Best tonearm position for VTA?

What is the best position to have your tonearm in when setting generally for VTA? I have seen 3 arguments.First is with the tonearm parallel to the record surface.Second is with the tonearm "tail-down" from parallel perhaps 2-3mm and third is with the "tail-up" anywhere between 7-9mm as postulated by Van Den Hul in the phono FAQ on his website.
I believe that most cartridge manufacturers assume that the tonearm is parallel to the record surface when manufacturing their cartridge. However, there is no reason why a partiuclar cartridge might have a geometry which requires that the tomearm be slightly off the parallel in either direction in order to get the appropriate angle. I would start with whatever the particular cartridge manufacturer suggests and then adjust by "ear" from that starting point.

Why adjust from the angle the cartridge manufacturer suggests? Well, keep in mind that even if the angle is perfect for the tonearm/cartridge combo which you have, it may be off if you put a different record on. Not all mastering studios cut their records at exactly the same angle, although in theory they should be doing so. The proper VTA for playback is determined by the angle of the cutting stylus, not by the cartridge manufacturer. If you want to be really anal about it, you would have to adjust the angle for each record you play. Life is too short for that.
It depends entirely on the brand and model of the cartridge.

Any of the 3 answers could be right, depending upon which cartridge you are using. Or anything "in between" could be right, too.

Generally, you are trying to get the correct SRA(stylus rake angle) when you are adjusting "VTA".

There are some treatises on this subject on the web, and on AA, and in the Audiogon analog archives.

Additionally, since record thicknesses vary, you'll need to do this for every record you play, or at least have some basic settings for different thicknesses of records, or else you can just make one setting and live with the changes in sound from one record to another.
If you're asking how do you initially get in the VTA or SRA ballbark so you can do the final evaluation with your ears, I think that's a great question. The sites I listed below are the best ones I've found so far, and if other people know some more, please post them.

As for the ballpark....... To start with, it would be wonderful if all cartridge manufacturers constructed their cartridges with 1.) dead-on azimuth so that if the cartridge was level viewed from the front, the stylus was perfectly vertical, and 2.) so when the the top of the cartridge was perfectly parallel to the record surface (when viewed from the side, and at the specified tracking force,) the stylus was also perfectly vertical (perpendicular to the record) -- but many do not.

The best way to check your cartridge is with a first surface mirror out of an SLR camera (I got 5 of them for $20 from a camera repair shop) and a 30x pocket microscope (Tasco makes a good one with a light). The camera mirrors are just about the thickness of a record, so turn off the anti-skate, tape the platter to the deck so it doesn't turn! and GENTLY set the stylus on the mirror. You will have to experiment with illuminating the stylus (I use a mini Mag-Lite or a Littlelite) but it is quite easy to see the stylus and it's reflection in the mirror, and determine if the two images are symmetrical on the vertical axis (this works for both azimuth and SRA) and to adjust your tonearm accordingly. No, you're not in the ballpark yet (and you've just spent five hours getting to this point, right!)

I suggest doing the next part another day. It really is fun and you don't want to be exhausted! First get a millimeter ruler and measure the horizontal distance in mm from the pivot point of your tonearm to the tip of the stylus (eyeball is OK, or consult a drawing of your tonearm if you have one). Write it down and multiply it by 2. This is the DIAMETER (in millimeters) of a circle the stylus would make, if when you lifted the tonearm from the record, it magically just kept going up up and around behind the turntable and up through the base and back on the record surface. The length of the imaginary CIRCUMFERENCE just made by the stylus can be determined by multiplying Pi (3.1416) times the DIAMETER you already calculated. We're almost done.

Divide the CIRCUMFERENCE (which is still in millimeters) by 360 (degrees in a full circle.) The result tells you how many millimeters of CIRCUMFERENCE are in each degree. (It should come out approximately 3mm/degree +/-)

What this all means, is that if you started with your stylus perfectly vertical (viewed from the side) and you now raise the back of your tonearm 3mm (measured at the pivot point) Your stylus has now got a positive rake angle (SRA) of ONE DEGREE. I understand that most cutters use a cutting angle of TWO DEGREES, but I wouldn't start there, you might miss the magic spot which you can only determine by listening. So now you're in the ballpark.

