Welcome to our growing vinyl FAQ, where we continually upload concise answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about collecting and enjoying vinyl records.
When should I replace my needle/stylus?
There’s a lot of active discussion and opinions on this topic, but the short answer is, it depends. Asking how long a record stylus will last is much like asking how long a set of strings will last on a guitar. There are many factors that influence the life of a stylus, from the condition of your records to the quality and material of the stylus, and much more. Either way, a worn stylus will damage records, so you definitely want to maintain it well and replace it regularly.
In short, as a stylus wears, flat spots form on the surface that make it harder for the stylus to track grooves accurately. This wear manifests itself as a light, fuzzy distortion in the high-end, and becomes more obvious as wear increases. We should not use distortion as a key indicator of wear, however, as by this point the stylus is already causing record wear. As a rough guide, I follow Shure’s advice on stylus replacement: “As a rule of thumb, a diamond stylus should be replaced after 800 to 1,000 hours of playing time.”
Based on the above, if we take the best possible outcome and an average playing time of 40 minutes per record, 1000 playing hours works out at 1500 album plays. If we then take this number and split it between all 52 weeks in a year, it works out approximately 4 records per day. In all honesty, while this sounds like a reasonable amount, I make a habit of changing the stylus once every year at the very least.
What is a turntable pre-amp and why do I need one?
Records are recorded with the bass frequencies reduced, and the high frequencies boosted to keep groove dimensions small. A phono pre-amp boosts bass frequencies and reduces high frequencies in an attempt to restore — as close as possible — the frequency response of the master recording.
The signal produced by a record cartridge is also very weak; a typical phono pre-amp will boost your signal by 40 – 50 dB to meet the requirement of your aux input. If your system/receiver has an input labeled “phono,” there’s a good chance this input has a built-in phono pre-amp stage.
How can dust affect records?
Needless to say, dust is a fact of life when it comes to vinyl records. A few basic vinyl maintenance principles are usually enough to keep things under control, however, left unchecked, dust can cause real damage to both your stylus and records. Not only does it contribute to pops and crackles, but it can also lead to the needle jumping, and even stylus and record wear.
Dust build-up over time can also compound inside the groove, and over time, becomes sticky and stubborn. While it makes sense to prevent dust forming in the first place through proper record storage, there will be times that, despite your best efforts, dust and dirt will start to build up. For a crash course on preventing dust (plus other maintenance tips) consider reading our guide to looking after vinyl records.
How can I clean my records?
All records need cleaning from time-to-time, and there are many documented cleaning methods — some perfectly logical, others damn right ludicrous. Either way, there are far too many details to mention in this FAQ — check out our guide to cleaning vinyl records for full details.
Does 180gram vinyl sound better?
The technical standard for cutting grooves to vinyl master discs are exactly the same for all vinyl records regardless of weight. Therefore, the weight of a vinyl record has little to no impact on sound quality. Also, the stylus tip in the groove is only capable of reading a limited depth anyway, and thus anything below a certain point is missed.
The Sound quality of a given record is mostly determined by the quality of the source material and the mastering process — alongside to pressing process, of course.
So what’s all the fuss about 180g?
The benefit of thicker weight vinyl are mostly twofold: 1) They’re more satisfying to handle — more substantial, and 2) They’re more resilient to damage over time, including breakage and warping. In addition, many argue heavier grade vinyl provides a more stable platform for your stylus and cantilever whilst also better isolating the stylus from unwanted vibration.
What’s the difference between a “belt drive” and a “direct drive” turntable?
The key difference is how the motor drives the record platter. A belt drive turntable works by spinning the platter using an elastic belt that is attached to a motor. With a direct drive turntable, on the other hand, the platter sits directly on the motor.
Generally speaking (and I do mean very generally), belt drive turntables benefit sonically from the isolated motor, making them the choice of hi-fi enthusiasts. However, the playback speed can be less accurate. DJ’s will almost invariably opt for direct drive due to their consistent playback speed, faster start and stopping time, plus the capability to spin the platter backward for cueing and special effects.
What is the difference between spherical and conical styli?
A spherical stylus tip is round like a ballpoint pen. Because of the shape, spherical styli sit higher in the groove and subsequently track less of the smaller, deeper portion of the groove containing the highest frequencies — resulting in a “warmer” sound quality. DJ’s have long favored spherical styli for their scratching and backspin performance. Many also argue that record wear is very low when tracking light.
An elliptical stylus has a dual radii and sits lower in the record groove, allows for more precise tracking and greater high-frequency detail. Other benefits include better phase response and lower distortion. Hi-fi listeners often prefer elliptical styli for sonic performance. To learn more about these stylus shapes and other designs, consider reading our post on vinyl stylus shapes.
How should I store my vinyl collection?
There are many products available to help store records safely, but the overall practice comes down to a few fundamentals: vinyl records must by stored vertically, as stacking records flat in piles will lead to warping over time. You also want to store them in a clean environment at a consistent temperature. Check out our guide to storing vinyl records for more info.
Have a Question You’d Like Answered?
If you’d like to suggest another common question that should be added to our list, please feel free to get in touch.