Do Phono Cartridges Wear Out & If So, How?


Have you ever felt like your turntables aren’t producing the sound they once were? The phono cartridge is the first component that many new audiophiles appoint the blame.

Do phono cartridges wear out? The phono cartridge component itself doesn’t have any deteriorating parts. However, located near this is the stylus. It’s a part that appears pointed and is used to track the record’s grooves. Over time, this can become worn, resulting in a decrease in trackability and sound quality.

In this article, we’ll be discussing the ins and outs of how styluses wear out, along with helpful tips to increase their lifespan to save you some precious dollars and sound quality.

Related article: Top 11 Best Phono Cartridge Brands In The World


Will My Phono Cartridge Wear Out?

As mentioned above, a phono cartridge doesn’t wear out. It’s made from several components such as a magnet, coil, body, cantilever, and most importantly, stylus. However, unlike the other parts associated with a phono cartridge, the stylus can be removed and replaced remarkably easily.

For those new to the industry, a stylus is critical for retrieving quality sounds from a turntable and record. It’s a tiny needle that rests against the record while it’s spinning on the platter. As this needle works its way through the grooves located on the vinyl, vibrations are created and converted into electrical signals.

Of course, preamps, mixers, or sound systems don’t understand plain vibration signals because they’re electrical equipment. That’s why these need to be converted before being sent to the appropriate devices to make a sound.

Although this small needle called a stylus doesn’t seem remarkably impressive, it plays a considerable role in the audio quality. Undoubtedly, these do wear out over time. However, it’s highly durable and made from special stones like diamonds or sapphire.

Because of this, many manufacturers state that their styluses last around 150 to 200 hours of playtime, depending on the quality. Cartridges will generally work well beyond that point (1000+ hours), though at reduced performance.


How Does A Stylus Wear Out?

Now you’re aware a stylus can wear out, let’s discuss how they generally become worn, as this will allow you to reduce these occurrences and improve the overall longevity of your equipment. There isn’t much that can deteriorate a stylus because it only touches the record and cantilever. However, there are some reasons why you could encounter a worn-out stylus:

  • Dirty records: The most prominent issue is dirty, unclean records. Good stylus maintenance doesn’t necessarily begin with the component itself. Instead, having clean, dry, and dust-free records is more beneficial. A kit like this one from EVEO (link to check the price on Amazon) is a superb investment because it has possibly everything you need to ensure optimal cleanliness for your vinyls. 
  • Configuration: In some circumstances, the turntable isn’t set up correctly. A poorly configured azimuth, anti-skate, and tracking force can quickly contribute to unnecessary and excessive wear.
  • Unbalanced cantilever: Over time, the pivot and magnets holding the cantilever in place can become out of line. Because of this, the stylus could be resting heavier on the record. If this occurs, you’re able to readjust the phono cartridge into an ideal position.  

There are various reasons why a stylus will wear out, but typically the leading causes are presented from the record themselves. Understanding this is excellent, but let’s discuss how to increase the lifespan of a phono cartridge stylus even further.


Can You Increase The Lifespan Of A Phono Cartridge Stylus?

All music equipment (whether an instrument, set of speakers, preamplifier, turntable, or stylus) must be maintained correctly to guarantee optimal longevity and performance. Failing to offer this could result in your gear quickly becoming worse for wear. Therefore, you’ll want to consider these essential maintenance tips:

  • Additionally, despite your most superior cleaning efforts with your records, occasionally doing a deep wet clean on them will undoubtedly benefit your styluses life. By doing this correctly, you’ll entirely remove any unwanted grime, dust, or other debris from the vinyl. 
  • Ensure your turntable is situated on a solid surface. Suppose the record player continuously moves from vibrations of people walking past (or anything else similar). In that case, the vibrations can knock the stylus deeper into the record’s grooves, affecting its longevity.
  • If you’re new to the scene, it’s recommended to get a professional to set up your equipment. More often than not, the entire configuration isn’t accurate. As a result, the stylus, record, and various other components become more worn over a shorter period.

How Can You Tell A Phono Cartridge Stylus Needs Replacing?

Having a fundamental understanding of the above is mandatory to guarantee the longevity of your stylus. However, these components eventually wear out no matter how well you maintain them throughout their lives. But a worn stylus doesn’t sound remarkably good. Because of this, you’ll need to identify when it needs replacing or resharpening (depending on the model).

  • Visible damage: The quickest examination you can perform is by visibly looking at the stylus. Usually, they’re very pointed and sharp. If they appear rounded or blunt, then it’s a good indication that the stylus might need changing. Additionally, you might want to consider the below conformations also.
  • Thin sounding: Including the above, you could start hearing a faint thinning sound playing back from your records. These can easily be identified because your records will start sounding exceptionally similar to an AM radio station. Therefore, it’ll have minimal bass or dynamic range.  
  • Skips and scratches: In the worse circumstances, it can present skips and scratches because it’ll lose its trackability on the record. If you’re listening to a well-memorized vinyl, then try to listen out for incorrect frequencies.

After reading the above, you should have a more comprehensive understanding of whether a phono cartridge wears out. As you now know, this component doesn’t, but the stylus does. Because of this, we discussed how to identify a damaged stylus and increase its longevity to guarantee your system is running optimally.


Do vinyl records wear out over time, and, if so, how? Vinyl records can last 100-plus years under strict conditions. Vinyl records are made of PVC, a material that takes centuries to decompose. Elements that determine the lifespan of a vinyl record include maintenance, humidity levels, UV exposure, storage, and the equipment used to play the record.

Related article: Do Vinyl Records Wear Out Over Time & If So, How?

Do loudspeakers wear out, and if so, how? Loudspeakers eventually wear out due to mechanical wear, particularly in the surround/suspension that connects the cone/diaphragm to the basket/housing. Environmental factors can wear out the speaker with enough time and exposure. Extended high-level audio signals can wear out electrical components.

Related article: Do Loudspeakers Wear Out & If So, How?


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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