VTA (which is a different measurement) and SRA are somewhat interdependent, which is why you can't just go with an SRA of TWO DEGREES and be done with it. The following websites explore these issues in more detail:
Good responses from all the above. As Twl suggested, VTA (and SRA) is not a tonearm adjustment. It is an adjustment to the relationship between vinyl, stylus and cantilever that on most rigs happens to be effected by raising or lowering the tonearm. The angle the arm ends up at is nothing but a coincidence.

IOW, don't worry about the angle of your arm tube. If you need a starting point, ask other users of your cartridge how that cartridge rides on the record. Nose down? Nose up? Level?

Even bettter, check out the links provided by Nsgarch. The Walker Audio one is especially helpful.
I've been doing this for more years than I want to admit. I've always had to lower the back end slightly. I now use a Benz Ebony - lower the back of the tonearm (weight side) down slightly.
Stefanl, hese guys know alot more about this than I do, but since I'm learning this stuff too, we may as well learn together. I hope something in my post here will help.

I just the last two days going throught this very exercise. I've become bored with life, so I decided to switch back to my Benz Glider. Partly to compare the performance to my 103r, partly 'cuz I thought I might be having tracking issues with the 103r on my Vector arm, partly 'cuz I have sado-masochistic tendencies. But mostly 'cus I need the practice listening for the changes.

Your very question has been on my mind. The answer came quickly for the Glider as Benz is kind enought to put the recommended angle on the little piece of paper that came with it. It says 20 degrees, so I was betting that would mean "tail up". After going throught the method spelled out on the Walker Audio page DougDeacon referenced, that is just how my Vector has ended up. Way, way "tail up". I have devised a method using small blocks of hardwoods and and old deck of playing cards so that I can record which block of wood and how many playing cards it took to get the Vector at its current position. ( You guys who do "on-the-fly" VTA have to be rolling on the floor at this! :) )

So now I want to go back and do the same for the 103r. But where to start? Denon doesn't provide a recommended angle. I've read where some users of this cartridge have ended up a bit tail up and some prefer abit tail down. I guess I'll start with the head level while the stylus is resting on a regular weight lp. It's as good a place as any to start. Then follow the "Walker method" until I get that range where the soundstage opens and I begin to here the spatial effects.

Fortunately, the Vector comes with a mirror guage so setting the overhang and azimuth are not much of an issue. I could use a better eye piece to see with.

Hey guys I got you all beat, because don't have to make a long post, LOL.

I remenber from a old thread this link to Walker Audio that is really good for setting vta good luck!!

peace Ron

Hmm?, I just read the whole thread seems Doug already gave the walker reference, Doh!!

Here's the deal.
The top of your cartridge should be parallel with the record surface for the starting point. If your armtube is not tapered you can use the arm tube as a reference to measure this.
Now, you only raise or lower you arm by small increments. If it is way up or down something else is probably is wrong

The Walker site is really good and helps you out.

Good luck, remember it will be worth it when you get done. I have found it if you have everything else set correctly first.

Your vta sweet spot should be near parallel, if not right on it.

To give credit where it's due, Nsgarch was the first to mention the Walker link on this thread, not me.

I stumbled across it several years ago while googling around. I subsequently forgot the link but remembered the content and wrote out essentially the same ideas from scratch. Rushton was kind enough to point out I was duplicating Walker's page - saved me a bunch of typing!

What kind of wood do you prefer for those blocks? Cocobolo?
DougDeacon, there actually walnut and hard maple. I've been in New England long enough to start turning Yankee. I don't through anything away, especially from my humble wood shop. The blocks I am using are from my audio rack system. I pulled them out of the scrap pile and they seem to be about 1/8 inch different in thickness, so each one seems to get me in the ball park with the Vector depending on if I have the Glider or the 103 mounted. The Glider likes to be way up, the 103 likes to be up just a little.

