Best cartridge for very old worn vinyl

Fellow vinyl junkies,
I have a weakness for old vinyl (particularly early oval Argo choral recordings circa 1958-1969).
Almost invariably these suffer from worn grooves, the effects of god knows what misaligned agricultural arms/cartridges over several decades, even the ones marked “near mint” by professional sellers.
I have a range of cartridges, including Decca London Reference, Koetsus, SPUs and Shure V15 111.
These go in an FR66 arm. Not all of these are necessarily ideal for this job...:)
What do you guys reckon is the best cartridge for these types of records?
Key requirements are not to be flustered by the challenges these ancient slabs of vinyl hold while doing the best job of producing something resembling music ?
Cheers !
6c20ec96 def3 4f38 af63 aefa64c3c0aahowardalex
In my opinion, and this is what i heard from others, an old record are worn by very simple styli (conical/spherical) with high tracking force up to 4g. Now these records can be played with Shibata or MicroRidge profile and since groove contact area is wider for such profiles the stylus pick up information from previously untouched part of the groove walls. Simple stylus profiles missing a lot of information because of the conical/spherical contact area (very thin compared to MicroRidge, LineContact etc). When you play it again with Conical/Spherical you can only do harm to the exact same part of groove walls. But when you;re using LineContact type (or Ridge) you're using untouched part of the grooves. If the records are cleaned then you can improve playback with advanced profile, seems like you already have it. What you think ?
I think you should look at some of the EMT cartridges with spherical styli. They have both stereo and mono models
Do you mean your current cartridge inventory is too costly to use in this instance or they demonstrate an inability to track well? Just to clarify...
Jperry and Chakster have offered diametrically opposing opinions.  From what I have read over years, I think Chakster is more likely to be on the right track.  Those old LPs are most likely to have been worn out with spherical and/or early classic elliptical styli.  So statistically your best bet for getting more music out would be to use a stylus with a different shape that contacts the groove walls differently from a spherical or elliptical. Most modern styli fall into the categories of line contact or microridge, although there are a bewildering number of names for very slightly different shapes, like Shibata. There may be reasons to hunt specifically for one particular shape that would be particularly good at contacting unworn regions of the groove, and perhaps someone else knows.
What they said covers the standard stylus/groove aspect. There’s also the moving mass part, which is why the better high end carts tend to outperform in terms of surface noise. With that in mind I would be giving Peter Ledermann a call at Soundsmith. You can’t be the only one with this problem and he would be the man to make one for you, if he doesn’t already have something perfect just sitting there ready to go.
The London Reference has an extended line contact stylus. I would also talk to London's John Wright to see if he has a stylus he recommends for old worn LP's.
Thanks for all that.
I’ll try my existing cartridges in a comparison and report back ...
I use an Audio Technica AT750SH for damaged vinyl and it sounds pretty quiet but doesn't sound as good as my Decapod Super Gold Paratrace. The SG is susceptible to surface noise. I also have a Garrott Brothers Gold with a new line contact which is almost as good as the SG BUT with virtually no surface noise.
the shibata, or SAS, or Micro-ridge, or Micro-line, they will have greater contact area, but will also pull more deep hard packed detritus out of the groove.

And thus will require more cleaning of the stylus, in the first go round of playing the given older record. the difference in force applied with the cleaning brush or cleaning machines vs the stylus is huge. the stylus outdoes them all at some +20 tonnes per square inch. So it will definitely find detritus and grunge that the given record cleaner will not remove.

So, first go-round with a fine line contact type stylus of the above types, make sure to clean not just the record (a second time, after playing-a light brushing at the least-to get the now loose stuff off) but the stylus as well.

This is just the OTT anal end of the pool. Alternatively, just... play the record. And clean with a brush, carbon type, per usual. But, cleaning the line contact type profile stylus becomes paramount due to the deep dive it makes into the dirty grooves of old records that were previously played only with conical styli.
Indeed. Drop-lift-drop-lift onto a Magic Eraser after every side. 
the shibata, or SAS, or Micro-ridge, or Micro-line, they will have greater contact area, but will also pull more deep hard packed detritus out of the groove. And thus will require more cleaning of the stylus ...
That won't happen if you first use a good record cleaner, which I think is a must for anyone playing older records.
Just curious, but why would you accept worn copies of Argo records? Most titles from this catalogue can be found in NM condition for $10-15.

