The best depends on whether you prioritize ease of use, accuracy, variety of alignment schemes, or universality (can be used with any arm).
I particularly like the SmarTractor for ease of use and variety of alignment schemes offered; it is recognized as being very accurate when used properly. The ease comes from having to only make sightings and placing the stylus down on the protractor at one single point. The only downsides are that it is not universal because one must know very precisely where is the pivot point of the tonearm and that point might be difficult to find on some arms, and there are no alternative measurements to confirm that the alignment you set is good.
The Wally Tractor is more universal (pivot point of the arm does not have to be precisely determined. It is harder to use because one needs to make more sightings after precisely locating the stylus at measurement points or along a measuring curve. But the multiple measurement points offer more confirmation that you have the correct alignment.
The Feikert lies between these two—it is not as easy to use as the SmarTractor, but easier to use than the Wally—and it offers some confirmation, but not quite as clearly as the Wally.
If I had an arm with a precisely known pivot point, particularly one with a dimple at that point where the protractor pivot point indicator can be placed down in that point, I prefer the SmarTractor. If I were obsessive about perfect alignment I would choose the wally.
Best is the best. Mint Best Tracker is the easiest one I have used, sold the Feickert which is nice but just didn't need all the different options it and the others might provide. The Mint is specific to the arm/table combo, mirrored and so easy to use, after you get used to it you can align a freshly mounted cart in less than 5 minutes. Use with a good jewelers loop which is offered at time of order. Enjoy the music
I agree that a custom mint is an easy and accurate protractor. It has to be custom made, and you must know the precise spindle to pivot distance. I don't know if I would rely on the turntable manufacturer having precisely drilled the hole for the arm and I would therefore do a measurement. Unfortunately, a really good measurement device for doing this is not easy to come by (the SmarTractor includes such a precise measurement device). I think the mirrored surface of the mint is quite easy to use to properly align one's eye to do the reading (same thing as the SmarTractor and the Wally Tractor, but, for some reason I've heard of complaints about difficulty in reading the Mint (I don't know what this is about).
All of these alignment tools are best used with some sort of low powered magnifier to more easily see the point where the stylus touches down and to see how the cantilever aligns with the line inscribed in the protractor. It also helps to have a decent directional light source.
The Mint is also MUCH cheaper than the SmarTractor or the Wally Tractor.
I have used the simple plastic protractors that SME provides with the Series V and M10 arms, and a Dr Feickert (where I believe the Baerwald configuration is about the same as the SME set up). I can't really tell any difference on listening though.
The specialty protractors or alignment devices for specific arms can be the easiest to use. The SME is very easy to use, particularly because you move the arm systematically until you get the right distance (not as much guessing and overshooting the mark). The one that came with my Vector arm is also pretty easy to use, though not quite as easy as the SME. The ultimate in ease has to be the Graham arm because the alignment is done with the headshell completely removed from the arm and the headshell is then inverted so that one can easily see the cantilever and the stylus point to make the alignment.
An old plastic Dennesen Soundtractor. Yeah, the part of the device that extends from the center hole to the tonearm's pivot point broke at some point in the distant past, but it was easy to accurately put it back in working order with a couple windings of Scotch Tape. Luckily, the component broke in such a way that it was a cinch to reassemble it to audiophile tolerances. To be sure, it's important to wear magnifying glasses and not to drink too much coffee before mounting cartridges as you don't wanna have the shakes, but I've always done damnably accurate work. Depending on the shape of the stylus, of course, and vinyl pressing vagaries, I get near flawless tracking from edge to lead out groove with the vast majority of the records I play.
DBP-10 (DB systems) has served me perfectly over the years.
Is it the best for convenience? Not really but it is accurate, that matters the most, and very important it does not cost that much.
Learn how to to take the max out of your protractor, that would be the best one.
Even the one supplied for my V arm is excellent if you know how to use it.
I have no idea just how much precision is required to get the most out of an arm cartridge combination. Obviously, it doesn't hurt to optimize the geometry, but, it is not clear to me how much is lost by being slightly off. This is particularly the case when one finds out how much imprecision that is built into analogue playback in so many other respects. You can align the cantilever precisely with the lines on the protractor, but, when in play, forces, such as skating forces, pull the arm out of alignment. Perfect alignment only optimizes geometry if the zenith of the stylus is perfect (i.e., if the stylus is mounted on the cantilever such that the wedge of the stylus is perfectly 90 degrees to the cantilever edge). It turns out that it is very hard to get the zenith correct and many very expensive cartridges have styli that are misaligned. The only way to sort of compensate for this is to have the stylus examined under a very specialize microscope and then deliberately mount the cartridge with the cantilever out of alignment enough to compensate for the zenith error. This is extremely complicated, and can only be analyzed by specialty companies, like Wally Tools.