I don't get the comments from some that the best VTA is always near parallel. Not to say that they are wrong just that I have not found that to be the case with my setup, nor did I find that to be the case with my old MMF 7 and V15VxMR setup. Seems most cartridges in my system like to be somewhat tail up. Perhaps it is because my 10t's are kind of difficult to tame in the lower frequencies. I am finding that I usually have to raise the arm to focus the bass, which is great cuz the HF seems to like that.
The ONLY way to get accurate(proper)vta is to "LISTEN" for it.Play a wide variety of recordings,and listen for the "BEST" timbres and harmonics.When you feel this is good,you will notice that the BASS and soundstage will fall into place as well.TOO many people set vta for BASS(I'm sure you don't,DOUG),and IMO this is a mistake.Forget about parallel or whatever setting "LOOKS" right,and start to listen for what sounds like the most accurate timbral definition.This should take a few listening sessions with a wide variety of material to play.

Also,and importantly,try to have some GOLDEN EARED audio pals over while you play with the vta.Experimentation is a "GOOD" thing here,and you will learn about your set-up.
RE: Tail-down tonearm configuration: I agree with Dan_ed's findings. For tail-down configuration to be viable, it seems to me the cartridge maker would have had to build the cartridge with so much SRA to begin with, that to get the SRA down to the 1 degree (+/-) ballpark would require lowering the rear end of the tonearm. So would anyone care to speculate on (or explain to me what I'm missing here) why a cartridge maker might want to do that??
I don't get the comments from some that the best VTA is always near parallel.
Me neither. It depends on the cartridge. Shelters like to be a bit tail down, ZYX's like to be level or *very* slightly nose down. Other cartridges would like other attitudes, depending on their construction and stylus profile. Since there can be manufacturing and age-related differences from one cartridge to the next, even two cartridges of the same model might prefer slightly different attitudes. I agree there's certainly no "always" about it.

Seems most cartridges in my system like to be somewhat tail up. Perhaps it is because my 10t's are kind of difficult to tame in the lower frequencies. I am finding that I usually have to raise the arm to focus the bass, which is great cuz the HF seems to like that.
Here I think we part ways. Except for really gross movements VTA/SRA adjustment is not a tone control. Taming your 10t's bass is not the job of your cartridge or tonearm, its the job (primarily) of your amplifier.

Read Lloyd Walker's VTA/VTF tips again. He does mention tone control-like effects, but only as the first step in setting arm height. With most cartridges there's a pretty wide zone of height settings that yields neutral tonal response. Once you've identified that zone you're not done, you're only getting started.

The most important sonic effects from VTA/SRA changes occur with *very* tiny adjustments inside that tonally neutral zone. These tiny adjustments typically have no effect on tonality at all.

Even some guys with entry level rigs hear this. Check out the many VTA/SRA posts by 'jnhvac' on VA. His ears are way better than his rig. He hears exactly what Lloyd Walker describes on his MMF-5/Goldring 1012GX. He uses playing cards too BTW.
Thanks, DougDeacon and Sirspeedy, for pointing out where I am going wrong.

I do have trouble with the 103r in finding that spot where Walker says the bass goes heavy and the highs drop off. Perhaps I am too focused on the bass and not listening to the whole sound, and I'm probably making changes too quickly based on Sirspeedy's comments. I doubt that my amps are having any problem controlling the 10t's so most likely I'm just listening for the wrong thing here. The Glider is fairly easy to setup because there is a range that I can quickly find where the soundstage goes from being flat to large and deep. Small changes from here are what I believe are desirable. But the 103 keeps fighting me. Now that I think about this some more it may be that I'm trying to "fit" the 103r into what I experienced setting up the Glider.
Forget about parallel or whatever setting "LOOKS" right,and start to listen for what sounds like the most accurate timbral definition.This should take a few listening sessions with a wide variety of material to play.
Right on! Timbral presentation of familiar (acoustic) instruments is exactly what this is about. The mix of frequencies that constitute the sound of any instrument occur in a certain temporal order. Changing SRA changes the timing of when the stylus engages each frequency cut in the groove, which affects their temporal inter-relationships. The right-sounding SRA falls within a very tiny range of arm heights, but when you find it the sound of the instruments becomes more correct or "real" and every instrument has tighter, stronger micro-dynamics.

