Vinyl FAQ 01: When should I change my needle?





Answering all those little questions about records, turntables and everything in between.

While owning music on vinyl is really the only way to experience it, there are countless little questions and issues that arise in the storing and playing of records. Until now, we’ve found no easy, digestible answers to those questions – niggles that may have vexed you from day one, or little things you didn’t even know you were doing wrong. So we decided to do something about it.

From the mundane and entry-level like “What does dust actually do to my records?” or “How to I ground my turntable?” to the more fiddly “How do I balance my tonearm?” or just handy information like “what’s the difference between a belt and direct drive deck?”, our new series will have you covered.

First up, the not so exact science of knowing when to change your needle or stylus. The short animation above condenses the question into a bitesize tips, which are expanded on in the text below.

Words: Paul Rigby

If your turntable’s needle is no longer usable then you ain’t hearing any more music. But let’s not become maudlin about the possibility. Your best bet is to recognise any early problem signs and then we can do something to alleviate any possible issues.

The obvious time to actually change your needle is when its sound quality dips or, if you are being super careful, when its lifespan expires. Let me explain.

Firstly, while playing a familiar record, does it now sound odd? Maybe the sound quality is not at its usual high level? You can hear a muffled sound or distortion? More subtly, have the upper mids and treble lost clarity? Maybe that cymbal ‘ting’ doesn’t quite have that clean ringing brassy cloud sound or that vocal crescendo sounds dull or lacking in effort. Does the needle jump from the groove?

Now, of course, you should try quicker and cheaper solutions first before blaming and changing the (potentially expensive) needle. Is the record dirty and/or the needle full of dust and grime? Is the anti-skate on your turntable set incorrectly? Is the turntable not perfectly level (check with a spirit level)? Check cable connections including the mains (disconnect and then reconnect to dislodge any possible dirt and wiggle the cables a bit to see if there’s any loose connection crackles).

Alternatively, if you are being super cautious, check out the life span of your newly purchased needle (normally measured in terms of hours) and check off each hour on your calendar as you play and replace when you hit zero.

Finally, if you buy a second-hand turntable ALWAYS replace the needle before you use it. You have no real way of knowing exactly how old it might be. Save yourself the possible trouble and start afresh.

Got a question you want answering? Let us know in the comments below.

Music: Kickflip Mike & Julius Conrad – Three Turtles © 2016 Tartelet Records