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The stylus or needle is a crucial part of any cartridge because it is the part that rides on the record groove. In most cartridges particularly moving magnets, the stylus is user replaceable, hence your interest. In moving coil designs, the whole cartridge needs to be replaced or sent back to the factory for re-tipping.
The stylus unit is actually made up of three to four parts. There is the stylus itself which is made of a hard material typically diamond. It is mounted on the end of a short arm called a cantilever that can pivot as the stylus tracks and is moved by the record grooves. The cantilever is fastened to a grip, an appropriate term for a contraption that you hold to insert the stylus unit into the cartridge.
Styli come in a number of shapes and facets. The best styli try to duplicate the shape of the cutting stylus used to produce the original master disk. For these types of styli, you will see such terms as MicroLine or MicroRidge.
Another styli that is reserved for the higher priced models is the Linear Contact (LC). This type of stylus provides a vertical contact area several times more than that of the elliptical, thus enabling it to respond to minute grove modulations.
The elliptical stylus has two radii, with the front being wider than the side radius. Elliptical styli are available in several sizes, such as 0.2 x 0.7 mil, 0.3 x 0.7 mil and 0.4 x 0.7 mil. The first number is the side radius. The smaller the side radius, the better its music retrieval potential.
The conical stylus is probably the most widely used stylus. This is because it usually comes as an original part of a fully equipped standard turntable. It is the simplest and least expensive among all of the styli shapes. Its spherical tip, typically with a radius of 0.7 mil, touches the center of the groove walls. The conical stylus can be found with lower to moderately priced turntables.