surface noise reduction

My Ortofon MM Red cart seems to emphasize surface noise.  Does anyone know of a decent cartridge [under $1000 please] that tends to reduce surface noise, particularly slight scratches?  Yes, I use a record cleaner. 


Phono stage can have a lot to do with the audibility of ticks and pops.  Search these archives for comments by Atmasphere.  The other factor would be cartridge loading.  Have you tried fiddling with that?

@lewm, I will try tweeking around with the Project phonostage. I thought maybe an elliptical stylus would help.


Any new cartridge needs proper alignment, do you have the few inexpensive tools and skills to do it yourself?

MM RED is an Elliptical

In any case, noise or not: I suggest you upgrade to an advanced stylus shape, i.e. Microline, SAS, Shibata

I always recommend this Microline for darn good/not too expensive, (and it has wide channel separation and tight channel balance for improved imaging):

Deeper in the grooves; more edge profile contact surface with the groove both can improve the signal to noise factor.

Both lp grooves and stylus edges last longer when using advanced stylus shape.


Noise: Perhaps your cleaner is good for nearly new LPs.

I Manually SCRUB the heck out of my old beat up lps from the 60’, record store/garage sale finds. Surprisingly quieter. You might try a few, see if they get a lot less noisy

A kit like this:

look at photo, I use the kit’s fluid container only for final distilled water rinse, having viscously scrubbed with a baby scalp brush (protect paper label with lid from soup container).

A lot more work than an automatic machine, but amazing reduction in noise.

I listen while cleaning a batch of ten, takes the tedium away.



There are certain types of styluses that are quieter if set up correctly, these include the Ortofon Replicant 100, The Soundsmith OCL, and the Gyger S. With only one exception these styluses are found only on cartridges over $2000, that is the Goldring 1042, a cartridge I highly recommend for people on a budget.

Phono stages that overload easily, overload with pops and tics, the effect is to make them louder. Using a lower output cartridge might help.

Lastly is just bad plastic. Old records that were abuse when we were kids and trash produced by the record industry. If you love that music get a digital copy.

Washing records is fraught with danger. A machine is in order, one that uses fresh fluid for each cleaning and vacuums the record dry. After that it is all about convenience which cost more. The Nessie is a great unit for the money. The Audiodesk is a reliability nightmare. Not a month goes by without hearing of an other Audiodesk that bit the dust. The Clearaudio Matrix is a step up and the best IMHO is the Clearaudio Double Matrix which does both sides at the same time and is handily the fastest record cleaning method available and it aint cheap. Things to stay away from are repeated use of the same fluid and evaporative drying by any method. 


of course I agree with you, thanks

boxcarman, others

OP has a MM cartridge, messing with loading is all about MC cartridges.


just to clarify the basics:

what specific Phono Stage do you have?

and, what Preamp model, input are you plugging into?

you need to set that phono stage on either PASS, or 47K (not using the MC settings).

Same for any MM cartridge.

Then, Phono Stage, IF it has RIAA Equalization built in for MM, goes to any LINE level input.

IF it is simply a MM PASS thru, then it needs to go to/thru a true MM Phono Input, which performs RIAA Equalization AND boosts the MM signal to Line Level.

SOME Preamp’s PHONO input are simply an input for labeling, those require RIAA already performed elsewhere, they are simply a Line Level Input labeled phono for convenience, corresponding with a front input selector labeled Phono. Usually, those do NOT have a ground nearby; while true Phono inputs have ground connections.


Any people as frugal as me, I found this old post with details

Being frugal, non-scientific, I wash mine by hand in batches 10 at a time while listening to music. See 11th photo here

Cover the table with a plastic sheet (picnic table cover)

The Kit:

I mix other stuff with the cleaning fluid that comes with the kit


I get my Distilled Water at drug stores like CVS or Walgreens. I find that the staff often do not know where it is in the store, but it is there

Then 91% alcohol (not available in Covid times)

Next, I use a bit of Jet Dry ’Finish’

Scrub vigorously with Baby Scalp Brushes

Protect Paper Label with the Lid from a saved Chinese Soup container, looks like this

Scrub by hand, the spinner is only distilled water rinse, remove excess water with lint free cloth, final dry in the rack.

