A turntable cartridge rarely needs to be replaced, as it’s designed to last the lifetime of the turntable. Unless there is physical damage to the cartridge, such as broken wires or other parts, it can last for years of regular use.
I’m Donovan, and I’ve been a music lover my entire life. I’m also a big vinyl and turntable enthusiast with an extensive record collection. I know through first-hand experience and some research when a turntable cartridge needs to be replaced.
This post will explain when a turntable cartridge needs to be replaced. I’ll tell you how long you can expect a cartridge to last and why you’ll want to replace the needle long before you need to replace the cartridge.
Let’s get to it.
- Key Takeaways
- When to Replace Turntable Cartridge
- How to Tell if Turntable Cartridge is Bad
- How to Tell When a Record Needle is Worn
- Final Thoughts
- Most turntable cartridges are designed to last a long time, even the life of the turntable, and don’t need to be replaced often.
- The needle or stylus, which is part of the cartridge, does need to be replaced, but you don’t need a brand-new cartridge for this.
- If there are visible signs of damage on your cartridge, such as frayed wires or broken parts, it’s likely time to replace it.
- You can also replace an older cartridge with an upgraded or different one to improve sound quality.
When to Replace Turntable Cartridge
A turntable cartridge doesn’t need to be replaced very often. This is a critical element of your turntable setup, but it’s typically designed to last the lifetime of your turntable. In other words, it might never need to be replaced.
Still, there are a few signs that you should look for in a faulty cartridge. They don’t go completely bad that often but will need to be replaced for your turntable to work if they do. And these signs aren’t necessarily related to time, so that’s not a direct indicator.
Some people confuse the cartridge with the stylus (needle) of a record player. I’ll dive more into this in the section below. But if you’re reading this and don’t know the difference between those two parts, you likely only need to replace your stylus.
If you see any visible signs of damage on the cartridge, like frayed wires or pieces falling off, that indicates it needs to be replaced. Or if your turntable simply isn’t working, it might be caused by a bad cartridge.
You also might want to replace the cartridge for better sound. There are different types of cartridges you can use for improved sound, and you can interchange one with another. Replacing a cartridge is pretty easy to do yourself.
If you purchased a used turntable from anywhere other than a turntable shop, you might want to replace the cartridge for good measure. It might still work, but since you don’t know the history of the turntable, you don’t know what shape it’s in.
Replace Stylus or Cartridge?
As I mentioned above, many people confuse the stylus with the cartridge on a turntable. The stylus wears out much more often than the cartridge, which means it also likely needs to be replaced more often.
It’s possible to replace the stylus without replacing the cartridge. You can check out some step-by-step directions for replacing a turntable needle here. It’s pretty easy to do yourself, and you can learn a lot about your turntable when you attempt it.
The cartridge doesn’t need to be replaced that often, if at all, during the lifespan of your turntable. If you learn how to replace a needle, you won’t need to buy new cartridges when that wears out. If you listen to a lot of records, it’s a good skill to know.
Some people like to replace the entire cartridge when a needle goes bad. That’s fine, but just know it’s the more expensive option. But replacing the entire cartridge rather than just a needle is still easy and relatively affordable.
You only really need a new cartridge if the old one doesn’t work at all anymore. The section below will tell you what to look for in a bad cartridge. But in most situations, the needle needs to be replaced rather than the cartridge.
How to Tell if Turntable Cartridge is Bad
Even though turntable cartridges don’t go bad that often, it’s still a good idea to know how to tell if one is failed or failing. This can help you figure out the solution quickly when your record player stops working.
The first thing I do when I suspect a bad cartridge is to take a good look at it. If you see any visible signs of damage, you likely need to replace it. The wired connection between the cartridge and tonearm is where I look first.
Any breaks, frays, splits, or other damage to this wiring can all indicate a bad cartridge. Check out the rest of the cartridge for any breaks in the plastic or housing material or anything that looks abnormal.
You might not be able to see the broken internal components of a turntable, so there might not be any visible signs of damage to look for.
The other indicator of a bad turntable cartridge is simply if your turntable isn’t producing sound despite looking like everything is functioning normally.
Check all of your connections and the stereo system before assuming it’s the cartridge. But if those all check out and you can’t figure out exactly what’s going wrong, it’s safe to diagnose the cartridge as bad and needing replacement.
How to Tell When a Record Needle is Worn
You can take a quick look at your needle to see if it looks worn. If you see a rounded tip or any black build-up on the needle, it’s time for a replacement. A worn needle won’t work as well, and black build-up is a sign it’s wearing down your records.
You can also listen for signs of a worn needle. If you hear a lot of scratching or popping noises coming from your records or if they just don’t sound as good as they usually do, you likely need a new needle.
Your records might sound really tinny or not have a lot of low end when the needle starts to go bad. This might be subtle initially, but it will worsen over time. Replacing the needle early rather than waiting until it’s completely gone is a good idea.
Another sign that you have a worn needle that needs to be replaced right away is if you see larger grooves in your records. A bad needle can begin to dig out the grooves in your records, which will permanently damage them.
You obviously want to catch this before it happens, which is why I mentioned checking for black build-up on the tip of your needle. That build-up is little pieces of your records that the needle is scratching out. You don’t want that.
Here are a few quick answers to some of the most commonly asked questions related to when to replace a turntable cartridge.
How do I know if my turntable cartridge needs replacing?
The biggest indicator that your turntable cartridge needs to be replaced is if you see visible damage on the cartridge or if it’s not working at all. Signs of damage can include broken or frayed wires or other parts falling off.
How often should you replace your turntable cartridge?
There isn’t an exact timeframe or lifespan of a turntable cartridge. Under regular use, a cartridge could easily last the lifetime of a turntable. Cartridges do not need to be replaced as often as needles because they don’t wear out in the same manner.
Do turntable cartridges wear out?
Turntable cartridges themselves do not really wear out. The stylus, which is part of the cartridge, does wear out during regular use and should be replaced. But this can be done without replacing the entire cartridge. It’s pretty rare for a cartridge to wear out completely.
How long does a turntable cartridge last?
A turntable cartridge can last as long as a turntable itself, and there isn’t an exact number of hours or years to indicate the average turntable lifespan. A turntable needle will last from 500-1000 hours of use, but a cartridge can last for much longer than this.
How do you check a turntable cartridge?
You can check a turntable cartridge by inspecting it for visible signs of damage or by using an ohmmeter to check that it’s working correctly. If you see any signs of damage or the cartridge isn’t holding current, it’s time to replace it.
A turntable cartridge doesn’t really need to be replaced unless it’s damaged. You can check for visible signs of damage, like broken wires or other components, to diagnose a bad cartridge. But your cartridge can last the life of your turntable.
Replacing the turntable needle is much more common than replacing the cartridge. You can replace the entire cartridge when a needle gets worn, but this isn’t necessary. You can just replace a needle and keep the rest of the cartridge.
Have you ever replaced the cartridge on your turntable? Why did you switch it? Let me know in the comments below.