Turntable needles are alternatively called turntable styluses (or turntable styli if you prefer). Sound is created from records by the needle tracking over grooves and vibrating, which in turn produces sound waves.
The needle is the only part of the turntable that is in contact with the record. Consequently, turntable needles are the part of the turntable that will most frequently need replacing. The best turntables are those with styli that avoid ‘jumping’ or ‘skipping’. A good stylus will persistently stick to the vinyl surface, allowing a smooth listening experience. This is the quality that, above all else, defines high quality turntable needles. Another important factor is the durability of needle. It is not possible to give an exact figure on how long a turntable needle will last, as it is dependent on the type of record being played. New records will not wear the stylus as much as old, second hand vinyls will. Additionally, the type of music can have an impact on wear, as the frequency of grooves will be different. It seems that drum and bass wears your stylus out much faster than playing Brian Eno!
The true danger with wear of turntable needles is damaging the records. An old, worn stylus can scratch the record. Styli can be replaced, but rare records cannot. Avoid damaging your records by replacing the stylus around every 500 hours of play or so. Recommendations any less than 300 hours are definitely overkill, and some recommend 2000 hours of play is a good option. It does depend on the needle material, so keep this in mind when looking for a turntable needle replacement.
Finding the Best Turntable Needles
The question is often a matter of what the right turntable needle is, rather than what the best one is.
Searching by model number is not always the way to go. The turntable may have a custom cartridge, or the maker of the turntable may use different combinations of cartridges and needles throughout production.The best way to search for a replacement needle is to check for a number on the cartridge or needle. It may have an number written on it. This number can then be plugged in to the search box on any number of online stores who specialise in turntable equipment. Multiple search results containing your cartridge number but with other numbers and letters means that you may have a number of choices available for your cartridge. Make a choice based on cost and quality. Be careful of some red herrings in your search results – make sure they look the same as the stylus you are trying to replaceIf your search is unsuccessful, you can then move on to searching by model number.
If you remain luckless, I find it best to just email a store with a couple pictures of your cartridge and needle setup.