Does size really matter? :-

I've seen stylus size discussed in regards to 78s and mono records, but never as it pertains to our good old stereo LPs. I was recently looking at cartridge specs, and was astonished by the difference in the size of the styli. Let's take, for example, 3 cartridges I'm considering:

Sumiko Blackbird Elliptical 0.3 x 0.7 mm

Dynavector 17D2MKll Karat Square .06 x .06 mm

Zyx Bloom Line Contact 6 x 35 um

Converting the first two to um from mm, we get this:

Sumiko 300 x 700

Dynavector 60 x 60

Zyx 6 x 35

This indicates the Sumiko is 50x wider and 20x longer than the Zyx! The Dynavector is between them. Even allowing for the different stylus profiles, this seems like an enormous difference in stylus size. Am I missing something?

I've read in other threads that the Zyx owners talk about the Zyx getting deeper into the groove, retrieving more info and, more importantly, contacting a section of the groove that, in the case of used records, previous styli haven't touched. Considering the above figures, these statements now make much more sense.

My big question is, why don't more manufacturers use the smaller styli? Are there advantages to larger styli that I'm missing? It doesn't seem like cost should be a factor, as the Zyx above is a US$490 cartridge. Do the smaller styli wear quicker? Easier to break? Harder to align?

Just wanting to get A'goner's thoughts. If there's a previous thread, please point me to it - I did a search, but didn't come up with anything relevant. Thanks.

David, it's really nice to see someone else who is willing to crunch the numbers and make comparisons. I haven't yet done it with styli the way you have.

However, it has always been my understanding that the dimensional specicfications for styli pertain to what's going on (the radius) at the very tip, and don't tell a lot about (in the case of line contact designs for instance) what the actual contact length/area of the diamond with the groove wall might be. In the case of the ZYX, with such a small radius tip, that line of contact winds up being longer than most, I guess.

The business about new stylus designs contacting previously "unplayed" parts of the groove dates back to van den Hul's (and I guess Shibata's) line contact styli designs. These types of styli contact the groove wall on each side in a line, that runs from the top of the groove wall to however far down the stylus goes. About halfway down the groove wall of old records (played with spherical or elliptical styli) there's a sort of (horizontal) wear line, or "gouge" in the groove wall. The contact line of the newer styli can (in theory) actually skip over this wear point, meaning that it not only contacts new vinyl, but that it might not contact the (noisy) part of the groove on older records.
The differences in size are truly astounding, especially if you compare them under magnification. A friend once photographed four styli at 200x and printed them out for me. IIRC it was a Grado (forget the model), a Denon 103, a Shelter 901 and a ZYX R100 Fuji.

The photos made it difficult to believe these four objects were even made for the same purpose. The Grado looked like a jackhammer bit and the Denon like a chisel. The Shelter was more like a chef's knife. The ZYX was a surgeon's scalpel. Truly incredible when seen side-by-side.

I presume styli like ZYX uses are harder to make accurately. Styli like the Grado's are so huge that accuracy at the ZYX level would be, um, pointless.

In addition to the benefits already discussed, a small, line contact stylus obviously can "see" smaller groove modulations than a large, conical stylus. Large styli slide ride over high frequencies that fine styli can trace.

I don't know about wear, but advanced styli are certainly more sensitive to alignment. A large conical doesn't care much about SRA. A small line contact needs perfect SRA to reproduce its timbre, imaging and soundstaging magic. Once you've heard that however, it's very hard to go back.

Occasionally my accounting education proves useful. :-)

Thanks for the info on different stylus profiles. I guess then the question is how comparable the stylus dimensions are when the styli have varying profiles. Dougdeacon has seen clear differences with his own (microscopically enhanced) eyes, so the absolute size difference is undeniable. How that translates at the point of groove contact carries far more variables.

Dougdeacon, I'm sure the stylus size and profile is part of what makes a Zyx different, and logic says a stylus that much smaller would be more difficult to manufacture. As I pointed out, though, Zyx seems to be using that same size stylus on the Bloom at $490, so it's clearly possible to do it on an affordable cartridge. Are there any other cartridges you know of, affordable or not, that use a stylus as small as the Zyx? I did a quick check through and didn't find anything even close.
I have a call into Sumiko to verify but - I'd be willing to bet (you name the amount) that someone read "mil" and figured that's the same as "mm" when setting up the website.