But apart from that, I agree with chakster that cartridges with advanced stylus profiles are usually most succesful in suppressing surface noise and other signs of wear, provided the record has been thoroughly cleaned (that’s indeed a ’must’).

Nostalgia only goes so far. It is all about the music and if it is that special to you get a digital copy and hang the old records on the wall. There is nothing more irritating than a noisy worn record. Well I suppose that is not entirely true. Elizabeth Warren's voice is right up there. 
I applaud anybody who might wear out an Argo Record. That's givin' it some love.
Early Argo label with grooved oval logo is awesome. Digital doesn’t do it for me (sadly...)
Firstly, buy an ultrasonic record cleaner then rinse and dry the records well.
I do already have an Audiodesk ultrasonic cleaner - helps greatly.
In a completely non-scientific and quite possibly unfair way I had a quick run through some of my cartridges using a prime example of good but worn early 60s Argo vinyl.
Best sounding is Koetsu Jade d/c. I use a smidgeon under 2.0 gm, mounted in Arche headshell with FR66. Basically this combo shrugged off any age related vinyl issues and sounded amazing with the very well engineered early recordings - from an era when Decca engineers knew exactly how to mike a live venue like a chapel choir and the records weren’t made by bean counting accountants and management consultants.
Next best was a collection of Fidelity Research 7s (FR7fc, FR7fz and an FR7f “PW1”). All of these also shrugged off the age and were all excellent - the Koetsu just being a step up in overall dynamism and sheer “reality”. With the Koetsu the image depth and sense of being at the venue were bonkers.
Least impressively were SPU classic (elyptical stylus) and Synergy . The Synergy was better than the Classic on these old records. I mentioned the test being unfair and it needs to be borne in mind that while the Koetsu is properly aligned in my system, none of the FRs or SPUs are - I can’t adjust overhang or azimuth in their integrated headshell and haven’t a clue how to adjust the FR66 in my Brinkman Balance tt. As a consequence all of the FRs and SPU’s are sitting outside of the ideal point on my Brinkmanm alignment gauge (just short of it).
But there’s my findings :)
I haven’t tried my London Reference or Shure V15 111 yet ...

@howardalex, I'm not familiar with Brinkmann TT, but if you have observed the P2S distance of the FR-66 according to FR's specs, than FR7's and SPU's should be correctly aligned. I have installed the FR-64S according to their spec (230mm) and they all 'hit' the three null points of the Stevensen alignment on the Feickert protector.

I'm aware some people use a different S2P distance on the FR64/66 to enable Berwald alignment, but if you do that all the integrated headshell types - their own FR7 as well as SPU's - will not be correctly positioned.

Your test seems to confirm the observation above that advanced stylus profiles are usually better suited to suppress surface noise on older records. The exception seems to be the FR-7fc, which has a conical stylus. In my experience this is usually the worst sounding profile, but perhaps Ikeda did something unusual with it.....

That's a pretty dreamy vinyl rig. I suspect you do have a clue how to adjust it ;)
Is the fr66s on a b60 mount?
The best version of a late 50s to early 60s Argo LP I will ever hear was a week or two ago when we went to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall to hear Ahmad Jamal perform on or near to his 88th birthday.  He was phenomenal; indeed, he is a phenomenon of age-defying virtuosity.  He even played Poinsienna [sp?] in a completely novel way.
@edgewear, thanks: the FR66 was installed in my Brinkman by the dealer, so I don’t know what P2S distance it has. Most definitely though all of the FR7s and SPUs don’t quite reach the single “bullseye” point on the Brinkman alignment protractor.
Without wishing to turn this into a huge technical debate or bringing Audiogon to the brink of nuclear war, if the distance is not correct and the stylus tip is slightly short of said point what sonic effects will that have in broad terms ?
I guess it ought to be capable of adjustment , but the Brinkman has a bespoke arm pod and it’s all pretty solid looking !
@solypsa, thanks for comment ! Yes it’s got the b60 mount which lifts/ lowers the base of the arm. Even I can adjust that, not the p2s I fear !
I’ve just read the Balance manual which says:

”The Balance tonearm base consists of a pod and a top plate.
The pod fits in the hole of the plinth. It can be rotated 360° degrees to adjust the correct pivot-to- spindle distance for the tonearm and, when used with the Brinkmann Stylus Protractor, facilitates foolproof, highly accurate cartridge alignment.”

