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Stylus Inspection [message #89351] Thu, 13 December 2018 13:31 Go to next message
Wayne Parham is currently offline  Wayne Parham
Messages: 17402
Registered: January 2001
Illuminati (33rd Degree)

All my life, I've replaced my turntable stylus when I "felt" it was time. I've just guessed about stylus quality, really. So there's no telling how bad I've let my needles get before swapping them.

I've decided to check the needles myself with a microscope. So I've ordered one and it should be here within the week. I understand that what I'm looking for are flat spots on each side, where the diamond contacts the groove.

I'll post photos of what I see. I have a couple brand-new needles, one that's elliptical and another that's shibata. I also have a couple of worn needles, again an elliptical and a shibata. So this will allow me to compare a new shape to a worn shape. Should be interesting!
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89352 is a reply to message #89351] Thu, 13 December 2018 16:00 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Rusty is currently offline  Rusty
Messages: 148
Registered: May 2018
Location: Kansas City Missouri
Master
I've never gotten to a point of replacing yet, based on assumed or otherwise need for new stylus. This microscopic inspection has become a popular topic in the forums. USB microscopes are cheap, but other's are using standard microscopes with stereo eyepieces to check their diamonds. A good thread with link to other thread's on the "engine" might give some tip's and techniques you can use.
https://www.vinylengine.com/turntable_forum/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=92996
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89353 is a reply to message #89352] Thu, 13 December 2018 16:18 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Wayne Parham is currently offline  Wayne Parham
Messages: 17402
Registered: January 2001
Illuminati (33rd Degree)

I read a lot after visiting with you here the last few days. One of the documents I read was from Shure, who offered a microscope and instructions (attached below) for stylus inspection. Their instruction document shows illustrations of the wear patterns expected on common stylus shapes as well as actual photos of what is seen in the microscope.

I have guarded optimism that I will be able to see well enough to get good results using the 'scope. As you've said, USB microscopes are inexpensive, and I've found solid-state cameras to be pretty good these days. I've worked with remote 'scopes to see things inside automobile engines, and their solid-state cameras create surprisingly good pictures. So I'm somewhat optimistic about the USB microscope photos I'll get.

This is the Shure SEK-2 instruction manual, which describes what to look for as well as giving some examples:
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89354 is a reply to message #89353] Thu, 13 December 2018 17:06 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Rusty is currently offline  Rusty
Messages: 148
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Location: Kansas City Missouri
Master
Yes, I've been sling'n those forum topic's left and right. The Vinyl Engine has been my staple for a long time. Lot's of knowledgeable people, (excluding me). The thing I got from that thread is tricky positioning with traditional microscopes, and proper lighting. Did you purchase a USB type? I'd think that would be more user friendly. The Shure instruction manual would scare me away from a traditional scope. I have near a dozen carts and rotate them regularly, so, I figure they will outlast me before the stylus wearing out. Still, it's kinda nice to look at the jewelry too.
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89355 is a reply to message #89354] Thu, 13 December 2018 17:30 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Wayne Parham is currently offline  Wayne Parham
Messages: 17402
Registered: January 2001
Illuminati (33rd Degree)

I purchased a USB microscope. It has a stand that comes with it, but I also purchased another stand that has a base more like a traditional microscope. I'll try both to see which works best for this application. The 'scope has built-in lighting so I'll try that first, but if the angle of lighting isn't right for this, I'll make a fixture that holds a couple of large white LEDs, one on each side.

This is what I ordered:
/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2287&private=0/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2288&private=0
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89356 is a reply to message #89351] Fri, 14 December 2018 09:45 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Rusty is currently offline  Rusty
Messages: 148
Registered: May 2018
Location: Kansas City Missouri
Master
Slick! That stand ought to make it much easier to image the stylus proper. Maybe you'll post some images when you get the hang. Like to see that Audio Technica shibata.
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89367 is a reply to message #89356] Sat, 15 December 2018 17:51 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Wayne Parham is currently offline  Wayne Parham
Messages: 17402
Registered: January 2001
Illuminati (33rd Degree)

My first examination is of a brand-new replacement stylus for my Audio Note AT20 cartridge.

/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2289&private=0
Audio Technica AT20 cartridge in case

/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2290&private=0
Audio Technica AT20 cartridge, top view

/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2291&private=0
Audio Technica AT20 cartridge, front/bottom view

/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2292&private=0
Audio Technica AT20 cartridge, bottom view

The stylus I'm examining is a "Bliss" branded shibata stylus, purchased from TurntableNeedles.com. The specific part is called an "ATN20 Type Shibata for Audio-Technica AT15 AT20 Cartridges" and they claim it is made by Jico. Their part number is 203-DQX.


/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2293&private=0
ATN20 "Bliss" (Jico) shibata stylus for AN20 cartridge

The first thing I noticed about this stylus is the cantilever is not positioned properly, so it's a non-starter for me. I've already written the folks at TurntableNeedles.com for a replacement. You can easily see that it is offset to one side, even with the naked eye, especially when it is installed in the cartridge.

Viewed with the microscope, it is even more obvious:


/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2294&private=0
Cantilever offset is clearly visible

/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2295&private=0
Inserted into the cartridge, the cantilever offset is even more visible

Focusing in the tip, I can see that the built-in lighting is not ideal for stylus examination. I think the magnification is sufficient, but the lighting angle isn't right. So I'll build a fixture that houses a bright white LED on each side, to illuminate the sides of the stylus more.


