Thursday, August 29, 2019, 17:01

Here at Graphs n Staffs we strive to get you the equipment you need to enjoy your pastime, be it reading or listening to music. One thing that I have always had to grapple with is getting the right stylus, or cartridge, for my turntable.

It's not like there's a dearth of products. Everyone, from Amazon on down, stocks cartridges for any number of turntables. The trick is knowing exactly what you need, and how to install it.

If you already have a favorite brand of cartridge, great. Obviously your new turntable came equipped with one, along with the hardware necessary to hold it to the tone arm. This hardware can vary greatly. Most turntables use the two-screw, half-inch method of securing the cartridge, by its roof, to the lift bracket, known as a "headshell," that then screws into the tone arm. If you have, like I do, an anti-skate device, you will need to readjust it for the weight of your new cartridge--unless, of course, you replace your old one with one just like it.

There are a number of good reasons why you might want to do this. The turntable manufacturer knows your turntable better than anyone, and the cartridge they supply would have to be a good match.  But that doesn't mean you are limited to that brand, or even that style, of cartridge. Even though your cartridge is a good one, the range available is tremendous: from less than $99 to one professional grade cartridge that retails for 5000 bucks!

Another thing you should remember is that, if your cartridge is not a bargain-basement item, it is probably a good idea to see if you can simply buy the stylus. If you have the top-mounted style, you probably can. Remember, it's the stylus that wears out, not the cartridge. Those are magnets; they will last far longer than the stylus will. So simply replacing the stylus is a good way to go, especially if you can still remember buying the cartridge!

The reason buying a cartridge by mail--and nowadays it's almost a necessity--is so difficult, is the very essence of what makes a cartridge work: the magnets.  Sending magnets through the mails is a very tricky business. Most shippers have strict guidelines to follow, and--as I found out when I bought my last one--it might be impossible for the shipper of your choice to simply send it to you.

Here's the problem. Even though the cartridge is in (probably) multiple boxes when it is ready to ship, those magnets don't care; they go right on emitting that magnetic field, and it will pass right on through the shipping package. So it is possible--make that likely--that there will be other kinds of medium that might find itself in the same, say, bag of mail as your cartridge. Magnetic tape, for example: be it reel to reel (remember those?), cassette, or any other kind of magnetic medium. If that medium comes into close proximity with your cartridge, it's possible to likely that it will be anywhere from only damaged (if you're lucky) to completely erased. Believe me, it happens. So the post office frowns on our sending cartridges through the mails--to specific final destinations! 

This is important to remember, because there are ways of getting around this problem.  More than likely, your local Post Office will receive the package with your cartridge in it for you, and hold it at the service desk. This is how my last cartridge made it home with me. Consult with your neighborhood post office: the one who delivers your mail. This is the best way I know to get around this problem. But you must supply your provider with the address of the Post Office, not your home address. Most shippers have software that simply tells them the cartridge cannot be sent to a particular address. If this is the case, they will tell you so when you try to order it. If so, just send it to the Post Office.

Or, it is also possible to have your shipper send it with a carrier, like, for example, UPS.  This is a more expensive, but a clearly viable, option. Just be sure you are not having your cartridge sent to a P. O. Box. These carriers have ways of getting your package to you without it damaging everything around it.

Okay.  Think of your stylus as the autmobile tire on your turntable. It's where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and it's going to wear out. Not immediately, of course, but it will. And if you want your records to remain having that pristine, "No scratches" sound, you will need to keep an eye on it. Remember, the more you use your turntable, the faster your stylus will wear.  Sure, it's a diamond chip--or it should be--but even so, it's going to wear. 

Now there are other cartridge styles for you to consider; you will have to be sure you know which kind of cartridge your turntable requires.  My turntable has a different kind of tone arm than do most turntables; I use a smaller, much more lightweight cartridge called a P-Mount cartridge, that tucks neatly into the tonearm itself, with only a tiny screw to secure it. No hardware between the cartridge and the tonearm. 

Now, the best reason I can give for having a turntable that requires a P-Mount cartridge is the length of time your records will last. Granted, you probably can't notice the difference in weight between a standard cartridge and a P-Mount one, but believe you me, your records can. The lighter the tone arm rests on your records, the longer they are going to last. Remember that, with a standard cartridge, you are adding not only the added weight of the cartridge itself, but also the weight of the headshell you attach the cartridge to. That's why so many turntables have complex counterwieghts that may be manually adjusted, to keep your needle resting lightly on your LP.

Now because the tonearm of a P-mount is so much lighter than a standard arm, I can purchase what is called a conical stylus shape. This means that the needle is round, rather than elliptical, which most standard styli are. This also has to do with weight; the conical stylus is less heavy than is the elliptical one. It also puts less surface into the groove of your LP. This has the benefit of making your records last longer; but affecionados of the elliptical stylus say the more surface in the groove, the better the sound.  So you will need to make your own decision about what you desire. Remember, the cartridge must be a P-Mount, or not; the stylus need not be conical. It can be shaped the option you prefer.

Now to complicate things just a little further. If you have a standard headshell, half-inch mounted cartridge arrangement, but you like the idea of a P-mount cartridge, it is possible to purchase a P-mount cartridge with an adapter, that will allow you to play it with your headshell. This style is called a Universal Mount, and it can be used with either style tonearm, a half-inch mount with a headshell, or a P-mount (without). If you are a real audiophile, and you have more than one turntable, this is a very easy way to go.

Replacing the stylus and/or cartridge is the only thing most people can do to extend the life of their particular turntable. But it is an important item to keep in mind. Just like the tire on a car, your stylus, your needle, will wear out. Technology keeps making 'em last longer all the time, but it's still a finite time period. Make sure your provider--like!--has what you need. It will save you a whale of a lot of headache when the time comes!

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