Do You Play Or Save Your Best Cartridges

I suspect I am like many here, I have a small collection of cartridges. Until recently I would keep a casual playing cartridge set up and I would save my "good" cartridges for evening listening sessions where I am focusing on listening to music at the listening chair. I always had a casual cartridge mounted on an arm, maybe an Audio Technica OC9 III or something along those lines. These days its either an Ortofon MC3000 II or MC5000. 


Earlier this year I finally decided to use the DAC in my Trinov pre amp, and this involved getting a subscription to Roon, and hardwiring the computer and preamp to the router with CAT 6 ethernet cable. The sound is remarkably good, to the point where this can easily be my casual listening format. 

I almost wonder if its necessary to have a casual cartridge. Or should I just play my best ones as often as I want and bite the bullet and know I am getting a new diamond fitted every few years. 


Anyone else go through this kind of decision process?


Ditch the PC for a "better" casual source. Remarks unnecessary. I pick my carts by sound desired, not mood.



I want the best sound and if I love the cartridge I'll buy it again once I retire it.

this is a new level of insanity. Why don't you guys put the cartridge in a glass safe and watch it. You can play the song in your head :)

You're only here ONCE.

Why not listen to the "BEST" setup you can afford ANYTIME you drop the needle?


I have a strong tendency to hoard while saving the "best" for later. However, with cartridges and vinyl that rather defeats the purpose of having them in the first place. So in fact my best cartridge (Blue Lace) on my best arm (FR64S) gets the most play time. On the 2nd arm I rotate though many other MC cartridges, where no one cartridge (including other Koetsus) has emerged as a definitive #2. I keep looking for that other cart which will match the Blue Lace’s enjoyability factor - and that certainly is possible in the short term (a sonic flavor change is always refreshing) - but getting this to stick in the long run remains elusive.

That said if you have OOP / NOS cartridges in your collection, that would certainly increase the instinct to "save it for later".

* I don’t do "casual" listening here. ~ 4 - 7 hours of "focused" listening per week, which greatly reduces the burden on my best cart.

vinyl is not that good (and I listen 70% of my time to vinyl and I love it) to think cartridges will make such a difference

The last couple of years I work from home, so I am able to listen to the stereo for 1.5 hours to 2 hours before work starts, and as a general rule 2 to 3 hours in the evening. So that is 3.5 to 5 hours a day. That adds up to a lot of time on a cartridge in years period.

In the past I would play vinyl in the morning, but the digital is so good I can use it for morning play. That way I am looking at about 2 hours a night on vinyl. That is still 700 hours a year on a cartridge or a bit more. So that is 2 years on a diamond as a rule of thumb before it is out for service.

I could rotate between two of my best cartridges on one table if i really wanted to. But I do have a second table with two arms, and one cartridge is currently installed on each table, with a third arm on the second table in which I keep a third cartridge.

As I was thinking about this process, I believe I have sussed out my solution. I have two Ortofon MC2000 cartridges, one with OEM cantilever the second I damaged last year. It has been fitted with a boron cantilever and diamond. Sounds quite nice actually. I think I will set the arm up for the OEM MC2000 and then also install the second cartridge on a different headshell. I wont change VTA settings but rather have that one as the casual cartridge, That way I don’t have to change SUT or anything else. That should be good enough for a casual cartridge, and meet my desire for good sound. A slight VTA variacne isnt going to be the end of the world. Who knows perhaps if I pick the right thickness of headshell everything will line up without any issues.

I only own one cartridge at a time. Investing in the very best I can afford. But, then don’t spin vinyl that much… maybe one a day. I now listen to streaming most of the time.


However, since you started streaming. If you dedicate some money and effort to your streaming it can sound as good or better. Might be a good long term strategy… then nothing to wear out.

Play the good ones! 


As an aside, since I am in the trade, I only work with cart manufacturers that offer reasonable repair / rebuild services. These things wear out, lets plan for it...

After an extended session of finding out why one speaker wasn't sounding quite right, I listeneed to my vinyl again for the first time in a while. I have my Zu Denon 103R still mounted, and with the new (to me) Herron phono stage in the system, I've been surprised at just how good the Denon sounds.

It does, though, have the ESCCO cantilever mods, but it really sounds good. I listened last night to Chick Corea Plays Wonder, Chopin, Scarlatti, etc. It sounded so good, I just relaxed completely, turned off the lights, and ejoyed music more than I have in some time.

Happy days at Danville!




I have a Cartridge Keeper with a selection of Cart's ranging from Ceramic, MM, HOMC and LOMC.

I have a few LOMC Cart's still remaining on Tonearms>TT's infrequently used.