There are even tonearms on the market with NO offset angle at the headshell, so they end up having massive errors when it comes to aligning the cantilever as close to tangent with the groove. The theory behind such arms is that this geometric error is of less importance than eliminating the skating forces caused by an offset angle.
The upshot is that being ultra-precise about alignment may not have that much practical benefit, and it might well be the case that a cheap protractor with thick, imprecise lines and no way to establish the perfect viewing angle is still good enough.
My Acoustic Signature TA-2000 arm came with its own dedicated one..
Mint LP along with a USB microscope and plenty of patience.
Best protractor is no protractor.
Get a parallel tracker.
Or go digital???
Easiest, cheapest, most precise, most customizable, with user selectable alignments (Lofgren A or B, Baerwald, Stevenson), radii, user input of pivot to spindle distance (any arm ever made!), is the Conrad Hoffman Arc Protractor. Just line your tip to the entire arc swing, then make parallel to ONLY ONE null point, and you’re done. No trial and error, no guessing. Takes about 5 minutes per alignment. I’ve had no troubles using Micro Ridge, or any other tip profile. Always accurate. And…. It’s free. It’s customized to YOUR arm, your table.
In my experience, skill and patience is more important than the tool you are using. You need to know what to look for when listening. The better tool only bring you faster and closer to the ball park. I have used Mint, Dr. Feickert, SmarTractor, Tri-planer. I admit that I haven’t used the Wally or Dennesen.
I don’t know but my turntable came with a simple but effective paper alignment “protractor” to make sure it was set up properly and that is worth its weight in gold.
I wonder what other reasonable priced modern turntables provide that? Would definitely influence my buying decision. A good table set up ineffectively is a waste IMHO.
Best protractor is no protractor. Get a parallel tracker.
Parallel tracking arms also require alignment. Azimuth, VTA/SRA, overhang.
Parallel tracking arms also require alignment. Azimuth, VTA/SRA, overhang.
No overhang on a linear tracker.
My Eminent Technology "protractor" is clealy more accurate than for any pivoted arm I have seen - you align the stylus to a very fine scribed line. The ET protractor aligns to the bearing housing ensuring that the stylus is at precisely the correct position for accurate tangential tracking.
For pivoted arms I use the Dennesen ( metal ) - the Feickert is easy but the size of the dot on which you place the stylus is far too big compared to the Dennesen and not anywhere near as precise as the ET. In fact a traditional accurate cardboard protractor with a pin prick for the stylus to drop into is probably more accurate than most - I have the old Garrott Bros protractors and they are very very accurate.
No overhang on a linear tracker.
More correctly, a parallel tracker has zero overhang. How can you ensure zero overhang when setting up a parallel tracker? On most of them, you need a gauge or protractor.
As I said I have an Eminent Technology set up jig ( protractor ) that locks to the turntable spindle and bearing housing on the arm. It has a scribed line to set the stylus tip to. It is very accurate.
page 23 of manual
Now for a somewhat different opinion. The horizontal tracking angle (HTA) that you are setting with a protractor is the least important setting of all to get with absolute precision. It is incorrect most of the time as there can be at most two places where it is correct, that is, stylus tangent to the groove. Moreover there are several solutions about how to set HTA, each of which has its partisans. So this is not a setting to obsess over. More important is SRA and especially azimuth.
That being said, the $20 protractor sold by turntablebasics.com, used with care, will set HTA to the most popular setting as accurately as anything out there. Moreover it can be use with an arm of any length. The idea of spending big bucks for an HTA adjustment protractor seems unwise IMO.
I agree that high-precision protractors and ultra precise alignment makes for sense for a dealer than a home alignment. The big problem is that no matter how precise the alignment, built-in errors in the manufacturing of styli, cantilevers, and cartridge suspensions pretty much dwarf minor errors in user alignment of the cartridge. Look up zenith error. Even with extremely expensive cartridges, zenith error can be very high because it is really hard for the manufacturer to spot the error when mounting the stylus. The kind of microscope required to see and measure zenith error cost as much as a decent automobile. Unless you have a conical stylus, zenith error will put the wrong part of the stylus in contact with the groove wall which would mean more wear on both the record and the stylus. An analysis of zenith costs big money, but, it will allow one to justify seeking correction for gross error from the manufacturer or making compensatory adjustments for more minor error (correction would involve twisting the cartridge away from perfect alignment of the cantilever with the line on the protractor).
