Very Interesting Analysis of Cartridge Wear, Stylus Shapes, Tracking Force, etc.

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Cyclone Ranger, Jan 11, 2019.

  1. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock Thread Starter

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Someone named Henk apparently studied this in detail, with microscopes, and came up with the following. Sadly, the original study/notes link doesn't work, but his notes were posted elsewhere:

    Life of a Diamond Stylus

    An ordinary circular needle has a life of approximately 600 hours . An elliptical 1000 hours , a shibata 1500 hours and 2000 hours fine line. Micro - Ridge has 4,000 hours, and Jan Allaerts makes up to 20,000 hours.

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

    Round stylus; 660 hrs
    Elliptical; 1,000 hrs
    Shibata; 1,500 hrs
    Fine line; 2,000 hrs
    Micro-ridge; 4,000 hrs
    Jan Allaerts; can be up to 20,000 hrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Light tracking styli have been good in some slight ways, but really bad in others. With higher compliance, there is the likelihood that stylus life and disc damage will be improved (in my testing about 5%-10% under the best of circumstances. But even the slightest amount of reduced tracking force that allows the stylus tip to lose contact with the vinyl surface (even inaudibly) allows the sharp diamond stylus to crash back to the disc surface, usually cutting a tiny notch where it remade contact.

    On perfectly smooth disc grooves, or cut with a single frequency, when the stylus breaks contact with the groove due to dirt or overmodulation, the stylus is resonating and the wave has not been fully damped out so it may remake contact with a "soft landing". But since real music has constantly changing groove modulations, breaking contact for even an instant will often send the stylus tip back towards the groove modulations in a direction that is perpendicular to the vinyl and with a very high force depending on tip mass. This tendency to bounce on and off of the vinyl itself is extremely damaging to vinyl. Better to always track at the top limit of the tracking force to keep the stylus firmly planted on the vinyl surface than to risk the stylus ever leaving contact and bouncing around on the disc surface.

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

    Since the range of stylus lives is so different, it is best to err on the side of safety and dump any stylus with any visible wear, unless you have a really powerful inspection microscope that you use often. I know that Denon tried very hard to use the best diamonds and their spherical styli seem to last much longer than any other spherical styli. Polishing expertise and quality diamonds seem like the keys to Denon's success here. Decca also uses great diamonds and older Ortofon diamonds were incredibly good as well. But most spherical diamonds aren't in that class, and will show wear at 500-600 hours and most ellipticals will show substantial wear at 800-900 hours.

    More than that is risking vinyl (which can never be fixed and often cannot be replaced), against styli which can always be replaced if you by cartridges with available or spare styli, or you get your MC cartridges retipped at the first sign of wear.

    .
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
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  2. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    The JA cartridges are some of the most expensive out there but let's just say I'm skeptical than any stylus is going to last 20,000 hours.

    The info on the JA website says they use Fritz Gyger styli for their cartridges.

    Any stylus will eventually show wear.
     
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  3. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock Thread Starter

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Went to their site just because of this. Did not know $20,000 USD carts existed. :faint:

    (yes, I know, some Koetsus and Clearaudios come close to that)
    .
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
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  4. Larry I

    Larry I Forum Resident

    Location:
    Washington, D.C.
    I doubt that the JA stylus is any less prone to wear as any other brand. What JA has claimed is that elastomers in the suspension of its cartridges are not prone to deterioration just from aging (i.e., it does not dry out or otherwise go bad just sitting around). They claim that the suspension material they use has already been around for a long time and is stable and not subject to changing with age.

    Supposedly, some rubber in cartridge suspensions will go bad with time even if the cartridge is never played. This is particularly a problem in places with high level of air pollutants, particularly high ozone levels. I know that some people claim that most cartridges go bad from suspension failure sooner than they go bad from stylus wear. I have no idea if this is really true or not, but, I know that at least some brands of cartridges do not appear to be susceptible to suspension aging without use (I've heard great sounding 20 year old Koetsus, for example).
     
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  5. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock Thread Starter

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Well, he talks about a great deal of stuff besides that. :idea:

    Any thoughts on his other points?

    .
     
  6. Catcher10

    Catcher10 I like records, and Prog...duh

    Yea 20K hours seems insane, even 10K hours is unthinkable. I never understood why JA wraps the body in 24kt gold foil......That's probably 50% of the material cost.
     
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  7. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    It just confirms what we already know. I believe Shure and some other manufacturers published research on stylus wear long ago but it's been awhile since I've looked at any of those articles. If you search around, they are out there.

    At any rate, advanced styli have larger contact patches so the force of the stylus in the groove is spread out over a larger area. That's why they last longer. Further, some designs like the Namiki MR/ML have a peak at the tip of the stylus so the shape remains the roughly same as the peak wears down.

    Like anything else there are downsides. I don't recommend advanced styli to people that refuse to thoroughly clean their records, people that have a lot of records in rough condition, etc.
     
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  8. Otlset

    Otlset free-range audiophile

    Location:
    Temecula, CA
    Do images of these tiny notches caused by a too lightly weighted cartridge banging around in the groove wall exist? And how would someone differentiate such notches caused by a careening cartridge from other causes?

    "a disc" in the above must be a typo, unless one disc was really used, showing no wear while the cartridge showed substantial wear! :p
     
  9. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    You can replace the Shibata Stylus on an Ortofon 2M Black with a Ortofon OM40 stylus, which is less expensive than the Black stylus.

    The OM40 is a Fritz Geiger cut.
     
