Buying a used cartridge...tell us your tale.

Personally, I have a VERY BIG reticence to buying a used cartridge. The amount of use or damage to the stylus and/or other working parts would seem to me to be a large unknown. Since just one play of a damaged stylus will result in damage to your records, I have always shun away from any used cartridge purchase.
OTOH, I'm sure many have been successful in buying a used cartridge and then again...there are those that have NOT:(.
I would be interested in hearing the tales...the good, the bad and the ugly
I bought a used Dynavector DV20L and the suspension was totally collapsed. Although the cartridge sounded wonderful, the bottom of the cartridge was scraping the record. I ended up selling the cartridge at a 400.00 loss to someone who was going to send it out to be fixed. Never Again!
Risk crossing the street...that said...with new catridges at many price points...going used unless no longer manufactured vintage (shure) ...seems less attractive. Still, Shure V series has tempted me on numerous times will excellent results. Maybe others can chime in...any super bargains in the sub $100 vintage cart arena?
I would not buy used, too delicate. Besides it is hard to track how many hours are really on it. I have used a Jubilee for about 7 years, I can't tell you within 500 hours how many it really has.
About 15 years ago, I was traveling for business to Denver and went into an audio store there. Can't remember the name of the place, but they had four or five lightly used very high-end cartridges from one of the audio designers in the area, who was checking them out with his gear. I bought the heavily discounted Lyra Evolve 99, and have been using Lyras ever since.
A totally positive experience for me. But I would be reluctant to buy a used cartridge from someone I did not know, and who was not a dealer.
I bought a gently used Ortofon Jubilee from an experienced eBay seller (psiker1) in June of this year. It was as advertised, and I'm very happy with the purchase.
Perhaps I have been lucky, but I have bought four out of the six cartridges I've owned, since getting back into vinyl 11 years ago, used, and they have all been in good shape. I've bought from one person on Ebay, one from a guy on Audiogon and the other two from two friends. (Obviously the later two were obtained in a more reassuring manner then the first two.). I think the best thing you can do is to call the seller to discuss the cartridge, their system, and other pertinent matters as a way of feeling them out. You need to make sure you are comfortable before going through with the sale.

My two cents worth.
I have bought and sold MANY used cartridges and have never had a bad experience on either side.
It's definitely a bargain.

Been at both sides of the coin,

Really bad luck with a DV 17D3, best of luck with an AT-ML170.

Buy new unless you buy from a close friend.
I do think that buying a used MM cartridge with a removable stylus is a VERY different proposition to buying an expensive used MC cart with a non-removable stylus.
Personaly, I have a VERY BIG reticence to buying NEW CARTS.
But I know why and when this started. To put it short:
thanks to Raul and his endless MM thread. Before I join the
club 7 years or so ago it never even corssed my mind that I
need more than just one cart. But then I discovered a kind
of Eldorado. The opportunity to experiment with all kinds of
carts for free. Even with some profit if I was fast. I was
able to sell the (byRaul) recommended carts for more than
I paid for. That is how the addiction started. Like getting
some 'stuff' from your friends for free first and then 'getting
the stuff' on your own by saving on your cloths first...
I am not sure how many I own but guess more as 50.
I also guess that about two of them are new carts.
I probably bought (and sold) some 10- 12 cartridges over a 6-7 year period (while I was learning and putting my system together). All but 2 were bought used, and right here on Agon.
Happy to report that all but one of my used purchases were just as described. A Clearaudio Virtosa Wood came delivered with a glob of dirt on the tip and slightly offset stylus. I specifically asked about the stylus being straight as I know this cart is know for that issue. Turns out the seller was totally unaware of what a dirty bent stylus looks like. Oh well, overall I can't complain about my used purchases here and would continue to do so, but I am done and very happy with my end results.
I will say it again, although not bullet proof, good feedback from sellers is very important to me.
Bought a few used carts, never had a problem till I bought a Dynavector 17D3 from a well known dealer (Audio***L)over on AA.
I figured he was trust worthy, well that was until I saw that the cantilever was jacked nearly sideways !! I wish I could post the pictures here that I took !
I immediately got in touch with him and sent him the requested pics only to have him tell me that I must have bent it..ABSOLUTELY NOT !!!

Interestingly, when I first inquired about the cart I was told that it was sold. But the next day I was informed that it was available again, they don`t come up very often so I bought it, sight unseen, after all this is coming from a well known 'supposed' reputable dealer and I had no reason not to have full trust in him (mistake).

Well after opening the box I then realized why the buyer before me backed out (the story being something about the buyer was from S America or whatever..)
Yeah, he probably asked for a picture or two, so that killed the deal at least for him anyway... I LEARNED A BIG LESSON on that one ! There`s always a first time I guess :(
I have purchased 2 used cartridges here on Audiogon and both experiences were good. There is no question that buying something like this entails taking some risk. I recommend sending a note and asking some questions along with requesting some pictures particularly of the cantilever. Getting a reply from a reasonable person is very reassuring, at least to me.

