When I started into the world of vinyl and turntables, I learned a little bit about maintenance. However, a question kept popping into my head: “Should I Replace A Turntable Needle Or Cartridge?”
I know now that I can do both for different purposes. This article provides an answer to that question, as well as highlights the difference between the two parts and when to replace each.
Many people, especially those new to the world of vinyl, confuse the needle with the cartridge. Some people even think that both of them are the same thing.
To keep things simple, the cartridge is a part of the headshell that houses the needle. On the other hand, the needle is the only part of your turntable that gets in contact with the vinyl.
Typically, the needle moves back and forth in the record’s grooves to create sound.
In most cases, you’ll replace the needle more often than the cartilage. Before you do that, check whether your turntable cartridge is replaceable. Interestingly, not all turntables allow you to change the cartridge.
To find out, check whether you can see screws mounting your cartridge to the end of the tonearm. If so, it’s replaceable. Otherwise, you can only change the needle.
Fortunately, cartridges hardly wear out, whereas the needle is subjected to wear and tear. Therefore, replace your cartridge only when you’re generally upgrading your turntable for better sound quality.
On the other hand, you should replace your needle more frequently than the cartilage as it’s more susceptible to damage, causing poor sound quality.
When it comes to the position of replaceable cartridges, there are generally two types: standard and p-mount.
A standard cartridge is more common. It’s secured to the underside of the tonearm with two vertical screws. On the other hand, a p-mount cartridge is fastened to the tip of the tonearm with one horizontal screw.
You can trace physical and audible tell-tale signs that your needle needs replacement. Here’s a list of these indicators that you need to replace the needle of your turntable:
- You’ll definitely feel the difference in the quality of how your records sound.
- Generally, you can trace more crackling, distortion, and fuzziness.
- A damaged needle will most probably appear misshapen or crooked.
- If you notice that the needle jumps or skips from the record grooves while playing.
Fortunately, turntables’ needles are mostly made of sapphire or diamond, which makes them incredibly sturdy and long-lasting. That’s why you won’t need to replace the needle that frequently.
I think it’s obvious that the more you use the turntable, the faster your needle gets worn out. Therefore, we recommend that you replace the needle of your turntable after between 150 and 200 playtime hours. However, some rather expensive models last a lot longer.
Proper maintenance and care for the needle and the vinyl are the easiest ways to extend the lifespan of your turntable.
In other words, if you want to extend the lifespan of your needle, you shouldn’t allow the accumulation of dirt and dust on the grooves. This can cause extra friction, damaging the needle and providing poor sound quality.
Unfortunately, not all turntable needles are the same. Therefore, you can’t replace your needle with just any other model. You rather need to check the manual first.
Basically, needles come in four different shapes: spherical (conical), line (linear contact), Shibata, and elliptical (bi-radical). The type of needle you choose makes a considerable difference when it comes to the quality of sound.
Typically, an elliptical needle is more accurate since it makes more contact with the record grooves. However, this also means it wears out faster than the other types.
On the other hand, a spherical needle is affordable, easy to install, and long-lasting. This is mainly because it doesn’t come in contact with the record grooves that frequently. However, it’s not as accurate as Shibata or elliptical needles.
Remember that the longevity of the needle still depends on its material and the frequency of use.
In most cases, you only need to replace your worn-out needle. However, sometimes it might be better to replace the entire cartridge. Here are our reasons:
1. Life Span
Most people don’t consider the average lifespan of the cartridge. Even if you don’t see any sign of wear on the cartridge, it still wears out with time.
In fact, the average lifespan for a turntable cartridge is around five years. Therefore, if you want proper maintenance for your old turntable, we recommend that you replace the entire cartridge.
2. Cost Efficiency
The needle costs about 90% of the price of the entire cartridge. Therefore, it can be way more cost-efficient to purchase a whole new cartridge.
This way, you can get much better sound quality for just a little extra, which gives you additional value for your money.
3. The Shape and Material
Most probably, the needle you’d purchase separately is spherical and made of sapphire. This makes it less than perfect when it comes to sound quality.
Interestingly, you can purchase an elliptical diamond cartridge almost for the same cost. A diamond needle is more long-lasting, and the elliptical shape enables it to produce better sound quality.
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Replacing your entire cartridge is the easiest and most effective way to improve the sound quality of your old turntable.
Whether your turntable emits poor sound quality or you just want an upgrade, you can always rely on a new cartridge for better performance.