Also,and importantly,try to have some GOLDEN EARED audio pals over while you play with the vta.Experimentation is a "GOOD" thing here,and you will learn about your set-up.
Indeed. Two (or more) sets of ears are orders of magnitude better than one, as are two or more brains for problem solving.

Last night I spun the Classic reissue of Munch/BSO/Tchaikovsky, 'Romeo and Juliet' + Strauss, 'Till Eulenspiegel'. Okay, okay, I know it's fluff - but it's FUN fluff.

Curiously, the yellow sticky with arm height settings indicated the same number for Airy 2, Airy 3 and UNIverse. This seemed odd. The Airy 3 usually wanted the arm about 8/100ths of a turn higher than Airy 2, and the UNIverse typically likes it about 2/100ths or so below that. Nevertheless, I set it where the sticky said and spun it up. I wasn't listening critically and didn't pay much attention after that.

Halfway through side one Paul walked in from the den (two rooms away) and asked, "Did you adjust the arm height? It isn't right." Freakin' golden ears! He reset it and we updated the stupid yellow sticky. It was off by 5/100 of a mm. Oy!

Moral: you don't need to be in the sweet spot to hear SRA changes, you may not even need to be in the same room! Say, do CD's need this level of madness?
All due respect, R&J may be fluff, but Till Eulenspiegel is not. The idea that on this forum one must apologize for Richard (not Johann) Strauss is absurd. There are folk herabots who don't feel the need to hide from the fact they listen to Kansas and George Winston (not that there's anything wrong with that)!
Eureka! It's all about methodology! I went over to VA and did a search on VTA postings by jnhvac just as DougDeacon suggested. I found a post where jnhvac describes his method of starting with the cartridge level with respect to the record surface, then lowering from that position about 5 or 6 playing cards. (Real precision measurements here!) Next you start raising the arm 1 card at a time until you get the air around the instruments and the soundstage opens.

This method has worked very well for me tonight with my 103r. Listening to Jean Luc-Ponty's Enigmatic Ocean I can hear every cymbal at a distinctly differenct location. All instruments have much more presence in the room. The most dramatic impact is how the instruments just off center can clearly be heard adding to the sounds. That's the spot I remember stumbling on to with the Glider. Now I believe I have a methodology to re-create this with another cartridge.

Not to put down what is on the Walker page, but I think the talk of lowering the arm until the bass goes heavy was just to much for my pea-size brain to deal with. I understand what they are trying to relate, but it really is all about the presence of the instruments in the room and not the tonal balance, just as you guys have said. You guys keep talking, it will eventually sink into my thick skull!

I can't wait until my Graham tonearm cable shows up so I can mount that 2.2 and really get some precision adjustments!
Just checking back in.I have found as a previous poster mentioned that a tail-down(2-3mm)start does have rewards.Better to start 'fatter'with more bass and then you can hear it approaching some sort of focus as you raise the tail I think.I am into using my ears for the VTF as well.At the moment I use an end track on the first side of the Bluesbreakers album.A drum solo,cymbals and drums can be quite clearly heard changing with weight.
Couple of meaningless thoughts.

#1 "WHEW"--That is ALWAYS my expression after reading a FRIGGIN "QUOTED" comment by "YOU" towards me DOUG!I'm so conditioned(probably by my third grade teacher,in her criticism)that I always think you are about to "BLAST" me when you do that!!NO PROB,though!!

#2 Rnm4--I think you are taking this Fluff thing a bit too far.Of course Strauss was a SERIOUS DUDE,but in the context taken,DOUG was IMOAITOOMF(in my opinion and in the opinion of my friends,second hand clapping?Cello?)really being complementary.I love this piece,but in the overall context of the Classical Genre,it is "LIGHT",and I love it!!

