DJ Needle Maintenance

Introduction

Most turntable cartridges and needles require little maintenance. The most important aspect of all things turntables is cleanliness. The easiest and most healthy step to getting long life out of cartridges – and your vinyl collection – is keeping everything as clean as possible.  This article will cover phono cartridge maintenance and cleaning.

Cleaning

Cleaning the dirt and dust off a stylus is rather easy. Most phono cartridge kits come with a small soft bristle brush for just this purpose.

Basic Cartridge Cleaning Steps

  1. Lock the tonearm in place.
  2. Carefully remove the cartridge from the tonearm.
  3. Holding the cartridge upside down, carefully brush the dust off the styli.  Be sure to only brush towards the tip of the needle, going up the “ramp” of the needle, not into it.  Brushing into the needle can easily damage it.

Deep Cleaning

Sometimes a more aggressive approach is required to remove many nights of built up dirt and grime on your styli. There are a variety of liquid cleaners on the market. Stanton and RCA both make a stylus cleaner that works decently well.

Magic Eraser Needle Cleaning

Another great way to clean styli is using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Yes you read correctly! The densely populated fiber structure of this miracle sponge is great for kitchen countertops, and DJ needles too! :)

Magic Eraser Needle Cleaning Steps

  1. Cut a small piece the magic clean eraser, small enough to fit under the needle when mounted on the tonearm.
  2. Position the sponge under the needle.
  3. Using the drop lever, drop the dirty needle onto the sponge.
  4. Raise the lever again to pull the needle out of the sponge.
  5. Repeat a few times until the styli looks brand new!

Warning! Do not move the needle front to back or side to side when using this cleaning method!  The sponge can grab the stylus quite strongly, and moving it any direction other than straight up and down will damage the stylus!

Gemini Hd-15

Direct from Gemini

The Gemini HD-15 Headshell features a silver finish and mounts standard 4-pin turntable cartridges.

Review

The Gemini Hd-15 headshell is a basic cast aluminum headshell that has a good mass and weight. The pins are of decent quality, and it has a rubber washer to keep dust out of the pins.

Audio Technica AT-LH18

Direct from Audio Technica

Made from Audio-Technica’s “technichard” space technology super hard material rated microdiamond pyramid hardness exceeds 400. Surface hardness achieve its ultra strong strength and light weight through “technichard” aluminum material, developed by NASA. Ideal head shell for its ultra light weight and durability

Review

The Audio Technica AT-LH18 is a great audiophile headshell. It is best paired with heavier cartridges, such as the Grado Prestige Green or AUDIO TECHNICA ATP-2XN, since the headshell is such light weight to begin with. Don’t be fooled by the lightweight design though, this headshell is extremely dense, meaning it will conduct vibrations very well. The greater the conduction, the better the detail of the sound.

Stanton 500.V3

Direct from Stanton

The 500.V3 is an updated version of the classic Stanton 500AL. With more years spent on the decks than any other cartridge in the world, the 500 series has earned a reputation as a standard. The 500.V3 represents a perfect balance between economy, reliability, ruggedness and optimum performance.


Review

The Stanton 500 v3 is a great economic cartridge. For the price point of less than $50 each, you get performance and sound quality not found in the competition. The dynamic response is flat, the sound is crisp and vibrant.

Stanton has never really been in the spotlight for cartridges, as Shure has been dominating the pack. But these 500 V3 are a great contender. When you have 30 seconds to get ready – these carts respond decently well to being over weighted and shoddy setups, so quick setups in the club are ok!

Another thing to help keep the cost down on the 500v3 cart is that it is offered in a 2 pack blister. The cheaper packing material and lack of an included carrying case keeps these under $100 for a pair! These are a great match for the stock technics headshell or Stanton’s own H4-S2 Headshell.

Ortofon Q.Bert

Direct from Ortofon

Co-designed by DJ Q.Bert for scratch and back-cueing. High tracking ability. Ultra high output

Co-developed by one of the most legendary DJs of all time, the Ortofon Q.Bert provides unsurpassed handling, high output voltage, and low wear characteristics that literally put it in a class of its own.

Turntablists and mix DJs alike will appreciate the strong output of this cartridge, coupled with unrivaled tracking ability and sonic characteristics.

The Q.Bert features a more subdued high end, which helps to minimize surface noise from worn vinyl, and an accentuated mid-range to help bring scratching to the front of the sound stage.

The Q-Bert has a supreme ability to trace the grooves of your records and it is tailored specifically for scratch. Due to its enomous output, it is perfect for scratch of all music with deep bass frequences.

Review

The Ortofon Q.Bert is the Qbert signature model. It combines stellar Ortofon sound with Qbert demanded tracking. This is 100% a turntablist scratch cartridge. The needle sticks in the groove through all your craziest moves.

