Here we go round again... the cartridge alignment & setup questions

Jules_S

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Sooooooo.... it's that time again, trying out a new cartridge that I acquired fairly recently. I'm finally getting round to getting it set up and I have some questions regarding the various adjustments, what impacts they might have and how I can tell if they need further tweaking. I know this gets done a lot on here but each time it comes up it's often about individual parameters rather than the whole lot. Here goes...

Have I captured all the main parameters to be taken into consideration? And is the order in which you approach them correct?
  1. Approximate VTF setting (with any bias adjuster disabled)
  2. Cartridge overhang & zenith, using an alignment protractor
  3. Azimuth (I've not attempted to do much with this yet but adjustment will be via the "squish" in an Origin Live cartridge enhancer)
  4. VTA / SRA
  5. Bias
  6. Readjust VTF, azimuth, VTA as required during testing / listening
I have always used the Hi Fi News test LP to assist with this setup. All seems OK with the vast majority of the test tracks - resonant frequency is a bit low at 7-9Hz but hopefully I'll get away with that. But I am having problems (again) with the tracking torture tests. Side 1 has four of these, a 300Hz test tone cut at increasing amplitude at +12dB, +14dB, +16dB and +18dB. The theory is that as long as you can track the first three without distortion then you should be OK with everything you're likely to throw at the cartridge in "real life". Problem is that only the first one tracks successfully before I start hearing distortion through the right hand speaker. Left hand one is fine.

Increasing bias doesn't get rid of the "buzzing" - and in fact it begins to introduce it in the left channel as well. But even at the very lowest bias I can apply, I am still getting the problem in the RH channel.

Cartridge is a Benz Ace Low Output, arm is Origin Live Encounter 3C so bias is by hanging weight & thread. The cart is used, not new. VTF is set to 1.8g ("ideal" range is 1.7-1.8g). Armtube is set level. I'm wondering if:

  1. I need a smaller weight for the bias adjuster so I can apply less force
  2. Stylus wear could be wholly or partially responsible for the distortion
  3. My test LP is knackered from prior tests and may be wholly or partially responsible for the distortion
  4. Alignment is incorrect (which bit would be most likely? Azimuth? Zenith?)
  5. (horrifyingly) any combination of the above
I suppose where I'm going with this is, how on earth, except by elimination in a couple of cases, would I work out the culprit(s)?

I've played a couple of LPs and they sounded fine, but I've not really put it under any sort of stress yet so it's early days to say that this issue with the test LP is not causing any problems.

Next question - cartridge loading. So I know that, put basically, for an MC you don't really worry about the capacitance in the circuit but you do set the resistance (assuming you have the facility to do so). My phono (Tube Technology) does have a fairly wide range of options which is great. Benz somewhat unhelpfully suggest 100 - 47,000 ohm, hardly narrows it down! I've gone for 103 ohm which is the closest I get to 100, as a start point.

What I want to try and understand though is, when we say we are "loading" the cartridge, what exactly is happening? How does adding a resistance in-circuit make a difference to how the cartridge performs? Further, my phono applies this loading on the "secondary" of the transformer. Am I correct in thinking that the "primary" side is the side that the cartridge connects to, and the "secondary" goes out to the rest of the phono stage? In which case, changing this "loading" wouldn't seem to me to be having any effect on the cartridge at all, but on the rest of the phono. I'd just really like to try and understand, in layman's terms, what's actually happening in the circuit. And in addition, how altering this loading impacts the sound - what impact does an increase or decrease have?

Third question. Let's say that I audition my cartridge and think that, for the sake of argument, the sound is a bit bright, a bit brittle. As I understand things, lowering the VTA could restore the balance by making the sound less top-endy (!). But then also the cartridge loading could make a difference. Or potentially the tonearm lead-out wiring. Or the interconnects between phono and amp. How would I know which one to try adjusting? Is there a general rule-of-thumb or a preferred "order of experiment", i.e. should I always try VTA before loading?

I do enjoy all this playing around with setup and adjustment, but it can also be frustrating when you're playing with so many parameters and not sure where to turn next. What's my next steps, chaps?
 

rabski

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I'll answer the loading bit, someone else can attack the rest.

The primary purpose of loading is to 'flatten' out any peaks in frequency response. The peaks can be audible (almost always treble). They, however, can also be above audible frequencies, and these can overload the phono stage and/or cause intermodulation distortion. They can also cause 'ringing' in transformers.

If you use a step-up transformer and load the secondary windings, the load is reflected onto the primary as a ratio. This depends on the ratio of the transformer itself, and the formula is secondary load divided by the transformer ratio squared. Thus, if you have a 1:10 step up and load it with 47k ohms on the secondary, the cartridge 'sees' (on the primary windings) 47000 divided by 10x10. Therefore, 470 ohms. If your setup is cartridge -> SUT -> phono stage, then I'd start with 47k on the phono stage.

