Vinyl Stylus Shapes Explained

Marc HenshallTech Talk, Vinyl 10115 Comments

The hi-fi world is full of technical jargon and vinyl records are certainly no exception. In the following article, you’ll learn about the most common stylus shapes on the market designed for vinyl playback.

So what exactly is a stylus?

In simple terms the stylus (or needle) is the tip that tracks your vinyl record. Most styli are made from industrial diamonds (sometimes sapphire), but diamond is the material of choice as it’s the hardest material known to man. (On the mohs scale of mineral hardness, diamonds rank at number 10; sapphires come a close second at 9).

The two most common stylus shapes are spherical styli (also called conical) and elliptical styli (also referred to as bi-radial). Both types have positive and negative attributes…

Spherical stylus

A spherical stylus tip, by definition, resembles a sphere – similar to a ballpoint pen. Because of their shape, spherical styli have a large radius and subsequently trace less of the smaller groove modulations that represent higher frequencies. They are the least expensive and most widely used stylus type.

Record wear

There is much debate in the hi-fi community as to how spherical styli perform from a record wear standpoint. Some claim that spherical styli have the greatest record wear because the contact area of the diamond is restricted to two very small points. Others claim spherical styli produce less record wear. The video below features some great images taken using an electron microscope showing actual record wear between different spherical and elliptical styli at varying tracking forces. From the evidence shown, it would appear spherical styli are kindest to your records when tracked light. 

Elliptical stylus

An elliptical (or bi-radial) stylus has a dual radii and makes contact across a larger area of the groove wall, which allows for more precise tracking. The result is improved frequency response (particularly highs), improved phase response, and lower distortion, especially in the inner grooves that are harder to track. The drawback is faster tip wear and you’ll need to pay particular attention to cartridge and tone arm alignment for the best results.

Hyperelliptical Stylus

Also known as shibata, fine line, or stereohedron, hyperelliptical styli take the elliptical design further for greater contact with the record. When properly aligned, hyperelliptical styli offer fantastic high-frequency performance, longer tip life, improved tracking, and low record wear. They are, however, harder to manufacture than elliptical styli, and therefore expensive.


The Micro-Ridge (or Microline) stylus is a very advanced, computer designed tip shape that comes very close to the shape of a cutting stylus used to produce original master discs. They are difficult to manufacture, and very expensive, but when aligned correctly are capable of the best high-frequency performance with extended record and stylus life. Such performance is made possible by the advanced multilevel “ridge” shape of a MicroLine tip.


Stylus for 78 RPM records

The groove of a 78 RPM record is about 3 to 4 times wider than the a typical 33 1/3 RPM record. To play 78 records, you must use a stylus designed specifically for the wider grooves. The tip radius should be at least 2.0 mil. If a standard microgroove spherical stylus tip is used, it will ride very low in the groove and produce a very noisy, unlistenable signal. Not to mentioned it will destroy your standard stylus very quickly!

Note About Stylus Shank Construction:

There are two primary methods of attached a stylus to the cantilever:

a. Nude diamond. Where the stylus is a whole diamond that’s glued or fastened to the cantilever.  Nude styli have lower mass and therefore track more accurately.

b. Tipped diamond. Here, a diamond stylus tip is mounted on a metal shank. Such designs often have increased mass which can impair tracking and reduce transient reproduction.

The Bottom Line

There are no right or wrong choices when it comes to selecting the right stylus for you. Every shape and design is a balance between performance, price, and application. DJ’s tend to use spherical styli for their performance in scratching and backspin applications. Hi-fi enthusiasts will appreciate the sonic accuracy of elliptical, hyperelliptical, or micro-ridge designs; the one you settle on will very much depend on your budget.

In any case, it’s important to keep your stylus clean as this will extend its life and prevent deterioration in sound quality due to a build up of dust and grime. Keeping your records clean will reduce the amount of work required here, of course, but inevitably, all styli wear out eventually and need to be replaced. (Check our full guide to see how often you should replace your stylus/needle).