Sounds pretty terrifying 
What works for me is an AT-150MLX, it may be discontinued and I don't know where it's replacement sits in the current audio-technica line of cartridges.  In my system the 150 really performed well with worn well used LP's.  It just seems to pickup less surface noise. has NOS 150's but they are pricey.
Old worn out vinyl will wear out most any cartridge very fast vs clean vinyl.

Use a cheap cartridge!
It's not necessarily the cartridge itself, but the size and profile of the stylus.  Many early cartridges used spherical or elliptical stylii that rode fairly high in the groove.  That's where the wear will be.  If you can get a cartridge with a VERY SMALL line contact stylus and play records that have been recently cleaned, you will likely be contacting the vinyl surface deep into the groove.  That part of the record may have never been played before.  You will be hearing unplayed vinyl.  There might not be any pops or noise that deep in the groove.  
I've got vinyl that wasn't ruined by my old turntable cartridges...amazingly...I assume my Much Better current rig just gets at the grooves better in every way, and I clean my vinyl these days so there's that.
I have tons of early 1950s mono jazz and classical recordings. I've found that the AudioTechnica OC9 MK III gets to the bottom of the grooves of these mono recordings and gets some previously unplayed music out of them. Low surface noise too.

Howard, do you have any vintage MM, except for MI Decca ?  
Just curious 
hi yes I’ve got a Shure V15 111 with a new hyper elliptical stylus from JICO (not SAS type)...
It’s a surprisingly nice cartridge- I’ve yet to try it properly with the old vinyl
Ahh, sorry, i forgot, you mentioned it before 
Howard, there are some heated discussions about alignment on this forum, so I understand your reluctance to go there. I’ll probably get grilled for saying this (or accused of having tin ears) but to me the supposed sonic differences between the different alignments (Löfgren, Berwald, Stevenson) are strongly exaggerated. Many tonearm manufacturers used proprietary alignments different to the established ones mentioned above, so apparently I'm not the only one.

The ’experts’ have a preference for Berward and dismiss everything else as inferior. Yet Ikeda chose Stevenson for the FR64/66, so if you use the P2S specified by FR you get that alignment and the FR7’s (and SPU’s) hit all three ’bullseye points’ on the Feickert. That’s good enough for me, as I use several FR7’s and SPU’s. So I adjusted the overhang on all other cartridges in accordance to this alignment, which delivers excellent results. I did try the P2S distance favoured by these experts to adjust it to Berwald and made comparisons with the Stevenson with several cartridges, but the difference to me is negligable.

If anything I prefer Stevenson, because it theoretically has the lowest distortion in the inner grooves. I happen to like orchestral music and these composer guys usually like to go out with a bang. I like to entertain the thought that Ikeda must have been a Wagnerite.....

I assume that ’turning’ the top plate of the Brinkmann pod shouldn’t be too difficult, but there’s no guarantee you will get the correct P2S distance for the FR66. We must assume the dealer knew what he was doing and tried that. But perhaps you should give it another try, good luck!

@edgewear thanks for that !
I spoke with dealer and figured out how to move the arm on the Brinkman so hopefully will manage it in the next day or so.
Not being technically savvy I don’t profess to understand any of the physics at all...
The Brinkman alignment tool is based on the Dennesen alignment (?) All you do is fit it over the spindle, get one end lined up over the middle of the tonearm pivot and when all that’s in place you adjust the cartridge so that the tip of the stylus is in a small hole on the Brinman alignment tool. On that basis presumably the s2p doesn’t matter so much as long as you can adjust the cartridge in the headshell so it lines up on the small hole on the tool ?
Where I guess it might matter is if you can’t adjust the cartridge (like in SPU /FR7) ?
Again I’ve no idea what I’m actually talking about here, but if I’m able to adjust the FR 66 on the Brinkman that the FR7 is aligned properly on the Brinkman alignment tool,  then presumably that’s job done ? At that point does that also mean that the p2s distance will be “correct” ? if the answer to that is ”no” then it begs the question whether something like the Brinkman alignment tool actually aligns cartridges properly or whether ( if it does) whether the s2p is a critical factor ?

