March 7, 2014
The secret world of the turntable stylus.
Last week, artist and DJ Trevor Jackson unveiled a new exhibition of super-sized prints exploring the grooves on vinyl records at microscopic level. While most things have a tendency to look pretty alien under such scrutiny (if you’ve not seen it, check out this macro image of a groove magnified 1000x, which looks more like the cavernous surface of the moon), there’s something particularly organic and enticing about Jackson’s vinyl close-ups.
But what about the needles you need to play them? If grooves seem almost cellular at microscopic level then there’s something positively crystalline about the styli.
Aesthetics aside, while most needles will look all but the same to the naked eye, styli do come in different shapes and sizes, a handy little guide to which has been provided by Audio Technica to those of you as yet unable to tell your conicals from your linear contacts.
We’re talking very fine margins here, but having had a quick nosey through this erudite forum on the subject, the shape your needle takes does seem to make a difference, although we’ll be damned if you can hear it. Not to get bogged down in specifics, but the bigger the contact surface area, the better, as this will reduce wear on your records. Likewise, the smaller the side radius, the better a stylus will be at reading high frequencies. Got it?
For those with requisite time and enthusiasm can read up further on the various pros and cons of conical styli at www.thevinylengine.com (the users of which we also must thank for these really beautiful photos). For everyone else, it’s probably enough to imagine the whole process of putting on a record like a moon-landing, your shuttle-tipped explorer running amok along a lunar canyon blaring ‘Starman’ across the galaxy, or something like that.
The styli pictured below include well known brands like Ortofon, Audio Technica, Shure, Denon and Stanton. Major props if you can name which is which.