In this article, we will explore the average lifespan of a phono cartridge. It is a common question from people who love listening to vinyl records and want to know how long their expensive cartridge purchase will last before it needs to be replaced.
How often should you change your turntable stylus?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as several factors come into play when determining the average lifespan of a phono cartridge.
How often do you play records?
The number one factor that affects how long a cartridge will last is the frequency at which it is used. The more frequently you play your records, the faster the needle and stylus will wear out. It can be especially problematic for people who may play records sporadically not following proper turntable maintenance and cleaning practices.
If you like listening to vinyl and playing records several times a week, then your cartridge and stylus will require more attention and care. You will need to replace it sooner than someone listening once a week or month.
Brand and model of the cartridge
The brand and model of the cartridge you purchase will also affect how long it lasts before needing to be replaced. Generally, entry-level cartridges such as those built into most turntables will not last as long as more expensive models are meant to be replaced periodically (every 5-10 years). Several factors determine how long a cartridge lasts, but the essential factor is the stylus and needle’s material. For example, diamond styli last longer than their steel and sapphire counterparts, and models using moving magnet technology generally last longer than those using moving coil technology.
How do you clean your records?
Harsh chemicals and improper cleaning practices can accelerate the wear on a phono cartridge. For example, suppose you regularly use carbon fiber brushes, abrasive record cleaners, or alcohol-based cleaning solutions to clean your vinyl. In that case, it will increase the load on the stylus and needle. In turn, this could reduce the lifespan of the cartridge. However, if you follow proper record cleaning practices and use an appropriate cleaner (such as a brushless fluid), it will not harm your stylus or needle and extend its life.
Do you store your records properly?
Improper storage of vinyl records can also affect how long your cartridge lasts. For example, storing records in an unheated room (such as a garage) or next to equipment that emits lots of electromagnetism (direct current) can negatively affect the cartridge and stylus; this will shorten its life expectancy. Therefore it is essential to store your vinyl correctly, as the stylus is more susceptible to damage from dust, debris, and other contaminants.
How often do you clean your stylus?
The number of times you clean your stylus will also affect how long the cartridge lasts. A dirty stylus can increase wear on a cartridge and reduce its lifespan. On the other hand, if you regularly clean your stylus, it can prolong your cartridge’s life. The most effective way to clean a phono cartridge is with a specialized stylus brush, which helps remove debris or particles that have attached themselves to the tip of the needle. It reduces wear on the stylus and prevents groove damage in vinyl records.
How to replace turntable cartridges?
The procedure will be similar no matter what cartridge you are using. However, the screws holding it to its headshell mount may differ in size and shape so always.
Replacing a cartridge is an easy task; some cartridges can be replaced in seconds, while others require you to open up the tonearm.
The cartridge attaches either to the headshell or, on older models, directly to the tonearm itself. If there is a protective cap on your cartridge it will need to be removed before removing the old cartridge.
Set your turntable on a flat surface and make sure it is unplugged before proceeding. Once removed, most cartridges will have two screws holding them in place or snap into place.
If your cartridge is attached to the tonearm directly, you will need to unscrew the screws attaching it to the tonearm. In some models, you will need to open up the arm and remove the old cartridge from inside before replacing it with a new one. If your turntable has an integrated pre-amp, you will also need to detach this and replace it with a new one, if necessary.
Be careful not to touch the sides or bottom of your cartridge since fingerprints or scratches can easily damage them. If installing an MM cartridge (moving magnet), line up the pins with the corresponding holes and snap the cartridge into place. If you are installing an MC (moving coil) cartridge, install it in the same fashion as MM, but a specific orientation must be followed; follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Now that you’ve replaced your cartridge, sit back and enjoy your music.