Do you enjoy listening to music on vinyl? If you’re here, then that must be the case. And, you must also know how important it is to maintain your record player properly. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time being able to continue listening to your favorite albums.
This maintenance involves eventually replacing the record player needle. But how do you know when to replace a record player needle?
We’ve decided to answer that question here and now.
We’ll cover not only how and where the dust and gunk can accumulate on the record player’s needle but also the science that goes into changing the needle when the time comes to say goodbye.
Let’s dive in.
What is a Stylus?
If you’re confused about the difference between styluses and needles, keep in mind that these are two different terms for the same thing. A stylus, or needle, is an essential element of any turntable or record player. It’s also defined as the connecting component between the actual record and the record player itself, and in its absence, one will find that a turntable is just a simple spinning platter.
How Does a Stylus Work?
As the stylus is placed over a spinning record, one can see it riding over the record’s grooves. This helps it pick up and relay the vibrations reaching the cartridge. This, in turn, transforms the said vibrations into electrical signals, which are further amplified and then are passed on to the speaker allowing you to enjoy the music. These days, you find the entry-level turntables equipped with all things you need to play the records, including counterweight, tonearm, stylus, and cartridge.
In a sense, one can call these the plug-and-play machine. All you need to do is to put the record on the turntable, drop the stylus, and then you are ready to listen to the music. The automatic turntable will have a stylus that will automatically dropdown.
However, as said earlier, a stylus is bound to get wear and tear with time. This is due to the friction between the needle and the record that keeps moving and makes it dull, leading down the replacement road.
When to Replace the Record Player Needle
You get several symptoms that indicate when one should replace the needle or stylus. There can be physical indicators and audible ones. When it comes to the audible aspects, the records will not sound as good as before the needle was worn down. This indicates that the stylus or needle is damaged.
The issues with this can come in the form of distortion and crackling of voice along with the overall fuzziness and static. In other words, if you find the records not sounding the way they were, you need to check the stylus on the turntable.
As far as the physical aspect of the damage is concerned, there are few ways of checking the damage. As you check it, you can find it crooked or see them mishappening. Even if you fail to see any distortion, you will notice that the stylus is seen skipping or jumping over the record grooves while it plays. If you see such an issue, then you need to replace the stylus.
One way to get rid of this problem is to get a used turntable; however, as you do this, make sure you always replace it with the stylus as you would not know the condition of any used stylus.
What Factors Lead to the Damage of a Stylus?
If you are wondering about your stylus’ lifespan, you need to know what factors are behind it. The following are the things you need to check to see what shape your needle is in:
- If you have a high-powered magnifier, you can quickly check for the signs of wear with your needle. Check the jagged edges along with the bends seen over the needle head. If you find some black residue on the needle, this is a sign of overuse and carelessness. All you need is a good cleaning of the area. If, after cleaning, the record still isn’t performing normally, you may want to replace the needle.
- If your stylus is experiencing sound-deforming wear and tear, you’ll notice a muffle or distorted kind of sound coming from any of the records you try to play on the record player. If you understand the technical tones of music, a poorly performing needle will make the upper mids, along with the treble, more challenging to discern.
- For higher-pitched instruments, like a cymbal, the ting won’t be as smooth or precise with a bad needle. The change in sound quality is both slow and gradual. So be sure that you pay close attention to these differences in tone as time goes along so that you know when to replace the needle.
- If you find the needle to be skipping or jumping over the record’s grooves, your record is going to be damaged sooner or later without a needle replacement. To be on the safer side, it’s better to remove the needle until you have replaced the stylus. Additionally, it is always recommended to replace the stylus with a second-hand turntable.
- Depending upon the quality of the cartridge you are using, you can easily replace the stylus, or you could even think of adding the spring for the complete cartridge. A majority of moving magnet cartridges are seen offering the stylus replacement, which you’re supposed to add the clip over the cart’s front end.
- You can even think of considering an expensive model to get better performance. If you opt for a moving coil cart, a stylus with wear and tear often spells the end, and the manufacturer may have to re-tip the needle.