Since one mil is equal to about .025 mm. - Considering that the groove width of a modern stereo lp is nominally between .7 mils (as measured halfway down the groove wall), a .3 MILLIMETER stylus would be roughly 17 times the width of the groove itself.
CONFIRMED by Sumiko - the measurement is .3 x .7 MILS (thousandths of an inch) not mm. They will be changing their info.
Are there any other cartridges you know of, affordable or not, that use a stylus as small as the Zyx?
The Lyra Olympos (discontinued) stylus was longer but it looked similarly narrow to my naked eye, but I never saw the specs. Current top Lyra's like the Titan might use something similar. Check VdH and Dynavector too.

The ZYX stylus is measured in a somewhat odd way because it's shaped in an odd way. If you cut a horizontal cross-section through the stylus at groove contact height, it would look something like an ellipse with a little ridge sticking straight out from each of the narrow ends. The end of this ridge is all that contacts the groove wall.

In the booklet that comes with the Airy 2, Airy 3 and UNIverse ZYX quotes the radius of these ridge ends as 3um, so 6um in diameter. The radii of the main part of the ellipse would be much larger, but it doesn't touch anything and the size isn't quoted AFAIK.

Maybe I lack imagination, but I'm having a hard time picturing the shape of the Zyx stylus you describe. Any chance you could upload the pictures your friend took of the Zyx and the others? It would be educational for all of us.

As to other manufacturers, you're correct that Lyra and VdH use styli similar in size to the Zyx, with the Lyra Dorian the least expensive at $750 USD. The Dynavectors claim a line contact stylus, but their quoted size is much larger that the Zyx, Lyra and VdH.

I have a feeling there's a Zyx Bloom in my future...
Bang & Olufsen and Ortofon publish(ed) ETM (efective tip mass) specs for their cartridges. I've seen figures as low as 10 mg and as high as 80 mg. This factors in the total moving mass of the cantilever assembly. It is a telling spec of much "effort" would be required to travel or plow through the groove. I suspect it is a factor in record wear also.
Well, Opalchip,

That certainly puts a different cast on things, doesn't it? So now the dimensions of the Sumiko, converted to um, are 7.5 x 17.5. That's quite a difference! It was the huge discrepancy that prompted my original question. So the Sumiko, at least, is a similar size to the Zyx.

I also checked the Denon 103, and it's listed on their Japanese Web site as 16.5 um round, also within the same size range. The Shelter 901 is specced at .3 x .7 MIL (they must know the difference!) so that makes it the same size as the Sumiko.

So now I'm starting to wonder. Dougdeacon saw clear differences, but could that be attributable more to the different profiles of the styli rather than their absolute size? Most here agree that tiny differences in any aspect of a vinyl setup (VTA, VTF, alignment method, antiskate, etc.) can make a big difference in sonics, and now it looks like styli are another area where the differences are small.

Sigh...vinyl just resists all our attempts to simplify, doesn't it?

Dear David: +++++ " attributable more to the different profiles of the styli rather than their absolute size? " +++++


Btw, of course that the stylus size is important but it is only one of the characteristicis that any cartridge builder take into account and certainly not the most important. The cartridge performance depends on the whole design: coil wire, magnets, suspensión, cantilever size/material, stylus profile, body material, internal impedance, stylus angle, etc, etc.
The cartridge issue is a very complex one and nobody can take a cartridge choice " because the stylus size ", this characteristic " per se " means nothing about the cartridge performance.

Many years ago the " stylus size " was used into the marketing cartridge campaigns because in those times does not exist the miniature technology about but today the stylus size is not anymore a " marketing signature " because almost any cartridge share the same technology.

David, don't worry about. You have to choose your cartridge in front of your quality sound reproduction priorities and the tonearm that match better with that cartridge.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Armstrod wrote:
Maybe I lack imagination, but I'm having a hard time picturing the shape of the Zyx stylus you describe. Any chance you could upload the pictures your friend took of the Zyx and the others? It would be educational for all of us.

Sorry for the slow response, took me a while to find the photo and a site to host it. Here you go!

Even at 200x the ZYX's microridges are nearly impossible to see. But the differences in both size and shape are very clear.