Tonearm wiring and interconnects have as near to zero resistance as matters, so can be ignored. They do have some capaciatnce, which needs to be taken into account with capacitive loading, but this is far more important for moving-magnet cartridges and mostly inconsequential for MCs.

For the last question, get the cartridge alignment spot on before anything and start off with VTA flat (level with the LP surface). Experiment with loading to eliminate any top-end harshness or distortion. The loading should not really be used to adjust the treble, but merely to stop any obvious peaks. This is primarily because any peaks are exactly that. A relatively large increase, but over a relatively small frequency range.
 
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lostwin

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Wow, ok - lots of questions there!

You basic set up process matches my own, really important to align the cantilever and not the body of the cart when setting the zenith.

I have always struggled with the bias tracks on the test record and I have read that the test record encourages over biasing anyway, so I don’t get too hung up over that. Start or end of side distortion is an indicator that this is not right.

I was setting VTA for a friend recently and we used Walk on the wild side as a test track. I like to keep on lowering it until the you lose the propulsion in the bass and then raise it back up a bit. This for me gives the best result and this track or something similar is good for this.
 

lostwin

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Oh, and this is an absolute godsend when doing the job

Magnifying Glass with 12 LED Lights, 30X Double Glass Lens Handheld Illuminated Magnifier Reading Magnifying Glass with for Seniors Read, Coins, Stamps, Map, Inspection, Macular Degeneration https://amzn.eu/d/hoeONNH
 
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lazycat

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Wow, ok - lots of questions there!

You basic set up process matches my own, really important to align the cantilever and not the body of the cart when setting the zenith.

I have always struggled with the bias tracks on the test record and I have read that the test record encourages over biasing anyway, so I don’t get too hung up over that. Start or end of side distortion is an indicator that this is not right.

I was setting VTA for a friend recently and we used Walk on the wild side as a test track. I like to keep on lowering it until the you lose the propulsion in the bass and then raise it back up a bit. This for me gives the best result and this track or something similar is good for this.
Wot he said. I always assume the top of the cart should be parallel to the LP for correct VTA. Play a bit if it doesnt sound right, but I've never had any reason to deviate from this.

re: bias. I don't have a test record for the reasons mentioned. Settings usually involves starting at the same as VTF and listening to a few test tracks - headphones can help here. Pick a track(s) with a strong central image - usually vocals - and listen for L/R deviations and alter as necessary.

I was lucky for decades because my Ittok bias was the same as VTF, ditto my present Tabriz. Rega's are over-biased - greatly, as was the Technics arm but not to such an extent. Biasing both was easy, if time consuming, with both of these using the listening method.
 
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Jules_S

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Marvellous, thank you for all the replies, gents. It does seem that the test track bias settings might be a bit overkill then - I did manage to dial in my previous Goldring 1042 so it tracked the 12, 14 & 16dB tracks without any obvious distortion (18 was a dismal fail) so I suppose I was just a bit surprised that the Benz couldn't at the very least manage the 14dB one. I've not noticed any obvious end of side distortion so far but I'll keep listening and tweaking if need be.

I did use the cantilever for zenith adjustment, the damn thing is so tiny it's tricky to see so I'm expecting to re-check it using something other than my phone camera, zoomed. I've been loaned various really helpful tools in the past to do the job, it does make life a lot easier.

The info on the loading is really helpful to know, especially the calculation for the primary loading. My setup is cart -> phono -> amp, the phono itself used little Sowter 1:10 transformers in the MC stage so I suppose really it is like using a SUT, but it's internal to the phono stage itself. I'll go with the calculation you gave, @rabski. At the moment I have the loading set to 103 ohms so I'll increase that and see how it goes.
 

Lurch

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@Jules_S
The Dr Fiekart, Magnifyer, Azimuth block + LED light, are here anytime you need them. Also have a read of the OL arm manual as this gives good setup advice in laymens terms.
For loading, start at 100 then go up in steps until the sound losses too much body, then drop one setting.

Bias: 5-6mm between inner edge of ball and yoke should be about it.

As for test records, pah! Don't bother, they just induce audio-nervosa.
 