- For improving the lifespan of your stylus, you can do a couple of things. Check the number of playing hours you have for your record, and try not to leave it playing when you aren’t present. Upkeep for the stylus is also important, including regular cleaning.
- Also, you need to keep your records clean and in the right shape. A dirty record is prone to scuffing up a needle, resulting in grime build-up and poor sound quality. Remember that too many hours of playing your records will put more pressure on your stylus. Keep an eye on the needle, and be sure that you replace an inferior quality needle before it starts damaging your records.
What is the Typical Life of a Stylus?
Most styluses are either made up of sapphire or diamond, as these remain the hardest natural materials on our planet. While considering any of the two materials, you do not have to worry about replacing the needle too often.
However, the more the turntable is used, the quicker the stylus life will die down. Many manufacturers recommend that you consider replacing the stylus for around 150/200 hours of playtime. However, the expensive ones would have life five times the normal ones.
Is There Any Way to Extend the Life of a Stylus?
Now, this is interesting, and the answer is yes. There are several simple ways of extending the lifespan of the stylus of a turntable. All you need to do is to take good care of your records.
Anything that seems to cause any excess amounts of friction, like dust particles or dirt over the record’s grooves, can damage the needle and will need to be cleaned and removed from the record thoroughly. Grime build-up can add a negative impact on the audio quality you get from the record.
What Type of Stylus Should You Buy?
If you are keen on upgrading your turntable stylus, it is obvious to think of going for a cartridge upgrade, as well. However, it may not be feasible for you to do these two things together at the same time. Certain turntables have tonearms, which can help you replace both your cartridge and stylus.
However, the others can only allow you to replace the stylus, and you do not need to replace the cartridge. The best way is to rely on a rule of thumb; the cartridge is mounted over the tonearm with screws, followed by replacing the cartridge and stylus. If you fail to see any screws, it is more likely that only the stylus has to be replaced.
There can be so many limitations to the idea about the exact kinds of stylus you need to replace with the old ones. It is always a good idea to check the product manual or check the details over the product’s official website. If you are willing to replace your old stylus with a different one, you should know that most styluses are basically of the same type. These can be either spherical or elliptical shapes, which can have an impact on sound quality.
Generally speaking, the elliptical ones are more precise when compared to the spherical ones. This is because it has more contact with the record grooves, which ends up extracting more data than the other ones. However, the downside with elliptical ones is that because they offer a larger portion of contact, there are more chances to see faster wear and tear of these types of styluses.
How to Replace a Needle
So, you may be convinced that you need to replace the needle or stylus on your turntable by now. It’s time to check how you can effectively replace the worn-out needle with the new one. First things first, you should know that you should clean the record and all aspects near the needle thoroughly before you begin. This includes brushing the dust away, which can often be seen getting accumulated over the tip. At times, you can also use a small paintbrush to get rid of the dust rag, which you need to keep clean. Take the help of a magnifying glass to get the right view so that cleaning becomes more accurate.
It would help if you started with replacing the needle to remove the stylus from the cartridge. All you need to do is pull it straight out in the opposite direction compared to the arm, which tends to hold it. The cartridge containing the stylus would remain compatible with several brands, so before you think of replacing it, make sure you check the brand and the model. Once you get the new record player needle, all you need to do is push it in the right direction over the cartridge with the point facing the downward direction.
If you find the cartridge not working, it’s better to take it away by simply slipping it off along the arm. Replacing the needle can often be an easy exercise, as one can find loads of diagrams that can be helpful for this task. However, you need to know that this work has to be done with the utmost care and delicate handling. If you are not confident enough to replace the needle, it is always recommended to take professional help.
A record player can be a treasure that lasts through decades of use. It has its melody and charm, giving the music a soothing experience. However, it can have its way of functioning and flaws. One of the vital elements is the needle or stylus, which needs to be replaced as they begin to wear and tear. The record player will stay for as long as music lovers enjoy the music with these machines. Enjoy!