Regards and thanks to Styx for the photos,

The pictures certainly dramatize the difference in styli - it's stunning. Are you sure all 4 were done at the same magnification? Based on the revised calculations, I wouldn't expect the visual differences to be so dramatic.


I only know that all four photos were taken by a professional photographer and that his email said they were at 200x. He sent them to me as a single image specifically so I could appreciate the visual comparison.

The Denon, Shelter and ZYX are definitely at the same magnification. I've owned/used those cartridges and that's exactly how they look.

That Grado does look incredibly huge. FWIW, the photographer owned the Grado, demoed (and photographed) my Shelter 901, then bought the ZYX R100 Fuji on my recommendation. He said it outplayed the Grado by an enormous margin. He's still using it happily today.


P.S. As interesting as this topic may be, I agree with Raul. Don't buy a cartridge just by stylus size or profile. Compatibility with your phono stage and tonearm are primary, and compatibility with your musical and sonic goals is more important than any technical measurement, even for an accountant!
Doug - Thanks for posting those photos. I've never seen such a close up shot like that before. Very cool!

Doug, Raul,

I agree completely that many factors (not just one in isolation) need to be considered when choosing a cartridge, but how is stylus size and profile any more or less a technical measurement than cartridge mass, compliance, or output? All of these factors are fixed by the manufacturer, as opposed to the things we can control, like alignment, VTF, VTA, and loading.

It's pretty well accepted here that mass and compliance are really important to get a good match with your tonearm, and we have formulas to help us get in the right ballpark. Same thing with output and the amount of gain needed in our phono preamps. I just wonder why the effects of stylus size and profile haven't been quantified. Is it because it doesn't matter, or is it because we don't know how to measure it?
Dear Armstrod: Of course that the stylus profile/size is important but almost all the top cartridges share almost the same size/profile stylus.

Regards and enjoy the music.

What I was trying to say is that NO set of technical measurements, however complete, can identify the best cartridge for your system and your tastes. Specs can help you avoid serious mismatches. That's about all. If you expect any more than that you'll be disappointed.

No one has measured all the synergies that happen between components. Hearing them is still the only way to know them. Next best is the experience of others, though of course that's less reliable due to differing systems, differing ears and differing tastes.

Glad you enjoyed those. I was as amazed as you when I first saw them.

Photo credit, as I mentioned above, goes to my friend (and occasional A'gon poster) Styx. You should see his wildlife photos. Amazing stuff, National Geographic quality at least.

I wanted to resurrect this thread as just tonight I mounted up my new Zyx Bloom. Stylus size notwithstanding, the Zyx is far quieter in the groove than either my Denon 103R or my Shure V15Vxmr. Even without being broken in, it has better inner detail than the Denon, with as much meat as the Shure, and far tighter bass than either. Part of that is a being a better compliance match for my Well Tempered tonearm; I suspect the rest is modern design versus the 40 year old engineering of the Denon and the Shure. If Zyx can do this well at $500, it's no wonder the $5000 Universe is so well regarded.

Mehran, as always, was friendly and helpful and very patient with my questions, even though I was buying a low dollar cartridge. People like Mehran, George Wright, and CC Poon help to make audio an enjoyable hobby.

Thanks to all who contributed to this thread. My knowledge, and my system, continue to improve significantly...

It's late at night, and I can't verify that I read every word of every post above, so apologies if I missed someone else pointing this out, but the dimensions of the stylus is nearly irrelevant. Only the tip of the stylus enters the groove. See my systems page for a real close-up of the stylus in the groove. I believe the photo was taken with an electron microscope. Someone may correct me on that though. You can't even see the entire stylus, but you can clearly see the groove walls, and only a tiny portion of the stylus riding in the walls. So, shape is a factor in the contact patch, but it's the tip of that shape that handles the information retrieval.
Yes, it could be effectively argued that the dimensions of the diamond color the sound that would be transmitted to the cantilever, but how much of a factor this would be compared to all of the other influences that shape a cartridges sound, I think might be negligible? Then again, as audiophiles, it's difficult for us to find anything negligible. Even the room temperature is a factor.

Is the photo on your systems page the stylus of your 90X? If you look back in the posts on this thread, Dougdeacon has some photos of actual styli, and the differences appear pretty large, although some argued that the differences aren't really significant and, of course, it's only one among many factors in considering a cartridge, which is certainly true.

