What happens when the stylus tip wears out on a $12,000 cartridge?

There is no shortage of stereo phono cartridges with 5-figure price tags. What do you do when the stylus tip wears out? Do any/some/all manufacturers of these cartridges provide or offer a re-tipping service? Or do you just lay out another 12 or 15 grand for a new cartridge? Sorry for my ignorance - the Denon DL-103R/Lithium Audio Musikraft shell I currently use is the most expensive cartridge set-up I’ve ever owned. I’ve had a couple re-tipped by Soundsmith in the past for $200 - 300. What do you guys at the other end of the price spectrum do?


Truth is none of us “knows” for sure when a stylus is worn enough to need replacement, assuming a gradual decline and not a catastrophic failure as occurs when the stylus comes unglued from the cantilever, unless one owns a suitable microscope and is skilled at examining styli. You learn to live with that, or not.

What happens, when a $12000 cartridge wears out? You end up with thousands of hours of great listening and a $1200 cartridge that should be re tipped and enjoyed for thousands more hours.

So what does the company who made the cartridge have to say about refurbishing the stylus?

@pgaulke60 - just an aside, most retippers offer different cantilever options, such as ruby or others. Personally, I would ask them what they think works best. In my case, both retippers suggested just a retip on the original cantilever and they came out great. They know what works and the last thing they want is for you to get the cartridge back and complain you don’t like it. Plus, I would think you have the best shot at the original sound with leaving the cantilever, assuming it isn’t damaged, and replacing the tip with one of similar profile. 

Re-tipping save you 60 hours of break in.  But on the 5th re-tip or five years you would benefit from a total rebuild or exchange.  The suspension gets mushy, less compliant over time and use bring the cartridge out of spec and damage to your beloved LP.

In relation to a Cart's voicing the contributing materials that distinguish the sound are usually related to materials selected for use and the structure.

Wire Type, Winding Ratio, Generator Material, Body Material are pretty much to remain as part of a full refurbish, with the most likely to be exchanged being the Coil Wire, if the wire has  a coil that has been damaged beyond repair.

Coil Wire will impact on the voicing and most likely be a noticeable change to end sound.

Sacrificial Parts in the assembly can have a impact on the sound, with my experiences being that the Styli only as a change will be the one least attributed to making changes to the sound being produced.

My experiences have left myself with the thought, that it is the overall assembly that has to be considered to explain why very closely related Cart' Models have a different voicing. 

The Styli > Cantilever > Armature > Damping and Tensioning Tie Wire are the items responsible for the voicing. If this assembly is attached to different Body Material, or Generator Material, further voicing options are able to be produced.

A Styli is pretty much the same material, today Diamond is usually used, but will be found with variation in the form produced.

A Cantilever will be found as a variety of materials ranging from Gem Stones through to a Organic Material. These as a part, depending on material selected will change the voicing. I fail to see how a equivalent part exchange such as Boron for Boron, even if part with Styli were differing weights such as a 0.17mg be replaced by a 0.25mg equivalent part, I doubt the average listener will detect any difference.

The Armature will be quite generic in type, it is a part of the damping system but will be found in different metals, usually magnetic, partially magnetic or non-magnetic. each as a selection will be used as a means to improve on magnetic interference. It will be difficult to suggest if a difference in a material or materials magnetic property will be audible to a typical listener. I would lean toward a change of this item only, to one of a equivalent type, will be difficult to detect as an audible difference.

The Damper Material is where endless research has been carried out and will most likely continue to be carried out, as miniaturisation in general demands the technologies are available to improve designs.

The Damper materials have evolved and are today able to be found as compounds such as:  Silicone, Fluorosilicone, Bromobutyl, Fluoroelastomer, Bromobutyl/EPDM, Nitrile, EPDM. 

Above materials are to be found with a wide range of Shore 00 and Dyne measurements, a Manufacturer will be secretive of materials used and measurements for such material.

It can be very easy for an exchange part of one of these Damper Parts, which is classed as an equivalent part, to be quite influential on the sound being produced. Reason being not one manufacturer is going to make known the selected properties for their damper material used in the assembly, the likelihood being that Damper parts not direct from the Manufacturer will have a different Dyne and possibly a difference to the Shore 00.

In certain levels of a Cart', the Tie Wire is usually selected for the voicing as well. The wires suitable for use are normally a very fine steel wire, which can be seen referred to as Piano Wire.  As this is used for voicing it is hard for the layman to know if it is a bespoke tensioning of a Damper or a certain wire type that is responsible for the Cart's voicing.

The wire is usually anchored to a Pole using different methods to produce the anchoring, some are clamped and some are adhered. The wire also has the potential to transfer energy, maybe the anchoring has an impact on the voicing?   . It is again difficult to say whether a change of tie wire material will be detected by a typical listener, but the likelihood of there being a change to the tensioning and its effect on the Damper, this will most likely be detectable. The tensioning change resulting in the optimising of the Dampers function, might be the reason why so many who have a Cart' returned are immediately impressed. 

The suggestion is that an individual part swapped out apart from coil wire, 'will not' create a sound that is noticeably different. 

If multiple parts were no longer seen to be optimal and selected to be swapped out, then yes, 'a difference in voicing will be created', but how detectable it is as a change to the remembered voicing, will be probably be down to the time spent without the Cart' in use.     

There are individuals with real adeptness in these matters, of which a limited number are willing to make this knowledge available to those who share in the interest, it does not take too much searching to see what is going on under the hood of the Cart's housing.

There are also places where one can go to have a Public Dialogue on the subject, as well as the option of conversing directly with a Third Party Service as the source of answers to questions.

The idea can quickly grow for the developing of such skills being witnessed, which for a few can be very appealing, I know an individual now developing their own skills and already have donor models and FGS tipped Cantilevers at the ready.

. Having a time served technician, using their experience to treat a Cart' with their own developed skills, where getting the Cart' back in the game, functioning  at a very high level of performance is also a real treat to have for oneself.

Another 1000-2000 hours of listening bliss along with $0000''s saved is to be had with such an approach.