#3 PLAYING CARDS?This hobby is getting more "rediculously" technical than a LEICA RANGEFINDER!!

#4 This "tail up vs down" may have applied more to Howard Hughes's style of flying a plane,with Kate Hepburn on his lap.It is REDICULOUS to talk it to death in vta!!My TRANSFIGURATION TEMPER-V(UNIV. WORTHY I MIGHT ADD)needs,DEMANDS a large backslope of the armtube.Do you know how I found this out?I actually tried a TON of differing variations,and never once came up with any kind of a straight flush!!FORGET THE TECHNICAL CRAP,AND LEARN BY TRIAL AND ERROR HERE!YOU WON'T DAMAGE YOUR CARTRIDGE,AND YOU WILL BECOME MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE!!

When you actually attempt to learn about what you are doing,in this sometimes frustrating hobby,you get a REALLY COOL by product--you SAVE MONEY!!YOU GET BETTER SOUND!!YOU ARE ACTUALLY HAPPY!!---well,maybe not as happy as those ZYX UNIV owners.
Sirspeedy, my comment about real precision measurements was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I don't remember what arm you have but with the Vector the mounting cup just slides up and down when the set screw is loosened. It is very easy to move it too much either up or down, and sometimes not move it at all. The stack of playing cards provides a sort of poor man's micrometer, so it is much easier to get repeatable settings. For me that is paramount while learning to listen for the changes. I need some way to get repeatable changes to help convince myself that I am not imagining something I think I hear. Maybe once I've done this a few thousand times I'll know just by ear whether the arm needs to go up a gnat's whisker or a gnat's arm length. Yeah, I could spend the $800 on the Basis VTA adjuster and get this in a precision doo-dad, but the cards work well enough for now and the 2.2 will give me this.
Sirspeedy -- this is a little off thread but: When I see a certain U/N on a post, I definitely read it, or I never read it, depending. You belong to the former category. I don't always understand/agree with you, but your posts are often laced with a little humor; and you don't cling to knowledge as if you're never going to get any more!

But this morning, when I read the thing about the Leica Rangefinder, I laughed so hard I nearly sprayed coffee all over my keyboard!
Just having a bit of fun, no intent to undermine Strauss (not even Johann!). There are passages in 'Till' whose harmonies remind me of the Stravinsky of 'Petrouchka' or even later. Strauss composed 'Till' 15 years before that, there's no question he was a pathfinder in his day.
Dan ed--I never mean to be condescending in my posts,and only mean to (when I can)be helpful.Maybe save some of you some time and wasted effort.My whole basic intent,after having,myself,tried every "CHACHKA" the hobby has to offer,was to stress that alot of the extraneous DO-DADS aren't really that important.The playing cards are fine,but,you won't have to fotz aroud "A THOUSAND TIMES" by simply dialing in very small changes and listening for them.

I and my friends do this constantly during new listening sessions.Without trepidation,and we always gain new insight.Sometimes something new and unrelated pops up.That being said,the "CARD" thing is a good idea,but as you gain experience with your stuff you won't have to rely on any additional gizmo's because you will know your stuff really well from "hands on" experience.
Speedy, I didn't take it that way, and you're post are extremely helpful to me. So please don't stop on my account. I just felt I needed to explain what I was about. It's pretty hard for me sometimes to get my thoughts across in written posts. (Wow, physical, vocal and facial expressions are really important!) Part of the reason I was looking for some method to use is that all of my analog front end is new to me, all of it coming in the last 6 to 9 months. I probably broke that rule about not changing too many things at once, but I gotta feed the beast.

