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VALVE Magazine

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A Few Words About 78 RPM Cartridges And Styli
Article By Dave Dintenfoss
From VALVE Volume 2 Number 9


  While volumes can (and indeed have) been written on the topic, I'll state the basics. "Size is everything."

Yes, in this case, it is indeed true. For later 78s, say, from the 1940s and 1950s, you can get good results with a "standard" 78 RPM stylus (these range from 2.7 to 3.0 mils). Some 78 styli are spherical while others are truncated spherical or truncated elliptical. Truncated styli are usually the best since, if fitted properly, they stay off the bottom of the groove and thus reproduce the music with less noise. But even the spherical (sometimes called "conical") work pretty well. For most acoustics and very early electrics, useful styli range from 3.3 mil up to 4.0 mil. For 16-inch transcription discs, 2.5 mil was standard with alternative standard at 2.0 mil.

Stylus sizing isn't an exact science and you'll need to experiment for best results. Remember, groove depth and cross-section weren't nearly as consistent in the 78 era as they've been during the microgroove era. Also, popular 78s were available for years so it's not unusual to find a 78 reissue from the late 1940s with a groove configuration common to discs made two decades earlier -- or even a reissue with an early electrical from the late 1920s with a selection from the 1940s on the flip side!

For playing 78s, I've always preferred Shure cartridges. In particular, the rugged SC-35 was the best compromise between price and performance -- plus with a tracking force of 4 to 6 grams, it could plow through just about any 78 groove and still sound good. However, Shure discontinued 78 styli for the SC-35 a few years ago and has now discontinued the cartridge itself (if you're very lucky, you may find a store with one in stock). Shure also made a 78 stylus for the V-15 series. I have one and while it sounds superb on very clean discs, at 2.7 mils it's too small and it tracks too lightly (1.25 grams when you take into account the 0.5 gram upward force from the damping brush) to be really useful for most 78s. Shure's 78 styli for the M91 series cartridges were also problematical. They were simply too delicate for most 78 use.

Now that Shure has discontinued their phono cartridges (sod to say, they've been phasing out their 78 styli for several years now), the Stanton 500AL is pretty much your only choice. It's not the world's finest cartridge, but it sounds pretty good and you can get aftermarket 78 styli for it.

For collectors, that's good news. Professional sound archives and collectors have pretty much standardized on the Stanton 500AL for that very reason (though some people feel the Stanton 680 series sounds better). I have several Stanton 500Als in various SME headshells loaded with different-sized styli. As good as they sound (and they sound just fine), I think the Shure's sound more transparent. My heart will always be with Shure Bros. and their SC-35. I'll never forgive them, however, for discontinuing the thing...

Two sources for aftermarket styli for the Stanton 500AL are Esoteric Sound and Audio 78 Archival Supplies. Esoteric also used to offer aftermarket 78 styli for the Shure SC-35i they may still carry them. Keep in mind that both of these suppliers are quite cagey about revealing who makes their aftermarket styli.

I've heard that Stanton is one manufacturer, but I've had no confirmation on that. Still, I've bought styli from both Esoteric and Audio 78 and have been very happy with all of them.














































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