Headshell Washers : Nylon or Stainless Steel?

Few things are unimportant which are so close to the most critical interface in hifi (stylus >> groove)....

I've been using Nylon washers for nearly 18 months now, mainly for their protectiveness of the headshell finish. The nylon also performs 2 other potentially useful jobs : insulation (breaks possible GND loops - although I've never suffered one before) and constrained layer damping.

There's no denying that setting up a cart accurately is much easier with stainless steel (they don't change shape under compression and end up skewing the cartridge) although, as you know, if stainless steel is used we must be certain that it's 100% non-magnetic.
Another minor source of worry with washer choice are tales of cartridge bolts which have secretly loosened due to inadequate torque. (Although I'm certain the owners would notice this straight away...)

My main question is do the nylon washers have any ill-effects or disadvantages that you can think of?
(e.g could they compromise the rigidity of the "closed loop" - bearing in mind we are using them on top of the headshell not underneath?)
So what is the source of any sonic differences - the damping ability, or something else?

Personally I can't see them having any effect on the closed loop as the cart body is in intimate contact with the headshell and there is plenty of friction there(?)
Please discuss....
I use stainless steel because it gives a tighter fit; never liked the feel of nylon under pressure. I don't really understand the last paragraph; it seems to me that a tighter fit would affect the vibration pattern of the cartridge/arm combination in a favorable manner; no one is really worried that the cartridge will slide around on the arm but the more securely they are bound together the better.
I dont' know if it makes any real difference or not. However, I've been using brass screws and washers. If you are concerned about torque, Albert Porter is selling a tool that sets the torque. I don't know how it works exactly, but if Albert's selling it, it must be pretty good.

As long as you align your cart properly, I cant see them making a difference. Who better to judge this than you; why don't you just try both so you don't have to rely on someone else's opinion?
Whether there's an audible difference will of course be system-dependent. FWIW, it's clearly audible in mine. Your system isn't listed so I couldn't guess whether it would be audible in yours.

As to which is preferable, that's a matter of taste.

In my system, compared to using no washers at all:

- nylon washers cause an audible slewing of rise times (slowed responsiveness) and a diminishment of amplitudes (reduced dynamics). IOW, they smooth and soften the sound. This is a typical effect of applying "constrained layer dampening" close to the signal path.

- brass washers have an effect similar to nylon, though somewhat less pronounced

- stainless steel washers have virtually no audible effects

Since my partner and I prefer the most faithful reproduction of the source that we can manage, I use SS washers. I torque the screws quite tight and have never had an issue with them loosening. (Note: whether this is safe varies with the design of the cartridge body, some can be deformed or damaged by over-tightening of the mounting screws.)

If a true comparison is wanted, then you would need to use a torque driver, otherwise you won't know if any differences are due to the materials or the tightness of the screws.

As an aside, not only headshell screws, but other fasteners as well can affect the sound of an arm, even those which are not necessarily serving an obvious structural function, so lots of scope for those with a mind to experiment.


I always use nylon so they don't scratch the headshell
Excellent feedback. Stanwal, your view echoes my own gut feelings on the matter. For years I've been trying to wean myself off the habit of making everything "Linn-tight" i.e. tighten it until it breaks then slacken off :D….So now I just "nip" them but it goes against my basic instinct.
Never had any bolts loosen on carts though….touch wood.

Dan - Initially I felt a bit foolish asking such a trivial question but the fact that someone out there has dignified my concerns by making a specialised tool is gratifying :)
It's always a worry when applying high tensile steel bolts to a tapped alum cart body as there's a real danger of thread stripping. Ortofon solves this by fitting tapped steel "cheeks" but then the Cadenza was the most recent case of bolt loosening I heard about. (…Not that I'm apportioning any blame to Ortofon or suggesting foul play :)
Changing the mechanicals is the type of update I'll try at the next cartridge change so it's good to get useful market feedback on the alternatives first. I never considered brass washers but an interesting choice nevertheless…..

Blk25 - Have no fears my friend….please accept my assurance if a particular method doesn't sound acceptable it won't stay on the turntable long.
You are right of course. I've long been resigned to the fact that there is a gulf between intellectual understanding and synergy (synergies internal to the equipment and in it's relationship to the listener's personal perception). In practice this means there is no easy route to audio nirvana and everything must be tested rigorously in the fire of our own acceptance. Narrowing down possibiIities helps but can only go so far. I wish I had a £1 note for every review which determined that a product or idea was good only to find that it wasn't good for the new owner. :)

Doug – many thanks for trying to quantify the effects. I only manage to listen for about 8-10 hrs per week so it usually takes me weeks to “re-optimise” the cart settings if I upset anything....hence I try not to disturb them once tuned. I will do the experiments after my current diamond burns out. The table consists of Raven One/Graham Phantom II/Lyra Delos at the moment.
John_G....I'd be lying if I didn't admit your response has got me worried. This is a blatant encouragement to the OCD side of my personality... :o)
All the best....

