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Most effective / best value cartridge fitting toolkit suggestions please


trumpetman
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Never done this before so need to get proper kit together, so much choice out there and some very expensive gear.

Suggestions please for a first timer (nothing rude)

Thanks

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You only really NEED an alignment protractor.  You can download one free from vinyl engine - or Ortofon do one for under a tenner. 

You can set tracking force by balancing the arm with the slider at zero and then moving it to the desired tracking force.  But a stylus balance is better if you want to be sure.  Be aware that cheap digital ones can be affected by big magnets in some moving coil cartridges.  Again Ortofon make one for under a tenner, which I have, but I prefer to use my old Shure balance - its a bit more spacious.  But the Ortofon is fine.

And then you need to set bias.  There is a fair bit of controversy about this, but for 40 years Arthur has used a blank disc, and I now do likewise.  You can pick up an old laserdisc on ebay and a 45pm hole adapter https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/303970938431?hash=item46c6146e3f:g:h60AAOSwld9gcgh6

And then of course, a pair of golden ears ;-)

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For years I’ve used a precision toolkit containing screwdrivers, tweezers, a magnifying glass, a scalpel,a couple of tiny files and a small ruler, all housed in a lovely leather pouch. I’ve added some fine-nosed pliers and a few small allen keys of my own to it.

Came from the M&S Christmas gift range about 10 years ago, of all places!

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30 minutes ago, Pinkie said:

You only really NEED an alignment protractor.  You can download one free from vinyl engine - or Ortofon do one for under a tenner. 

You can set tracking force by balancing the arm with the slider at zero and then moving it to the desired tracking force.  But a stylus balance is better if you want to be sure.  Be aware that cheap digital ones can be affected by big magnets in some moving coil cartridges.  Again Ortofon make one for under a tenner, which I have, but I prefer to use my old Shure balance - its a bit more spacious.  But the Ortofon is fine.

And then you need to set bias.  There is a fair bit of controversy about this, but for 40 years Arthur has used a blank disc, and I now do likewise.  You can pick up an old laserdisc on ebay and a 45pm hole adapter https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/303970938431?hash=item46c6146e3f:g:h60AAOSwld9gcgh6

And then of course, a pair of golden ears ;-)

I’ve always used a blank disc to set bias after watching my uncle do it over 40 years ago

i use an old acrylic acromat now 

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Fitting tools or alignment tools?

For the former, a clear pair of glasses :D, needle-nose pliers and small, non-magnetic screwdrivers. Or allen keys, depending on the bolts supplied. Also, no woolly jumpers and not too many coffees before, as you need steady hands. Take time and be careful when connecting the cartridge tags, as the wires are thin, easy to break and usually an absolute swine to solder. Obviously, always keep the stylus guard on right up to the very final adjustment tweaks.

For alignment, dowload and print off a protractor. There are different methods (predominantly Baerwald, Lofgren or Stevenson). They're all reasonably similar, and over time you'll find which best suits. A lot is actually down to the recordings you play most. The cartridge/stylus is mechanically not perfectly aligned with the LP groove over it's entire length, so if it's perfect at the outermost part of an LP, it's imperfect near the centre. Baerwald is probably the most common alignment and a good starting point.

I'd actually suggest a reasonable tracking force gauge is an essential, but you don't need to spend fortunes. Amazon has a fair few at pocket money that seem as accurate as any. Incorrect tracking force will do more damage than incorrect anything else, unless the anything else is miles out.

If your arm has adjustable vertical alignment, start off by setting it so the arm is parallel with the LP. Changing it can alter bass and treble extension to an extent (and increase/reduce sibilance), though some carts are more sensitive to this than others. If the arm also has adjustment for azimuth, you can usually set it by eye so the cartridge/stylus is vertically 'straight'. For both these settings, you can get a clear plastic 'gauge' that has vertical and horizontal lines to make things easy. Thy're available for peanuts from the usual suspects. Mine is amusing titled 'bum TVA and azimuth tool'.

Above all, don't get overly anal about it. You will hear small differences (improvements) generally the more accurately you get it all. However, as long as nothing is miles out and the tracking weight is close to the ideal, you won't do any damage. It's just something else to obsess over...

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I agree with all of the above. Just to also say that getting the arm balanced before setting tracking weight is really important as otherwise the tracking weight could be out by quite a lot. It can be difficult to tell if the arm is straight or not. 

I also recommend that unless you have a high quality arm do not necessarily rely on the tracking weight numbers and to double check with a scale. @Lurch also pointed out a while back that many scales have a thickness that is greater than the height of an LP and will therefore give an inaccurate reading. 

Lastly start with the tracking weight in the middle of the recommended range and then adjust more or less weight (slightly) by ear to see if you like the changes.

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If you have the ability to adjust the azimuth I use the small mirror out of a ladies compact case as it’s very easy to see a misalignment if the image in the mirror is not straight up and down

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Thanks for all contributions so far, really looking forward to get confident in doing these dark arts!

Azimuth- if it is out of adjustment do you tighten/loosen one of the cartridge bolts slightly or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

Thanks

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It's not always (usually) possible to adjust azimuth, although it is possible a bit on the F5 - you loosen the single screw on the back of the headshell and rotate the headshell a bit. 

Recall the wise words of Rabski - "Above all, don't get overly anal about it. You will hear small differences (improvements) generally the more accurately you get it all. However, as long as nothing is miles out and the tracking weight is close to the ideal, you won't do any damage. It's just something else to obsess over... "

I've never worried about adjusting azimuth - although if you've got an arm like the mission 774 you obviously need to pay attention to it.

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There are plenty of tutorials on you tube to walk  you through it and a lot more experienced than I . 
I have probably changed 1 to 2 a year for more than 50 yrs. . Some of those guys have done 10x more ..
And last but not least ... There is no rush, You want it to last at least 500 hrs so patience is the key ..You may have to adjust some things several times till you get the absolute best out of your cartridge for your ears ..It’s the front end of analogue when all said and done

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If you don't have a blank disk or a test disk to set the bias the bias setting can sometimes be the same as the tracking weight. The best thing to do once you have whatever you want to buy is to ask someone on here what settings they use.

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Azimuth is vertical alignment. In other words, looking at the front face of the cartridge in the arm it should look more like Big Ben than the leaning tower of Pisa.

On a great many arms, it's either not adjustable, or only adjustable in a way that risks doing a mischief.

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4 hours ago, DomT said:

Just to also say that getting the arm balanced before setting tracking weight is really important as otherwise the tracking weight could be out by quite a lot. It can be difficult to tell if the arm is straight or not. 

This is obviously not needed if you are using a tracking force gauge.

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41 minutes ago, DomT said:

If you don't have a blank disk or a test disk to set the bias the bias setting can sometimes be the same as the tracking weight. The best thing to do once you have whatever you want to buy is to ask someone on here what settings they use.

I would say side bias is better set at around 50% of vtf as a rule of thumb. 

For Zenith (horizontal rotational alignment) ignore the sides/front of the cartridge body. You need a straight line when sighting down the centreline of the grid or crosshairs, and up through the cantalever. If you get a line similar to looking at a stick in a bucket of water (the part of the stick thats in water is not inline with the rest of stick) then you need to adjust accordingly until its as straight as possible. 

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1 hour ago, greybeard said:

This is obviously not needed if you are using a tracking force gauge.

Just for clarity for the OP - just after the arm is balanced though no?

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