Question: Can You Explain the Different Types of Styli?
Answer: Certainly. Below is a brief primer to help you understand styli shapes, shank shapes and stylus construction.
Styli Shapes: Conical, Elliptical, Line Contact and MicroLine™
The Conical stylus is the simplest, least expensive and most widely used stylus type. Its spherical tip, which has a typical radius of 0.6 mil*, touches the center of the record groove walls. The conical design works best in moderate to lower priced, and older, record players with a tonearm imposing higher tracking forces, or a tonearm that does not feature a cartridge tilt (azimuth) adjustment. Due to their wider grooves, 78 rpm records are played using a much larger conical-type stylus. The average radius of conical styli for 78 rpm records is 2.5 mil – four times larger than the LP record conical styli.
The Elliptical stylus has two radii, the front radius being wider than the side radius. This allows the stylus to ride in the center of the groove, like the conical stylus, while the smaller side radius can more accurately track higher frequencies. Compared to the conical stylus, however, the elliptical stylus has a longer vertical contact area and a narrower front to back contact area within the record groove. The elliptical tip follows the groove modulations with more precision, providing improved frequency response, improved phase response, and lower distortion, specifically in the inner grooves of the record.
Audio-Technica brand elliptical styli are typically available in three sizes: 0.2 x 0.7 mil, 0.3 x 0.7 mil and 0.4 x 0.7 mil, with the first number indicating the size of the side radius. The smaller the side radius, the better the sound quality. Also, the smaller the overall effective tip radius, the less stylus tracking force required.
The Line Contact stylus, next to the MicroLine™ stylus, offers the optimum tip design for accurate tracking of high-frequency passages with minimum abrasion. It has a vertical contact area that is even longer than that of the elliptical stylus. The line contact stylus provides low distortion and low record wear. It should be noted, however, that due to its larger tracing footprint, the line contact stylus may produce more noise on heavily worn records. The line contact tip is used on our higher-end cartridges.
The MicroLine™ stylus almost exactly duplicates the shape of the cutting stylus used to produce the original master disc from which records are made. This enables it to track portions of the groove other styli simply cannot reach. The result is extremely accurate tracking of high-frequency passages and ruler-flat frequency response within the audible range. The unique multilevel “ridge” shape of the MicroLine™ tip wears more evenly, allowing greatly extended record and stylus life. The MicroLine™ tip is used on our higher-end cartridges.
Stylus Shank Form Factor: Square Shank or Round Shank
The stylus shank is the piece that connects the tip to the cantilever. A round shank can be more difficult to align when it is affixed to the cantilever. Proper alignment is needed in order to position the stylus tip precisely in the record groove.
Square shank styli cost more than round shank styli to make, but mounting them in laser-cut square holes in the cantilever locks them in precise alignment with the record grooves.
Stylus Shank Construction: Nude or Bonded Stylus
In a bonded (or jointed) stylus a diamond tip is glued on a metal shank that is itself glued into the hole of the cantilever. While less expensive to manufacture, this construction may increase the mass of the overall tip and affect transient response compared with a nude stylus where the tip and shank are constructed from a single piece of diamond.
Nude styli, shaped from whole diamonds, are more costly than bonded styli, with their diamond tips “bonded” to metal shanks before finishing. But because of their lower mass, nude styli track more accurately. Also, since our nude styli are grain-oriented, with their longest-wearing faces touching the record surface, they last longer.
We hope this helped clear up any confusion about different types of styli. Check back next Wednesday when we’ll answer another “Question of Week.” And, remember, if you ever need assistance with your Audio-Technica gear, please contact our Audio Solutions Department. We are always happy to help!
* The abbreviation mil is equal to a thousandth of an inch: mil = 0.001 inch = 0.0254 mm = 25.4 um