When do records damage a stylus

I hope this is not a dumb question. How bad does a record have to be before it damages your stylus? I have a bunch of old records. Most of them are in very good shape. Some have ticks and pops even after I clean. Some have some scratches that don't make the music skip but you can here a pop, pop, pop when the stylus hits there until it gets past the scratch. Everybody talks about hear some pops but how bad before you do damage to the stylus? I can't afford to replace all of my records but I can't afford to replace my stylus either.
I'm sure someone could come up with some extreme counterexample, but in general, records cannot damage styli. In the real, physical world, hard things damage soft things, not vice versa. Don't worry about this.
I used to worry a lot bout this and winced every time one of those loud pops occurred. But as far as I know I've never damaged a stylus playing vinyl. On the other hand, I've never used a cartridge for much more than five years, so I guess it's possible, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.
Technically, records always wear on a stylus. Simply, a clean record of high quality vinyl will wear on a stylus less than say a dirty 3rd generation pressing.
If a defect is bad enough to cause damage, it is more likely to do it by jarring the stylus loose from the shank than any other way. (Yes, I've heard of it happening, once to a Grado, and once to a Koetsu, no less.) Anyone who plays a record with that kind of obvious defect deserves the result.
Both Timo and Bomarc are right. Friction "grinds" both the stylus and the record. As a general rule though, diamonds are harder than vinyl, so most of the damage will be on the vinyl end of things. Ticks and pops are bad for your amp and speakers whereas "groove grunge" is bad for your groove walls first and then your stylus. As such, cleaner records will reduce the chance for damage to your amp, speakers, records and stylus. I'd worry more about cleaning the records and stylus properly more-so than damaging either of them. If the records are bad enough that you are experiencing high levels of transient energy bursts ( HUGE ticks and pops ), you might want to think about replacing the record or not playing it. Then again, there are a few threads in the archive about how to remove or at least reduce the effects of ticks, pops and scratches. It might be worth some occasional surface noise to enjoy irreplaceable tunes. Sean
I am curious by what mechanism Timo supposes that a later pressing might 'damage' a needle more than an earlier one - I cannot see this factor making any difference at all.

I also wonder what Sean has in mind when he says that ticks/pops are 'bad' for amps or speakers. I could maybe see a scenario where a record is played just loudly enough that it doesn't clip the amp until a hard transient comes along, and I suppose that it's possible that such a transient could be a tick/pop instead of contained within the music - at least on a record mastered at a lower than normal level - but even so, the event would be so brief that I doubt it would cause driver failure at any volume below a level at which the music itself would induce more sustained (and damaging) clipping. And even if this could happen to a speaker, I don't see a tick/pop damaging an amp. Finally, I've got lots of old scatchy vinyl that I will crank up anyway, and I've never encountered any evidence of this alleged danger.

My supposition is that playing conditions which damage the vinyl the most - i.e., incorrect geometry and poor tracking - will also cause the quickest damage to the needle. Probably much lower on the list are less-than-immaculately clean records, assuming they're not disgustingly filthy (hey, some of mine are). On the other hand, for a record to decapitate your stylus, either the record would have to be cracked, or the stylus would have to be suffering from some prior defect like poor adhesion to the cantilever.

The bottom line is that your needle will likely wear out at a roughly constant rate, dependent largely on the cartridge/tonearm set-up and quality, but mostly independent of what records you play. IMO.
What about contaminants glazing on the stylus? There are several cleaning solutions that are supposed to remove this built-up "gunk". I don't know much about it, but it seems that a dirty stylus (from playing those garage sale records with peanut butter and jelly fingerprints)could damage a record, not to mention adversely affectiing the cartridge's performance.


Z: A hard "tick" or "pop" is of immense intensity and speed compared to anything recorded onto a disc. If one is playing very "intense" rock music ( which is highly compressed and has a very high average level ) at high spl's, it's quite possible that the added energy from such an intense burst ( far greater dynamic range, faster rise times and no compression applied ) could drive the amp into clipping and pop the tweeters. The same could be said of a classical disc that has a tick / pop that occurs during a crescendo. The amp is already up and running and hitting it with a bigger peak of greater intensity could be just enough.

As a side note, large bursts like a tick or pop can overload a phono stage that has a limited amount of headroom. The distortion from the phono stage being overdriven is then amplified by the line stage and passed onto the amplifier where it dumps into the speaker. Feeding distortion into a speaker is never a good thing. As you can see, the potential for very fast, high amplitude signals and a greater amount of distortions becomes more apparent as one digs deeper into the subject.

I ran into such situations before with some B&W's and Klipsch being driven by very fast electronics. I know others that ran into such a situation with other combo's of equipment. If you do a search on the various forums, you'll find mentions of B&W's having a propensity towards tweeter failure for one reason or another. I'm sure that they are not alone in this category, so i felt a word of general caution was called for.

The saving grace for many in this situation is that their electronics are too slow to respond to such a fast & intense burst ( limited slew rate and rise time ). As such, the signal never reaches full intensity or duration and the tweeters are spared. Faster electronics are more likely to respond to the full amplitude and duration of such a signal, potentially posing more of a risk to the speakers. No, this is not an endorsement or recommendation to buy or use "slow" electronics : )

The obvious solution is to clean your records as best possible. Not only will all of the components and records last longer, the music will sound better too : ) Sean
Sean - Oh, I've blown tweeters before, but always because I was trying to rock out too much using an underpowered SS amp, or because I screwed around with an upstream connection while the amp was on and the preamp unmuted. But you'll be the first one to know when I blow a tweeter (or damage an amp?) playing a lousy condition record (though I guess you'd just say my tube amps are too slow for this... :-)
Z: Most tube circuits move about as fast as turtles on their backs. Then again, some SS designs i've run across are even slower than that. I've got two SS amps that slew at 5v/uS. Then again, my Dad's old tube preamp used to have a 13 uS rise time. Can you say "sloooooow" but do it VERY slowly : ) Sean
Y'know, every time I think I'm gonna save up for some test gear so I can get intimate with my system's rise time, I blow my money on records and wind up listening to music instead...

Besides, the 'rise time' I find matters most is the amount of *time* you can spend listening before you're compelled to *rise* out of your chair and turn the system off, and here tubes have the advantage, because longer is better ;^)
As Groucho would say, records break a stylus when the stylus need replacing. And you can afford it if you look at Grado or Goldring. Styli wear badly at something like 500 hours of playing uncleaned unpreserved records. Good cleaning will add a factor of three or five. Well cleaned records tend to become less noisy as the stylus shears off the offending anomolies.

The worst thing I have experienced is when a hard particle becomes wedged in the groove. With good light and a good jeweler's loop (sp?) you can always see them. They are disloged with a needle.

You may have bad alignment which will multiply all problems.

I think we need more detail. How many of your records worry you? What are they like in terms of age and visual condition upon inspection?

What are you using to play them? I confess, this is one of the stranger problems and I am keen to suss it out.

Chin up
I am going to try this again after re-reading your question. I will now say that since you have cleaned them, that the pops should be sheared off after several playings.

I would start using Last record preservative for the ones you have cleaned. The above still does apply, but I hear significant noise reduction.

I stand by my Groucho paraphrase