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Record player needles differ in both shape and materials used to make the needle, or stylus. The type of needles a person needs depends on the type of turntable as well as the purpose for which the records are being used. For example, if a person scratches records while spinning them, he or she should get a cone-shaped needle, which won't cause as much damage as other shapes. The size of the needle depends on the speed of the records the person will play.
Record player needles have either 1-millimeter or 3-millimeter tips. The thickness of the tip determines the speed of records a person can play. Those that play at 78 revolutions per minute (RPM) will play with a 3 millimeter tip, and 45 RPM, 33 RPM and 16 RPM records require a 1 millimeter tip. If a person plans on spinning 78 RPM records, he or she should have an extra 3-millimeter tip stylus on hand to swap out when playing the 78s.
The material from which record player needles are made will determine the sound quality and durability. Some needles are made from sapphire, and others are made of diamond. The needles also can be made of steel or a combination of sapphire and diamond. Diamond-tipped record player needles have the longest life, and steel and sapphire ones can wear out relatively quickly.
Sapphire needles are ideal for playing 78s. Some sapphire needles feature two tips, which provides as much as 100 hours of use. Steel needles, which typically consist of steel backed with nickel, are very sharp at first, but they wear out more quickly than sapphire needles. Two types of steel needles are available. One type will play loud tones, and the other plays soft tones.
Different record needle players also come in different shapes or hardness. The more finely pointed the tip of the needle is, the better it will fit into the grooves of the record, reducing wear. A micro-line needle fits best into the groove, which reduces pressure on the album and leads to less wear. An elliptical needle doesn't fit as well but generally can be used for recreational purposes.
A person who scratches records or loops them should choose a conical-tipped record player needle. The softer tip will not damage the surface of the record as much as the harder elliptical or micro-line needles. Its cone-shaped tip is larger, so it won't fit into the grooves of the record very nicely and shouldn't be used for general-use record players.
Another consideration is the type of cartridge system you have. Some older record players have fixed cartridges and you simply replace the needle in them. Newer players have disposable cartridges, meaning you replace the entire unit. That has become typical.
While there is a bit of a standard in cartridges in terms of adapters, make sure you are getting the right "plug in" cartridge for your model of record player. You can find all that information out easily in your owner's manual, but how many people still have those? I picked up a higher end record player from a friend that didn't want it anymore -- no manual. Fortunately, a quick Internet search will let you find out whatever you
need for your particular turntable and the Internet is also handy in another way -- finding a local shop that sells needles and cartridges is difficult in a lot of areas, but there are plenty of online dealers who can get you what you need in a hurry.
Here's another thing about those conical-shaped needles -- they don't reproduce sound as well as a typical needle. If you see a stylus advertised as a "DJ needle," stay away from it unless you are a DJ and play to use your turntable for that purpose.