CTRL+c, CTRL+z, ALT+v

    Location:
    Romania
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  6. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    I play records predominately; I have a room full of them. My collecting of them began in 1963. Along the way, several friends gave me their record collections to add to mine when CDs were the latest and greatest. At that time in the early 1990s, records were phenomenally cheap at places like Half Priced Books in Houston, so I filled in many more holes in my collection. The local library had two sales a year to raise money. All of the donated records were on sale for 50¢ each. I amassed a great collection of near mint classical music that way.

    Since my wife and I do a lot of camping, I wanted my music on the go. So I learned how to make my own mini-lp CDRs, complete with artwork, beginning in the late 1990s. See a more complex one that I made last year (below). I really liked the packaging the Japanese did where they make the CD look like the original record album. The process is a fair amount of work, so I invested in better and better recorders and phono cartridges to get higher quality sound. And that is how I justified buying a rather expensive cartridge.

    I have no regrets, I'm still recording my vinyl to digital files, and for friends. Yet I learned something along the way. What I learned, BrilliantBob linked in again, is assembled in The Finish Line For Your Phonograph Stylus...

    Thanks for the great images, Ray.

    [​IMG]
     
  7. Gibsonian

    Gibsonian Forum Resident

    Location:
    Iowa, USA
    If you are inside the Matrix, album wear is quite nil!
     
  8. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Forum Resident

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Would have been nice to image that stylus. Shibatas are subject to similar faceting and widening as ellipticals, they just start out with shorter / wider contacts. I suppose it's all relative of course. All else being equal, a hiqh quality stylus tip with shorter contact length will track high frequencies better, with less distortion. Assuming the user has equipment and ears to discern the difference, the amount of acceptable distortion from stylus wear will be relatively lower than if a lower quality stylus is used.
     
  9. Ski Bum

    Ski Bum Happy Audiophile

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Interesting article. It prompted me to order a handheld counter.
     
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  10. Big Blue

    Big Blue Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    Yep, I got myself one of those desktop counters because of this thread. My wife already thought I had gone insane...
     
  11. Slick Willie

    Slick Willie Decisively Indecisive

    Location:
    sweet VA.
    :laughup:
     
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  12. Slick Willie

    Slick Willie Decisively Indecisive

    Location:
    sweet VA.
    Awesome thread and very educational....yet very, very disturbing.
    Wonder how many links to this thread will be posted on the numerous digital vs vinyl threads?
    How OCD is too OCD?
    :shrug:
     
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  13. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    Welcome to the crowd. :D
     
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  14. Mike from NYC

    Mike from NYC Forum Resident

    Location:
    Surprise, AZ
    Ignorance is bliss
     
  15. Stone Turntable

    Stone Turntable Dedicated Listener

    Location:
    New Mexico USA
    Exactly.

    "When he began to hear sibilance and distortion it was already too late" is a thought that may torment the people who inherit my records, but not me!
     
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  16. Big Blue

    Big Blue Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    So, I know the general conclusion of this article and thread is that a stylus doesn’t last as long as you think, which may lead one to consider spending less because of more frequent replacement, but am I the only one who is finding it possible to use the “cost per record” concept to maybe justify a more expensive cartridge? I have been having thoughts like “well, $1 per record really isn’t bad...” Do I have an illness?
     
  17. Great thread. I feel I'm hearing the unvarnished truth about stylus wear as it relates to the modern world. I feel there are a lot of people in denial out there about stylus wear.
     
  18. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    The cost to retip an expensive cartridge is probably a smaller fraction of its original cost, especially if you are using third parties. (Subject to the caveat that a retip by a third party of something like a Koetsu means it is no longer regarded as a Koetsu, and is of far less value in the marketplace if that matters to you).

    I've never thought about the running costs of my life- it would have deprived me of so much enjoyment.
    Mike is obviously looking at the real cost of playing vinyl when you take retips or replacements into account. It comes back to the hidden costs- record cleaning, phono stage choices, set up tools, all things that are not apparent to uninitiated.