As an aside, I own an old Wild-Heerbrugg microscope set up specifically to look at phono stylii under high magnification. It is possible to assess wear/estimate hours of use with it. I know not everyone can do that, but if you have a dealer or know someone with a good microscope, a quick look is worth a thousand words. I wish I could figure out a way to offer to do that as a free service for this community.
Bill, that's interesting. Owning a microscope to look at the stylus is a great idea. This reminds me of a situation decades ago, wherein I acquired a used Koetsu Onyx for a fair price. The Seller was a local guy who had given up on audio. Anyway, after I took the cart to a local dealer, we were able to look at the stylus under a microscope. To my dismay, the stylus was completely worn and had basically no life left. The Seller was nice enough to take the cart back and refund me the money. I'm not sure in those days if Koetsu had a rebuild program, BUT on a students income, it would have been irrelevant.
I bought a Dynavector Te Katora Rua 2nd Hand. But I bought it from a Dynavector dealer. So far I have no problems with it. I really love it.

Hopefully it will ast me a few more year. Then send it to van deb Hull for a rebuild, then many more years of joy.

That's the planning anyway.

Because everyone sees the risk with used cartridges, the second hand prices really can be a real bargain. I have only bought one new cartridge in 10 years and that was discounted. There have been a koetsu Rosewood Signature and an Urushi, also an Ortofon SPU Synergy.

There have been no quality problems with any of them, though the Urushi was not a good match with my current arm. Remember there are several very good re tipping companies around who can check them out. My favourite cartridge ever and the best bargain? The Rosewood Signature. I bought it for $1100 shipped, with a claimed 40 hours on it used it for 3 years, had it re tipped for £200 and sold it for $850. That really was a sweet cartridge.

Currently I use the Synergy and Benz Micro LP, bought new, but discounted, in rotation on an Ortofon 309D arm, with a TW Accustic Raven one. Very different but both very nice indeed
Slightly off topic, but about a year ago I bought an Ortofon MC10 Supreme from down under. It was advertised, as I recall, as from a recent production run of an older model. $215 down from $500. Definite but subtle channel imbalance, the kind of thing you have a hard time diagnosing, because it could be a bad preamp tube in the phono section, or issue with new speakers, or he mastering of the LP, or wiring, or . . . .) Switched it out, and remounted it recently. Yeah, it's the cartridge, loss of treble in left channel. Now too late I imagine to do anything about it. And unlike some, I would not try to sell it on as low hours perfect used.

I guess if it seems too good to be true, it is.

Have bought a few cartridges used, got burnt once as the cartridge was missing its stylus, as in completely gone. Got a small partial refund from the seller as he stated that he knew nothing about cartridges, and the ad stated such. He was selling it from the estate of a friend. Well theres alway's a silver lining, I sent the cartridge to Andy at the Needle Clinic in Seattle,whom put a new stylus on it and low and behold the cartridge sounds absolutely fantastic.

I have sold many cartridges used and always post ads with USB Microscope pictures of the cartridge, stylus etc so that the buyer can see what he is getting, example HERE

Happy new year to all

Thanks for sharing that, Peter. I do have a question...looking at your microscope photo of the diamond tip of your Koetsu, I cannot tell anything more than the fact that the diamond is attached to the cantilever and appears to be intact ( Plus, the cantilever appears to be straight and more or less in line with the cartridge body). What am I looking for as far as the wear patterns in your photo?
What are the wear patterns that dictate that the stylus is no longer acceptable? Anyone...
Wow, Peter. Ignorance is no excuse for a ripoff -- shame on that seller!

I've bought and sold used a number of times now -- some pretty high-price
cartridges, too (e.g. Koetsu). All transactions thus far have been flawless. The
used cartridges I've received have been free of any meaningful defect, sound
great, and seem to have lots of life left as advertised. Though to be fair, I think
I'm nearing an end of my cartridge gambling days.
Here's an article on the subject of stylus wear.

Analog Planet

Good listening and Happy New Year

Thanks, Peter. That is an interesting article from MF. I am curious as to when the actual onset of wear will occur on the record in relation to the wear pattern on the diamond. The conventional thinking is that the wear will be severe on the LP when the wear on the diamond is as shown in the examples by amhifi and Kharma. OTOH, I would suspect that the shape of the stylus has something to do with the shape that is seen under the relation to the supposed wear pattern. The idea of listening for wear that MF brings up, makes a lot of sense to me. The 'crackling' that he was talking about would be a definite red flag. I wonder what other red flags there are?? Only problem is that by the time you hear the red flag...I suspect it's too late!!
I've got one cartridge with a worn stylus that renders some minor but audible distortion on the inner-most grooves -- that's definitely where you'll notice issues first. To be honest, it still sounds awesome on the outer and middle grooves. But obviously it's high time for a re-tip, and I don't play it since I noticed the issue. Unknown hour count on this one, but I absolutely knew it was high up there when I acquired it (early 1990's Koetsu).

