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

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

  1. Slick Willie

    Slick Willie Decisively Indecisive

    Location:
    sweet VA.
    Firmly believing is still - not knowing that damage is occurring.
    Perhaps along with microscopic inspection of the styli, we also take and file microscopic pics of our vinyl grooves to be compared with before/after pics after our carts get some time on them?.
    And We should also track number of plays on each LP regardless of cart used as wear happens each time we play.
    All of this should also extend the life of cart and vinyl as we would have little time to actually play - most of our time will be spent with inspection and cataloging.
    Win/win!
     
    BendBound and VinylSoul like this.
  2. 4011021

    4011021 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Brazil
    Please help me check my math.
    I bought a brand new Nagaoka MP-500 in November.
    Let's assume I heard one record per day since then. Probably less, but let's be conservative.
    That would be about 40 minutes a day, or 20 hours per month, right?
    I would need 10 months to get to 200 hours, 25 months to get to 500 hours, and 50 months to get to 1000 hours.
    I guess I'm good with this stylus until at least December 2020 (500 hours), but it will probably last until January 2022 (1,000 hours).
     
  3. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Touche! I am pretty much the average vinyl listener who spins on average 2 LPs per day. I check styli weekly, mostly because I am more curious how they wear than if I am wearing them out. I don't see a need personally to track things any more stringently than this, and it really doesn't cut into my listening time since I listen on another cart while checking. P-mount is wonderful for such easy swapping.

    I have not really investigated vinyl damage, so indeed I was speaking out of turn based on what I've read over the past few decades. Admittedly most of what has been written in that time is fairly worthless, so I suppose I am as guilty as anyone of parroting the past. Of course my records get far fewer plays than do my styli, though if I am correct in my firm belief, it may only take one play from a badly worn stylus to cause permanent degradation.
     
  4. Slick Willie

    Slick Willie Decisively Indecisive

    Location:
    sweet VA.
    All cool, wasn't picking at you.
    This whole thread is just disturbing...hard to enjoy the hobby if one is constantly tracking potential wear/damage.
    If I did believe that audible damage could occur so rapidly with a quality cart then I would seriously consider going back to sub $100 carts.
     
  5. HiFi Guy 008

    HiFi Guy 008 Forum Resident

    Location:
    New England
    I had a line contact stylus on my B&O RX table.
    MMC2. Diamond cantilever.

    Peter from Soundsmith set it up perfectly.
    He even adjusted the arm - which is not an easy thing to do on a B&O.
    No IGD, wonderful tracking, and incredible tracing.

    I play records more often than most.
    After a year or so, I'd play a track twice.
    The lack of "sparkle" that this cart had wasn't quite there.
    I took it to Soundsmith and Peter admitted he was surprised.
    Yes, he said, at this stage the stylus can shave off the high frequencies.

    But it was subtle. You probably wouldn't notice unless you were listening to the same lp as often as I was.
    The reason for this?
    The automatic return on the table wasn't working.
    And when I came home after being away for a few days, it was in the runout groove.
    Going over, and over.

    They tried to re-tip it. But the cantilever broke.
    Don't be expecting this from him now, but he gave me another cart.
    No charge.

    Lesson?
    Even light weight (1.5 grams), properly set up superb line contact carts and arms, which are supposedly less damaging to records than most, can do damage if neglected as I did mine.

    Otherwise, I wont get paranoid about it. Ever.
    Takes the whole point of the experience out of it.

    Oh, and don't leave your turntable running before you leave the house like I did if you're impulsive and likely to stay away for a few days of fun.
     
  6. BendBound

    BendBound Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bend, OR
    A poster on Audiogon mentioned prior Ortofon research on stylus wear pointing to a lifespan of 500 hours. I wanted to follow up on what he remembered here since I have done additional digging.

    A friend reminded me about the Vinyl Engine (VE) forum library and its suite of owner’s manuals for many cartridge manufacturers including for Ortofon. A poster on VE ("kuja") put up an image of the pertinent section of an early owner’s manual for an OM30 (The Finish Line For Your Phonograph Stylus... - Page 5- Vinyl Engine ). This stylus has a nude, Fine Line tip shape or line contact shape (see poster Bebé Tonto » 09 Nov 2009 13:19 in Advanced Stylus Shapes: Pics, discussion, patents.- Vinyl Engine ). Also, see https://www.ortofon.com/om-series-p-550 for the stylus tip shape for the OM series of cartridges. So I will use that cartridge as a starting point for this discussion.

    Super Optimal Match 30 is arguably a vintage yet durable designed cartridge since the OM series was originally introduced in the 1980’s replacing the original VMS and F/FF line of cartridges. I owned one, actually, now gone with a Technics SL-1200 turntable I sold in the 1990s. Music Direct still sells this cartridge: ORTOFON - OM30 MM PHONO CARTRIDGE | Shop Music Direct .

