Life of a cartridge

Fair point, its easy if you have an Aro.

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That’s what I mean - owning a microscope is easy. If you’ve ever tried to analyze this visually you’ll see that it’s super hard actually.

I think you’d really have to know what you’re looking at / for. point taken

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This doesn’t contradict anything that’s been said so far. Actually, much like tires, the traditional guidance has always been that you shouldn’t be using a cartridge past about 5 years regardless of usage pattern. As such, I’m not surprised at all that someone may encounter a low-hours, 8-year-old cartridge where the stylus is fine but the suspension is gone.

However, due to pure use itself, I’d expect the stylus to be the limiting factor.

Yep - it is indeed possible, but I would say it does required you keeping a log of those things and looking for minute changes. Just buying a digital microscope at a cartridge with a 1,000hrs into it and trying to call it seems pretty challenging to me.

The other thing is that I think you’d see some “flats” if you were looking upwards at the stylus (as opposed to from the side) that could also be helpful to keep track of.

In your very helpful link, there is mention of Shure’s technique with lamps from the side producing “cat eyes”, this seem easier to interpret.

I believe it does. Early replies quoted a 1000 hour lifespan, I think that’s low.
Dynavector said unless the cart is used excessively stylus wear won’t be a factor providing it and the vinyl is kept clean.
I asked if they thought a couple of albums a day was excessive and they thought it wasn’t.
I have no definitive answer on excessive use however.
If I thought a £1300 cart was only going to last 1000 hours, I wouldn’t buy it.


That’s the thing, though, right? No manufacturer really wants to commit to a number.

But to your following point, I do think that running costs are crazy with expensive cartridges (even though I do use one). It’s different from spending on any other component.

is that a joke or do you really do that

You can interpret it any way you like.

Audio T in Reading have a relatively high powered stereo Olympus microscope, unless it was Simon’s and he took it with him. I took a 6 year old DV17D2 in for inspection and it wasn’t lightly used. Their verdict was that there was still some life in it if all the gunk could be cleaned off it, which they preceded to do with a bit of isopropanol and the little brush that had started coming with Dynavectors. I couldn’t have said as much when I looked at it seems a practiced eye is necessary.
My house at the time had a failing damp coarse and some of my discs were growing patches of mold where they were in paper sleeves so demonstrating a need for wet cleaning, a VPI16.5 was sourced from a local Oxfam for £200 and this did the trick for records.
You may say that Dynavector say not to use solvents but it was shift or bust in this case and it recovered the cartridge for another year before I forgot to lift it off a lead out groove and went on holiday for two weeks, that finished it off.

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Ortofon kind of does, as mentioned above. Quote:

1.2. Stylus lifetime

With proper care we find that up to 1000 hours is possible without degradation of performance.

Proper care comprises the following:

  • Cleaning of record by means of fibre brush before and after every use. Cleaning of record by using record cleaning machine once in a while.
  • Cleaning of stylus by means of a fine antistatic brush. Please remember to remove dust from the diamond tip before and after playback of each record. Use the brush in the forward direction from the rear of the cartridge towards the stylus tip and never from stylus tip to the rear of the cartridge and never from side to side.
  • Proper adjustment of antiskating, azimuth and tracking force.

Concerning DJ systems used for “scratching” and “back cuing”, we have experienced stylus lifetime to be substantially less because of their unique application. As a consequence DJ`s will have to consider about 500 hours at the most.

However I am sure when I looked earlier this year it said 1000 without sound degradation and up to 2000 (or 2500?) with some acceptable degradation

Ortofon cartridges seem to track quite lightly, 15 nm for the 2M Black, so the < 1000 (700?) that I think was a Rega recommendation is quite consistent, as the Regas tend to have higher recommended force

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You’re right - I should have clarified to anything much higher than 1,000.

Which is so weird because I would swear I saw the “up to 2000/2500 with some degradation” number on their site, I started to use a 2M Black last January and I looked it up

An Ortofon SPU with a conical stylus tracks at around 4g, for the SPU Royal with a replicant stylus it’s 3g, the other replicant equipped cartridges are close to 2.5g. I’ve yet to see how long my Royal N will hold up in actual use, it’s coming up to a year now.

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My first XX-2 was well used and lasted 6 years. It was the suspension that prompted the change.

Should have mentioned earlier that Dynavector said the suspension should be good for 5 years. It would stiffen after that and lose performance but, crucially, not cause damage.

Interesting comments about suspension degradation. I bought a Systemdek IIX with a Linn Basik LVX arm and Nagaoka MP11 Boron cartridge in the early 1980’s. The cartridge was replaced around 2000 with a Goldring 1042. After I upgraded my TT and arm, I decided to retrofit everything back on the Systemdek with a thought to selling. I was surprised how good it still sounded despite having a near 40 year old cart. I assume suspension degradation is more down to age than mileage?

I came across a paper on diamond oxidation.
by J.Y.Howe at al at Alfred University in NY
The temperature at which it’s detectable was from around 700C. Now it’s said that a fine layer of vinyl melts when passing under the stylus (I don’t know the verity of that) but if it got that hot it would evaporate. The surface of a diamond stylus will likely have atoms of a different element capping it off, there is some mention of oxidative resistance being enhanced by controlling these but there’s also chlorine in the vinyl and maybe that get’s involved too so any treatment may need to be repeated.

Also when using a diamond cutter on concrete if you hit a bit of steel the diamonds don’t last long, a little iron contamination in the grooves of a record might have something to do with stylus wear, it wouldn’t need much, dust from a nearby railway line perhaps? Brake disc dust from traffic? What are the stampers made of?


Yes, I’ve been led to believe it’s an age thing.
I recently fit a 15 year old barely used AT-OC9 to my deck and it sounded really good. I suspect that the gradual stiffening of the suspension is as hard to hear as stylus wear.