I have collected Cart's with a shortish user life for R&D Purposes. These are available to be used in conjunction with owned Cart's by others, from the Same Brand and Same Model. This is for the purpose of A/B Comparison of equipment, where a Cart's change over is not desired during the demonstration, this improves the experience when comparing, when two very closely mimicking Cart's are mounted.

I also have a few Cart's that are destined to be Donor Models for a rebuild design,  that I have agreed with Third Party Service Technicians to be undertaken. These are the ones I enjoy the most, there is a lot to be discovered, by bringing a material into use not commonly found in the mainstream today. A skilled Technician also gets fired up and quite creative when the challenge is presented.     

I rather go with the best cartridge i can have, i have only one and keep it till i listen to something better or till it goes to cartridge heaven. Then a new one.

In the past i had about five at a time but still i was listening to the one i thought it sounded best.

I only did it a zillion years ago, when I had a record player that could play 78's.

I am sparing when it comes to enjoying my London Decca Reference and Jubilee. John Wright has retired, and the new owner of his business is an unknown quantity. I got essentially nowhere asking if the Jubilee could be converted to mono (something John did all the time). However, reports of rebuilt cartridges are beginning to come out and the owners are happy.

All the same, I enjoy my mounted Reference once a day. The Jubilee is waiting as a backup. After the first LP of the day, the rest get played on other cartridges.

No good to save.  The rubbers or similar in the suspension degrade and your cart will need rebuilding before you can use it.

If you must store carts, make sure it is at low temperatures with medium humidity so that the suspension elements do not dry out.

But best to listen to them for Gxxxx sake.

I don't have a removable head shell, but if I did, I would not be swapping out carts. Streaming is what I go to for casual listening.    

vinyl is not that good (and I listen 70% of my time to vinyl and I love it) to think cartridges will make such a difference

They do. But the upgrades are pricy. I went from an AT33ev ($450) to Hana ML ($1200) to Aidas CU Multicolor ($4,350). All huge differences, I'd buy another Aidas in a heartbeat but they re-tip/rebuild so hopefully I dont have to.


if you can hear the difference and can afford it, they sure do. Some people's entire system cost less than your cartridge

@grislybutter Absolutely. I am fortunate that I have a decent job, no kids and a wife that is reasonably understanding about my obsession.

Some folks here have speakers that cost way more than my entire system so I guess it's all relative:)

@macg19 of course it is. Although diminishing returns must play a role. Our ears can only do so much for us. I tend to think that there is a price point where you get the best return for a given media and room size ("normal people's" room)

Yes, but our own auditory equipment is deteriorating daily. I'm with @mulveling  on this - use your best until you discover something better.

As many others in this thread have said, you should just pick the best one you have and play it.  Then if you like it and it wears out then just get a new stylus or get a new one.   The only reason I might need more than one cartridge is if I spent a lot of time listening to old mono recordings, then I might want a stereo one and a mono one.  I would tend to keep one tonearm though and just have a different head with the cart on it.  That's probably a moot point though as stereo listening is 99% of what I do.  Pick one, sell off the others, and listen away.

Always play the best and only cartridge. That is why you buy your Koetsus etc.

I have a $250K stereo system that I never play because I don't want it to wear out. I just look at it admiringly while listening to my Bose Wave radio.

Vinyl is only for my serious listening.  For Background music I have FM, CD's and IPOD on another system.

I don't worry about my cartridge or stylus.  I can purchase those anytime. Probably a one better too.   I would hate to have to replace some of my records.  If I can find them at all.

I'm retired and I have better things to do than flip a record every 20 minutes,

If one wants to preserve the longevity of the use of the original, because a direct replacement is not available as a easily acquired New Model or the Producer does not overhaul the Cart' to Original Spec', then the idea of limited usage will have a appeal.

Lyra, during posts on this forum, have made it known, they have certain Cart's offered, that will always be overhauled to Original Build Spec'

If a Cart' is overhauled to an 'equivalent model', with a similar performance, either carried out by the OEM or a Third Party Service, and the Cart' user has no concerns for this variant of the Original Spec'.

The Cart' should not be met with any concern for being used regularly, with the  knowing it can be continually used as a result of a overhaul when required.

This is a good method to incrementally reduce the cost per replay for a Purchased Cart' over a period of time, i.e, a Cart' retailing at $2500, is approx' £2.50 per replay based on a 1000 hours usage life. A full overhaul at approx' $500, will produce a Cart' offering 2000 hours usage at $3000, equating to approx' $1.50 per replay. Carry out the same activity on a second occasion and the Cart' cost per replay is now down to budget Cart' territory, where a Cart' from this price range may be discarded after it usage life has expired.    

It is common to see reports of 1500 - 2000 hours usage life in a Cart', if Cart's known for this longevity are considered, the above equation becomes even more attractive, if a Cart's cost is a concerning factor and deters a buyer from purchasing.  