The Ortofon Qbert has a fairly flat response, except for the extended bass response. This is another cartridge that is a great compliment to hip-hop music. Vocals and samples are crystal clear, drum beats and bass notes are pronounced and smooth.

The only downside to the Qbert Signature Scratch Cartridge is the price. These carts are quite expensive, but it pays for the true Ortofon quality. If you want the ultimate scratch cartridge, it would be hard to go wrong with a set of the Ortofon Qberts.

Numark CC-1

Direct from Numark

The CC-1 is Numark’s most versatile cartridge, and the Scratch Perverts signature model. The Perverts are widely regarded as the finest turntablists in the world. They hold the 1999 DMC World Mixing Championship title, and they share the 2001 DMC World Team Championship title with the Allies. The CC-1 offers the ideal combination of high output and superior tracking for performance worthy of champions.

Review

The Numark CC-1 Scratch Perverts signature model cartridge is a great choice for a concord scratch cartridge. The low price, and the ability to stick to vinyl like glue is a major attraction! The one piece concord design combined with the stylish lift lever give this cartridge a sleek, clean, modern look.

The cartridge produces a loud, balanced output. I believe that the Numark CC-1 sounds best for hip-hop, the warm mid range and tight bass complement the genre well.

The CC-1 also features a diamond conical stylus. This allows for lower record wear and less required weight. The stylus grips the groove by the wall, instead of the bottom.

Shure Whitelabel

Direct from Shure:

The Shure Whitelabel cartridge is a truly revolutionary piece of DJ technology. It is an optimal choice for Digital DJs, providing superb tracking of time-coded records, and minimal sonic coloration when mixing between digital files and analog records.

Tailored for the club environment, Whitelabel features sonic characteristics including solid drop bass, flat mids, and accented highs. With a sleek and ergonomic design, the cartridge additionally delivers higher trackability, lower tone-arm resonance, and better skip resistance. It also includes an adjustable stylus overhang, reliable electrical contact, and improved stylus visibility.

Review

Shure Whitelabel DJ cartridges are some of the best sounding club grade mixing needles you can buy. A mix of smooth bass, warm but detailed mids and highs, give these carts an almost perfect sound for high volume environments.

The Shure Whitelabel cartridge is best used for mixing, but can be scratched with using higher weight settings. My personal setup for Whitelabels is 4-5 grams when scratching and 2-3 grams when mixing.

I feel that white labels are the best cartridge to use for drum and bass, jungle, and house music. The smooth bass and supreme detail makes all your classic vinyl sound really great. These are my #1 pick, if you like to spin actual vinyl. Another great feature of this cartridge is the high visibility stripe down the center. This is used for cueing, many cartridges cover the record, whereas the Whitelabel lets you see exactly where you place the needle.

The only downside about Shure Whitelabels is the cost. They run about $90 each, and the replacement styli run about $40 each. Considering the long life of the cartridge though, it’s not a bad investment.

Whitelabel cartridges are also the only overhang adjustable concord cartridge on the market. The genius one piece design still allows precise tracking adjustments to fit any user. A maintenance tip for Whitelabels is to make sure the overhang adjustment screw is always tight, as these do loosen over time.

Shure M44-7

Direct from Shure:

Revived exactly the same as the original, this legendary battle needle offers ultra-high skip resistance and ultra-high output. The needle of choice for many champion DJ’s worldwide. Engineered for scratch DJ’s and turntablists, the M44-7 is designed not to skip under even the most demanding circumstances.





Review

The Shure M44-7 is undoubtedly the most popular DJ cartridge ever used. It features extreme skip resistance not found in any other cartridges on the market. The sound quality is fairly good, and the record wear is minimal.

Another advantage of the Shure M44-7 is that it is not susceptible to poor setup. A DJ can simply plug them into the venue’s house turntables, slam the weights to full-on, and enjoy great performing needles that don’t skip and track magnificently.

The Shure M44-7 also is very cost effective and available everywhere that sells DJ equipment. You can typically expect to pay under $60 dollars each for just the cartridge. Shure also offers the M44-7h, which is a M44-7 pre-mounted on a OEM Technics 1200 headshell. You can typically expect to find the pre-mounted variety for around $75.

The only disadvantage of the Shure M44-7 is the balance of the sound. When using M44-7’s be careful not to push the EQ on the Dj mixer too far. The highs can be shrill and tinny. The bass is also the loudest bass available for any cartridge on the market. This fact is another reason why these cartridges are so favored by Hip-hop and Dubstep DJ’s.

With most DJ’s switching to timecode setups, for example – Serato, Traktor, Torq, the sound quality of the needle becomes irrelevant. The sound quality comes from the DJ’s sound card. The needle simply needs to have a high output, great tracking, and durability.

All these aspects make the M44-7 one of the best choices for modern DJ cartridges. A good match for a headshell would be the Ortofon SH-4 or the Stanton H4S V2.