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  10. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    Good point.

    I also wonder if a 45 RPM record wears out more quickly being made out of hard styrene, rather than vinyl which might be more flexible and forgiving, in the record's groves.

    Plus, the diamond is hitting the variations in the grooves at a higher velocity at 45-RPM vs. 33 1/3 RPM, which would generate greater impact forces?
     
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  11. Jack Flannery

    Jack Flannery Forum Resident

    Location:
    Houston, TX
    I calculated the pressure exerted on the vinyl surface for different contact areas. The numbers were amazingly high. Like 100,000psi. Obviously, that isn't much of a factor concerning wear.
     
  12. Otlset

    Otlset free-range audiophile

    Location:
    Temecula, CA
    Sounds logical.

    I'm still freaked out about the possibility that I could still be damaging my records somehow due to the mileage (10+ years = many thousands of hours playing time) I've got on my London Reference paratrace stylus. I listen hard each play for signs of wear, but still smooth as silk and realistic sounding, no signs of distortion or other wear at any location on the record (inner or outer grooves). The VTF (after many comparisons to find the best sounding force) is set at 1.57 grams. This is near the bottom of the recommended VTF (1.5 - 2.0 gms) for this cartridge, so I was curious about the idea of it possibly ricocheting around the groove walls also (what an image!). Azimuth and VTA (and SRA) are adjusted to as accurate as I can get it -- confirmed for the most part by the stunningly realistic sound (if I do say so myself).

    I realize I'll eventually have to send the cartridge back to England and have maker John Wright go over it, and of course it should be done before I hear any signs of wear. But it sounds SO good it's hard to let go of it, so I kinda procrastinate...
     
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  13. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    Why not have it examined under a 100x microscope?
     
  14. Otlset

    Otlset free-range audiophile

    Location:
    Temecula, CA
    I don't have access to one, and I'm not sure if I did I could determine much but the most obvious visible wear, which I doubt exists due to the still clean sound of it. But you never know. Once I do get around to removing the cartridge from the tonearm, that's when I'll box it up and ship it overseas for a check-up.
     
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  15. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Forum Resident

    Location:
    Toronto
    Don't forget this is on a properly calibrated turntable, too!

    @Cyclone Ranger is it possible to publish the source of the article?
     
  16. displayname

    displayname Forum Resident

    Location:
    Dallas
    I like that this really helps to justify the various stylus upgrades most people would consider making. It also validates what my dealer said about the MasterTracker. He told me the suspension would be more likely to wear out before the stylus.
     
  17. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    Location:
    Austin
    This is an area of great uncertainty to me. I should really clock usage, but I don't. At some point, even though a cartridge is not exhibiting any suspension fatigue or noticeable mistracking, I replace it, simply to avoid problems of wear. High-end MC cartridges are now crazy expensive. I wish it were otherwise. I know some people who use vintage cartridges and swear by them. I don't have an arm with a removable headshell (yet, had one many years ago, and plan to add one at some point to experiment).
    I've actually been looking at possible alternatives to my go-to, the Airtights, b/c of cost.
    Factory retips are very expensive for these. I know Peter at Soundsmith and might try retipping one of the Airtights I have, after I replace, depending on his turnaround time. I retipped a Van de Hul once, but that was easy since VdH did the retip and back then, it wasn't a fortune.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
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  18. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock Thread Starter

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Unfortunately not. The notes were posted elsewhere (and transferred here by moi), but the link to the original leads nowhere relevant now, i.e. no longer to the original posting/study/article/whatever you want to call it.

    Sadly. :(
    .
     
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  19. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock Thread Starter

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    You'd have to ask Henk, the gent who wrote the article, as I do not own a high-power microscope. Unfortunately. :(



    [​IMG]


    ;)
    .
     
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  20. Otlset

    Otlset free-range audiophile

    Location:
    Temecula, CA
    I was trying to be generous to the author here, not just taking what was written and running with it.
     
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  21. 5-String

    5-String Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sunshine State
    Henk’s conclusions generally agree with the other information that is out there, such as the many posts and references on the issue that are available in the vinyl engine forum and elsewhere.
    The thing is that each specific cartridge will be affected by the specific setup of the user, the quality of the records played, the tone arm used, etc. so just going by a generic number of hours might not be the safest way to determine stylus wear.
    I remember when I took my first Ortofon 2M black stylus to my dealer to look under a microscope just for the fun of it, the stylus clearly exhibited signs of moderate wear at about 650 hours.
    That surprised me since I had always been cleaning my records with a RCM but on the other hand I play mostly used vinyl so this might have something to do with it.
     
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  22. missan

    missan Forum Resident

    Location:
    Stockholm
    I´m a bit ambivalent to this stylus bouncing around in the grooves and damaging the vinyl, thing. I´m not really saying it can´t happen, I´m just not really sure it does.
     
  23. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Please give us the original URL anyways. It is possible that the content still might still exist when using the Wayback machine.
     
  24. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock Thread Starter

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
  25. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock Thread Starter

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Mmm... maybe not. Their carts are 10-11 grams. If even half of their carts' weight is gold, that's still only about $250 USD at today's prices, for carts that go for $3K to $20K.

    Is it still wasteful, though? Yeah, maybe. But I'm not a cart designer, and I'm not clear on what the advantages are, if any, of wrapping your cart in 24k gold foil.

    If it's just solely a 'bling' thing, then blah. Koetsus are much prettier, and without being gaudy.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
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