Pardon the analogy but it’s a bit like saying “I’m never going to sleep with the Mrs to keep her nice & tight for the next guy!”

I don't see the economic or sonic logic of having multiples of any hi-fi component.

Years ago, I was driving from Boston to Hackensack and back a few times a month to see my wife that was doing her residency in NJ. A good friend of mine suggested that I should rent a car for the trips to keep the miles down on my car. I explained to him, the point of having a great car is to use and enjoy it, not save it for the next guy..That car, which I still own, made the trips faster and infinitely enjoyable than any car that I could rent, I have one cartridge and I love it, I have very limited opportunities to enjoy music each week, so why would I not enjoy it to it's fullest. 

I’ve three arms on two tables and 5 cartridges (and a 78rpm one) so I play them all. Each cartridge has its own personality. Depends on the music and mood. One scenario does get the most play with the best cartridge.

At 74 years old, I listen to my best cartridge the Ortofon Cadenza Black. While I have a back up to use, it would only be used till I get the Ortofon replaced or rebuilt. 

My digital is pretty good, so that is my casual go to. I also listen to digital for more critical listening. I only listen to records when nobody is home to remind me that I’m wasting my time and avoiding my long to-do list. Even my dog refuses to enter my listening room. This is a room that could have been used for so many things. My wife suggests that like the model home, it could have been the children’s play room. I quickly point out that our youngest is 16 and we already have a dedicated office and a theater room for the kids. Anyway, records only when alone.

this is a new level of insanity. Why don't you guys put the cartridge in a glass safe and watch it. You can play the song in your head :)

I have more than 150 vintage cartridges, 1955-2021. Every cartridge presents a different sonic signature, different compromises, different qualities of detail, imaging, speed, FR, focus, clarity, etc. Every cartridge does. I change cartridges 2-3 times per day. It’s doubtful that I’ll wear out any styli in my lifetime.

I enjoy listening to mono records on a 1957 GE VRII. Maybe a few stereo records on a GE VR1000. Perhaps a Grado. Maybe an Empire 108, or Pickering U38. Maybe a Shure M44, or M95, or M97 Era IV. Maybe a V15V-MR, or V15VxMR. Maybe an Empire EDR.9. Might go to the ADC Astrion or XLM MKI, or ZLM MKIII. Maybe a Koetsu Rosewood. Maybe a Dynavector. Or go to a Pickering V-15, or XV15 1200E. Or a Stanton 681EEE. Maybe an Ortofon SuperOM 40. Maybe an AT 12XE. 

I find value and great enjoyment listening to the different sonic signatures. Same for turntables. Swapping out a Denon DP52F for a Garrard Zero 100. Or a 1963 Garrard AT6 changer. Or a 1976 Garrard GT55. Or a Linn Sondek LP12. Or a JVC QL Y7F. 

Since I work from home, I may put a stack of 6 LPs on the Zero 100, with the ADC XLM MKIII and let them play. 

Or switch to a 1962 Weathers 66 and play using the Weathers LDM cartridge. 

Every one is a gem in its own right. There is no “best.” Just a different mix of compromises. Like swapping out DACs.


I believe you... because.... no one can make this stuff up :)

I have to add, if you have to go full crazy, better to collect cartridges than guns. No one ever died from negligent handling of a cartridge. 

and you must be some genius or cyborg if you can handle 150 cartridges in your head with distinct info about their sound.  

When I played a lot of vinyl, I almost always used my best cartridge, with the exception of played some mucked up platters, why wouldn’t you?

I guess an explanation is necessary.

How and why does a habit develop? I have played vinyl since my teens, so this is not new. There was a time when my digital collection was physical, and then later ripped files on a hard drive. However, they did not mirror my record collection, I typically bought distinctly different albums. Yes there is some overlap, but not a great percentage. So at that time digital could not be a casual format playing the same type of music I had on vinyl. Streaming changes that.

So if I wanted to listen casually, let us say I am at the computer, reading a book, or playing on the phone, why would you burn up the hours on your best cartridge? There is an argument for having a lesser cartridge for just casual listening.

I have two decent cartridges, a Transfiguration Audio Proteus and an Ortofon Verismo that are cartridges 1A and B for me. I listen to them quite a bit. But I have a casual cartridge installed on another arm, an Ortofon MC3000 II or 5000 that I can also play. I am considering eliminating them because I can now stream digital and it sound remarkably good.


So that is the reasoning behind the thread.


I was just curious what others do.

Aside from having a dedicated mono cart ( recommended if you have the wax ) I do see your point vis a vis streaming. But I also think retip costs for a second tier cart are very low so ' spin dem rekords :) '

what does a 10,000 dollar cartridge do better than a $1,000 one?