All I know for sure is now that I have a stylus with a "modern" profile, it's way quieter in the groove. Since the Zyx also has better resolution, I see no other plausible explanation than the stylus is hitting a different part of the groove than the Denon or the Shure. For those of us that buy mostly used records, or didn't take the best care of our records when we were younger (I'm guilty there!), finding a stylus profile that rides fresh vinyl is a big advantage.

I can't wait until my Bloom is broken in... :-)
Armstrod, I believe that some of the dimensions that you originally quoted refer to different things - the diamond shank (block) in the case of the Dynavector, as opposed to the stylus radii for ZYX.

The shank is what the diamond is cut out of, and has an effect on moving mass and resonant frequency. The stylus radii are what define the shape of stylus, and this affects the surface area of the contact patch with the LP groove, height of the contact patch from the bottom of the groove, tracking ability etc.

Naturally the dimensions of the shank will be larger than the stylus that resides within!

Have to say, however, that the stylus radii quoted for the ZYX look kinda funny to be a Namiki Microridge (which is what Nakatsuka generally prefers to use - certainly for his upmarket cartridge designs). I also use a Namiki Microridge for the Dorian, and the dimensions of what I use are 2.5 x 75 micrometers.

Smaller stylii in general offer superior performance, but are also more expensive to make, and are easier to damage (fracture or failed glue joints). But given proper TLC, they don't wear faster than larger types.

You don't necessarily want to go too deep into the groove because of dirt accumulation at the bottom of the groove (and in some cases the cutting stylus may have had a slightly flattened-out tip, causing an overly narrow and sharp stylus to "bottom out").

Having a stylus with a generous contact patch with the LP certainly does help in reducing noise - vinyl is anything but solid under the pressure of the stylus, and the stylus "floats" on the surface of the vinyl, much like the hull of a boat on water. Groove damage is usually localized, so it help to either avoid it entirely (ny having a stylus that tracks at a different height from the damage), or have a stylus profile that spreads the contact patch out over a wide area of the (semi-fluid) vinyl.

Other things that reduce noise are a low-mass stylus in the cartridge, a tonearm with good bearings and a phonostage that has good HF overload capabilities and low IMD. A low-mass stylus will have a minimum of overshoot when it encounters groove damage, and good bearings in the arm will help to minimize sympathetic resonances from occuring. High HF overload marging in the phono stage is recommended because a record tick is like a natural impulse, with the bandwidth and amplitude both extending quite high. If the phono stage circuitry is not designed properly, hitting it with a high-frequency impulse can trigger ringing which doesn't die down immediately, or you may get intermodulation effects which can be quite obnoxious.

hth, jonathan carr
In the light of day, after rereading your and Rauls prior posts above, +++++ "attributable more to the different profiles of the styli rather than their absolute size? " +++++ I see, as I suspected last night, that this point was addressed. That's something like the "point" I was trying to make as well. The size of the stylus probably isn't such an issue, it's the shape of the point that matters, and of that shape, only the very tip. I suppose, if you've got used records, one should also try to take into account what stylus shapes may have contacted the grooves in past play if you want to insure that you're going to be contacting new portions of the groove with a new stylus? Whenever I've changed stylus shape on cartridges, I've also upgraded the overall quality of the cartridge as well, so comparison for me based on shape of the stylus alone are difficult to gauge. It might be interesting to do a comparison of the different stylus shapes on new vinyl, to see if there is any discernible difference n the sound from contacting the grooves of virgin vinyl with differently shaped styli. Anyone know of a comparison like this having been done? Raul?

Good insights from Jcarr, as usual (hi Jonathon!)

To clear up one possible source of confusion regarding ZYX stylus specs, the entry level Bloom does not use a micro-ridge stylus - it's an elliptical. I presume this was done to control costs.

Higher priced models do use a micro-ridge.
Dear Dave: I own almost any stylus cartridge shape and certainly are differences between them but we can't say that those differences are because the stylus shape because the cartridge performance is extremely more complex than the " shape " alone, like Jcarr posted.

Now, I had one or two experiences where I send to re-tip one or two of my " old " cartridges through Van denHul, who use its own stylus profile that was different than the original one: yes, I like the " new " sound performance but I can't tell for sure if was better or only different because the memory is not very good through the long time.

Regards and enjoy the music.