Not to further exacerbate your OCD or anything, but with gear at that level optimizing your settings means tweaking for every session, perhaps for every LP.

You can't spell "analog" without "anal"! :-)
....pass the smelling salts... :D :D

Strangely enough, Doug, I lived with an LP12 for 25 yrs and it was amazingly convenient. The Ittok as you know is fixed azimuth so we just had to hope the carts were true. Apart from making summer-winter one-off adjustments to VTF I didn't do anything to the arm at all. Bolts were so tight that you needed to brace your foot against the wall to loosen them with the Allen Wrenches ( :D ) - including the arm pillar grub screw - but then I never adjusted VTA at all so it was never discovered until one day I decided to change a cartridge myself...
Life with the LP12 was magical.... Music just poured out of the system - perhaps slightly flawed in places but the magic was there.
..and all so simple. Switch on, play the music, switch off.
Changing the cart led to changing the turntable and so it began...
My friends have observed that for a number of years i've been as obsessive about equipment tweaking now as I am about the music, so I make a conscious effort not to obsess.
As you can see from the OP the Treatment is working fine... :D :D
Have been listening to a modified EMT cartridge by Brinkmann with regular screws (SS) and then was sent the matching aluminum screws with titanium washers......wow! I'm shocked at the top end improvement heard, more open and transparent and everything just sounds quicker. I'm now a believer in different set screws for cartridges.

(dealer disclaimer)
My main question is do the nylon washers have any ill-effects or disadvantages that you can think of?

Well, they look nice but they have indeed a huge disadvantage:
The recommendation from Linn to tighten the Cartridge screws until the Headshell cracks, then a 1/8 turn back, can't be done with them.
Hi Sksos1,
I can understand why using lighter materials may help in this regard. Interestingly, in the distant past the trend was in the opposite direction i.e. people were changing from alum to stainless steel because of the tighter more rigid connection it afforded.

Upon reading the Brinkmann rationale they have to be praised for adopting a comprehensive approach to voicing their tables. Now I'm wondering, if I asked them nicely, do you think they could spare some of those titanium washers? :)
Thanks for that.....
This type of comparison can be tricky. Changing mounting hardware means the alignment may not be precisely the same. And that could overwhelm any sonic differences in hardware materials.
Pryso ~ not as hard as you think. All I did was make sure both screws were tight than replaced one at a time being sure nothing moved, not that hard to do. Then the other. The only difference would be in how much torque was applied, a variable indeed but not that significant IMHO.

Dealer disclaimer
Sksos 1, I agree your method would minimize the chance for alignment changes. So I would hope anyone else attempting to compare various mounting hardware would follow your example . . . then report back here. ;-)
Where can you find nonmagnetic stainless steel washers?
Not the first time I have read such and seems to be debatable at the most, are you guys also using a torque driver, say for example using one Albert Porter has been selling?

My friend whom set's up my arm and cart is against it, also doesn't flavour SS washers either, I can't answer for him.

I have yet to do the comparison as Sksos1 refers to above which seems to be easy enough, not changing really anything.

One more thing to try.
Moonglum, there is no need to worry about ground looping the cartridge when mounting it in a tonearm.

If mass is an issue, go with titanium washers.

I would avoid nylon as the cartridge has to be coupled to the tonearm as rigidly as possible otherwise you will get colorations. Dougdeacon's comments are similar to my own observations.
Thanks Atmasphere...again this isn't a phenomenon I've personally encountered but was more of an Urban Legend :)

I'd like to try the titanium but sourcing them could prove difficult unless folk like Brinkmann offer them as an accessory.
Speaking of Brinkmann, here is some background on the Pi cartridge mounting philosophy :

"Helmut Brinkmann is alleged to have tweaked the Pi's design for 18 months before achieving the desired results, the machined aluminium body being designed to control the dissipation of resonant energy. The cartridge weight is a substantial 14g."
Brinkmann, as mentioned earlier in the thread, "supplies aluminium screws and titanium washers, which, in combination with special damping between the cart body and headshell have been sonically tuned to create a unique musical instrument."

This approach by Brinkmann is of course by no means unique.
(Remember the Music Maker III "Classic" alum-foam sandwich "biscuit" which separates cart from headshell?) There is also an adhesive layer for attaching the cartridge to the biscuit whilst the biscuit itself is screwed to the headshell. Not my scene but a lot of people out there like it.

If anyone knows of titanium washers that can be sourced in the EU or UK I'd be most obliged. All of the titanium ones I've seen so far are serious washers - not the dinky little ones (2.6mm?) that we use for carts :)
Best regards...
Moonglum, titanium washers get used by high end bicycles all the time.

Cheers Atmasphere....I will look them up... :o)