If you play records regularly it is important to know when to change the stylus on your turntable.  The stylus, supported by its cantilever is connected to the cartridge which is in turn attached to the tonearm.  The cantilever acts as a support for the stylus.  When you move the tonearm over to the turntable and put it down onto the record groove the diamond stylus generates the sound that you hear.

As you can appreciate, over a period of time, the frequent contact between the stylus and vinyl causes wear to the stylus.  Do not attempt to play your records with a worn stylus as you can risk damaging them.  You will notice a high level of deterioration in sound when you play the vinyl.  It is time to change the stylus when the sound quality starts to degrade to this point.

To help lessen the degree of wear to a stylus you need to set up your cartridge adequately.  Check that the alignment, anti-skate and tracking weight are correct so that the stylus fits perfectly into the groove of the vinyl.  This will give you better playback performance.  To get the best out of your records invest in a high quality turntable which will enable you control these features.  Lower level turntable models do not give you this level of control and are prone to stylus misalignment and skating which in turn will damage your precious vinyl.  The weight of the cartridge can be a key component.  If excessive force is applied to the surface of a vinyl record it can cause a high level of wear to the grooves.  Some turntables are set to a specific weight that can be adjusted if necessary.

Remember to keep your vinyl records in optimal condition.  You can clean them using a professional cleaning fluid and lint free anti-static cloth or carbon fibre brush.  In this way you will keep the grooves of the record free from dirt, dust and debris.  This will also help to ease the flow of the stylus on the record, causing less wear.  Remember that cleaning a record can improve its sound overall, but will not remove scratches.  Only clean a record when absolutely necessary.  If it looks and sounds good, you do not need to clean it.  Cleaning a record that is already in pristine condition can do more harm than good and adversely affect the sound.

The average lifespan of a stylus is around 500-1000 hours of playback.  This is obviously depending on how often you use your turntable.  It also depends on the tracking, condition of the vinyl and stylus alignment.  The stylus will degrade over time.  The tell-tale signs of a stylus becoming worn will be a distorted incoherent sound on playback of the vinyl.  For record collectors a stylus will deteriorate much more rapidly as a much greater number of albums will be played.  A stylus can last much longer for the casual listener who only plays records once a week or on special occasions.

Overall, stylus wear is just a small factor in the playback of records.  Invest in a good quality turntable and stylus, adjust the settings correctly and you’re ready to go.  Keep your records clean and enjoy many years of collecting and listening to vinyl!

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