Stylus profile and surface noise

A while ago I discovered the phenomena of getting reduced surface noise and even reducing the impacts of scratches by lowering the VTA on my tonearm. It was nice to make a few beater records sound passable for a while but of course its a hi-fi dead end because it rolls off the highs and your records sound dead and lifeless. I'm convinced that 90% of the best parts of high-fidelity reside in that last ten percent of the high frequencies where the air and subtlety resides.

In the same vein, I have seen cartridges advertised with different stylus profiles (elliptical, etc.) and I was wondering whether certain profiles are better at reducing the effects of surface noise and scratches than others. It seems that based on the stylus profile you could duplicate the effect of reducing the VTA in lowering the noise. It also seems that there would be a potential trade-off in detail unless some clever engineering was employed to overcome this. I do know from experience that individual cartridges are better than others on noise. For example, my old Shure M97 was more resistant to surface imperfections than my current AT-OC9, but the OC9 is much smoother, refined and detailed. The OC9 definitely prefers mint condition vinyl though. I do clean my records well with a Disc Doctor and distilled water rinse, so when I get noise I'm pretty sure its the record.

My vinyl collection is by no means in pristine condition, as like most collectors I have some records that I listen despite being worn simply because I like the music or its never been reissued, etc. Plus there are some things that just sound better in their original issues. A West 63rd Blue Note can (IMHO) sound better, even with a few ticks and pops, than a later reissue.

This is a subject I've never delved into so I'd be curious to see what folks have to say on this one. While you're at it, does anyone have any cartridge recommendations that might help minimize the effects of light surface scuffs?
It seems to me that a stylus which contacts the groove with greater contact area should be better. A sylus with small contact area will respond strongly to a defect of the same small area. I think that the line-contact stylus is supposed to make better groove contact, but some say the old eliptical or even conical stylus shape gives less surface noise.

Which is the best buggy whip? :-)
It is all about tradeoff's. If you want the smoothest sound in which neither VTA or noise is a necessary complication get a conical (can you?) or, to a lesser degree, an eliptical. If you want the last bit of detail (including the embedded noise) get a line stylus and deal with VTA and all of the other parameters. That is why elipticals are popular, they are a good compromise for the less than anal audiophile.

Actually this choice is no different than you face with most of the other issues in audio component selection, emphasis on detail vs smooth more assessible sound. Neither choice, when absolutely pursued throughtout the system, is going to be ideal.

Personally, I have always leaned toward a line stylus in a cartridge that tonally matched my system and looked past the noise issues. But thats me...:-)

Here is a thought, set up two turntables - one for your best LP's with little surface noise and a second turntable with a different cartridge/stylus for more ordinary LP's and have the best of both worlds. I did it for years. In fact I had a suspended table/an unsuspended table, a high mass arm/a low mass arm, a MM cartridge/a MC cartridge, a conical stylus/a line stylus. It was a lot of fun........:-)
Getting a stylus to track a record optimally, even with a properly aligned cartridge, is tricky business and hard to nail exactly in words. You have to listen and try subtle adjustments if needed to nail it.

The goal should be to get the stylus to stay in contact with the grooves as best as possible.

In my experiences, in general, for best sound, with a well matched rig in good operating condition, its better to err on the side of slightly higher tracking force than the manufacturer recommends than lighter in order to keep the needle in contact with the grooves cleanly, particulary with better recordings that contain more modulation over a wide range of frequencies than most.