Analog setup - do it your self or hire a pro?


I happily got back into vinyl about 3 years ago. I bought a little Rega P1 and a NAD PP1 and I was ready to rock and roll. When I got the P1, I had trouble adjusting the weight on the cartridge, and getting the anti skate right, so I found a local HiFi shop that specializes in vinyl, and paid him a visit. He made the proper adjustments in my Rega, and I could tell he is a thoughtful, very experienced, analog pro.

Over the past 4 years, my Rega got upgraded with a Dynavector 10x5 and a glass platter. Then, the Rega went away and and a JA Michell came my way. In fact, I bought the JA Michell from this very shop. I asked the man at the shop to take my Dynavector 10x5 off the Rega, and install it on my new JA Michell. 6 months later, the Dynavector was replaced with a Lyra Delos. Also bought from my local shop and expertly installed on my JA Michell by the shop owner.

The NAD phono pre also went the wayside for a series of phono preamps, ending just last week with a Whest .30R

So, now for my question...

This series of upgrades has led me to start questioning my reliance on an expert to set up my rig. Perhaps I should be doing this myself! I don't have any experience with it, and I don't have any of the tools, and the whole thing is a bit of a mystery to me. But I am good with my hands and have an eye for details.

What do you think? Is it better to drive my turntable to my local expert, or to learn this myself? What are the benefits of doing this in my home, versus leaving this tedious work to the professionals?

Well it is not too hard to do.
Also, it can be very dependant on the quality of the service.
My local guys are barely able to screw the cart on the arm.. So I am not ready to PAY them to do not better than i can do.
But if you have a real expert, who can dial in the cart after making the technical adjustments.. Then treasure him!!

Most GOOD TT guys have vanished from sight. So having one around I would use his services..
If the guy, or gal, is great, I'd pay up. It's a lost art.
*Is it better to drive my turntable to my local expert, or to learn this myself?*

You said you had had "trouble adjusting the weight on the cartridge, and getting the anti skate right" on your Rega P1. ARE you going to learn it yourself?

Also, you're getting into more expensive TT's & cartridges now. I wouldn't risk "learning" how to do this w/an expensive cartridge, & stylus--trust me on that.....
Learning how to do it yourself will pay off in the end unless your all thumbs and/or have no patience. Cartridges always need additional adjustments after initial setup and break in. As Elizabeth said it's not hard to learn but it will take some time to learn to do it well. If your willing to put in the effort and buy the tools I say go for it. Do some research and read as much as you can about it first though.
Vinyl is a hands-on affair. The more you know about set up and adjustment, the more you'll get out of your rig. There IS a learning curve. But it's worth the effort and expense in the long run if you're serious about playing LPs. And the learning really never stops, which is one of the great things about vinyl as a hobby. You'll develop an intimate understanding of the myriad factors that influence the sound and become adept at tailoring them. It's pretty amazing, really.

You will need to invest in quality tools, particularly a VTF scale (preferably digital), a good alignment device (like a MintLP). And you'll likely ruin at least one cantilever in the process. Consider it the cost of an education or an investment in self-sufficiency and sonic control. With all of the information available on the web, including boards like this one to answer questions, there's never been a better time to learn how. IMO, if you want to be hands-off, you'd be better off sticking with digital.
I agree with Sarcher30, learn to do it yourself. You say you are good with your hands and have an eye for detail, it's not brain surgery. Sure, having the proper tools helps, and you can buy them easily with the money you've saved from paying someone else to do the work. After all, you've made a lot of changes in just 3 years, and believe me, it sounds like your journey is just beginning, not ending.

Your ears, a digital scale, a circular bubble level, a protractor (even a custom one like a MINT LP), and your set. Do a little reading, ask a few questions. It's really not that hard once you get the hang of it.

Here's one link to get you started.
Perhaps best is a hybrid suggestion: have the pro do the initial set up so as to set a benchmark, and then you can make adjustments from there all the while mentally recording the differences that you note and acquiring practical knowledge. Things change in vinyl playback all the time and one needs to be able adjust in order to maximize the rig. For instance, different records can sometimes sound better with different VTA settings and so there's no way for the initial set up to maximize your whole record collection. And suspensions wear down and require differing VTF across time, and so one cannot just rely on initial set up, even if done by a pro.

