Cartridge Break-In

Installed new cartridge and was just wondering about break-in techniques. Manufacturer recommends 50 hrs of playing time to presumably work in the suspension components. Obviously, playing a record would work best, but would simply placing the tonearm/cartridge on a non-spinning record and leaving it there also contribute to break-in? I'm thinking it really wouldn't be as effective since the suspension has only been displaced, but is not kept in motion the way playing a record would cause. Here's where it get strange, suppose I placed my turntable (a non-suspension design) on top of my subwoofer and played some bass oriented music thru my CD player? I could play with the volume level to control the amount of acoustic transfer from the sub to the turntable/arm/cartridge and thereby "excite" the cartridge into some sort of, hopefully controlled, motion. Alternatively, I could place the turntable directly in front of my woofers and play music at a high volume from a digital source. Would any of these "techniques" even roughly accomplish what playing a record does as far as cartridge break-in goes?

Just speculating on a hypothesis.
Just play records, forget about break-in and enjoy the ride. It will happen and you will be glad that you controlled the break in process to get, about 50 or so hours of playing from now, the sonic satisfaction you seek. Like music itself, the break in is a journey, not a destination, and one to be enjoyed in this hobby.

A very interesting idea! I purchased a Benz Ruby 3H last year and it was unlistenable for about 100 hours. After that it was muddy and lacked detail and speed up untill 150 hours. Since then, it has become the magic that is Benz and is still gaining speed and detail. But I had to play 200 records/ 150 hours to get to this point. Benz also says 40 hours to break in-not true with the Ruby 3 anyway. After 40 hours-it was ear fry city.

Any method that could get you thru the breakin period without play a boatload of records would be welcome. Your method sounds feasable as the movement by groove modulation is miniscule.

However, the breakin may be attributed to the large swings of the cantilever caused by non flat parts of the record. In this case you're method wouldn't work.

Anyone know which movement contributes the most to break-in?
I enjoyed reading some of your proposed alternatives, especially the one about the subwoofer ;~) I think the best way is still playing records as Steve said. However, you can break in a cartridge while you're away by using the Cardas sweep/burn in record. It has white noise bands that are continuous (don't run out.) The record is made of extra hard vinyl just for this purpose, and if you leave your whole system on at low/moderate volume, you get some additional burn-in for your system too.

RE the recommended break-in time: I don't know why cartridge manufacturers all seem to quote such low break-in times! If you ask around, you'll discover that most folks will tell you a new moving coil cartridge requires a minimum of 100 hours (150 just to be sure) so I don't understand the manufacturers' lack of candor on this pooint. And that would take about four to six days playing the Cardas record 27/7. Which is what I did, and it worked just fine. However, I heard no difference after the first 60 hours (the manufacturer recommended 30!) It was bright and glarey, and I thought I'd made a terrible mistake! But after 100, everything changed and continued to get better and better until 125-150 or so.

It would be a lot smarter for the manufacturers to be honest and not raise expectations unnecessarily.
Cartridge break-in time varies by person. It is the amount of time that it takes for you to get used to how it sounds.
I used to think break-in time was the amount of time to talk yourself into deciding you made a good purchase. But, after installing a Blackbird cart I now think cartridge break-in is at least 100 hours. There is no way I convinced myself that the cart I heard out of the box is as good as the one I have now.
All I'm trying to figure out is if there is a quicker way to get through the break-in process. For mechanical objects break-in is a very real process, but then again I've talked to people who have had success with motor engines who rev it to redline the minute they button up the engine. Anyway, I chose to believe. After 3 hrs. of use the cartridge is tipped up in the treble and the bass is uneven, but the midrange is glowingly warm. I've set the Concentra phono board to 47k ohm loading and 55dB gain. Too soon to tell if those are the final settings.
When you have the Audio Technica 637 Stylus Claner then the break in is done after 3 hours.
Otherwise I agree with the min. 50h
Thomasheisig, explain in detail how you used the AT stylus cleaner. I have an equivalent model from D&K. I'm be concerned about the stylus vibrating off the pad.
Onhwy61, what kind of cartridge is yours? I ask, because if it's a MC, then 47K ohms is WAY too high a loading and will give you "tipped up in the treble and the bass is uneven" no matter how long you break it in.