    Nonetheless, under the heading "Stylus Care", the original Ortofon owner’s manual states,

    "To maintain optimal sound reproduction and to prevent damage to your records, we recommend that your cartridge be inspected at regular intervals, and at least once a year, at your Ortofon dealer. In the case of stylus wear or damage, replace only with an Ortofon stylus unit of the same type. If you play one LP record per day we recommend you replace the stylus unit after approximately 2 years. Two LP’s per day and you should replace after one year, and if you play 3 LP records a day we recommend that you replace the stylus unit after approximately 9 months."

    Taking that advice on replace time, we can make some calculations. Assuming one LP is 40 minutes long, or 20 minutes per side. Playing one LP each day is equivalent to ~730 sides of playback per year. So 730 sides divided by 3 sides per hour of play equals ~243 hours of stylus wear. Doubling annual play to two LPs per day, equals 487 hours of stylus wear. Ortofon in effect is saying a diamond stylus life is approximately 500 hours, maybe a bit less. For completeness, JICO, a stylus tip and cartridge manufacturer has done research that shows by 400 hours a line contact stylus tip will have 3% more distortion than when new. In other well-documented research, the advent of distortion is a key indicator to when to replace a stylus tip or the cartridge (or at least to have it checked) depending on if its a moving coil or moving magnet, respectively. Now admittedly, that distortion level most of us can't even hear.

    Ortfon in the owner’s manual goes on:

    "Remember to remove dust from the stylus tip before and after each playback using a suitable small brush, which should be guided carefully along the cantilever in the direct of the stylus tip."

    This advisory on stylus life and playing on clean records and stylus also appears in the vintage owner’s manuals for the entire OM cartridge series. If you are curious, see the vintage OM30 owner’s manual here: https://www.vinylengine.com/library/ortofon/mo-30.shtml..

    Later Ortofon owner’s manuals completely drop the example of hours of play per day to when the tip is worn out to offering for a time simply "...check your cartridge once a year." I have not worked out the precise timeline for the change in Ortofon’s advice. If any of you do, please share that information.

    More recent Ortofon owner’s manuals even drop that, and offer absolutely zero advice on stylus tip life. For example, the Moving Coil 30 (MC30), also a fine line stylus tip just as the OM30, was introduced in the mid-1990s. There is absolutely no mention of stylus life in the original owner’s manual, as seen here: https://www.vinylengine.com/library/ortofon/mc-30.shtml.

    Under FAQ on their website presently, Ortofon advises to check your stylus after 1,000 hours and with great care they last 2,000 hours. See that here under 1.2 Stylus Lifetime: FAQ & Installation . Mind you, these are still diamond stylus tips of the same noted advanced shapes as those made 35± years ago.

    Back to the poster who noted that "back in the day" Ortofon published data and research on stylus life: he did not retain that research, so technically this is hearsay. Yet the answer in that research was that a stylus life for advanced tip shapes was ~500 hours. That research I was not able to find in preparation for the article Bill Hart published in late May and when I called Ortofon about it, they said their research was proprietary. I get that, but it left me somewhat cold as a customer, since I only use Ortfon’s cartridges and have three of them. Apparently, consumers cannot have access to Ortofon’s researched best advice.

    What I gather is that from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, Ortofon’s published advice to consumers in owner’s manuals themselves evolved from 1) indicating that stylus life was ~500 hours if played on cleaned records and stylus tips, to 2) just check your stylus tip once a year by a brick & mortar shop (specifically an Ortofon dealer), to 3) no advice at all save for maintenance suggestions. Obviously, few brick & mortar shops are available today to check your stylus tip, which is why Ray Parkhurst has taken the role on himself for his kit. Some folks are convinced the 500 hour lifetime is nonsense, its 3 to 4 times longer than that. How they get to that conclusion is something I wonder about, maybe personal experience. For all I know, in their case, it may be true. Only that is not what the published research shows and shows rather convincingly.

    During this same time frame, mid-1980s to late 1990s, conventional wisdom on ultimate stylus morphed from 500 hours or less for spherical shapes to 1,500 to 2,000 hours, and in some cases even longer. I am not sure how or why that change occurred, but clearly it did. Note, in the 1980s, record sales were massive, but by the late 1990s, labels were loathe to press a vinyl record and instituted policies to disallow a return. If you were making high end cartridges in the late 199os, you were in the buggy whip business, if you know what I mean. If you care, see the history of vinyl record sales (1973-2017) in an article I wrote last September (see Figure 2), entitled "The Curious Case of Record Cleaning in the Quest for Sonic Perfection, also published by Bill Hart in The Vinyl Press: The Curious Case Of Record Cleaning In The Quest For Sonic Perfection - The Vinyl Press .