Amazing how good nasty LPs left over from the 60’s can sound, especially when playing deeper in the grooves with advanced stylus shape

I don’t know about styli being major determinants of the level of ticks and pops, but if Mijo is correct, the SoundSmith OCL can be added to a wide variety of good but inexpensive cartridges for the price of a retip. Using a low output cartridge per se ought not to be a panacea, because you need to add a commensurate amount of phono stage gain to hear the music, and that would likewise make LP noise as audible as with a higher output cartridge.

Thanks, everyone, for the tips.  I will try some of these and reply as soon as I have success.

I puttered around in relatively low - mid end tables and cartridges through about 1980. Like the second coming of the AR TT, Philips, and Gerard… with cartridges like the Shure V15 Well respected, but low to midlevel and absolutely not audiophile.

I took the plunge and got and audiophile table and cartridge. That was a VPI Aries and a Van den Hull Frog. I don’t think I have ever heard such a stark and jaw dropping change in sound in my life. The surface noice just disappeared… gone. I had no idea it was even possible. The difference was so large I felt rather stupid for not doing it sooner. Since then every audiophile turntable / cartrige I have heard has been virtually void of surface noice. Ok, really terrible vinyl has noice, but even that isn’t obnoxious.

So, here is the problem. I really want to claim it was mostly the turntable. But I never put a Shure V15 on it. Once I was into the audiophile arena I just never wanted to go back. I have listened to some modest Rega and not been impressed with their lack of surface noice.

So, here is what I think. Save up and replace both the turntable and the cartridge. Jump up a level… think about 2x for both cartridge and table. My feeling is that super heavy tables in the lower audiophile categories are quieter. At least from my experience.

I think this would be far more effective than trying to substitute a maybe less sensitive or warm cartridge.

@boxcarman You have two really important issues to address that were both brought up by @lewm early in this thread. The first is cartridge loading; cartridges like yours really need a proper load to sound right!

If unloaded, the inductance of the cartridge in parallel with the capacitance of your tonearm cable sets up a resonance that can be just barely ultrasonic or inside the upper end of the audio band, as you seem to have going on right now. This emphasizes ticks and pops.

Inexpensive (and some expensive) phono sections can make ticks and pops when the resonance I just mentioned overloads the input of the phono section. They can sound for all the world as if they are on the LP. Loading can help this as the resonance can be as much as 100x more powerful than the signal (so as much as 1/2Volt!) so the phono section needs very good high frequency overload margin, and many simple just don't have that because the designer didn't take this issue into account.

At any rate, get the loading sorted out. Here's a cartridge loading calculator; most of the time you can assume the tonearm cable to be about 100pf.

@atmasphere, you are right. I fiddle-faddled with the loading adjustments until I was satisfied.  Took awhile but worth the effort.  Yet I might invest in a better cart one of these days.

Yet I might invest in a better cart one of these days.

@boxcarman If you are listening carefully and without bias, I think you'll find that the ability of the arm to track the cartridge correctly is far more important than what cartridge you have.

Of course to do that the cartridge must be compatible with the arm; it must be a proper weight and have compliance such that the cartridge mounted in the arm will create a mechanical resonance between 7 and 12Hz.

So you can't just get any cartridge that might be more expensive; if a cheaper cartridge is more compatible with your arm it will sound better (as long as you've also paid attention to proper loading if the cartridge is MM and high output).


In addition, the OP might read again the earlier post by Atma on the importance of loading and phono stage design. The net message was not that you need a new cartridge.

After checking all settings and they are correct, I inspected for tonearm angle and tracking weight, which was only a little off, I finally checked the azimuth carefully.  What I found was it too was setup correctly, BUT, a fabric fiber was stuck on the side of the stylus! My bad, since I do not let anyone else touch it.  Problem solved, plays well now.  Still thinking about the Audio Technica microline cart......It's what we do.

