Can almost anyone learn to set up a Cartridge?

I continue to look for a plug and play only because I do not know how and really have no idea what so ever on how to set up a cartridge. Is this something a novice can learn and do with the manual that is supplied with the TT or cartridge? Do I purchase set up aids of one sort or another?
I want to use a MC cartridge and it seems when ever I find something I have a interest in it has a MM mounted or no cartridge at all.
Just six months ago my wife has now allowed me to change light bulbs, so I think I am ready to take that next step and be able to mount my own cartridge.
Ok fellows, be gentle, I am not a young buck, but I am eager to learn.
Well, almost anyone can learn, or more accurately teach themself. I would suggest that you first read the faq at

I found the article "Tonearm Geometry and Setup" by Kessler and Pisha very informative in that it de-mystifies all the black art nonsense about setup. Laura Dearborn's article "Turntable Setup" is also good.

As far as setup aids are concerned you need a way of measuring vertical tracking force (VTF). I mostly use a Shure stylus force gauge but you could buy a set of electronic digital scales. You'll need a good protractor and you can download these from audioasylum or

My personal favourite is the "Vinyl Alignment Solution" which is usually available on ebay. It's a protractor plus an Excel spreadsheet. By entering a couple of measurements it helps you identify the "null points" (where the cantilever should be parallel to the markings on the protractor). This is particularly useful because if your cartridge alignment is out it will never sound at its best.

I would suggest that you experiment with a cartridge that you can afford to play around with (i.e. not your Allaerts! - a Shure, AT or Ortofon MM is quite robust and relatively forgiving) and try out removing it and re-installing it and doing the alignment stuff. Next, try experimenting with different vertical tracking angles (VTA) by raising and lowering the arm pivot and also experiment with the effect of increasing and reducing VTF and bias.

The instructions you get with a cartridge give mid-range setting recommendations. You will always get the cart to sound better by making small tweaks to the settings and using your ears to decide what sounds best.
I second this question. I want to try other cartridges on my table but am afraid about mounting them myself. How hard is it really? What tools are required?
The only things you need are a decent cartridge alignment protractor (several phono retailer websites sell them, as a general rule of thumb the cheaper they are the less easy/accurate), some mounting bolts/hardware, and a Shure Stylus Force Gauge, no need for it to be complicated. With these, simply follow the manufacturer's instructions for both the tools themselves and the cartridge recommendations. Once you get past these hurdles and have mastered them, then you can start to get deeper into cartridge/tonearm matching.
I agree with flyingrad and Johannantais. I will also add that it is also worth getting the Hif Fi news set up record, and if funds permit the Cardas one.

The reason I say this is that I have a stylus gauge, and an alignment prtractor, but with the best will in the world you can't always see what you hear - lets face it analogue sounds are made within a groove less wide than a human hair. This sound is then amplified severeal times over.

On that basis a test record could help nail any problems etc.

PS only use once you've done the prtractor thing and the stylus gauge thing!

While it takes a lot of gentle care anyone can learn to do it. Also, it's easier if the cartridge you buy is tapped for the mounting screws and also allows you to mount it with the stylus guard in place. Also, if you buy a cartridge where the body is rectangular rather than a contoured shape and the stylus is centered in the body makes adjustments easier.

Cutting to the chase, I'd suggest you be willing to call one of us during the time you are installing it. It would probably take you 45 minutes or so and you will need a phone headset.

1. Install the cartridge on the headshell with the screws ending up mid way in the slots of the headshell. The slots allow you to move (slide) the cartridge front to back. Visibly have the cartridge seem square with the slots and snug them a bit about midway in the slots. Snug means you can still, with a very small amount of effort slide the cartridge back and forth. (steps 1 & 2 can be reversed)

2. Place the tonearm wires on the cartridge pins in their correct orientation. These are generally color coded. This is delicate business. There are several good methods which could be expanded upon during talks. I prefer using my fingers and grasping the metal to install. NEVER pull on the wire. I don't use my fingers to remove the wires but rather use something like a toothpick pushing on the metal that mates with the pins. Basically, what you are watching out for is to not break the wires or pull them out of the extremely small amount of solder that connects them. Delicate business here.

3. If you purchased your tonearm new there should have been a template included for alignment. If you don't have one there are some online free alignment tools you can print out on your computer or you can buy any number of them from cheap to very expensive. What is going on here is you will need to sight a line on the alignment guide to the center of your tonearm pillar. This places the "X" for stylus touchdown in the proper location. At this point I use blue masking tape to secure the platter to the plinth so the platter doesn't rotate. With the stylus guard off you move the tonearm so the stylus can be lowered toward the X. You use the slots to move the cartridge back and forth to acheive perfect touching of the stylus tip to the center of the X. When correct, snug the screws just every so slightly tighter and recheck.