What styli do you use? I’d love to hear your experience and what influenced your decision in the comments bellow.


  • Marc Henshall

    Marc is the owner of Sound Matters and a musician with a BSc Honours Degree in Music Technology. His love for records grew in the fallout from digital downloads and a feeling that, somehow, without the physical medium, the magic was lost.

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Great article Marc, I’ve learned a lot. The wear to the vinyl is rather concerning considering how much money albums cost. I am currently using a Pickering SVX3000 cartridge with original stereohedron sylus both of which I bought new in like 1980. I’ve kept all my vinyl gear and recently began using it and enjoying it very much. I am quite sure I could use a new stylus by now.


Can’t imagine 44 years on a single stylus. My Lab440 with Shure cartridge is on its fourth elliptical stylus and I don’t play records every day. Ten years seems about tops for stylus life.


I started listening to records using conicals that were original to the cartridge. Lately I started trying replacement stylus in particular NOS. I found those with brass shank performed better than the original. Any thoughts on shank material for bonded stylus that affects sound quality?

Robert dore

I have a Rega Planar 2 deck fitted with a Linn K5 stylus which came with the unit. Oddly enough, I had given very little thought to what model stylus is best suited to the variety of music I listen to until very recently, but due to cost won’t be changing until the present unit develops a fault; or I hear something that is way better.


Excellent article, Marc.
Currently, I use two and they are both from Audio-Technica. The main one is a VM540ML with a MicroLine stylus. Excellent for the price and a fantastic tracker at 1.8g. The other is one I use mainly for my older mono records, their VM610MONO with a spherical tip. (God help you when you play some 45’s with this one; it’ll pin you to the wall!). These are both fantastic cartridges in their way. Cheers. Love my t-shirt, by the way.


I’ve been spoiled with microline styli for 35 years or so…
Could never go back.


Which one are you using?

Robert dore

John, wold you say that this was superior to the Linn K5; and if so; in what way?

[…] Image from Sound Matters – Learn about stylus shapes: Vinyl Stylus Shapes Explained […]

Lenny Madia

I use both the spherical with my Ortofon OM cartridge and the elliptical with my Audio Technica vm95 cartridge.

To me, the AT is an all around better sounding stylus/cartridge. It appears to provide a better, brighter sound than the Ortofon. On the other hand the Ortofon provides a slightly warmer sound. The price range is about the same, the AT stylus at $29 and the Ort at $32.

The Ortofon is often advertised as a good DJ cartridge/stylus and customer reviews proves that point. But it does a good job pared with my Audio Technica 1200x turntable providing basic sound. I purchased the Ortofon OM cartridge shell after I was told by a company rep the Ortofon would sound nice with my turntable. He was right.

That turntable came with the AT cartridge. It sounds fine as is, it I like to experiment with different types of equipment as my finances permit. I have often been tempted to purchase a more expensive shaped stylus. I backed off because of price verses improvement.

So, to support the author of the article, I think the differences in sound between the elliptical and spherical stylus in the same price range depends on taste.

[…] At the top-end of the scale for Ortofon moving magnetic cartridges is the 2M Black. This more expensive option features a Shibata stylus, which allows for greater contact with the record grooves and helps to produce a more detailed reproduction. (You can read more about stylus shapes and how they affect record performance, here). […]


I wonder what makes the author imagine that the higher frequencies are recorded deeper in the groove…? It is of course nonsense – the same frequency range is recorded across the whole groove wall irrespective of height !

Marc Henshall

You can address me directly if you like! I’m always happy to make a correction – we’re all just human at the end of the day.

You’re quite right, I’ve obviously misinterpreted something I read. The groove modulations (not depth) represent frequency: here’s the correction – hopefully this satisfies you. “subsequently trace less of the smaller groove modulations that represent higher frequencies.”


I wonder if it might have been here…
… where the same idea is mis-stated…?