/forum/index.php?t=getfile&id=2296&private=0
Magnified ATN20 stylus tip
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89372 is a reply to message #89367] Sun, 16 December 2018 09:47 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Rusty is currently offline  Rusty
Messages: 148
Registered: May 2018
Location: Kansas City Missouri
Master
Is the last picture with maximum magnification? And, aside from the direct down view of the tip, are there other standard views to view how the stylus shape is best visualized to determine wear? I've used TT Needles, but never had to return anything. That is a gross misalignment with an expensive stylus replacement.
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89374 is a reply to message #89372] Sun, 16 December 2018 12:23 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Wayne Parham is currently offline  Wayne Parham
Messages: 17402
Registered: January 2001
Illuminati (33rd Degree)

Two excellent questions, Rusty. Those are the questions in my mind too. This thread is as much a journey to find answers to those questions as it is to find out which of my stylus are worn. In this thread, I am documenting the process of my learning how to examine them.

But before I respond to your questions, I want to digress for a second. I want to respond to a comment that you made earlier. You said, "I have near a dozen carts and rotate them regularly, so, I figure they will outlast me before the stylus wearing out."

I'm jealous! For years, I had a Technics SL-1200 and it had a removable headshell. The AT-20 cartridge pictured above was what I ran in that turntable. I really liked it. But I sold it in the late 1980s and kept the cartridge. Later, in the late 1990s, I bought a Rega table with a Rega arm. I like the arm, but it doesn't have a removable headshell. So that prevents me from swapping cartridges.

I'd really like to be able to swap cartridges. I could use an my old Rega Elys on records that were worn badly, sort of as a "sacrificial" cartridge. I could use the AT20SL on older records in good shape, and the AT20Sla on modern vinyl. With their different vertical angles, it might be useful to be able to swap them depending on the pressing being played. But I can't do that on the Rega arm I have now.

Sometimes I think about going back to the Technics table. I love the better direct-drive tables, and so I'm considering buying a good SL-1200. Then again, I can't hear the belt on the Rega, so it isn't a problem. It's a great table too, which is why I haven't made a change for all these years. But I always liked the idea of direct-drive tables, and especially since I could have a removable headshell when using the SL-1200. I know many audiophiles don't share my affinity for 1970s direct-drive tables, but I can't see any better approach than a high-mass platter on a very accurate direct drive motor.

So anyway, back to the topic of stylus inspection.

You asked if the last photo of the stylus tip above was taken with the USB 'scope at maximum magnification. It was the maximum I could get out of it with the setup I was using. Now then, this is the first time I used it, so I may be able to coax more out of it after I become more familiar. Especially since it was sold as a "40-1000x" device. But I don't expect much from devices at this price point, and I really think the magnification range is more like "40-100x." That's what it looked like to me. So while I think that's sufficient, it's just barely sufficient, if that. It may be that I can't really get a good view of the flat spots, even with side lighting.

My next step will be to create side mounted lighting "towers." I've already asked my 12-year-old son if I could have a few of his Legos to build the structure. I need to check and see if I have a couple of monster white LEDs. I think I do. I think I have a few hundred of them actually. I have every other color, that's for sure. But if I don't, I'll order them and fabricate a little stand for them with Legos, a drill and some glue. High-tech stuff. Laughing

If that doesn't do it, I'll be looking for a more powerful USB 'scope. Might do it anyway, just so I can get more magnification.

You also asked if there are "other standard views to view how the stylus shape is best visualized to determine wear." I don't know if there are "standard views" but I do know that we could look at various angles to bet a better view of the tip. It isn't a tricky concept - we're just looking for flat spots - but what it tricky is getting a 'scope that will let us see them clearly.

The Shure document describes a "straight-down" approach which uses side lighting to enphasize the tendency for flat spots to reflect more light into the lens. Careful placement of the side lighting is important for this approach to work. The inspector is simply looking for the size of the "hot spots" on each side of the tip. It appears to me that is a useful approach that works well with limited magnification and limited clear visibility.

But it seems to me that if I can get clear visibility at high magnification levels, it would be very useful to see the stylus at a straight-on tip-forward view. Perhaps move the camera up, down, and side-to-side about 20°. Another view that I think would be interesting is from the rear, seen side-to-side and above about 20°. This would show the point of first-contact, the "edge" that gouges a record if the needle is highly worn.

So I can't help but wonder the same things you have. The question in my mind is whether I can find an inexpensive USB 'scope that will let me clearly see the tip at higher magnification levels. Surely, it is possible with the right equipment. So now I'm wondering where I can find that equipmemt, and whether or not there's an inexpensive 'scope that will do it. That's part of what I hope to learn.
Re: Stylus Inspection [message #89378 is a reply to message #89374] Sun, 16 December 2018 17:41 Go to previous messageGo to previous message
Rusty is currently offline  Rusty
Messages: 148
Registered: May 2018
Location: Kansas City Missouri
Master
Seems we have an inverse parallel with turntables. You went from Technics to Rega and I went the opposite. For me it was a matter of speed drift and feedback with the Rega that sent me to the 1200. And with the ability to change cartridges with easy VTA and anti skate adjustment makes it a breeze to swap. Hope you go back to it. You'll be buying more cartridges for sure.
I'd tend to guess that high contrast lighting rather than diffused would help in resolving the facet shaped on the stylus. If that's possible. Hope you get satisfaction with that new stylus too. I bought a stylus from LP Gear years back when I purchased a Stanton 981 HZS from KAB. The stylus was listed as a replacement for the cartridge and was around $100 bucks. I could never get the thing to sound worth a hoot and thought maybe all the fuss about this cartridge was unfounded. I wanted to send it back to LP Gear, but months had gone by and they refused. I ended up with a Pfanstiehl stylus from Voice of Music which for twenty some bucks lets me know how good this cartridge really is. Some day maybe I'll spring for a premium from Jico. But this cheapo 2x7 elliptical sounds pretty good.

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