3. On either side of the X there should be lines on the alignment tool for making sure the cartridge (actually cantilever) body is straight in its relation to the arm wand. What you are doing is moving the cartrige in a somewhat rotational manner as you are looking down on it. The slots have a certain amount of clearance allowing you to do this. (writing this is proving the value of calling. lol) After you have the cantilever straight then you must recheck the stylus still drops perfectly onto the X. If so, snug the screws enough to where the cartridge stays put. You aren't tightening things at this point, just snug enough that you cannot easily move it.

4. Initial VTA needs to be established. Now, if you were fortunate enough to buy a rectangular cartridge like I mentioned earlier you can get by with sighting the cartridge body level with the record surface. This is a good enough setting for starters. Now, recheck #3. You probably need to make a slight re-adjust there.

5. Tighten the screws tight but not finished tight. You don't want the cartridge to be able to move at all as you will shortly be playing music but you will probably need to go through this process again after you are statisfied with VTA and VTF.

6. You need to check azimuth too but probably won't need to adjust anything. What you are looking for is the cantilever (cartrige body if rectangular) being 90° to the record surface. I sincerely hope you don't need to deal with azimuth as it can be hard to do depending on the tonearm design.

7. Now you need to balance the assembly with your tonearm counterweight with your VTF scale at zero and anti-skating adjustment off or zero. You do this by moving the counterweight back and forth. I doubt you need further explanation about this.

8. Set VTF per cartridge requirements.

9. Initial anti-skate setting should be about 1/2 of VTF.

10. Play a record you know well and experiment with VTA until you get full, deep, well articulated bass. Generally to make the bass right you will lower the arm a little further than the intial setting but it really depends on the cartridge design. You lower the arm until the bass is right and usually the highs will be perfect but you now need to listen to the highs. If they don't sound correct you've gone too low. This is really where critical listening comes in. It's not as easy as it seems due to break in and stuff. (now I'm really appreciating the need for a phone call)

11. You MAY now tighten the screws pretty darn tight but you need to make sure you aren't applying pressures to the bearing assembly in the tonearm while you are doing so. At this point most folks consider the project done. You aren't. You need to finalize anti-skate and fine tune VTF and let the cartridge break in to a point where you can really judge the quality of the highs and lows. I'd say maybe 20-50 hours of break in. With all of these very minor changes you will have moved the stylus from being exactly in the "X" location you first established. This is called the null point. Do take the time to go through all of the steps again now that you have the correct VTA and VTF. If you think about lowering the tonearm and the effects of VTF you can understand why this has happened. I cannot overstate the importance of doing all of this again to really make things sing.

This is really just a primer for you to digest. I've tried to keep it simple and others may be critical of having left out finer points. I'd suggest you go over to AA and read the quality archives regarding this subject. At the home page click on the FAQ's and scroll down. Read "Why two null points", "A beginners guide to cartridge setup" and "VTA once and for all". After spending some time reading these instructions you will have a good understanding of what is needed. Still, when ready, choose your member to have on the phone while you are doing it. It's a good investment.
Only you young guys have the luxury of not having to set up a cartridge. Years ago if you wanted to listen to music of your choice, you had to set up a cartridge.

Since the cutting head cuts at a prescribed angle and tracks straight across the record, if you want to get all of the information off the record, you have to as much as possible follow the path of the cutting head. If you carefully follow the tonearm and cartridge instructions and listen for the impact on music of tracking weight, VTA, anti-skating, and azmuth, you will be rewarded with great reproduction of the recording. All of this does require patience.
do yourself a favor and invest $20 here. makes alignment and azimuth setting about as simple as it gets.

good luck!
I like the Geo-disk for easy to use set-up.
Thank you for the reply's to my question. They are all appreciated. I feel in reading these it is something I can even do.
Thank Again,
you might want to get a cheapo used cartridge to practice with.....small mistakes can cost a LOT of money...
allways put a fluffy wad of cotton under the cart. when installing,
A lot depends on your arm/cartridge combo. It took me forever to dial in a Graham 2.2 Benz Ruby because of the azimuth and those damn sideweights. Then there id the damping fluid level. Pain in the ass but was well worth it when I finally got it right. I'd find a dealer who knows whats he's doing and let him help you out.
I've been working on a printable template to take the pain out of (repeatable) cartridge setup. My reference is a Teres 255 table with an Origin Live tonearm. It relies on Doug Deacon's ear for Pivot-to-Spindle length (for an Origin Live arm), and John Elison's Baerwald Alignment spreadsheet for the rest of the mathematical calculations.

If you're interested (and have MS Visio and Excel) I'll send you my progress to date. I would welcome any feedback.
Lugnut - that was a very well thought out explaination. When is your book coming out? Can I get an autographed copy. ; )
Get a Mobile Fidelity Geo Disk a very simple device to get cartridge alignment done fast and very accurately.