(See latest update at foot of post)
Despite cleaning your records, the stylus on your tonearm cartridge will from time to time gather dust, dirt, and gunk, and need attention. Usually a good puff of air will blow away fluff, but something more effective is this handy cleaning device, which really does the job – the VP Dust Buster (by Vinyl Passion)
New stylus, new stylus cleaner
The Beast from the East, Dynavector’s Te Kaitora Rua cartridge, with fear-inducing nude design. Lyra SPT came strongly recommended. Liquid stylus cleaners have been said to attack the bonding between the stylus and the cantilever on which it is mounted. That may be a hifi myth, but you don’t want to put it to the test. Lyra has a track record of non-harm, or so it is claimed.
Lyra SPT – Stylus Performance Treatment. Just one drop on the specially angled soft brush, and gently stroke the stylus tip. It is recommended for frequent use – as often as every playing session. It makes an immediately audible difference, which is positively spooky. Not cheap, but then neither is anything else in this league.
The source of all musical information originates at the point of contact between the stylus and the vinyl groove, so not really surprising that anything which improves the point of contact makes an audible difference.. If you clean your records (with an RCM!) before adding to your collection, that should ensure the minimum of any contamination transferred on to the stylus during play, and anything that is transferred is subject of frequent application of SPT.
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser – best stylus cleaner ever.
I’m not saying it isn’t, but I don’t see any evidence, comparison, cost-effectiveness, or reason why it’s best in your post. Care to support your claim? Which other cleaners have you tried? This is an evidence-based site. Just tell us how you arrived at that opinion and we are happy to be convinced.
Sorry, my previous was intended as a reply to pgiampi…
Let common sense and your ears prevail. My advice would be make sure your cartridge is correctly aligned first, as a mis aligned cartridge will distort, shorten stylus life and plough your grooves like a Sommerset seed drill. After that I’ve always contented myself with a gentle flick of the stylus with the very end bit of a carbon fibre record brush after the record has had a couple of revolutions under very gentle pressure from said brush. Replace the stylus every couple of years and the cartridge half as often. It’s suited me and my Thorens 160 fine for the best part of 30 years but as with photography, gardening and child raising someone else will have a completely different view. Don’t worry too much ‘cos in the end, we’re all gonna end up in the fossil record. Except for Coltrane.
Hi LJC – since you are an avid collector, blogger, and of course listener who puts a lot of effort into having nice equipment, I was wondering how you handle when you change your stylus? I’ve heard huge ranges of how many hours of life your stylus could/should have, but I’ve also heard about warning signs, such as extra inner groove distortion, stylus gets dirtier easier, etc.
I’ve ALSO heard warnings that by the time your records sound a little different due to a worn stylus, IT MAY ALREADY BE TOO LATE (gasp). On top of all this, you, myself, and other readers of this blog pursue older records that MAY ALREADY BE WORN. So how do you go about discovering when it’s time to make a change? Here are the methods I’ve assumed:
– play your stylus until things start to sound funky, then play a reference recording (I have been trying to use CTI albums that I bought in NM or sealed condition) to see if you can hear distortion. (Problem: what if it’s too late and you’ve already damaged records? Will damage come on that quickly?)
– track the number of hours you use your stylus (problem: extra effort to keep track when you’d rather be listening to records, plus I’ve never found a definitive number of hours my stylus is good for (plus if I did, it would be a range of one to two hundred hours!))
– replace your stylus after a certain amount of time just to be safe (problem: expensive. I’ve had my current stylus for approx. 15 months and while that seems to me to be a long time, I’d estimate I use my stylus 1-5 hours a week, so I think I’m still a good amount below my stylus life)
– check diamond under a microscope (problem: this is problem definitive, but I’m not eager to do this. It’s another hassle when I’d rather just enjoy records (see problem with tracking hours))
Sorry to go into so much detail, but I feel it’s a tricky thing to determine and wanted to know the though of yourself and others. Thanks!
I’ve been a bad blogger. First, this page was badly in need of updating, as I am in a different place now that when I first wrote it. So I have updated it for starters. New cart, new pictures.
Second, conventional wisdom is that stylus wear in a high-end cartridge becomes significant at 1,500 – 2,000 hours of play (others say less) which translates into around two years of normal use, whatever that is. (You should clean records, adjust VTA, all that stuff, anyway)
There is another school of thought that says it is not the needle that is the problem, it is the change over time to the flexibility of cantilever on which the stylus is mounted.
On the sound of wear and risk of record damage –
On vintage vinyl, you are a hostage to a host of previous owners and the condition of their stylus, over the preceding fifty years. I don’t worry about this, it’s split milk. It either sounds OK to you or it doesn’t. Some people are more tolerant of effects than others, like some people with perfect pitch can’t tolerate a couple of percent speed variation, which has never bothered me..
If you have a static hifi system, and after making no other changes, you start to detect deterioration, then may be stylus wear is a culprit.
Personally, I think you should be looking to improve everything constantly, and your system should always be sounding better than it did last month. After two years, may be you should be thinking of upgrading your cartridge, not because it’s stylus is worn out, but because you want a better sounding one. Dynavector I believe don’t offer a re-tipping service but they do offer a generous trade-in cartridge upgrade price, which is the better way to go.
I can’t help but notice on the many hifi forums there are many folk that like what they have got and just want it to carry on sounding like that. I want things to sound better than before. The real battleground is that between sustainability – fear of going backwards, and evolution – the desire to move forward.
If after 15 months you are concerned about your stylus condition, just may be it’s time to think of an upgrade? Kill two birds with one stone. (An innocent figure of speech, not an incitement to harm wildlife)
the best stylus cleaner and the safest is using mr clean majic erasur,you let the stylus enter the sponge by lowering the tonearm down like you would be putting it on a record,do this about ten times and you are done-use the tonearm lift to do this,the microscopic fibers on the sponge do the cleaning.you can cut the sponge into thin strips and lay it down on the turntable platter,I glue the sponge stips to a thin piece of cardboard,like a magazine front page.the stylus must lift straight up and down no side motion,just keep moving it to a new spot for cleaning.the results will amaze you,enjoy.
Using the magic eraser method ruined my stylus. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right but I won’t be doing it again.
Some lessons in life are more expensive than others. Ouch!. That is a real horror story.
This is the only product that gets anywhere near my stylus – Lyra SPT. It is expensive, at about 1% of the cost of the cartridge, but does the job, and I get to sleep safely.
Of course if you have records ultrasonically cleaned before play, very little crud gets onto the stylus tip in the first place. Win: win