If one is willing to learn, then there's no reason to remain helpless. The learning curve is steep and sometimes you'll want to pull your hair out, but take your time and enjoy the process and the rewards are many.
The fact that you are even asking this question leads me to believe that you should leave things to the shop owner that has guided you to what appears to be a very good introduction into the world of vinyl. A good dealer is an invaluable assett in the audiophile world.
Without question learn to do it yourself, a little time and patience goes a long way, it really isn't that hard. Plus, you don't want to be reliant on others when a problem arises. I was where you are in the beginning, a little apprehensive and now wouldn't consider getting help unless it was something above my head like building an arm board or something similar.

It also gives you more of an appreciation for the hobby and is more rewarding also. Go for it!
As for Me I found that I can do it better. Whether the pro just doesnt want to take the time, just isnt as festideous as I, just hears differently than I, or is it trolls.... never the less, I can do it better for ME. The added plus is that its fun
To me I would hire a pro to configure that table but like others have said see how they do it and take a mental note. Then get a cheap turntable from Craigslist etc etc and learn turntable set-up from there. Then when you are confident then configure your main table. You have quite a TT. I wouldn't want to mess that table up at all learning the ropes.

There are many resources for turntable set-up. From youtube, ehow, vinylengine, here and Analog planet there are many places to go for help.

Best of luck.
I encourage you to learn as much as you can. You'll appreciate vinyl more when you know how to make adjustments to optimize the sound.

I strongly recommend Michael Fremer's instruction video. It's an excellent starting point for seeing the big picture, as well as understanding the small details. He talks about the tools you need and how to use them. Then he walks you through setting up a cartridge on three tables: Project RM-5, Rega P5 and VPI Scoutmaster. He's also very funny and entertaining. Here's a short Youtube clip of the intro:

21st Century Vinyl: Michael Fremer's Practical Guide to Turntable Set-Up
Yes, do it yourself, it's part of the fun. You don't need expensive kit, those mentioned above or fine. I am sure set up would be better with a Dr Feickert protractor, but it's not necessary. I am all thumbs, so if I can do it, you can.

The real risk is breaking an expensive cartridge. Have the table in a good light, go slow and steady, think what you are doing before you do it and you should be ok. Having said that, I have to mount a very exposed Van Den Hul Colibri sometime, not looking forward to that.
If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.
Nobody will care about your setup as much as you do. I think you should learn to do it yourself. While it takes time, patience and some stick-to-it-iveness, you're rewarded by pride of accomplishment and the knowledge that it was done right.

Check out the article linked to below. It's about the best I've seen. Also do a bunch of googling to back up that information. Then just do it.

Agree with all who suggest learning it on your own too. It's very rewarding, especially if you are even slightly OCD. It will bring that out, for sure. Bob's advice above is excellent--that article along with the Fremer DVD forms the basis of my setup routine. ALso check out AnalogPlanet. Fremer is devoting a lot of good space to reviews and set up advice there. I'd say that is for when you are more advanced in your experience. I think when you do it yourself you really understand how your system works, and you do need to make ongoing adjustments with analog. It simply demands more tweaking and ongoing maintenance as a physical medium. Normal wear and tear, changes in humidity, climate, oiling the bearing, checking damping fluid, etc. all make an impact that you need to stay on top of. I also would think your adjustments at home, keeping the TT in it's normal place, would be more accurate than moving it to a shop for setup and adjustments. And would avoid the chance of mishap along the way. I'd rather take my chances with a stylus than with everything else. Good luck and enjoy the ride either way.
No tech will take the time to really tune your system. I paid techs because I did not think I could do it. WRONG! Got Michael Fremer's turntable setup DVD and have been doing it myself since with much better results. In fact, I downloaded a setup protractor for my Thorens TD125MKII after I had paid a tech to set up the cartridge. When I checked his settings I realized that he had not adjusted the azimuth or set the overhang correctly. Learn to do it yourself. You won't regret it.
The other consideration I did'nt mention, is what if you have several cartridges you swap between? I have only ever had 2 at a time, I know many of you have many more, but if you like switching for a change of scene...sound, do you really want to keep taking the deck back and forth to the dealer, to change the cartridge?

The imponderable for me, is how different it would be, if it was done professionally? I don't claim to be a vinyl guru, so I am not sure how much better it would sound. The answer of course, is it depends on the professional. Some or many, may be no better than me.