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  1. #1
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    "Shibata" Stylus: Pros and cons

    I see that every once in a while the question of just what a Shibata stylus is/was, or whether or not it is/was worth anything, crops on several audio web pages. I thought I'd list a few of the feature/benefits, and hope that what I say is both useful, and of interest to, those reading this post.

    The Shibata stylus was brought into this country by Audio Technica (AT), who, in my opinion, is a case-study of marketing genius for the manner in which they promoted it at the time, in order to play the then-new CD-4 4-channel records. These records had a "carrier" signal of upwards of 40KHZ, which standard elliptical or conical-tipped cartridges couldn't play. (Other 4-channel records - SQ and QS - didn't need a special cartridge.)

    As the "footprint" a stylus makes on a groove wall is microscopic in size, the pressure, even at tracking forces of less than 2 grams is in the tons per square inch category. This footprint has two dimensions: the up and down measurement, or the "scanning" radius, and the side-to side measurement, or the "tracing" radius. The tracing radius on a Shibata stylus had to be smaller than that of either an elliptical or conical in order to effectively "trace' the ultra-high frequency carrier signal without shaving it off in one pass. As the pressure per square inch now increased dramatically as the tracing radius, by necessity, had to be narrower, the scanning radius was extended significantly to spread out this pressure over a much greater area of the groove wall. The footprint of a Shibata stylus was very narrow, but also much longer than that of either the elliptical or conical varieties.. Consequently, tracking forces of upwards of 3 grams (a necessity for many Shibata-tipped cartridges), while initially certainly heavy, actually provided significantly less force on the groove wall than elliptical or conical units tracking at only 1 gram as the force was spread out over so much larger an area. Still, the psychological detriment of tracking at pressures exceeding 3 grams was anathema to many audiophiles.

    Unlike the opinions of several others, I never cared much for the sound of Shibata-tipped AT cartridges, even the TOTL, the AT-20s. I never attributed that to the stylus shape, but to the overall design of the cartridge.

    Pickering and Stanton followed suit with their derivative tip called the "Quadrahedron." While geometrically different in appearance from the Shibata, the same effect of a long and narrow footprint was achieved. All early Pickering and Stanton Quadrahedron-tipped cartridges sounded awful, even according to the late owner, Walter Stanton.

    In 1975, Pickering engineers came out with the XUV-4500Q which was the first (and only) Quadrahedron-tipped cartridge that was capable of tracking records of forces of 1 gram, and which sounded pretty good too. Unfortunately, almost simultaneous with the introduction of the cartridge, the 4-channel business collapsed.

    What to do? Well, for one of the first times in history, both sales and engineering actually got together and agreed on a new product! That product was the legendary Pickering XSV-3000 which used a modified version of the Quadrahedron, called the "Stereohedron." Basically, the Stereohedron was less severe in its structure (slightly wider tracing radius; slightly shorter scanning radius) and the "Line-Contact" type stylus tip was born.

    The XSV-3000 ultimately wound up as the Pickering XSV-5000, or the Stanton Collector's Series 100 (other than cosmetics and packaging, the two were identical). Along the way to developing these two was the Stanton 881-S, which may still be available here and there, though it has been discontinued by the comopany.

    So, does the shape of the stylus make a big difference in sound? Theoretically, it should, as it's playing portions of a record groove that were never played before, and a worn-out record (or one worn out along the path an elliptical or conical stylus took) should now sound pristine, as the "line-contact" stylus is playing a previously un-played portion of the groove. Unfortunately, it just don't work out that way. I can't explain exactly why, though I suspect the precise manner in which a stylus actually fits into a groove wall may play a big part, and that's something most of us mortals have no way of achieving to assure such a proper "fit."

    So, that's my "lesson" for today. I hope some of you reading found it useful. And, yes I did work for both PIckering and Stanton. I was Pickering's Sales manager in the late 70's, and Stanton's Vice President of Sales and Marketing throughout the 90's, until the company was sold.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Site Moderator JohnMichael's Avatar
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    I agree that the more extreme stylus profiles are hard to fit to the groove. Both the offset angle and the vertical tracking angle are critical with these styli. I have always liked the sound of elliptical styli better but I do not know if it is the stylus or my setup of the cartridge. I am considering an OM 30 fine line stylus for my Ortofon cartridge. I like the sound of the cartridge and I am curious if I will notice much improvement or will prefer the OM 20's elliptical stylus.
    JohnMichael

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  3. #3
    Aging Smartass
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    In theory, and (this is the key part) all else being equal, the fine line stylus should sound better. There's a lot more to a stylus assembly than a cantilever and a diamond tip, and there might be differences in some of those areas between the elliptical and fine line styli, though I'm not certain. One thing that is for certain: if you don't properly align the cartrdige, the stylus won't properly "seat" itself into the record groove, and the benefits of a fine line stylus won't be achieved.

    Sooooooo, if the cantilever is made of the same material, and is of the same thickness; if the elastomer within the assemblies is no different between the two; and if all other items remain identical between the two, other than the tip, you might hear a difference, and that difference should be in favor of the fine line tip. Good luck!

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