Bogart

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Right been a while but will add my little scenario. Just spent around 3 hours setting up a Sumiko MM cartridge in a Rega RB880 arm, P8 TT. Before I started any of this I bought the Avid alignment protractor specifically designed for Rega arms. I do not like that it has a mirrored surface, shining a light down onto it just confused me no end.. So using the card protractor supplied with the TT, only one reference point I finally got there. It did not help that the Sumiko cartridge does not have parallel sides and is quite thin so cannot be seen from above. Anyway having set the alignment with the cardboard one I confirmed it using the Avid one after much squinting. Tried out two protractors I had downloaded and both seemed to agree with my setting so decided that was it. Appears to be as sounds sweet and passes the +18dB lateral test , so tracks okay, on two test records. Now finally has anybody have experience of this test record
ttps://www.analogueseduction.net/test-records-turntable-set-up/analogue-productions-the-ultimate-analogue-test-lp-180g.html
Or the current Ortofon one.
I think to set things like bias, vertical alignment ones ears are a much better judge than what ones sees, well in my case anyway.
 
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Lurch

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As has been said previously, don't worry about using the cart body for alignment, use the cantilever. Looking from the front follow the centre front to rear line along and up the cantilever, if its not 100% straight and you see the parallax effect (think viewing a straight stick in a bucket of water, it will appear bent). You will need to adjust accordingly, as for bias I tend to set it at 0.2 - 0.3 of vtf.

Test records are the devil's spawn and should only ever be used as Frisbees or for making clocks and bowls.
 

Bogart

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Your eyes are probably better than mine. The instructions for the bais setting on the P8 to me do not make sense. Quoted from online and my user manual
'
The recommended tracking force can now be applied using the tracking force dial. Always use a force which corresponds to the upper limit of the cartridge makers recommended range. Finally, push the bias adjustment slider to the same number as the tracking force control (i.e. 1.75 tracking pressure = set bias slider to 1.75). If in any doubt, please contact your Rega dealer. '
What I find strange is that my manual then goes on to say
' NOTE: this is not critical and a figure of 1.0 & 1.5 will normally be sufficient for a moving magnet
and 1.5 & 2.0 for most moving coil cartridges '
So why mention setting bias same a tracking weight?
Me thinks will give my dealer a ring Monday.
Oh and unlike you I think test records do have a place if used correctly.:rolleyes:
 

lostwin

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I continue to use this regularly, it's one of the best hifi related accessories I have bought - not only cart set up, but stylus cleanliness, wiring checks, replacing those tiny 6111 valves etc. Maybe it's my eyes, but I continually reach for it so indispensable for me
Amazon product
 

Bogart

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One of the problems I find is getting a good light source without casting shadows so I can see what I am doing.
 

Lurch

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One of the problems I find is getting a good light source without casting shadows so I can see what I am doing.
I find using an LED light source at 90° to my viewing NG position works best. I start with the light on its own to get the overhang correct and moving the light as viewing angle changes (front or side of cart) then use the magnifier for the final dial-in. BluTac is great to locate the light/magnifier as needed. Pick the rechargeable light up at a petrol station it's been well worth the £4.99 I paid for it, and no shadows as it's down at cart level. 16786318616225915932855732085865.jpg

16786317145593780651177011784551.jpg
 
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Bogart

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Looks the business will see about getting one. Thanks
 
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Nopiano

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Your eyes are probably better than mine. The instructions for the bais setting on the P8 to me do not make sense. Quoted from online and my user manual
'
The recommended tracking force can now be applied using the tracking force dial. Always use a force which corresponds to the upper limit of the cartridge makers recommended range. Finally, push the bias adjustment slider to the same number as the tracking force control (i.e. 1.75 tracking pressure = set bias slider to 1.75). If in any doubt, please contact your Rega dealer. '
What I find strange is that my manual then goes on to say
' NOTE: this is not critical and a figure of 1.0 & 1.5 will normally be sufficient for a moving magnet
and 1.5 & 2.0 for most moving coil cartridges '
So why mention setting bias same a tracking weight?
Me thinks will give my dealer a ring Monday.
Oh and unlike you I think test records do have a place if used correctly.:rolleyes:
Rega have often had some of the vaguest instructions for set up. The bias on the popular 200/300 series was always too strong ime, so using a lower setting than the equivalent tracking force is a good rule of thumb.

Their early instructions said not to bother about VTA as it varied between records so much, but then they made arms where adjustment wasn’t possible easily!

Seems like yours is performing well which is the main thing. The one thing I used to hate back in the day of regularly changing cartridges was getting it just right, then trying to improve it, but never getting back to the previous setting!
 

Bogart

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Ah that is tinkerers affliction. What I find very strange about the manual for my P8 is that it is not exactly the same as the manual posted online. In both it goes on about setting the anti skate to the same figure as the tracking weight but my manual has a note


Note:This is not critical and a figure between 1.0 & 1.5 will normally be suitable for most moving magnet cartridges and 1.5 & 2.0 for most moving coil cartridges.


So why rabbit on about setting it the same as the tracking weight? A question for my dealer when I pop in later this week.
 

Bogart

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Yes but I find it more of a hindrence. Find using one of my wifes old handbag mirrors much better.
 
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