I've rotated through a lot of cartridges over 7 years, and I haven't put enough on any 1 cart (~ 400 hours max) to drive it into audible wear. So I've never encountered any issues besides on that one.
Buying a used cartridge is always a stupid move.
Ebm, that's your opinion and your entitled to it. Other respondents, including myself, have set out the broadly good experiences we have had and the resulting big money savings.

Everyone buying second hand in this area are aware of the risks, or should be. It is their money to gamble and their risk to take, but stupid it is not.
Budget for a rebuild and you'll be ok. I waited 3 years to find a Decca/London FFSS MkIV C4E, knowing that I could get it rebuilt by John Wright, the current London cartridge designer and manufacturer.
Beautiful looking. Fantastic sound and still going strong.
Bought a re-tipped Benz-Micro LP. Great sound and still going strong.
I've purchased a dozen or so vintage MM/MI used or NOS on eBay, with remarkably few issues. I'm keeping my fingers crossed about an Ortofon MC2000 currently en route. If that classic shows excessive wear it will certainly be worth the cost of a rebuild.
Sorry its a wonderful move. OK happy!!
Very risky may be ok in rare cases.
I bought a Benz LP that was described by the seller as "nearly new, not even fully broken in." I was skeptical but it turned out to be 100% true. From the other side of the table, I can vouch for the several used cartridges I have sold. They were each accurately described. So I agree that there are risks, probably more so than with other components, but with a reputable seller I would not hesitate to buy used again.
The other issue that seems to be overlooked is the aging of the cartridge suspension. These components may even wear out prior to the stylus and are IME very hard to determine by a general eyeball inspection.

The question then becomes as to whether the used cartridge is performing up to spec and what the overall loss of information and distortion is due to suspension age?
Only tried it once (other than inexpensive MM's costing $200 or less). It was my first venture into LOMC's. The entry price seemed steep so I decided to risk buying used (understanding that there was a risk).

Got a $2K cartridge for $900. On arrival, I noticed that the cantilever was angled well off center and the stylus was twisted a few degrees off vertical.

It sounded great, but it was my first LOMC, so what did I know? I was a newbie and had neither the equipment nor the ears to know better.

With the experience and gear I have now, I wouldn't try it again unless I knew and trusted the seller.
Buying a used AT-ML170 was the best analog move I've ever done.
Second best, buying a used DV 10xGoldL.
Two reference carts that will blow away carts costing $$$$$ more.
Risky yes....but so stupid good!!!!!!!
I'm sure people buy used cartridges all the time, but I have not had good experiences. I bought a Benz middle of the line used cartridges that emitted a screeching sound when placed on the record. The seller did send it for warranty repair for me, but I was without a cartridge for months.

Some time later I tried again with a used Benz Ruby from someone who seemed considerate, however there was something wrong with the suspension because the image would shift to the the right or left a day or two after it was adjusted. Could never get the guy to take it back.

I'll never buy another used cartridge unless I know the person and cartridge personally.
Probably 8 out of my last 12 cartridges have been new. But the 4 I bought "pre-owned" have all been winners. I do think it is risky, but the risk discount can make it worthwhile. The more you know about the seller, the better. I generally trust more those who post frequently and have described the items they're selling in previous system descriptions or forum posts. Still, I go into every transaction expecting that I'll get burned. It's a pleasant surprise when everything is perfect, especially with vintage cartridges!
I have purchased 3 used cartridges. A Dynavector 17d3, a Shelter 901. and another Shelter 901 that was sold as a rebuild (I had Soundsmith rebuild it).

In each case I had a discussion with the seller and carefully reviewed their feedback. In all cases the transaction went well.

you do have to be careful and even then there is risk in buying a used cartridge. I have been lucky and had all good transactions.
bought two so far -

One Ortofon, from the importer, which was great.
The other was a Denon DL103, from a forum "friend" which was lightly used to death...

The thing is that I'm using a Black Widow arm, and if my experiment with the Grado reference will fail (I've read good recommendations online)- I'll have to go the classic high-complience way, and buy a use V15 or Stanton 881/681 or the likes...
Just finished dialing in an Ortofon MC2000 eBayed by seller Ortofonman for $350. The stylus looks good under digital magnification and the performance is superb. I'll just have to make do with this one until somebody decides to build a new .05mV MC.