A good rule of thumb (starting point) for MC load is 25 times the specified coil resistance.

I can't think of a (safe) quicker way to break in the cartridge than using the Cardas record. I also have an AT stylus cleaner (which vibrates at a single frequency, I don't know what it is exactly) It's an intriguing idea, but I'm not sure I'd want to use it on my cartridge for 100 hours -- it seems a little strong, to say nothing of the batteries it might use up. And I agree with you, I'd be nervous about leaving that kind of setup unattended!

The reason BTW for the 100 hour +/_ break-in time we all talk about, is because the modern polymers used in suspensions require a certain number of flex/relax cycles before the long-chain molecules settle into place and get as tightly packed as they're going to. So it's not really not about how hard you flex the material as how many times.

Of course it's just my own personal style, but given the choice, I almost always go for the more moderate approach . . . .


Dear Onhwy: "" Just play records, forget about break-in and enjoy the ride. ""

That's all about.

"""" phono board to 47k ohm loading and 55dB gain .. """"

If this is the manufacturer suggestion, it is a good point to start, if not my advise is that you load the cartridge as the manufacturer suggest.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Only have limited number of choices on cartridge loading (30, 100, 400, 47k). The distributor says 1k to 47k. Dealer recommended the settings I'm using as a starting point.
Onhwy, if Raul says:

"Just play records, forget about break-in and enjoy the ride."

You should remember that is the "Gospel according to Raul", but not necessarily the gospel Truth!

Please remember that Raul and others have personal opinions which they have a habit of expressing as absolute facts. Do not misunderstand me, I have nothing against opinions -- I just think they should carry a proper disclaimer.

I have given you some verifiable information about the stress performance of modern polymers, and you can research this further, as I have, by using the modern miracle of Google.

Further, re cartridge loads, only a few manufacturers (like van den Hul, for instance) bother to state an optimum load for their products, even the very expensive ones. Most give a range that starts at the coil resistance (5 to 30 ohms or so) and goes to 47K ohms. That doesnt tell you a hell of a lot does it? However, there is a very definite electrical relationship (called impedance matching) between a cartridge's internal resistance and the load it is working into (just like between a preamp and amp). The customary starting point is usually a multiple of 25 times the cartridge's internal resistance. This has been arrived at through both experience and experiment. Using it will definitely get you in the ballpark, otherwise you'll be starting outside the stadium parking lot!

If you don't know the coil resistance of your cartridge, give me the make and model and I'll be happy to look it up for you. It may also be listed at

I hope this helps clarify some of the mystery.
I know four or five people who have used the Cardas burn-in disc (LP) and have been very happy with the results. I haven't seen any of them post yet, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

I don't have a table but I'd use it if I ever bought another turntable, or cartridge.
The Cardas LP helped shorten the most torturous period of a friend's Shelter 901, which I broke in for him. Without it I couldn't have stayed in the house when it was new.

The ZYX Airy 2 we reviewed took at least 75 hours and the Airy 3 took well over 100. We didn't use the Cardas record because we felt a responsibility to report on the sound from the get-go.

OTOH, our UNIverse needed no break in at all. I once thought that the maker might have broken it in by listening himself. Ours is serial # 1 so that would have made sense. But other UNIverse owners have also reported few if any changes in their copies.

In the end it depends on the cartridge, and IMO it is more than just the ears or brain of the listener. It isn't likely we're fooling ourselves when we hear one cartridge change enormously while the next doesn't change at all. In one extreme case (Airy 3) we changed impedance 8 times in the first 60 hours. It was like trying to hog-tie a wild cat. Every time I thought I had it tied down it twisted loose again.

