What are the causes of Sibilance?

Sibilance can be caused by many aspects of analog vinyl replay.


It is important (although difficult) to determine if the problem relates to a minor amount of recordings, and the condition of those records.  A poor pressing or a damaged record will absolutely result in sibilance, and since the amount of high frequency and the mastering process differs dramatically from one record to the next, it can be difficult to determine if sibilance is the result of the recording, its condition,  or the playback device.  


If sibilance is detected on a broad range of recordings, then one can point to something other than the record itself. I will list the issues from the most common to the least:


  1. Worn stylus/damaged stylus
  2. Fouled stylus
  3. Low end styli (conical)
  4. Improper antiskating
  5. Improper azimuth (far more critical as styli become more esoteric in shape)
  6. Improper VTF
  7. Bad tone arm bearings
  8. Improper resonance (many causes, including failed, badly engineered or damaged cartridge)
  9. Very bad SRA


Item 1 - Requires inspection by someone with proper knowledge and optics. Badly worn styli will damage records with ONE PLAY and cause permanent sibilance on the record.

Item 2 - Mandates careful cleaning with isopropyl alcohol – especially for suspected badly fouled styli, or the Soundsmith OCL* stylus design

Item 3 -  ….well, nothing to be done except replace cartridge. (Conical styli will have more at end of record)

Item 4 – Very common problem – please refer to Soundsmith website for proper setting

Item 5 – Very common cause with more esoteric styli - especially the Soundsmith OCL* stylus design. Major problem for arms that don’t have azimuth adjustment. If suspected, make MAJOR changes one direction and the other to rule azimuth in or out as the cause, (see website for how to change azimuth for arms that don’t have azimuth adjustment)

Item 6 – Easily measured, except that certain scales (electronic) can have very bad interaction with stray magnetic fields from certain cartridges. ALWAYS space the cartridge UP  from the measuring platform with plastic box or the like (1” high min). Do not “undertrack” by using too low a VTF.

Item 7 – This happens far more often than one would like to realize – and very hard to test or “feel” play in bearings.

Item 8 – Hard to pin down, experiment with major mass loading to try to rule out cart/arm interaction

Item 9 – Set incorrectly when cart was installed, bad Stylus Rake Angle from factory,  collapsed MC suspension, far too much VTF (sometimes caused by metal platter and MC carts being pulled down)


The challenging thing is that sibilance can be  caused by one or MORE of the above items. Going through each one as best as one can often results in minimizing or elimination of sibilance.


  • The OCL styli design is used in the following Soundsmith designs: Hyperion, Helios, Sussurro, Mezzo, The Voice, Sotto Voce, Aida, and Norma.
  • The OCL stylus looks to be raked back by about 20 degrees, but that is the shaft of the stylus ONLY, and NOT the last facet on the bottom tip, which restores the angle to 2 degrees. This stylus has a flat back, and can tend to build up debris easily on its back surface, and should be cleaned via the Blue – Stik method described on our website on every play. Alcohol should be used ONLY when this cleaning process is suspect of not removing the debris.  The Azimuth setting of this stylus design is very critical, as incorrect setting can result in sibilance and excessive groove noise.

Topic Tags

cartridge maintenance

Record Care

cartridge installation

Product or Service Category


Modified Cartridges


They Said What?

" ... it's not even close, as I've never heard any other phono cartridge deliver this type of monstrous sound and flat frequency response without having at least some distracting artifacts. Perhaps the music was simply too engrossing to be able to pin down anything other than the music being reproduced with such a connection to the source. The delivery system seemed to disappear, leaving only music."

- Tom Lyle, Enjoy The Music .com

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