Most of today’s record player needles are made out of either diamond or sapphire, although there are also needles made out of steel and some from a sapphire-diamond combination. Styli made out of sapphire and steel usually wear out sooner than the diamond-tipped needles, which is why the latter is often featured in more premium turntables.
We have already talked about how to properly clean your turntable stylus and how long turntables needles last. Now it is time to dive into what styluses are made of and what it affects the material has. Just to be clear the words “stylus” and “needle” have the same meaning and are used interchangeably within this article.
Why the Stylus and its Material are Important
The needle, or stylus, attached in the cartridge of your record player can come in different shapes and in different materials. The stylus is important because these two factors can affect the durability and sound quality.
Most from are made from diamond as common knowledge is that it is the hardest material on the world. Shapire, as a slightly softer stone, is the second most used material. It is important for durability since the hardness of the material can make the needle erode much slower.
The second reason is the sound quality where the sturdiness of the material gave the possibility to have a smaller tip. A smaller stylus helped to create better tracking possibilities to create an even more detailed sound.
The material the stylus is made of is important, but so is the shape of the stylus. Stylus tips are usually one or three millimeters thick, and the size you choose is dependent on the type of records you’ll be playing. As a general rule, the one-millimeter needles work best for records of 45, 33 1/3, or 16 RPMs, whereas you should use a three-millimeter needle for 78 RPM records. Read more on this in ‘Can a turntable play all record sizes?‘ and our article on mono vs stereo records.
Why We Recommend a Diamond Stylus
Diamond-tipped needles are the Cadillac of styli, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay a lot for them. In fact, many great styluses are often already included with the turntable but you can also buy them separately. Two well know and reputable brands are Ortofon and Audio Technica, both over a great quality to price ratio that won’t break your bank.
A great stylus is often the first upgrade you should consider when going for better audio quality in your turntable setup as it picks up the source of the sound. One of our favorite picks that is still reasonably priced is the Ortfofon 2m Red that is just under 100 bucks.
If to you that might sound expensive there are cheaper alternatives on the market that are often already included with the turntable. We mention our favorite our list of the best cheap turntables on the market. If you still wonder why turntables are the price that they are please read our article on why turntables can be expensive.
Two different types of Diamond Styluses
Before you shop for diamond needles, you should know that you may run into two different types. The first type is the bonded stylus with a tipped diamond, where the tip is bonded onto a metal shank, then the shank is bonded into a hole in the cantilever. It is a little less expensive to produce compared to nude diamond needles but also is less precise in its tracking.
The nude needles are one-piece fully made from diamond. They are a bit more expensive but also track the grooves in the record better, which can give a more precise sound. These styluses are always used within premium turntables.
Overall, diamond styli produce better sound quality, last much longer, and treat your records better. In every way, diamond needles are worth the extra cost as the endurance and sound quality are the two most important factors to consider when buying a stylus or a turntable.