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?


When first returned to viny, my first carts were Denon 103R (purer-copper than the original 103), and I enjoyed their sound. As time went on, the carts wore-out and my aspirations grew.   I now had four of them, so each went in for an upgrade. 

At my request Soundsmith installed a BORON cantilever and ELIPTICAL stylus on each.  The result - unique carts with a decent body, good engine, good cantilever and good stylus. Each upgrade cost about the same as the original 103R.

Sonic improvements were easy to hear: better clarity (resolution), attack, decay and tone.  Yet, there was one issue...

{@chayro "I cannot recall reading one post here in 10 years where someone has had a cartridge worked on by Soundsmith or VAS that they were not delighted with."}

Each of the carts sounded slightly different, with one cart being noticeably better than the others, and one cart rather poor-sounding.  I do have a microscope, and I discovered that the poor-sounding cart had a much larger amount of glue holding the stylus to the cantilever.  I speculate that tracking was this cause of this cart's poorer sound.

For me the take-away lessons were easy:

A.) Carts are made, upgraded and repaired at the bench, where automation is less important to craftsmanship.  Significant variation should be expected, so develop a relationship with your vendor.  

B.) As money and time allow, be willing to experiment.  IMO, these unique boron-eliptical103Rs sounded better than the OEM carts. 

At twice the original cost, I was happy with both the sound and the 2x longevity.

I have moved on from these carts, but I am very glad for the experience.


Chayro, I agree with your approach. If you love the cartridge it’s best to stay as close to original as possible when retipping. J Carr of Lyra wrote here that it may not be a good idea to change the cantilever material dramatically from original, since the suspension and other components were selected to work well with the original structure. Apropos of nothing, I followed that philosophy when having my Koetsu Urushi retipped by Expert Stylus; they replaced only the stylus. Surprisingly but only subjectively, the thing sounds better than ever. This probably means it was subpar long before I woke up and sent it off to ES in the UK.


To those who are not familiar with the Denon 103R, it is made with an aluminum cantilever and a conical stylus.


"automation is less important to craftsmanship" should have read "automation is less important than craftsmanship"... I hope this is clearer.

If you take care of your cartridge and get 2000 hours out of it, at about 44 minutes per album, it is about 2,727 albums. If you pay $12,000 for the cartridge, it costs about $4.40 to play an album. Only you can decide if it is worth it to you.

Streaming doesn’t wear out, and with Qobuz it’s higher sound quality, too!