If you can enjoy the sound then listen to music. If you can't, give it some hours on those Cardas locked grooves.
Interesting, I never heard from a Cartridge, which needs no break in. I ordered a Zyx UNIverse, which will arrive in a few days.
The AT637 is a vibration stylus cleaner, it is absolutely safe. I did NOT write, to put the stylus on it for 100 hours, I did write, after 3 hours on it the "break in" is done.
My ZYX Bloom "bloomed" after only about 4 hours - I'm quite sure it'll only get better with time, but obviously didn't take much initially to be noticeable.

So, in regards to Stevecham's comments...I concur. Just play and play and play - the thing will ultimately open up (it better), and the experience along the way will probably be quite interesting. Figure it as hearing a metamorphosis, if you will, hopefully "ending on a note" that is what you expected when you purchased it.

Interesting, I never heard from a Cartridge, which needs no break in. I ordered a Zyx UNIverse, which will arrive in a few days.
Please let us know how it goes. Both about break in and about your new cartridge in general.
Nsgarch, where are you getting your recommendation for cartridge loading? I've never read anywhere using 25x the internal impedance as the recommended loading. The most common figure I see quoted is 10x, but I've also seen from 2.5x to 20x.
Onhwy -- it's not a hard and fast specification by any means, however it's based on (and borne out by) a few (unforunately very few!) cartridge makers who DO specify optimum load values for their cartridges. And also the concensus of a lot of audiophiles who report their results. I have compiled these anecdotal reports, and it's amazing how consistently the results work out to the 25x (the resistance of the cartridge in question.)

As for science, it's pretty simple, though again, not hard and fast, because of so many other variables like cable length and composition, phonostage design etc. However if you take an average gain of 50dB (most MC phono stages are between 40 dB and 60 dB I'd say) and an average output of 0.40 mV (most cartridges have outputs somewhere between .20 and .60 mV) you will come up with (again this is an average) an impedance matching differential that requires the driven impedance be (at least) 25x the impedance of the driver. Notice I said "at least". So why wouldn't say 47K ohms be even better since it's way above the "at least" minimum? That's a fair question. the answer has to do with the miniscule value of the driving voltage, as opposed for instance to the (usually) healthy voltage with which preamps drive amps. In the cases of both cartridge-to-phono preamp (always) and preamp-to-amp (sometimes, but often enough to cause problems), when the driving voltage falls to near the minimum input sensitivity of the driven device, it's important that the match be closer to the theoretical ideal (minimum) to insure flattest frequency response and best efficiency (input voltage to output voltage) for the driven device. If you need proof of that, think of the many discussions you've (probably) read where somebody is complaining that their magabuck preamp and their megabuck amp are producing thin, or glarey, or bass-shy sound and they can't figure out why. The problem lies not with the equipment, but with the combination. And why BTW, we have all these expensive ICs with network boxes (like MIT and Transparent) which allow better impedance matching (load adjustment) of preamp to amp. Personally, I don't think this would be necessary if the equipment were well matched to begin with. But I digress, sorry.

So this 25x factor is really a rule of thumb which is meant to get things to a point (ballpark) from which you can be pretty sure that an optimum value (obtained by listening) will be found within a range that's easy to work with, practically speaking. I usually recommend 50% +/_ This means for instance that if a cartridge had an internal resistance of say 30 ohms (sometimes spec'd. as "output impedance") and therefore (IMO) a theoretical ideal load of 750 ohms, that you would probably find your best sonics somewhere between 375 ohms and 1125 ohms. If you were to start out at 750, and depending on what you hear, it's not hard to tell if you should go up a little or down a little (and after you do, you may decide to stick with 750 ;~)) What you WILL avoid however, is sitting there for two weeks with a huge bag of resistors (and a soldering iron, if the person who designed your phono preamp thought you should only have to do this once!!) until you zero in on the optimum load for your setup.

I can say one thing for sure about any MC cartridge (not HO of course) without fear of being made to eat my phono cables: It's never going to be 47K, and it's never going to be equal to the internal resistance of the cartridge (like 6 to 30 ohms). I mention this because that's the range most @#^?*! cartridge manufacturers give you. Yeah, great! So where are you supposed to start?! Try 25x to start, it might not be absolute perfection, but it will save you a lot of time and aggravation getting there.
Nsgarch ,

Thank you for that explanation. (Nods head sagely, giving a plausible imitation of complete understanding.) Even your digressions were informative.