With same PS distance you can use 3 different alignmet methods by moving/twisting a cartridge in the headshell slots. Feickert protractor will give you Stevenson, Baerwald or Loefgren. Read more here.

With FR7 series or SPU you have to stick to the manufacturer’s method, for IKEDA it is Stevenson, you can’t twist your cartridge, because they are headshell integrated models, so any other alignment will be wrong for those types (headshell integrated models).

Some protractors are made only for one specific tonearm and you can’t use them for any other tonearm.

Feickert designed for any tonearm, you can use it on any turntable and any tonearm and it's up to you which alignment method you want to use (Stevenson, Baerwald or Lofgren).  

The Dennesen is a protractor, not alignment, the alignment is Baerwald
Denessen U.S.patent number 4,295,277 cites Baerwald (not Stevenson)

@chakster many thanks for that - so is this how I get the alignment right for the FR7/SPU cartridges?
1. Buy Dr Feickert Protractor.
2. Choose Stevenson alignment point.
3. Adjust FR66 with FR7 attached so that it aligns on the Steveson points.

If I use the Brinkman alignment tool (based on Baerwald alignment I gather) and follow the above the FR7/ SPU won’t be correctly aligned - is that right ?

Many thanks 
Yes, Feickert is good to have for any situation.
First lock the PS distance recommended by tonearm manufacturer, then you will see that your FR7 or SPU will reach Stevenson point (step-1), for the step-2,3 you can rotate the protractor on the platter if needed. 

Baerwald alignment does not work for headshell integrated cartridges like FR-7 and SPU on Fidelity-Research tonearms. 

@chakster  thanks again.
Apologies for what might be dumb questions but my technical understanding hovers around zero on a good day ...
Supposing you could adjust either the FR7 or SPU in the headshell like most other cartridges. Would it then also be the case that only the Steveson alignment worked with them ?
What I don’t quite understand is this : a stylus, whether it’s in a Lyra, Koetsu or SPU (apart from having different shapes/lengths) does the same thing, ie sits in a vinyl groove and moves across from the outside to the inside of a record. It’s a mechanical operation.
If the stylus in (say) a Koetsu can work fine in (say) the Baerwald alignment  on an FR66 then why would the physical mechanics that enable the Koetsu stylus to get across the record well not also allow the stylus on an SPU to do the same (assuming the tonearm is adjusted so that the SPU is aligned in the same way as the Koetsu).
Best regards 
You can’t adjust overhang on cartridges like SPU or FR7 series, because they are headshell integrated (as one piece). The overhang is fixed by the manufacturer and you can;t altering the stylus position without altering PS of your arm. Pivot to Spindle distance is given by the tonearm manufacturer and it must be exactly as the manufacturer suggested (it’s in the manual for each tonearm). But Fidelity-Research is the manufacturer of both (tonearm and cartridge), when your PS is correct your stylus position is also spot on (and you don’t have to adjust anything else), but only for ONE alignment method chosed by the manufacturer. Ikeda designed his arm and his cartridges using Stevenson alignment (just like the majority of the Japanese manufacturers).

The difference between Stevenson and any other alignments is null points. Since the arm is not Linear Tracking there are only two ideal points across the record surface for your stylus, the rest is off.

When you will buy Linear Tracking tonearm the stylus is always spot on across the whole record.

For pivoted tonearms there are only two null points, and the difference between alignment methods is where they are on the record surface.

If you are using conventional cartridge and headshell with slots then you can re-align any cartridge for any geometry (Baerwald, Stevenson, Lofgren or whatever) without altering the PS, you will have to twist your cartridge in the headshell, overhand will be different too for different alignment methods.

Dear Howard,

With the SPU the distance from the collar (of the headshell) to the stylus tip is exactly 51mm. Ikeda clearly designed the FR7 with the SPU in mind and chose that same distance. This is why both these types are correctly aligned to Stevenson geometry when the arm is installed with the P2S specified by FR. Apparently your dealer installed the arm with the Dennesen protractor, which is preset for the Baerwald geometry. That alignment is preferred by ’experts’ and obviously there’s no problem if you have a ’normal’ cartridge that can be adjusted in the headshell. But these fixed headshell types can never correctly aligned in the FR using Baerwald.

