How to tell when to change your cartridge and what to do
One indicator of the wear on a cartridge is to look at the diamond stylus with a 10X or 20X magnifying glass. The tip should look slightly convex (egg shaped) as shown in the photo adjacent. If it is worn the tip tends to go concave (curves inwards).
This is not the only factor however and it is important not to assume that the suspension is OK. Normal advice says that the life of a cartridge is between 2 to 3 years or 2000 to 3000 hours of use. The truth is that this figure can easily be doubled by applying little known techniques. If you are using a cartridge costing over £300 this represents a big saving over the years.
The life of a cartridge is dependent on 3 factors
Stylus wear – even diamonds wear down if records are contaminated
Proper care and cleaning of the stylus tip – an unwitting approach here will reduce the life of many cartridges.
Stylus Wear - The thing that causes wear, is dirt on records which acts like an abrasive. Cartridges that are taken care of and played on cleaned records can easily last 5 to 6 years with no detectable diamond wear. For advice on cleaning Cartridges see menu item on right.
Suspension Ageing - The stylus on a virtually unused cartridge can be perfect but if the cartridge is old, then the suspension can be useless and the performance has disappeared. Worse still, the suspension tends to stiffen up with age and cause damage to your records. How much the suspension deteriorates over time, varies a great deal from one manufacturer to the next . The type of material used in the suspension determines performance and ageing. The better suspensions tend to deteriorate more rapidly and 6 years is really the maximum for many.
Only the Cartridge manufacturer can tell you how long the suspension is likely to last. You can predict that a Dynavector will last up to around 6 years . A Sound Smith cartridge that uses a totally different type of suspension will last for 20 years although obviously the diamond can wear during that period. We cannot speak for others, as manufacturers change their designs and it is impossible to safely keep track on the hundreds of different models on the market.
It is not always easy to tell when your cartridge is worn or the suspension has deteriorated
If your cartridge is really old then this article may have raised the question of cartridge change. Once a cartridge's useful life has expired there are three main options
Order a different cartridge – this is the only option if you wish to upgrade
Order an exchange cartridge for your existing model – This is a safe method and saves you 20% on finances providing you are ordering the same brand.
Find a reconditioning service to re-tip the stylus and replace the cantilever suspension - Many people ask us where they can have their cartridge re-tipped or rebuilt with new suspension. This is a very tricky question as whoever you go to, will not be party to the exact material used in the original cartridge and hence the result of a rebuild can be vastly different from the original. Cartridge manufacturers do not offer rebuilds, they offer exchange. By using a 3rd party it may appear that you are saving money but there is no way of knowing the quality of what you are getting and we have widely varying reports on the results.
Order a Cartridge Rebuild - Only 2 manufacturers we know offer this service which is HIGHLY cost effective as it only costs 20% of the cartridge value. The two companies concerned are The Sound Smith and London Decca.