    For somebody like me, who has been using vinyl since childhood-teen years in the '60s, I took a lot of stuff for granted. I only started focusing on vinyl playback more critically once it was no longer a mainstream medium. I think that is true of a lot of us-- at the time it was a mainstream commodity, equipment was not only cheaper, but there was far less attention paid to these issues by most consumers.
    I had a high-end turntable and arm in the mid-'70s, along with one of the first Shibata tipped cartridges, but I don't remember stressing out about set up or cartridge life-- we just assembled these things and played them. Record cleaning equipment was generally pretty unsophisticated. I knew of only one place locally with a Monks. VPI and Nitty Gritty hadn't entered the market yet. (Watts products were popular even in the States, along with the ubiquitous Discswasher). The issue of different masterings and pressings wasn't really on my radar then- sure, there were records that were known to sound better than others, but I didn't have access to the kind of information we have today, assembled largely after the fact by collectors and enthusiasts.

    Even within the audiophile community, a lot has changed in terms of knowledge and perspective, and it doesn't necessarily mean the latest technology-- old Deccas, Ortofon SPU and other vintage cartridges are sought after and far more attention is paid to set up with a wide range of tools-- some quite expensive-- to optimize alignment, azimuth, etc.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2019
  19. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    No. But now you know. If its worth it to you, and you can afford it, great. I mean, I am sure some folks think nothing of drinking a $100 bottle of wine every night, if you are in that economic class. Then, if you care about your records and even the future of your records, just do the extra required to keep them in great shape.

    Does anyone believe a really great phonograph cartridge should cost $3,000? How about $6,000? Will it be twice as good or 2% better? Okay, what about $10,000 to $15,000? I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. I honestly don't know.

    For me at a certain point, the relative cost to use an expensive cartridge is just beyond what I am willing to spend. That is, it is not worth it to me. And I moved to the cartridge I have simply to get better digital files of my albums that I play a lot.

    Based on more conversations on this than I care to count, most folks have no idea the true cost to use a moving coil phonograph cartridge. I needed to work this out because given skills I developed, I've been asked on many occasions by local record shops and acquaintances (friend are okay, acquaintances...that is another story) how much would I charge to make a mini-lp CDR in the manner I do. They have customers who bring in records, favorites or favorites of their parents, and want a dub. Would I be willing to do this on rare occasion for their customers?

    I've done a few gratis for the shop owners mostly because the record was rare and I also wanted to hear it. So I make them a dub, I did it last week for a local record shop owner on a near mint copy he acquired of The Chirping Crickets debut with Buddy Holly, the Brunswick original mono issue with the textured cover. In some cases, I've made them so that the shop can sell a rare record at a higher price with the mini-lp together. The process is involved, requires cleaning the record, scanning the cover on a large bed scanner and putting it together in Photoshop, rebuilding the label in software, gluing it all up, lining the inside cover with a thin plastic sleeve, etc. Then I record the album 96/24, apply ClickRepair and fade in and out to parse tracks, name them, convert to RedBook CDs, direct print on the CD with a special printer.

    [​IMG]BLUE NOTE LPs by Mike Bodell, on Flickr

    To be accurate and fair, I needed to attribute costs for all the equipment along the way. Initially, I just guessed 30¢ for the use of the turntable system, when I should have been assuming $1.50, and that is just my real cost. That is because I thought the cartridge would not need to be replaced until it had 2,000 hours on it. Along the way I fully understood why when I was learning how to do this 20 years ago, the author of an article on converting vinyl to CDs suggested always buying a commercial CD if it is available instead of making a CDR of a record. Given that it takes me about 3 hours to go from soup to nuts, there is no way to recover even minimum wage plus equipment wear and tear costs to do these for anything less than $50 each. Of course, no one is willing to pay that which is precisely the right answer for me. It's my hobby, not a business venue.

    I've shown you how I backed into this discovery. If you can afford it, and you think on your system, that extra or two dollar per play is worth it, go for it. The question is one of utility value to you.

    If this research shines a light on the relative cost for use of a phono cartridge, that to me is a good thing. You'd like to think that competition would through time increase playback quality of a cartridge at progressively lower prices. That is how most of us believe the market should work. For the price-is-no-object crowd, that is not how the market works. And why cost vs. quality discussions for audio are so tortured and heated.
     
  20. Big Blue

    Big Blue Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    Man, I’d love to be a $100 bottle of wine person... No, I would find it hard to believe the improvement of each price range higher is proportionate to the price difference. I don’t think there is an objective “twice as good” for one thing, and then even if you can quantify, I’m sure it’s more of a curve. I don’t see myself ever paying $3k for a phonograph cartridge unless my financial reality changes pretty amazingly. I’m probably even delusional about how reasonable $1 per record play is, especially considering I had to also buy the record in the first place. It’s mental gymnastics, for sure, when I start to think price per play makes a major cartridge upgrade more palatable. It’s just a way I hadn’t thought about cartridge/stylus cost, but it does make sense to me.

