Off center (not bent!) stylus?

Relative newbie here - just looking for some thoughts / experiences from all you resident experts. 

I have been buying used carts for my vintage setup exclusively. It certainly seems like every stylus is not perfectly parallel with the cantilever and always seems to lean ever so slightly to one side or another. Seems like new ones can be like this too. So I assume a bit of a lean is normal / not an issue.

My question is, is there a limit to this? Can a more extremely off center stylus cause problems in sound quality / record damage? Could it be a sign that the stylus / cantilever assembly is about to fail? Or is it more a matter of if you don’t hear anything wrong don’t sweat it.

Here are some pics of what I’m talking about:

Again I don’t see any visible bend or kink in the stylus. The stylus itself is straight but i comes out of the cantilever at an angle. 

Any experiences (positive, negative or neutral) with this? 

Thanks in advance!

Actually that front view shows a cantilever cocked out to the right while the stylus is almost perfectly straight down. The cantilever is the long straight thing sticking out. The stylus is just the almost invisible bit on the very end of the cantilever. In the view from below it looks like the stylus might be rotated a bit (azimuth) but in the frontal view it looks vertical, which is fine.

Its certainly better if all these are perfectly geometrically in alignment. In the higher end cartridges you will find they almost always are. I've never seen one less than spot on no matter how close I look. At the level you're talking what you're seeing is probably perfectly normal, new or used.

Here's why its just not that big a deal. A phono cartridge has to trace such a high vibration groove, it generates so much vibrational resonance doing this, that it's not until you get way up into mega-buck cartridges they are doing much more than just bouncing back and forth sampling the groove.  

I'm sure you never heard that before. Like most audiophiles you've been indoctrinated with marketing stories to believe the stylus perfectly traces the groove and so geometry is absolutely essential. Well then why is Peter Ledermann, easily one of the most experienced cartridge builders in the country saying this? 

If you want to understand what's going on, highly recommend to stop and watch all his videos. In a few hours study you will know more than 90% of the guys here.

I will save you a bit of time and say the angles don't matter much because its the generator at the other end that makes the signal. It generates the signal by moving. The faster and more it moves the stronger more high voltage the signal. Its an averaging device. It doesn't literally transcribe.  

Yeah sure its always better when everything is nice and perfect. That is why when you get up into the high end everything tends to be perfect. At the level you are looking at though sorry to say but what you see that looks out of kilter is only the tip of a very big iceberg of imperfections. Don't sweat it. Lots bigger fish to fry.
Hauie88, that cantilever is way off and the azimuth is off. The cartridge was damage by using it in an arm without anti skating. It is garbage and should not be used. It will damage your records.  You might be able to get a replacement stylus at LP Gear. Great Pics.
Sometimes the cantilever will be a little off and you just align the cantilever correctly and you will be fine but this is too extreme with the azimuth way off indicating damage.
It certainly seems like every stylus is not perfectly parallel with the cantilever and always seems to lean ever so slightly to one side or another. Seems like new ones can be like this too. So I assume a bit of a lean is normal / not an issue.

Sorry OP, really wish people would read and think first. He didn’t and so doesn’t realize he just told you to throw away all your cartridges. He didn’t mean it. Forest for the trees. You were right in the first place, as I so clearly explained. No worries. Carry on.

Anti-skating by the way, playing a record generates a force that pulls the stylus towards the center. Anti-skate counters this force with an equal force pushing the arm out away from the center. So if your bent cantilever was due to anti-skate it would be bent the opposite of what you see. So sorry, but he got that one exactly backwards. Almost certainly a slip. He knows a lot more than you would think from this example.  

Analog is not that hard. Just a lot of simple stuff, levers and straight bits for the most part. Not that hard, just have to know what’s going on and think it through. But you do have to think it through.

Thanks for the responses!

It is garbage and should not be used. It will damage your records.

@mijostyn - if this is what's happening, would I hear any playback problems? What are the types of distortion that should be audible from bad / crooked azimuth? Would I see visible scratches in my records after test playing with the cartridge?

@millercarbon - thanks for the link and for the clarification of terms. I will listen to the link now. In the meantime it sounds like you are also suggesting that azimuth would be the biggest problem? I do agree with you that the stylus still seems relatively vertical. But same question to you - what should I be listening for to know if it is in fact too far off? Do you agree with @mijostyn that this could damage records?