    Here is the rub, I’ve seen no technical support for these longer lifespans, and I’ve asked more than one adherent to simply show me the research proving that diamond tips, particularly advanced shaped tips, last longer than 500 hours, as they claim. Absolutely I know some folks simply cannot embrace these lower hours of stylus life, and I have no issues if they believe they last longer. I get it, I entered a state of cognitive dissonance when I was told my Cadenza Black was likely worn out at 500-600 hours. But here is the deal, the onus is on the long lifers to prove their position. Saying so does not make it so.

    Someone noted in a post or two above that a lighter tracking force extends the life of a stylus. That is correct and Shure has published data on that. I believe one of the articles I link in the Finish Line piece shows that in a chart. If you cannot find it, post that here and I will dig it up. As noted in my essay, Shure discovered that a stylus tip tracking at 1.5 grams would last 20% longer than one tracking at 3.0 grams. So, if 500 hours was the wear out point from tracking an advanced tip, maybe its 400 hours if one tracks at 3.0 grams. Or it could be 500 hours for a 3.0 gram VTF and 600 hours for VTF at 1.5 grams.

    I am a geologist. Diamonds are the hardest natural material known on earth, appropriately 10 on the Mohs "relative" scale. On an absolute scale, for reference, talc is 1, a ruby is 400 and a diamond is 1500. The hardness of diamond is a vector property, however, depending on the exposed crystal lattice face and also on the number of inclusions or impurities in the diamond. While ruby tips can still be purchased (on ruby verses diamond wear life see a 1954 Harold Weiler article on record and stylus wear), diamonds are the de facto choice today for cartridge stylus tips. I can assure everyone that diamonds have not gotten harder over the last 40 years.

    Let's forget about the 500 hour mark for one second. Recall, my recommendations are 1) play clean records, 2) track play sides, 3) listen for distortion (most of us cannot hear it), and 4) at about 500 hours, have the tip evaluated by someone who knows what they are doing. Honestly, that is not an unreasonable program and one that avoids getting high centered on shorter lifespans for folks who struggle with the notion.
     
    recstar24, kronning, snorker and 4 others like this.
  7. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    And most people damage their records with poorly maintained equipment.
    I do find it ironic that you think the designated wear periods from the manufacturer themselves are non scientific while there are tons of papers to read confirming these facts (Post above for example), but right after talk about break in periods in spans of hundreds of hours. Now thats non scientific.

    Unless you know exactly what to look for and have an industry grade microscope to look through visual inspection is a bad idea.
    But it is true that when you start to hear distortion that theres probably already been some excessive wear happening.
    Which is why its safer, easier and more consistent to switch out styli at set intervals.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
  8. HiFi Guy 008

    HiFi Guy 008 Forum Resident

    Location:
    New England

    Thank you. Great post BendBound.
    I forgot to add that, despite lighter carts requiring less tracking force, that weighting a cart with TOO LIGHT force will do even worse damage, as Peter told me, the stylus will swing around the grooves. Just a side point. No pun intended.
     
  9. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    I dont quite think Line Contacts last the longest. But 500 hours at the very least. You could always retip the stylus to a finer shape that last longer. Probably is cheaper too.
     
  10. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Please point me to any of these papers, as I'd really like to read them. The Weilert study is the only one I know of, and it's quite old, done on mono records, etc so while it has good information it doesn't fully apply. Remember, I did use the word scientific, meaning that the paper applies the scientific method. As Mike has stated in his paper, and again in this thread, the manufacturers indeed have recommendations, but are not making their scientific data available for review. I expect this is because the experiments are tedious, take a long time to complete, and because there are quite a few variables involved would require a large sample size and multiple factors in the experimental design to come to a valid conclusion. Most likely their experiments were not as complete as would be required to pass reasonable scrutiny, so they are loathe to publish as it would only invite criticism and doubt. Not the kind of responses they are looking for when trying to sell cartridges and styli.

    Regarding the very long break-in period, and disregarding the nonsense about it being "non-scientific", there are good reasons, and at least one person's experience, which support this. Might be a good discussion on its own.

    From the comparisons I've read, Line Contacts last longer than ellipticals, but not as long as the microridge types. Of course this is easy to say, but without data it's all just speculation. There are of course reasons why the advanced types might last longer, and microridge the longest, so it's tough to argue without data, which seems impossible to come by.
     
  11. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    Like I said, the post above had lots of links.

    Please provide links to studies on break in periods if it is indeed a scientific fact.
    Discussed it many times, never has evidence been presented that actually impact the sound passed a point.
     