Yeah it doesn't take much dirt on the stylus to make things noisy. I've had that happen to me also.  

I've also noticed that on at least a couple of pieces of modern music they are adding surface static noise as a production method.  Adds to the ambience or something. 

The other vexing thing about vinyl is that as the cartridge and system gets better and more revealing more of the imperfections of the vinyl process is revealed.  But I do think that stylus shapes like the shibata can bypass a lot of surface junk that simple shapes will run over.

Before spending on a different cart, try cleaning your record. There are several good cleaning systems that you can use on your turntable without spending of a cleaning machine. DiscDoctor makes such a product.

Second, clean your stylus. That’s easy and inexpensive. (See Soundsmith site for instructions.)

Since you’re using a MM cartridge, I can’t make any suggestions in that area except to consider acquiring a phono stage that can handle BOTH MM and MC cartridges to give you more flexibility in cartridge selection.

I do not know how that little piece of thread got stuck to the stylus.  I do clean the stylus with that little brush in a bottle, the thread didn't come off with that.  So I pulled on it and it came off cleanly.  Records sound like they should now.

Check out the new Schiit Skoll phono pre amp. Someone did a comparison of the Mani 2 vs the Skoll and posted some vinyl rips over on the schiit section of and the skoll had significantly lower surface noise.

Then there’s just plain old crappy vinyl, recycled from old kiddie pools and dominatrix wet suits…

Saddest moments of my vinyl listening life were Mark Hollis’ solo release and the surface noise made it unlistenable. This had only sat around for a few years somewhere but I got to asking around and there were a LOT of people with the same problem. 

Second, worst of the two, was an LP my son had cut for me for my retirement, a collection of songs we listened to while he was growing up. He’s a multiinstrument musician - drums, percussion, xylophone, bass, guitar, ukulele primarily - and I exposed him to a LOT of stuff on roadtrips and here at home he’d never have heard otherwise. So he found this company that makes vinyl records and, while the audio is pretty good, the sound floor is on the ceiling unless I use the Ortofon 2M and even at that it’s pretty loud. The company apologized and sent out another LP, no charge, and while the sound level is better side to side, the white noise is just as bad. 

This isn’t a case of a 10 year old Lumineers LP or a 60 year old Miles Davis in person from the blackhawk I own both of which, having been stored in PAPER that broke down to adhere to the vinyl took several US cleanings, hand-scrubbings and finally a good Shibata nude stylus to clean out the grooves; or at least it seems that way. Still noisy.

Curiously, the Hollis LP I’ve listened to with a Benz Micro Glider SL cartridge and an Ortofon 2M black - after all that work it’s marginally listenable with the Benz, the Ortofon 2M, fuggeddabouddit.  However, put it under an Ortofon Cadenza black - less noise than the Benz.

I’d read a couple years ago about this phenomenon - line contact styli “cleaning” the records - with respect to a Hana SL cartridge and, having experienced it first hand, think the stylus shape and setup make a major difference. With an SME V tonearm my “setup” is limited but I get good results.

There’s also the wood glue treatment I’m still pretty skeptical about, but you can look it up on youtube. Purportedly effective at removing adherent particulates, I think I have an antique Sonny and Cher LP I’d be willing to sacrifice to this method if for no other reason than the hopes it ruins the LP and forces me to recycle it.😉

Very old LPs that you’ve likely purchased second or third hand were almost certainly played many times with cartridges using spherical or elliptical or worn out styli of either type. When you then play those LPs with a modern cartridge using an exotic stylus shape of any kind, it’s likely that new stylus rides differently in the grooves, reading a more virginal path. This is the most likely reason for the perception that one cartridge is inherently quieter than another in terms of surface noise. That, plus elements of setup such as VTA. Beyond that, it’s phono stage design and cartridge loading.