My limited experience with three MC gain stages and a half dozen MC's largely confirms your >= 25x guideline. In only one case did a lower value (about 19x) "seem" best, but even then the combination was not happy, probably due to tonearm/cartridge issues. That cartridge obeyed the 25x rule when used on a more compatible arm.

My present setup works best at about 56x (225 ohm input impedance/4 ohm cartridge). 25x is too low. The highest my MC inputs can go is 375x (1500 ohms) and that is clearly too high. The 47k of a MM input would be far too high, aside from the inadequate gain.

Obviously your guideline and explanation assume the cartridge is driving a voltage gain device. If a stepup transformer is the first thing in the circuit, the reflected impedance seen by the cartridge will need to be well below 25x.
Doug, you're quite right, none of this applies to stepup transformers. Just to confirm you findings (somewhat), if you take the 25x factor and apply the +/_ 50% range, it would come out 12.5x to 37.5x, which is another way of calculating the range. Add the extremes together and divide by 2 to get the mid-point.
Hi Doug, got the Zyx UNIverse and you are right. It sounds very impressing right out of the box. I "cheated" a little bit with the "burn in" time, I did use the AT 637 for some time, but I think, it will increase performance.
Anyway, I listened to quite a lot of Cartridges ( Benz, Koetsu up to 11.000 $, Clearaudio, Allaerts and a few others - most with a Klyne 7 Phono Stage - and I know, that taste is different, but this one will chase all these down the block and back again. It shows, what Benz, Koetsu's, Clearaudio etc. really are: Overhyped, overpriced and more or less average. And compared to others, this one is reliable, had one some years, never a problem.
Found out on another forum the correct loading for a Ruby 3 is 22K. Night and day-analog magic to be sure. I do wish Benz made this information available. I am not sure why reviewers found this cartridge so outstanding without the correct loading. 47K was horrendous in a system with extended high frequency response and 1K dull and muddy. It is one of the finest I have heard correctly loaded except no one would know that most running at 1 or 47K.
I have the Cardas record and have used the concentric grooves on new MC cartridges from time to time, but I still don't understand this idea of having to get to the finish line right away. Maybe I've just been lucky with the brands I've purchased over the years but I have never had the experience of not enjoying a new cartridge right out of the box. How is it possible that the cart sounds so awful in the first 100 hours? I have never experienced that quality, perhaps a bit light in the bass or tipped up on top but never screechy or etched if properly set up. I guess I just take a very different view of the fun of owning and enjoying the process of break in. If there are some records that don't sound perfect in the beginning of a new cartridge's life, I simply choose records that will compensate for the qualities that are slightly amiss. Need more bass? Then put on something with great low end like a Squarepusher or Underworld record and let those highly modulated grooves heat things up and really give the stylus and suspension a workout. Need less tipped up on top? Then put on some Jethro Tull. No, I'm not to going to listen to Martha Argerich play Rach 3 at the get go. But after 50 hours or so, well, heck yeah.

You guys with your needs for instant gratification, settle down!
One technique that works very well when breaking in cartridges, especially those with the latest temperature and moisture resistant polymers every manufacturer seems to use now for the supensions, is to slightly 'over-deflect' or 'over-stretch' the polymer for the first 50 hours or so. I know this sounds scary, but it won't hurt the cartridge and only requires just a slight amount.

Basically, for the first 50 hours, you want to apply a VTF that is like a quarter of a gram ABOVE the maximum tracking force recommended by the cartridge maker. Doing this will temper/condition/stretch (whatever term you like) the elastomer suspension material just a bit BEYOND the highest VTF you will ultimately use -- insuring that if you track your MC cartridge at the upper limit of the manufacturer's suggested range (as many of us do) that the polymer suspension will be fully 'conditioned' just PAST that tracking force, rather than at the 'cusp' of its break-in conditioning.