  12. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Re: cartridge break-in: I've certainly experienced this and attribute it to the suspension/elastomers being stiff and getting worked through use. I also warm up cartridges by play and they sound better after a couple sides (even after broken in). I never regarded this as controversial, but maybe it is. I've also considered the ambient temperature as a factor-- in fact, in another thread one poster presented a pretty in-depth study on that subject.
    I suppose that could vary by cartridge. For example, when I recently got a Koetsu Jade, it sounded pretty great out of the box. I also got a Tiger Eye, which should basically be the same cartridge, but for the difference in the stone used for the body, it sounded a little shrill and harsh in some spots out of the box. I've now got a few hours on it and it has smoothed out considerably.
     
    Nick Brook and Leonthepro like this.
  13. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    Some gear naturally take longer to break in, MC carts for example have to have their cantilevers settle right vertically on an internal damper which takes longer than any MM cart. But to claim hundreds of hours without proper testing and just from anecdote tells me nothing.
     
  14. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    None of those links point to a scientific study. Have you read Mike's paper? One of his main points is that there is a dearth of scientific data on this subject. Refer to his last two paragraphs.

    Again regarding the usefulness of long break-in periods, I don't believe I ever said it was a scientific fact, just my experience and thought experiments based on the wear patterns I've seen on the many styli I've imaged.


    Can you post a link to this good study? I'm very interested in the subject.

    What I have observed is that my 0.2x0.7 and hyper-elliptical styli had essentially two break-in periods. The first I attribute to the suspension as you say, and indeed this seems to be a factor if I swap cartridges, ie the newly-mounted cartridge sounds better after a couple record sides. The second period ("long break-in" or LBI) is much longer, and indeed I've roughly observed it to be in the 100-200 hour range. The initial contacts of a new stylus are quite small areas, ostensibly "points", but in practice are probably small "areas" because of factors such as relaxation of the vinyl due to the high contact forces. As the stylus wears, it develops "flats" where the stylus contacts the groove. These flats are in alignment with the groove walls. My LBI root cause hypothesis is that these flat contacts act to reduce the contact forces on stylus and groove, essentially creating a much taller (and unfortunately wider) contact area akin to that of a Line Contact stylus. Of course Line Contact and MR/SAS type styli will also go through LBI since they don't really have a "line contact" until flats have been worn.
     
    Kyhl likes this.
  15. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    There was one post earlier I remember that had a few.

    I dont know what wear has to do with break in, but then I rest my case.
     
  16. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Ray, here's the post where that study was provided: Stupid question about cartridges

    The material on ambient temperature is almost all the way down to the bottom of the article.
     
  17. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    LOL, did you even read my post?

    Interesting discussion. Mostly bickering like many of these discussions, but there is some interesting info in there. I've never personally noticed any warm-up period, but I often just play one side of a record, then come back for more later. I guess if the cartridge needs warming up, I'm not letting it happen. Ambient temp is always about the same in my listening room, though humidity can vary quite a lot. These are factors I had not really been paying attention to when correlating to listening observations.
     
  18. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Ray the link I gave you was intended to point you to this article posted by another member. Scroll almost all the way down.
     
  19. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Ahh, thank you. I had bookmarked those very extensive notes for future reading but did not see the specific entry on temperature effects. Great resource, thank you!
     
  20. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Austin
    Yep, thank our friend in Sweden who posted it originally.
     
  21. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    Yes, I did. Perhaps you missed mine?
     
  22. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    Well, since I replied to it, I'm not sure how you think I could have missed it!

    You wrote that you didn't know what wear has to do with break-in, but if you had read my post, you would have read my hypothesis for LBI, and would not have written what you did.
     
  23. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    It says nothing of the sort to me. But now I see that you mentioned it to Bill. But I see no reason to believe that the contact points extend vertically on advanced shapes that already have near maximum contact for standard groove walls. For Conicals and Elipticals yes, but then you suffer more from the added horizontal flattening to the already too large to track inner grooves area. In the end, youre more likely to hear a difference in extra distortion from the added horizontal contact area than anything improving soundwise after such a time passage.
     
  24. Ray Parkhurst

    Ray Parkhurst Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Santa Clara, CA
    New styli, even ones of advanced shapes, also have very small contact areas. The groove wall is straight, and the stylus tip has a curved contact shape. The concept of "line" contact only exists after the stylus wears a bit. If you need a diagram to explain I can provide one.
     
  25. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    No, the advanced styli have a quite straight cone shape to them even when new from what I have seen. And their designated contact area which should be from new specimens are almost as big as the entire groove walls from what I know. Although you have to leave some area at the bottom for obvious reasons so it will never have complete coverage of the, as Ive heard it 80µm walls.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019

Share This Page