Some of the other alignment measurements people take also don't make that much sense, such as insisting on a 92 degree stylus rake angle. This is only roughly the correct angle under dynamic (while record is in play) conditions. If you make a static measurement using a USB microscope, you will not be setting the angle to what it will be while the record is playing. Again, there are complicated ways of measuring the angle under dynamic conditions, but, one is really better off just setting an approximate angle (tonearm perfectly parallel to the record surface) and then listening for improvement in the sound from trial an error deviation from the approximately correct position.
I've hated needle/cartridge mistracking since I was in my single digits. I've always hated spitty sibilants, buzzy vocals & scratchy violin sections. And don't get me started on hashy-sounding pianos. It's a major reason why I lived with a Shure V15 cartridge for many years. It's one of the reasons I was an early convert to Compact Disc. I got to say, though, that meticulous cartridge alignment and ongoing improvements in cartridge technology have largely made mistracking and end-of-side distortions a thing of the past.
I have Mints, Accutraks, Uni-tractor, original dedicated Wallys, and an older multi-arm Wally. The dedicated Wally’s are my favorite by far. I just wish I had one for each of my tonearms. Fortunately, the multi Wally fills in most gaps. Mints are good, too, but a bit more difficult to read; the printed, rather than inscribed, lines are slightly less precise, although this is truly splitting hairs.
I have a bunch of gauges, including the Denneson and CartAlign but my favorite is the original arm-specific Wallytractor, just like @wrm57. I do not think they are currently available.
I currently own a Feickert and a Mint.
The Feickert gets me quickly to where I can tweak by ear (and o-scope in my case) which is the final step in any alignment no matter how accurate.
Mint's protractor based on perfect theoretical alignment is admirable but not as quick, as easy or better.
Sorry, but there is no single "perfect theoretical alignment." There are several well known alignment schemes. They even have names, and some are promoted by tone arm manufacturers.
None of them is perfect, as the alignment of all of them is wrong almost all of the time. The issue come down to where you want your mostly misalignments to be.
You’re not wrong but "perfect theoretical alignment" to the scheme used by Mint. That is, overhang and zenith, compromise that it is. Once you’ve used a Mint you know the reference.
"'perfect theoretical alignment' to the scheme used by Mint" is, I'm afraid, an oxymoron. There is so much misunderstanding about setting up cartridges that is only enhanced by such statements.
Mint probably uses one of the usual standards, Baerwald, Lofgren, Stevenson or whatever, but fails to note in its advertising what that standard is. Reason enough IMO to stay away. The popular ones have been known for at least three generations. My guess is that they use the most popular one, Lofgren B. It is used by most devices whether expensive or inexpensive.
“Perfect theoretical alignment” as meaning perfect overhang and zenith for the scheme used, knowing full well that the scheme is a compromise and not tracking perfectly at all places on the record. No need to read more into it than that. If you used a Mint you would realize the point. The amount of extra work and time and frustration of the Mint yields no advantage.
I’d considered buying one of several “pricey” alignment jigs(protractors, gadgets) while using an SME 3009 S2 tonearm with several cartridges..,
I was using basic Hudson HiFi (my dog’s name is Hudson - seemed like a no-brainer) tools and then bought a paper Tracking Wizard protractor from a guy in Poland (IIRC. Ebay anyway) which worked well.
I use my eyes, ears and Ortofon test record and was pretty happy with the setup but wanted better.
I finally went ahead and bought an SME V about a month ago in original box with tools and hardware and, using the alignment tools provided and instructions seemed anticlimactic at best, total time involved after mounting cartridge and arm - about a half hour.
It’s now with SME tonearms in Canada awaiting rebuild, rewiring (1.2m continuous Cardas wire from cartridge clips to RCA jacks recovering several dB signal insertion loss along the way) and with any luck I’ll have it back by Christmas.
New Year’s then…
So I saved a couple hundred bucks in alignment tools by buying a tonearm that cost ten times as much as the tools.
A once in my lifetime investment.
BTW 3009 tonearm is listed on ePay now.
I like the latest edition WallylTractor (the full disk). Pivot to spindle must be set with their slick gauge. The mirror on the WallyTractor is a must, otherwise you are guessing on Zenith alignment at the null points. The disk has many arcs for different effective lengths, each with Lofgren or Baerwald for both new and older records. Their online calculator is easy to determine the correct arc. I have set up many tables with it… easy and precise, and one stop shopping.
Mint Best Tractor for me. Perfect and the most accurate on the market
Original Dennison for me unless I am setting up an SME where I use theirs.
I’ve also used both versions of the Feickert which are fine, I just prefer simplicity.
I use a modified Mobil Fidelity Sound Lab's Disc. I added an overhead pin to center on the spindle, dead center. I may adjust the cartridge, by moving it ever so slightly forward or back to suite me.