    Let me also clarify I’m not thinking in terms of justifying $3k+ cartridges to myself, I’m thinking more about a $1-1.5k cartridge with reasonable retip cost not necessarily being prohibitive in the long-term when calculated as a cost per play. In my mind, then, something in between that price point and what I have now (a $150 replacement stylus for a MM cartridge) is relatively reasonable. I know the central message here is that expensive cartridges are even more expensive than they seem because the stylus life is shorter than most people expect, and it definitely reinforces my inclination against breaking the bank on a cartridge. The cost-per-play math is also, however, maybe helping me clarify where my limit actually should be.
     
  21. Slick Willie

    Slick Willie Decisively Indecisive

    Location:
    sweet VA.
    A few years back I purchased a phono pre with LOMC as my target, Delos was to be my entry point.
    Then I started looking into price per play, using 2,000 hrs, as the end point.
    Nope, no way, I thought it ludicrous even though I could afford.
    Sometimes one must just say to themselves, enough is enough! One can't miss what they have not heard.
    I have no support to have my cart examined, see no need to purchase equipment and learn the skills to do so myself.
    I will continue to use my ear and some selected LP's to determine failure.
    If I can not hear damage, then for me, it does not exist.
    Anyhoo, that's how I'm rolling.
     
  22. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    This is not confined to cartridges, as you know. The "trickle down" effect of technology and price did occur in video playback. When i set up my first large video projection system a line doubler/quadrupler from Yves Farjoudja was between 15-20k dollars. Now it's a chip in black boxes sold at big box stores. Ditto flat screens. I remember the early plasma by Fujitsu-that tv was also close to 20 large if memory serves- now you can buy OLED 4k or whatever for well under a grand. (I'm kind of out of it on high end video at this point, just a civilian).
    Hi-end audio took a pretty weird turn. Prices for much of it aren't complete fiction given the costs to build by some of the small shops who don't have economies of scale, but the top tier stuff keeps getting pricier. I guess there's trickle down in that I would assume some of the beer budget stuff these days sounds better for the same or less money than it used to, but I don't know since I haven't really spent any time making those kinds of comparisons. Cable prices are nuts with lots of mark up. Cartridges- also pricey partly because they pass through several hands to get to you if coming from Japan. Not sure about Ortofon's pricing structure- probably a little less painful at the top end. We now live in a world where the 30 thousand dollar tone arm is, if not common, at least not a fantasy - and people buy 'em. Nothing against that if you've got the money. But, it's getting to the point where "if you gotta ask..." and that's not where most people function in this world.
    I like good stuff. I appreciate the marginal improvements that come with the better stuff and am usually willing to pay for it. But, I'm not somebody of unlimited means, and as a pensioner, I'm more sensitive to the cash outlay as well as the long term value proposition.
    For a lot of us, I think the answer is used, and that's where you get value when the shine wears off for someone else who is churning through equipment. It could work with cartridges too, if you are willing to buy knowing that the cartridge will likely need to be retipped. (Used cartridge ads often read like "car driven by little old lady from Pasadena" though some may be true if an audiophile had a bunch of cartridges and gave it minimal use or simply didn't like it in their system).
     
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  23. Slick Willie

    Slick Willie Decisively Indecisive

    Location:
    sweet VA.

    Sorta' like "recapped tires".
     
  24. Otlset

    Otlset free-range audiophile

    Location:
    Temecula, CA
    Me as well. I have 10+ years and many thousands of records played on my London Reference cartridge (paratrace stylus, no cantilever -- the stylus basically mounted on a post which itself is attached to an electro-sensitive "positive scanning" tracer, VTF set at 1.57 gm, all other parameters very carefully set up) with no signs of distortion or audible wear that I can detect, and because of the miles I have on it I'm constantly on the alert. But the sound is still wonderful, so I'll continue to play on, and enjoy my records.
     
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  25. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Nah, you can get full rebuilds in some cases, and I think a quality retipper will bring a cartridge back to life. If the suspension needs work, that may require another level of skill that some of the third parties have. I think you can get some value there and not go flat. I just had Steve Leung build me a Franken-cartridge out of a Denon 103 and haven't had a lot of time to play with it-- it's pretty killer, granted it doesn't have the nuance of the big ticket cartridges, but the tonality is spot on. And I trust him, Peter at Sound-Smith, A.J Van den Hul and there are others who are top notch. It's one alternative.
     
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