I don't remember having this much problem with my old MMF 7, but then I only had the one cartridge for it. I had it dialed in pretty well and then pulled the arm to upgrade the wires and clips. Since I knew the position I could just return the arm there and be done. Right now it's not so easy cuz, as you say, I'm still learning and getting to know my stuff. I image if it had taken futzing with more than 4 or 5 cards I would have gotten frustrated and just done the gross movement thing. I think that's how I got messed up with the 103 in the first place. I'll get there before long.
Nsgarsh--I'll try to tone down my humor,now that I've copped a look at your "STUNNING" set-up!!Wouldn't want you to heave chunks of ungranulated Maxwell House at those gorgeous and "CLASSIC" Martin Logan panels!!
I have been messin with VTA adjustments for 21 years and I still mess around with it.
If your arm is an Allen set screw type, then the playing cards are "BRILLANT" you always need a reference to make baby steps..

I always thought the rule of thumb was designers of Tonearms and cartridge manufactures made their products to work together. when the vta is set properly the cartridge body is close to parallel to the record surface. So if you are way up or down, you are way off?

Presently my Shelter sounds best to me a little down in the back. This however is not as important to the sound for the Shelter anyway, as VTF.

Don't get me wrong both are important but for the Shelter you have to have the vtf right first, and remember the vtf changes with vta adjustments.

So I was bock over on VA last night and found a post that suggested weighing records and then making slight VTA adjustements based on the weight. I assume that the theory is that since the records are approximately the same surface area the weight differences must be due to the thickness differences. I haven't tried this but it seems to me that this is a crap shoot because it really depends on the cutting angle when the record was made. Maybe it will work sometime, and maybe even most of the time. The poster who proposed this was also careful to say that you still have to make the final evaluation by ear. What the poster was offering was a way to guestimate the VTA adjustment when one is experiementing with a record who's VTA setting has not been previously found. I'm not sure I'm ready to do the VTA adjustment for each record while fumbling with my playing cards. Maybe I'll try settings with a few normal weight records and then a few heavy weight records and just settle on a happy medium.
Dan, You are correct the heavy lp's are thicker and do change your vta. How this affects the sound depends on how fussy your cartridge is for vta.

Good Idea, try a few of both to see what happens.
I personally set mine for the normal weight lp's. The vast majority of my lp's are like 120 gram. I do however notice on some 180/200 gram lp's that I need to come up a little, to get that upper detail.

The thing that really messes with your setup is the Seasonal weather changes. You may find that from time to time you will need to adjust your rig.
you should always start with the arm paralell to the platter and try your best to keep it that way. if need be add shims betewwe the cartrdige and and head shell. as a slightly unbalanced lever the tonearm works best that way.
I know what you mean, Rockinroni. I'm already fighting the battle with static. This time of year it's bad one day, completely gone the next. It also takes about 2 hours to lift the temperature in my listening room (finished basement) using only the heat from my system to warm me and the cartrige suspension. It averages a 5 degree rise, but I'm saving money on the oil bill by not having to turn the heat zone on down there. At this rate I could pay for my stereo equipment in 100 years or so.

I am coming around to the idea that level is the best place to start. I have read about cartridges being made so that their stylii are set at a certain angle with respect to the body, which is usually spec'd at being parallel with the LP surface. Beyond that I'm joining the camp who believe that you should set the arm to what ever is needed as dictated by what angle the stylus should be at to properly trace the groove. Now that I have a better feel for dialing in from scratch, it does seem that this optimum setting is generally going to be within a few degrees of level, but that is really not the goal. That is, the goal is not to keep the arm level as much as it is to get the arm in whatever position it needs to be in so that the diamond is in the proper attitude with respect to the groove angle.

That's all I can manage for now, Jack is calling my name. And loudly!
the arm works best at parralell. the cartridge is designed to have the stylus tip ride flat in the groove. The SRA has no bearing on the sound itself. if it does, I defy anyone to tell me what it is. SRA and arm level only position the stylus tip in the groove. SRA should be adjusted to get maximum contact of the stylus tip in the groove. So contrary to popular opinion the goal is not to duplicate the angle of the cutting head. it is to get the maximum contact of the stylus in the grove. if you can achieve that with arm paralell and identical angle of the original cutting head, EUREKA! If not I would sacrifice SRA first to maximize grove contact. Parralell can sacrifced also if that's what it takes.