I have nearly all top Pickering cartridges including your model, nice cartridge, but you must find a new replacement stylus, your cartridge is damaged, this is NOT normal! 
@chakster you mean the stylus / cantilever is damaged not the cartridge, right? And in your experience how do replacement styluses affect performance on this cartridge? (btw I got this cart on your recommendation from a separate thread so thanks!)

Lastly same question I had before - what types of sound issues should I hear if this is in fact damaged like you and @mijostyn are saying? Imbalance between channels? Distorted / overly bright sound? Bad bass reproduction? Skipping?
@millercarbon based on your (and Peter Lederman's) description of the physics at work here, it seems to me that the cartridge is the far more important factor in sound quality - would you agree with that? What percentage would you put on that? Like 75% cartridge / 25% stylus? Or something more balanced?
@chakster you mean the stylus / cantilever is damaged not the cartridge, right? And in your experience how do replacement styluses affect performance on this cartridge? (btw I got this cart on your recommendation from a separate thread so thanks!)

This model, but not this cart to be correct.

Stylus and cantilever is the most important, your cantilever is off and I’m not sure how can you align it, some people on audiogon are crazy about alignment even a new cartridge, but your cartridge cantilever is damaged.

Since it’s not an MC you can replace the stylus assembly yourself, you need a genuine Pickering stylus (very hard to find,  and cost as much as the new cartridge or close).

Expert Stylus Company in UK can fix your damaged cartridge, they are specialized in Stanton / Pickering repair.

As I said many times on this forum it make sense to buy ONLY NOS or gentry used cartridges in perfect condition when it comes to those gems from the 70’s.
It seems like the seller rip you off (or, if it was too cheap, now you know why).
millercarbon, you are really showing your ignorance. The skating force is pulling the tonearm towards the the center not the stylus. The stylus and cantilever are forced into the left channel deflecting the cantilever toward the right or outside channel. The damage you see, cantilever deflected to the outside and stylus spun counter clock wise are due to long term use without anti skating and probably way too much overhang. Yes, that stylus is garbage and should be thrown away.
Hauie88, that stylus will dig a trench in the right channel and shave the top of the left channel away. You need a new stylus and any expert will tell you that. If you hang on others will show up and give you that opinion.
I would never play a record with a cartridge in that condition. It needs a new stylus. If you can't find one then ditch the cartridge and start over.
Cantilever is way off, pictures are showing exactly that. No obvious bending but shows stracture's displacement to the right.
Maybe an accidental bump. Too much for wrong antiskating.


@petg60, not at all. I saw a Shure cartridge that was misaligned in an AR XA that was just as bad as this. The constant pressure deforms the suspension padding. With too much overhang the pressure can get pretty severe. 
Can you pull the stylus assembly out? If so, you might be able to make a fine adjustment with a needle-nose pliers. 
Wow. This is really sad. Why anyone wants to get into analog with so much screwy advice. Really.

The tone arm pivots. That’s the whole point of bearings, to let the arm swing freely. Incredibly low friction. That is why the arm will swing towards the center - UNLESS we counteract the skating force with an equally strong outward pushing ANTI-skating force.

Now at this point, please, step away from the keyboard, go and look at your tone arm. Put it down on the lead-in groove of a record. A STATIONARY record. Now very gently with your finger push the head shell just a teeny tiny little bit towards the outside. That is an exaggerated anti-skating force.

And it really, really pains me to have to point this out but look- which way is the cantilever bent? Eh? To the left.  Exactly the opposite of what mijostyn said. You push out, cantilever bends in. Which way is the OPs cantilever bent? To the right. Exactly wrong Mike. Geez and after I bothered to tell the guy it was a mistake, and try and make you come off like a guy who might have a clue. Oh well. Blew your own cover. Don’t look at me.
I wouldn't play a record with a cantilever canted that much. Out of curiosity @millercarbon, do you own a Soundsmith cartridge? I know you cite to him constantly but have you ever even talked to the man?
I suspect if you sent that pic to Soundsmith they would tell you it's too far gone. Since it is apparently a user replaceable stylus, what's the cost? Are they still made? I remember the cartridges from that era and they certainly didn't come out of the box looking that way. There are any number of reasons why that thing is skewed. 
Millercabon you are doing a great job of demonstrating your own ignorance. You are making yourself the laughing stock of this web site.
@whart I actually did put in a question to soundsmith with the same pics so hopefully will hear back from them too. 