I don't know, and I am curious. 

and you must be some genius or cyborg if you can handle 150 cartridges in your head with distinct info about their sound.


They’re a lot like children. You just don’t forget their sound. So I guess I’m a genius, since I’m not a cyborg. Was listening to a JVC Z-1 with original beryllium canti and nude MR stylus earlier. Listening now to the M97HE with original HE stylus now. M95ED before those. Each one has a lot to love! But my favorite MM cart is not my Grace F-9E. It’s the 1970 ADC 10E MKIV. Amazing imaging I don’t get from the Koetsu or Dynavector. Retipped with a boron canti and nude MR stylus. Tracks at 0.75 grams. It’s a singular best cartridge.

oh boy :) I imagine how they gather around you on Father's Day, tell you stories and make you smile

You only live once. Life as we know it is too short and filled with the absence of nothing. Keep the best cartridge you have and put it on the best table you have. 

@grislybutter  "what does a 10,000 dollar cartridge do better than a $1,000 one?"

Absolutely nothing unless you have a comparable turntable and a comparable tonearm. If you do have these, you get smoother, clearer, more defined, more delicate, more refined sound. Nothing much.

Is it not that a Cartridge is extremely Fragile and all with a time served experience are knowing there is a Cart' going to be lost, so a spare at hand is not too strange.

This does add to the momentary heart flutters when carrying out certain management procedures for the Cart'. I have stopped Hand Cueing, it helps with my needs.

Spare Cart's are sometimes available, as used Cart's are not sold on, and a model is purchased that has superseded them, over a long period a collection can be acquired.

A Cart' certainly does not need a 1000 hours usage to warrant replacement, some like myself have moved on at a few hundred hours.

I have a Hana SL that is with approx' 100 Hours when superseded after a short period of usage and is now owned for 4 years at least.

The length of ownership and limited usage does not bother me, I have camera Lenses that cost more and have maybe been on the Camera for approx' 500 Images being captured over 6+years.

A Cart' and Camera Lens are a Tool, one is vital to capture light and enable the capturing of a Image, the other is vital, as it tracks a groove, which drive coils, generate a signal, to be transferred to the Point it is to become Sound. 

The Cart' is Sacrificial and will not remain as a optimised performer throughout it usage life, swapping out prior to the Styli being worn, is OK.    


@grislybutter    "what does a 10,000 dollar cartridge do better than a $1,000 one?"

Assuming equally good set-up, I believe there are only three variables: design, material choice and quality, accuracy of assembly.  The first can be addressed by genius or getting more minds on the job - the latter costs money.  The others mainly cost money.

The Cartridge falls into a Market where it is met with a Low Turnover high Mark Up.

This was learnt quite a few years past when HiFi Magazines were being used to promote Cartridges supplied directly from the Manufacturers at the Wholesale Price.

Cart's were passed around a selection of in house reviewers, the ones that were not to be kept in house were soon to be for sale at a very attractive price following the release of the Monthly Magazine.

I once was sold a Cart' from this era with a few hours on it that retailed at £700-800 for approx' £150.

On my initial inquiry, I was quite skeptical about the above explanation given for a unusually cheap Cart'.

The explanation being the Producers are releasing Cart's at wholesale to be reviewed and promoted, this was at the time when Turntables were becoming must have items again, and Brands were producing New Models for the first time since CD hurt the Vinyl Replay ancillaries business.

I picked up in person, by taking a Train from a London Train Station to a Coastal Train Station, where the Vendor met me.

The Vendor was the editor of a well known HiFi Magazine, I believed the story given after that.

Hypothesis to ponder, if the parts for a TOTR Cart' from Brand is say $500 and a Technician once completed their input and any other input required to complete the Cart's as a functioning model adds another $300, how much does the end Cart' get entered into the Market at.

Take the above to a very reputable Brand, and how much does the Cart' get entered into the Market Place at.

Take a renowned Cart' designer and the Cart' is now assembled by their hand and Quality Controlled from Parts on a Bench Table to a functioning model, how much is this personal service going to add to a already substantially priced item.

Many Many Cart's share materials, leaving many many Cart's quite similar in their overall sonic. The Brand and the Service on offer from the Brand will determine the Mark Up over the basic costs outlaid.

Neary all my HiFi System is Bespoke Built, it has been produced by EE's, Technicians and Engineers adept with Micro Engineering Skills.

I have always known the costing for the parts required to produce my Bespoke Items. This leaves me with the equation of how much I am to pay for the work offered from a wanted service. I have never denied myself the opportunity to have the work completed. I am not subjected to substantial Mark Up's just a calculation of hours required and remunerations requested.