How do you tell your Cartridge needs replacing?

I know this is a stupid question but I don't know how to answer it. I have a Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 on a MT-2 player. Came with it. Probably , 4 years old now. The first 2 years I was not cleaning records but have been for the past 2 years. I have no equipment beyond my ears to measure degradation of the stylus. Seems to me that the intervals between cleaning of the stylus due to muffled sound are getting shorter. That is all I can say. Maybe my brain is adapting to the sound degradation over time and what I would not consider abnormal 4 years ago is now normal. Anyways, I suspect the easy answer is just to replace it and listen but was wondering if there is any other advice out there. Thx. 


@ricmci , By the time you know your cartridge needs replacement you are damaging records. I use a medical microscope and special lighting to examine the stylus after 2 years about every 6 months. Most can not do this so, the next best solution is to have two functioning cartridges and after two or three years send the cartridge into Wally Tools for examination using the other cartridge in the mean time.  You can use a stylus timer and arbitrarily send the cartridge in for retipping every 1000 hours. I think that is a PITA. 

@jasonbourne, can you recommend a cost effective microscope to do the job? Also how do I know what acceptable is in regards to the health of the stylus? Also would I have to remove the cartridge to examine? Sorry but never done this before.

Old school solution...when you get tired of hearing it and you want something better. Unless you have your dream cartridge, and you want to keep it going. Then just send it back for inspection/stylus replacement.

When sibilances  sound spitty & rough when they didn't before.  When violins that previously sounded smooth sound saw-toothed. When your favorite guitar player's guitar sounds fuzzy when it used to sound clean. When did that dude buy that fuzz-box?????? When a piano sounds rough and hashy when it didn't before. When a voicalist's voice starts to break up at places it didn't before. Yeah, I've encountered more than my share of this over the decades. On the bright side, I disagree with the posters who say that once your records are ruined once they start sounding rough. More than once, I've installed a new cartridge whose stylus managed to find a portion of the groove that wasn't hacked to death by the old, worn-out one. Good luck!

You should listen for signs of mis-tracking on the most demanding points of tracks with very sharp and loud transients, such as where a female singer gets too close to the microphone and really hits the note hard.  If you start to hear a fuzzy sound or strange noise where this never happened before, you have mis-tracking (the stylus is no longer in proper contact with the groove and is slamming the grooves instead of tracing the grooves.  When the stylus is worn or the suspension has gone bad, mis-tracking increases.  Before this point, it is hard to hear signs of wear because they happen so gradually.

I don’t think that microscopes are that useful for anything other than seeing gross wear, or major damage, that would be obvious by listening.  I’ve had “experts” examine and pronounce healthy, cartridges that sound worn or defective.  It is particularly hard to see and interpret wear on narrow contact cartridges (e.g., microline, microridge, van den hull, replicant 100, shibata) because you need high power magnification (which means poor depth of field so only a portion of the stylus is in focus), appropriate lighting, and an expert eye to interpret what is visible.

If you have doubts about a cartridge, either decide to replace it or the stylus before risking record damage or send it to the manufacturer or companies like SoundSmith or Wallytools.


I don’t think most folks are equipped to evaluate the condition of a stylus, regardless of the type of microscope they have. (I have a bunch of usb ones, and the vintage Shure stylus scope, which is cool in its own right as a period artifact). Me, I can get a lot of mileage from a good cartridge if I am careful, I inspect the cartridge almost after every side, try to avoid any sort of damage in cleaning (largely dry brushing at this point) and am obviously sensitive to the performance of the thing: if it mistracks, distorts, or is audibly obvious misperforming, you may be beyond the point where it needs to be replaced or ’fixed.’ Are your records damaged? Probably not, but don’t push it. Address the cartridge if there is any question.

I think the biggest fallacy for audiophiles is the gradual reduction in sound quality that you get used to, so a fresh iteration is a revelation. I’ve seen this a few times.

I liken this to a fresh pair of sneakers. (Get what I mean?) Vinyl is not for the faint of heart. You gotta stay on it.

Get a bottle of Stylast and use it before playing a side. It is a lubricant that is claimed to reduce wear and extend stylus life. I use it! Michael Fremer claims that the stylus will outlast the suspension!

We believe that styli should be checked carefully by microscopic exam by someone who knows what to look for at 1000 hours, as that is the typical maximum life for a properly aligned stylus


keep a log of how many record sides you play over a month or so and assume each one is 20 min or .33 hours.  

then estimate the accumulated hours on your cartridge based on your record playing habits.  

If it is upwards of 1500 hrs or so have it inspected by a qualified dealer.  

I had a cartridge inspected at 1200 hours and it had a lot of life left according to the dealer.  

You could also get a test record that has increasing modulation levels (loudness) and you could note when you hear the onset of mis-tracking and how severe is that mis-tracking.  Later, you can compare that result to what you hear when you are looking for signs of aging.  The problem with a visual inspection by even a qualified dealer is that such inspection will not reveal when the suspension is going bad.  The rubber ring around the cantilever that damps unwanted vibration can go bad even if the stylus is not played, so it is possible that the cartridge has gone bad long before wear even begins to show.

To me, listening remains the best way to determine wear. 

Not many of us have the skills and experience to determine by inspection the condition of a stylus except in the most severe cases of wear, even with a microscope designed to do the job. I include myself as lacking such skills, and I do own a suitable instrument. Send it to a reputable retipper for evaluation. I do realize it’s a bit like asking a fox to guard the hen house.

Happily Audio Technica has a program to check and clean for $40. or sell me a new replacement cartridge for less than half price

I sent my AT33PTG/II in, expect to hear from them soon.

got this response when I asked them

"Hello Elliot,


You can return it for inspection, cleaning, and testing. The cost is $40.00 plus shipping. If it is worn and needs replaced, we do offer a trade in program for moving coil cartridges. You can trade in your cartridge for a new cartridge at a discounted replacement cost. Your cartridge will be destroyed. Here is the replacement cost for a new AT33PTG/2. The cost doesn’t include the return Fed Ex shipping.


AT33PTG/2                $262.43


You will find our ATUS Service Policy, complete repair return instructions and a downloadable form to be enclosed with the repair return at: .  Please provide detailed information on the problem.  We do not require a return authorization number for repair returns.  We require dated proof of purchase with the repair returns to validate all warranty claims.  Please also provide a United States, United Parcel Service (UPS) deliverable address to return the product to once repaired.








Jim Schotts
Service Manager

If maker not around or has no service offer, you can send it to a re-builder you trust, like Steve and Ray Leung of VAS


Time flys by, I will keep a log now near my TT.

Thank you for all the great advice. Sounds like since I am concerned then I should just go ahead and get another cartridge before I regret not doing so. Now I get to research what I shall purchase. Thanks again. 

check, but the AT policy probably applies to their more expensive models also, which means trade-in saves even more in the future.

The OP owns a Sumiko cartridge, not an AT. So unless Sumiko offers a similar service to AT, the OP is best off procuring the services of an independent repair shop like the ones you, and several others before you, named.

Fun off topic story that comes to mind since I’m currently sitting here without a phono cart waiting for new styli to be rebuilt at Soundsmith.

It seems different designs yield vastly different hours. After about 3000 hours of use I sent my Strain Gauge stylus to SoundSmith to be checked since it must clearly be worn after all this time.  Peter got back to me that it was not worn, and I used it for many years after that until it started sounding as mentioned above, spitty and sibilant.   Peter in one of his videos mentions a customer that played his strain gauge approximately 6000 hours before needing a new stylus.