And yes the stylus assembly is replaceable but this is a really rare cartridge and the original needle seems even more rare.

Which relates to my above question - how much of a difference is there between original vs replacement styli for vintage carts?

More specifically, is a replacement stylus basically going to have a completely different character than the original? (Kind of like how certain lines of carts have use the same cart body just with different needle types)

Is it better to try to get an old stylus retipped by someone like Soundsmith? Would that sound more true to the original than buying a replacement from a place like LPGear?

Generally, how responsible is the cart for sound reproduction vs the stylus? If I keep the cart and use a replacement stylus am I actually “hearing” that vintage cart? Or am I fooling myself?


@hauie88- our member @chakster seems to be a guru for these old gems so he may know what the replacement stylus market is like for this piece. I think Mr. Pickering only died a few years ago, but it's been years since I played with one of their cartridges. (Chakster is not a fan of retips, based on reading his posts).
 Usually, SS ask you to send the cartridge and pay, I dunno, $75 bucks American for an actual inspection, but they may be willing to look at the photos and give you a reaction. I was willing to put up money on a bet with MC as to SS's response, but I think it's better spent on the cartridge, not just a 'who's right' thing. Will be interested in SS's response. 
@whart Cool, thanks for that.

For everyone here, what audible issues should I hear from a problem like this? 

And what has been people's experience with retipping or replacement styli for vintage carts?

They aren't the same as the original. Peter did re-do my Airtight Supreme without changing the cantilever, but sticking a fresh stylus tip in the factory cantilever, but even that may change the sound. (I have not mounted it since it came back, it's sealed up in an airtight container). 
Nonetheless, there are people who would say, for $XXX, I've still got a great cartridge at a fraction of the cost of what most high end cartridges cost today- which in my estimation is nutty money (though I use them and with one Koetsu, sent it back to the factory, which isn't cheap). 
As to this Pickering, I haven't a clue. You'll probably spend more on a retip than you did on the cartridge in this case, I'm guessing. And there will be a wait. 
Sorry my eyes may be funny but in second shot tracking angle would not be ok, seems to be low, is that normal for this cartridge? 

If any cantilever of mine looked like that I would send it to Peter Lederman for an inspection.
Regardless as to why, that cantilever is tweaked. Off center and slightly rotated. I’m with the others unfortunately, fix it or ditch it. 
Putting all the issues regarding vinyl playback and the role of the cartridge and how various parts of it (cantilever, stylus) work aside, why would anyone want to buy something that obviously looks so wrong and then ask the question "is this Ok? if not why not".

There is no cartridge in the world, regardless of price, that is supposed to be built like that or look like that. 

The question of how will it sound is really anyone's guess because it depends on the turntable and arm etc. etc. etc. as well.

The bigger question is "Why would you even put yourself through this?" when you can buy new cartridges reasonably priced these days.

Anyway good luck and let us know what you ended up doing! 
As mentioned above, I’m not sure why you’re putting yourself through all of this. You can no doubt find a cartridge suitable to your tastes and be done with it.

I assume however, that you are compelled to use this cartridge and you will most likely send it to Peter for inspection.

I’d be most concerned about the unknown condition of the stylus (and resultant the health of my records), and not the mis-alignment.  I’m not a fan of buying used cartridges or used tooth brushes ;-)

I can’t speak to the issue of how much sonic change would result from a re-tip (assuming Peter would adjust the suspension to re-align it). Any material change or stylus profile difference will likely change the sound, and Peter will tell you as much.

The off-center issue can be addressed in one of two ways: (1) by aligning the cartridge with a protractor, or (2) by the risky procedure of straightening it yourself.

With respect to #1, aligning the cartridge won’t change the mis-alignment of the motor assembly and the resultant channel imbalance and slightly compromised channel separation.

The motor assembly (magnet + coils) are designed so that performance is optimized when everything is theoretically perfect: a cantilever/magnet that is centered between the coils.

Now, it’s the extraordinary exception that any cartridge (at any price) is manufactured to theoretical perfection, so don’t sweat this too much. Yours is off by quite a bit however, but only you can say how important channel balance/separation is to you. It’s your hi-fi.

