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Turntable needles are perhaps the most vital turntable parts for playing music from a vinyl record. There are a variety of needles, which are primarily differentiated by their shape and the material which they are made of. A turntable stylus can be elliptical or conical in shape, and the most popular materials used include osmium, sapphire, and diamond. The quality of sound and how long the stylus will last are the primary factors that determine which kind to get.
Conical turntable needles are cone-shaped and have a rounded tip. These were the preferred type for mono records in the past, and are still used for vintage records. For new records, courser-grooved styli yield a better sound quality. Such elliptical-shaped styli also produce less sound distortion.
The choice of turntable needles also has a direct effect on how long it takes for them to wear out. It is necessary to change a turntable needle from time to time, but the material it is made of determines how many times the needle can be used to listen to records. Osmium is a common choice but wears down quickly. When a stylus wears out, it develops flats. An osmium needle starts to wear out after it is used just two or three times, and can damage records after being used just 10 times.
Sapphire needles can survive 40 play sessions and as many as 75. This results in a replacement time of about a couple of months. The lower cost of these needles and longer time in between replacing them makes sapphire a cheaper alternative to osmium.
Diamond turntable needles are the most durable. Although these are a little more expensive, they can last up to 30 times longer than sapphire needles. There is no degradation in quality until the product has been used for 300 hours, and a diamond stylus can last up to 1,000 hours. Material choice is important because the force of just four grams of a stylus’ vertical pressure, complete with a sharp edge, totals about 20 tons per square inch. This can easily damage vinyl records.
When buying record player needles, it is not just the tip that contacts the record which is being played. Cartridges with a newer tip soldered on should be avoided. The sound will be distorted, and the crisp sound generated by new turntable needles will never be heard.
The first order of business when putting a record on was always to check to see the needle wasn't dusty.
We always used diamond needles, which was a good thing. Our stereo survived two teenage girls and I think we changed the turntable needle once.
I still prefer the sound of vinyl. It has a warmth that digital music just can't replicate, and there's something comforting, somehow, in the little crackles and hisses in the background.
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