How to Know When to Change Your Turntable Cartridge?

How to Know When to Change Your Turntable Cartridge?

As a vinyl enthusiast, it's crucial to keep your turntable in top condition to ensure the best sound quality. One key component that often needs attention is the cartridge. But how do you know when it's time to replace it? Let's explore the signs that indicate your turntable cartridge is worn or needs to be changed.

Physical Checks

Using a Stylus inspector:

Signs of wear: 

  • A rounding of the stylus: The stylus should have a sharp point, but over time and with use this point wears down and becomes rounded. This will not track the groove correctly (thus effecting the sound) and if left unattended can actually skip across your record causing damage.
  • Suspension: If your cantilever looks to be hanging low or seems to have lost its rigidity, it could mean your suspension is worn or in extreme cases has totally collapsed. If your suspension is worn it means your stylus is not able to be pressed into the groove thus you wont be getting the full signal resulting in poor sound reproduction. 
  • Cantilever: If your cantilever is bent or misaligned you should stop using your cartridge and replace it. This is more likely due to damage than wear (incorrect biasing or damaged during cleaning) but it could damage your vinyl or collapse your suspension completely. 

Sonic Checks / Signs

Tracking Force

One of the most common signs of a worn cartridge is improper tracking force. If you notice that the tonearm is not applying enough pressure to the record, or if the sound is distorted or skipping, it may be time to replace the cartridge. Incorrect tracking force can not only damage your records but also affect the overall sound quality.

Further evidence of a worn cartridge could also be deficiencies in the sound, such as reduced dynamics, boomy bass, loss of detail and a "messy" sound. 

Distorted Sound

If you start to hear distortion or crackling sounds while playing your records, it could be a sign that the cartridge is worn out. As the stylus wears down over time, it can no longer accurately track the grooves on the record, resulting in poor sound quality. Essentially the point of the stylus rounds off and this means it cannot accurately follow the grooves reducing the information pick up. Replacing the cartridge can help restore the clarity and fidelity of your music.

Skipping or Jumping

Another indicator that your turntable cartridge needs to be replaced is when your records start skipping or jumping during playback. This can be caused by a worn stylus that is unable to maintain proper contact with the record grooves. This is essential that you change your cartridge at this point to avoid damage to your vinyl! Changing the cartridge can eliminate these issues and ensure smooth, uninterrupted listening.

Uneven Wear

Inspecting the stylus for signs of uneven wear is a good way to determine if your cartridge needs changing. If you notice that one side of the stylus is more worn down than the other, it's a clear indication that the cartridge is no longer functioning properly. Replacing the cartridge will help prevent further damage to your records and improve the overall performance of your turntable.


Cleaning your stylus regularly can also help prolong its lifespan as removing dust or debris from the stylus will reduce its wear and help your cartridge perform better. Stylus cleaners are inexpensive and are recommended to be used before listening to your turntable. 

By paying attention to these signs, you can ensure that your turntable is always in optimal condition for enjoying your vinyl collection. Regular maintenance and timely replacement of the cartridge will not only prolong the life of your records but also enhance your listening experience.

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