As far as #2 is concerned, if you are reasonably steady handed and not terribly risk averse, you can use a toothpick to see if you can gently coax the cantilever back into position.

In summary, if you align using either of the two methods, your only risk of damaging your records will be from the condition of the stylus. Method #1 may mean you don’t have as much channel separation as is inherent in the design, and messing up method #2 may result in a broken cantilever.

... Thom @ Galibier Design

1+ Thom, Hauie, you are wasting your money sending it for inspection and I doubt Peter would touch it. Even if he could repair it he would tell you that it was not worth spending that kind of money on. For perhaps $100 you may be able to get a new stylus at LP Gear. There is no way to know how close it will sound to the original as we do not have an original to compare it to. I might even sound better! 
@thom_at_galibier_design thanks so much for the detailed response that really helped me understand better. The stylus looks intact to me but I am only using a handheld jewelry magnifying glass (I think 40x). In order to really see damage you need something like 100x+ right?

In my further testing with this needle I have started to notice that it seems like it will sometimes fail to settle properly in the groove. In one very severe case I placed the needle in a middle track of a record and practically nothing but muffled thumps came out of the left channel while the right channel seemed fine. This problem was rectified by just raising the needle and dropping it again in the same place.

Does this make sense to folks as a problem that would be caused by this angled cantilever? That it can sometimes fail to catch a groove but once it catches sounds normal?

To the general question of why I am bothering with working through these issues rather than just buying brand new stuff... it's interesting and fun to me! I don't want to simply know that something is damaged I want to know why and how that affects playback.

So all your input is super helpful and maybe I will eventually be convinced to ditch vintage and go new. Or maybe not - who knows. But please feel free to keep firing away as all this is new to me and just helps fill in my (many many many) gaps of understanding.
Keep in mind that those needle drops may leave a click in the record (even when the stylus/cantilever is fine, that's a risk, unless you are dead-eye on the space between tracks). Thom/Galibier explained the issue very clearly in terms of the skew of the motor assembly; his point re the condition of the stylus itself is a good one. The angled cantilever is a little like having a misaligned drive shaft between your motor and the differential/wheels. If it isn't straight on, when running the road (grooves) it isn't going to behave smoothly. And could result in mistracking and explain why you lost signal in one channel. 
It's all good to experiment and have fun but I'd be cautious about damaging your records. I also don't know anything about the quality of replacement stylus assemblies, such as those sold by 3d parties. @chakster would be your man among others on that question. Good luck!
@whart got it thanks for that. So do you always play your records from the first track only?
@hauie88--Nope. Back in the day, I often only listened to a selected track or two from an album, then flipped to something else. I was pretty careful to drop in the dead space between tracks, but I'm human and that's an imperfect process. 
These days I do tend to listen to full sides, particularly since a lot of what I've been listening to is '70s spiritual or soul jazz and some of the tracks can take up a whole side. I will still, on occasion, do a needle drop of single track though. (I've become less dogmatic about a lot of things in my dotage). 
My concern was exacerbated by the problem(s) with your cartridge--not just aiming, but the potential for mistracking and needle dropping with a skewed cantilever could make matters worse in terms of damage to the record. 
the skewed cantilever will not significantly increase record wear but the azimuth error sure will. The diamond is pointed in the wrong direction!!
I explained the damage this will cause above. The cartridge will sound fine with a replacement stylus. So, go here and see if they have a replacement for it. Check out the cost and tell us what you find.
You will not find genuine Pickering replacement for your XSV/5000 cartridge, this cartridge is extremely rare and genuine stylus is very hard to find. Do not buy fake styli, the goal of the original is Stereohedron MKII stylus profile and Samarium Cobalt Magnet!

Regarding position of the cantilever please look at my image of XSV/4000.

Stereohedron stylus was manufactured by Expert Stylus & Cartridge Co in United Kingdom for Stanton/Pickering. Now same company is a re-tipping/refurbishing service. Because Stereohedron was Stanton’s Patent the new stylus from Expert Stylus & Co. called Paratrace. If you want to refurbish Pickering/Stanton then Expert Stylus in UK is what you need! 