Do follow chakster’s advise and get yourself the Feickert tool. If you look up the specified P2S distance of the FR66 and set the ruler of the Feickert at this distance you can figure out if the top plate of the arm pod allows a position that corresponds to that distance. If so, than your FR7 and SPU cartridges will be correctly aligned to Stevenson.

Of course choosing this setting will require repositioning your other cartridges to Stevenson as well. But using the Feickert tool that’s a walk in the park. The experts will advise against this change as they religiously follow Baerwald and dismiss Stevenson. You can judge for yourself: if they are correct the performance of the Koetsu should take a dive after its alignment has been changed from Baerwald to Stevenson. Conversily, by now correctly aligned the performance of your FR7 and SPU’s might improve considerably. Either way, this may prove to be an interesting experiment!

Keep us informed!

@Edgewear, many thanks !
I’ve figured out how to move the FR66 tonearm in the Balance, so I obviously couldn’t resist having a play around.
With the FR7fc in the arm I moved the arm pod around until the tip of the FR7 stylus  was lined up in the single “bullseye” on the Brinkman alignment tool. Previously the FR7 and SPU carts I own all sat a few millimetres short of this point, whereas all my non-fixed headshell carts had been adjusted to this alignment.
In other words the FR7 was now aligned the same as all my other non-fixed headshell carts (for the first time since I owned them).
To cut to the chase the improvement in sound quality was quite astonishing, way beyond any confirmation bias or other mystical bs to which I am prone.
What I still struggle to understand is why two cartridges, aligned identically, don’t obey the same laws of physics because they are made by different manufacturers. I appreciate that an SPU comes in a fixed headshell so you need to adjust the arm to align it, but once you have done so then it is no more or less aligned than a cartridge that can be aligned in the headshell itself (because it’s not a fixed design).
Without understanding the science one iota I do know that people debate which alignment method is best and I also appreciate that Ikeda seemingly used the Steveson alignment when designing the FR tonearms but does that mean that any cartridge mounted in an FR tonearm is misaligned unless it’s been set up to Steveson alignment ?
Again, I fully understand that ultimately one of these alignment “philosophies” might be better than the others, however isn’t that something that would then apply to all arms and all cartridges given that they are presumably based upon the laws of physics rather than something in the actual tonearms and cartridges themselves ?

Howard, can you measure the P2S distance of the new position you found for the tonearm? According to the FR66 manual the mounting (or P2S) distance should be set at 295mm. Only then will the FR7 be correctly aligned to Stevenson geometry.

You mention that the FR7 and SPU came several mm's short on hitting the 'bull eye' at the previous dealer's position. This seems to indicate that the P2S distance has become slightly shorter in the new position you found. Correct?

If you prefer to keep the arm mounted at this new P2S distance you will need to reposition all your other cartridges, otherwise they will now be misaligned. Basically it means all cartridges should have a headshell collar to stylus tip distance of 51mm, same as FR7 and SPU.

FR7fc has a conical tip and this tip profile is less sensitive to the adjustment, this is the one and only benefit of a conical tip :) When all other profiles are a bit off the alignment, it will be irrelevant for a conical tip.

If one of your FR7 has longer cantilever than others then one of them is probably not the original (but a re-cantilevered version). Because they are all designed for FR tonearms first and you know PS of the FR arms. When FR cartridge is off with correct PS on FR arm then it is a bad sign (the cartridge has fake cantilever). You’d better check everything again slowly to make sure.

When you align any cartridge with one point protractor then you have to alight the cantilever, not only stylus tip position. You can reach the point with your stylus, but a cantilever and the hole cartridge will be certain degree off the lines. If you will change PS distance to reach the required point with the stylus then you will notice another problem soon, the problem is that a cartridge position (and cantilever position) is not parallel to the lines on protractor. You can fix it only with conventional cartridge on conventional headshell with slots.
@edgewear, hi again, I measured the s2p of the FR66 in the “new” position (ie the position of the tonearm whereby the stylus tip of an FR7fc sits in the “bullseye’ of the Brinkman alignment tool) - and its 295 mm (!).
Most definitely the FR7fc and SPU synergy both sound much (extremely) better in this position, in fact I venture to say better than anything I’ve heard in my system to date (including the cartridges that were each aligned in their headshells such as Koetsu Jade/Vermillion and London Reference (Decca).
I’m going to follow @Chaksters good advice about the Feicker protractor in any event but this is getting quite interesting as I wasn’t expecting such a jump in performance with the fixed headshell carts.
One issue I may face is that the other cartridges will all need to be moved back in their headshells and I’m a bit concerned as to whether there will be enough adjustment possible there as might be needed. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it !
@chakster , thanks again.
i understand the point that fixed headshell cartridges can’t be adjusted for zenith (or azimuth). so how is this solved on the Feickert alignment tool ?

It is solved not on alignment tool for headshell integrated cartridges like FR/SPU, but with correct PS distance by tonearm designer if you're using FR cart on FR tonearm. On Feickert you can only verify Stevenson point for those FR/SPU headshell integrated if you're using them just like the manufacturer suggested to you them.  

For the rest of the cartridges you can adjust everything and altering the alignment by choosing the one you like (Baerwald, Stevenson or Lofgren). 

BTW some headshell integrated cartridges like old Dynavector and Technics EPC100c or 205c are adjustable, overhang and azimuth are adjustable, but you can't swist the cartridge anyway.  

Howard, good for you! It just goes to show that following the manufacturers recommendation usually pays off, especially with cartridges by the same manufacturer that were specifically meant to be used in this particular arm. Ikeda certainly knew what he was doing. The FR7 and FR64/66 were made for each other and the sonic results speak for themselves.

Ikeda was very consistent in observing the 51mm collar to tip distance. I have 4 different ones (including the MC702) and they're all exactly the same. Ortofon is slightly less meticulous with the SPU and I've noticed up to 1mm deviation in some cases. Not that I can hear it! 

Other integrated headshell cartridges may use a different distance. Some are adjustable, like the Dynavector DV-30 series. Some are not, like the Sony XL44/55 Pro serie. The Sony has a 49mm collar to tip distance to accomodate the proprietary geometry of the Sony arm (neither Baerwald nor Stevenson). But in the manual they explain that even this 2mm deviation from the SPU 51mm norm is still acceptable and will not be audible. I kind of doubt that, but go figure!

But now for the million dollar question: do those Argo's still have groove distortion with the correctly aligned FR7? Curious minds want to know.....

#edgewear, hi again !
In the end I went down a slightly different path and bought a SMARTtractor as I’m a big admirer of Acoustical Systems work in analogue.
I spent some time setting up my favourite FR7 (fc) and other “conventional” cartridges (as precisely as my ageing eyes and paesano fingers allowed) to the UNI DIN curve exclusive to that device, rationale  being that this is specifically aimed at the 1960s Decca vinyl I tend to listen to (and hence the raison d’etre of this thread !)
The results were amazing - I ran all my newly aligned cartridges through a particularly nasty early Argo pressing of a choral service at Westminster Abbey. I suspect that even when totally new it would challenge any decent cartridge let alone the agricultural crap that no doubt ploughed through it for the 50+ years before I got hold of it...
Result: everything sounded good, every cartridge (from Denon 103r to Koetsu Jade d/c) produced texture where there had been glass and tamed all but the most extreme garbage caused by damaged vinyl (nothing on earth can surely repair vinyl ...).
All in all this was the solution I was seeking when I posed the title to this thread. Now I have realigned as above, all of the cartridges realigned now do a good job of playing early Argo worn vinyl. Some are better than others but that’s the same difference I get on pristine vinyl.
This may not be conforming to everybody’s way of doing things, but for me, in my system , it’s worked very well indeed...:)

@Howard, good to hear you found a method that works for you. Dieter Brakemeier of Acoustical Systems used to be one of the experts who strongly advised to change the P2S distance of the FR64/66 to facilitate the use of the Baerwald geometry (you can search this forum for his contributions under the moniker dertonarm). Apparently he has now created his own UNI DIN curve, probably a refinement of the Baerwald. Judging from your enthousiasm I might give this geometry a try, as I also have many of those 60's Decca's. Thanks for sharing your experience.