Contact info for you: 

Expert Stylus & Cartridge Co 

Last time I contacted them in 2016 and it was Julia Thompson (Client Liaison).
She was very quick with replies by email 

Thanks all - looks like LP Gear does have a replacement at a decent price so that is an option for sure. 

@chakster Thanks for the info on Expert Stylus - I will definitely contact them. 

Also I heard back from Soundsmith and their diagnosis was indeed that this is too far off angle to be innocuous. Most likely it is due to wear in the housing / base of the cantilever. Channel separation and tracking error are potential issues and I have heard both those problems. 

Also the guy I spoke with (Peter Green, not Lederman) said that they can only retip stylus assemblies that are not "user replaceable" and therefore he thought this one would probably not work for retipping. 

Lastly he said (I'm paraphrasing) that in terms of cartridge vs stylus, it is the cartridge that determines all the characteristics of the sound reproduction while the stylus and cantilever are responsible for providing the information to the cartridge.

So it seems to me that as long as a replacement stylus assembly is made with care and with the same materials as the original you can largely replicate the original sound. So sounds like Expert Stylus is where to go for this model!

So it seems to me that as long as a replacement stylus assembly is made with care and with the same materials as the original you can largely replicate the original sound. So sounds like Expert Stylus is where to go for this model!

Exactly, let us know when you will get any info from Expert Stylus & Co. 
So, as previously mentioned, with the multitudes of excellent carts out there, is there a reason you want THAT cart? Seems like the cost to ship it to the UK, fix, time, etc it would be a better solution to get a new cart? 
@chakster Thanks - I just sent a note off to Expert Stylus so we'll see what they say.

@geof3 So I hesitate to say this because I know it's silly on some levels but I am basically trying to reproduce an all-vintage system. All my components are from the same / similar era (I do have all new / modern components for my home theater setup). And beyond the strong recommendation of @chakster I've also read up further on this cart and it seems like a one of a kind - especially for MM carts (I am limiting myself to a MM setup for now). I do have a Grace F8 in really good shape that I am generally happy with too so don't really mind waiting if it comes to that.
Hey @chakster so I heard back from Expert Stylus and unfortunately they say they can't help repair or replace the stylus. 

Assuming I can't find the exact D5000 replacement would you recommend the other models in the line? The D3000 or D4000 or even D4500 stylus assemblies? 

Wow, things changed since  2016. When I asked them about Stanton (or even Technics MM) the answer was positive all the time, but it was 4 years ago.
Did they explain why they can’t now? 

I have one spare D4000 stylus in the box, but never tried D4000 on XSV/5000 cartridge.
@chakster ah, too bad. Yeah Julia said the cantilever was too far gone to repair (damaged suspension) and said they didn't have any originals or replacements in stock.

What about the designs of the D3000 / D4000 / D4500? Based on what you know about them are any of them more or less similar to the D5000? Seems like someone has a D4500-Q NOS for sale but from what I can see is that is a "quadrahedron" rather than "stereohedron" but I have no idea what that means or if it matters.

Assume the D4000 is stereohedron? I guess maybe the best I can do is put the D5000 brush on different stylus model. 
Ask Julia if they can repair your cartridge with their Paratrace stylus on different (new) aluminum cantilever. 

Stereohedron stylus was designed after Quadrahedron and it’s much better than Quadrahedron. Then there was Stereohedron mkII. 

XSV/5000 is much better cartridge/stylus than older XSV/3000. The closest to XSV/5000 is XSV/4000.
The original stylus I have is Stereohedron type. 

They are all comes with brush (brush is removable).

@chakster Gotcha, thanks for that - will look for a 4000 then. 

Regarding Expert Stylus Co., when I asked if they had any replacements or if I could get one custom made, Julia told me that "the suspension of the assembly is faulty. We are unable to repair this particular fault and no longer have any of this particular model in stock."

She later added "We do not have any (other) assemblies ourselves that would fit your cartridge." 
Have you asked them to make a custom stylus assembly before? And for Stanton / Pickering models? Or did they replace your cantilever and stylus on an otherwise functional assembly?
No, I ask them for repair and retip, but I ended up getting the original replacement. 
Probably they can do retip on original cantilever, but your situation is different since the suspension was damaged. 
Anyway, I think it’s nearly impossible to find an original D4000 stylus, I have one spare.