Cartridge alignment, WallyTractor, SmartTractor, oscilloscope and Analogmaigk.


I am building my new system in my second home in the US which I use only when I go to the US to work, and I will not have the benefit of having my partner and analog guru with me when I set up my table there. 

To be clear she much rather have a new cartridge, tonearm, table or phono amp than nice jewelry, shoes or dresses, and 2 of the best hifi stores in the area are always asking for her opinion and sometimes to set up tables. 
Until now, all I had to do was to put my record on the table of her choice, and enjoy the music. 

 During our dinner with her, we were discussing,  what should I be doing and what tools to bring with me. I am an a mathematician  and work with electrical engineers so I understand numbers so I like the idea of an oscilloscope and Analogmagik and I have done quite a few setups with the WallyTractor before I met her, but she swears by the SmartTractor and claims that the SmartTractor is more accurate, simpler and flexible.

My question then is, what is your opinion on the 2 protractors?
Please do  not add another different one, I am not going to buy another one. :) 

In her opinion the  UNI  alignment is superior to the new record in the Wally, and since pivot to spindle is never identical, the SmartTractor does a better job as it actually takes into account for those imperfections/discrepancies in the spindle to pivot distances, while the Wally does not. 

If I am going to face the firing squad, I want to have some good different concepts.

I apologize for my English, until a few months ago I never discussed Hifi in English. 


astolfor
You will get a dozen or more different responses. Some will say the Smartractor is too expensive, others that it’s too complex. Many will swear by protractors you’ve never heard of. Smartractor is a great choice. Don’t overthink it.
I own both.  If you can accurately located the center of the arm pivot, the Smartractor is much easier to use.  This is the case because you do not have to move the arm to many different locations and find the precise point of contact multiple times.  The Wallytractor affords one more ways to confirm the correct settting so I suspect that it is more accurate.  
I don’t think that extreme accuracy makes sense to try to achieve when manufacturing tolerances in setting styli is so poor that the zenith can be off by several degrees.  The only way to know about how far off is your cartridge is to have it examined by a service like Wallytool, which also has a way to compensate for small zenith error (a protractor that provides for a way to deliberately set the cantilever at angle away from perfect tangency to compensate for zenith error).

My answer is: If you can locate the pivot point, and you find it difficult to see the precise point of contact such that making a single observation is a big plus, go with the Smartractor.  If your eyes are up to it and you have the patience, the Wallytractor offers more confidence in the setting.

Something like the Mint protractor should also be considered; it is quite easy to use and is supposedly very accurate.  The only downside is that it is bespoke (made to order for your particular arm and spindle-to-pivot distance) so it cannot be used for other set ups.
Another vote for the SmarTractor and the Uni-Din alignment.  
I bought the SmarTractor. It is a more finely made device than the others with an excellent magnifier.  It gives you all the major alignments and once you are used to it is a breeze to use.

I politely disagree with your guru. I use Lofgren B and here is the logic. It gives you the least average tracking error from the edge of the record down to 75 mm. Perhaps one in ten records continues in closer than 75 mm. People will say "but, that is where the crescendos are."  How many records do we play that actually have crescendos in closer than 75 mm.
I will venture to say very few. Get a 6" millimeter rule and measure every record you play for a month and tally the score. 

Both Marc Gomez and Michael Fremer I believe are also now using Lofgren B.  

To be perfectly honest I can not hear a difference between Lofgren A or B and have not tried Uni Din at all.
@mijostyn, you are right. In our house we have 4 tables with 2-3 arms each... please don't make fun :) so we have different alignments. 
In my house in the USA I only have one table, and 2 tonearms. 
And I am thinking of UniDin in one arm and Lofgren A or B in the other.

My question about the protractors is more about how the 2 go about implementing the null points. 

It is my understanding, that the Wally derives the null points based on the assumption that the spindle to pivot distance in the turntable is perfectly matched to theirs, while the SmartTractor derives the null point based on the actual  spindle to pivot measurement.
Is my understanding correct? 
If so isn't Wally's assumption a big one?
If the spindle to pivot is off by 1mm then would it not be the case that the tangential traces in the Wally are off?

I love the Wally, so I am trying to understand and not say one product is better than the other.


With the Walltractor, you first measure the pivot to spindle distance with the supplied tool to find the closest matching curve that establishes the overhang.  There are a fixed number of curves for the pivot to spindle distances measured, so your actual distance might not be a precise match.  That is a potential source of error, the overhang may not be a precise match.  Once you have that distance, you tighten one screw of the two that hold the cartridge so that the cartridge is free to pivot around the fixed screw for you to change the angle of the cartridge to assure that the cantilever is correctly aligned.  When the cantilever is correctly aligned at the two null points, you have a quite precise alignment, even if the overhang started out as a somewhat rough approximation.

The potential source of error with the Smartractor has to do with precisely aligning the whole gauge to the pivot point--if the pointer is not precisely over the center of the pivot, the lines on the gauge will be slightly off.  Again, the amount of error should be pretty low if you get the needle quite close to the pivot point. 

Both protractors are more than good enough, particularly when you consider that the ideal alignment involves angling the cartridge to make sure that the zenith is correct, and none of these tools do that.  Wallytools has a service for that which also analyzes the cartridge for other parameters, including the dynamic SRA (the actual angle of the stylus when it is playing a moving record).  The analysis requires extremely expensive microscopes and know how, so no consumer can do this for themselves.  

 

Honestly, seriously high quality cartridge alignment can be done with a free download found on-line printed on a piece of paper. The only thing you will then be missing is the paper is thinner than a record. So you tape the paper on a record. 

 

I am not kidding. This is exactly what the MoFi Geo-Disk is, only the MoFi is the right thickness and includes all the sight lines and directions printed right on it. I have used mine several times on 3 different arms, three different tables, and 5 different cartridges, always resulting in beautiful imaging, which is the key benefit of quality alignment.

 

Unfortunately no one who has spent a thousand dollars is ever going to admit the paper is just as good. Also no audiophile worth his salt is ever going to let on that turntable setup is really not that hard. So I know this will fall on deaf ears. Especially your guru. She will give you the most withering look, I just know it. 

 

So since I know you will disregard this sage advice here is what I recommend, if you are up to it. Print the alignment paper and hide it away somewhere. Then when you are done fiddling and twiddling and agonizing over the scope and test records, everything at last is perfect, pull out the piece of paper.

 

Place it on the platter. Set the stylus down on the mark. Notice how it falls exactly where it should. Because no matter how complicated you make it, if done right it will always be just like this.

 

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.

@millercarbon I do not dismiss advice... I will not use paper because we own already the 2 protractors, and my printer does not print very thin lines which I know I need, but not because I want to ignore advice :)  

At home we like to keep things simple, specially on our hobbies. What is the point to stress about something it is supposed to bring pleasure.  

Thank you for the advise on the isolation very much, to be completely frank I keep forgetting that my house in the US is built out of wood sticks and plaster. The first time I tried to hang a picture, the nail disappeared 🙄! and now that my audio rack is about 350Kg,  when I walk the subwoofer cone wants to go for a walk and leave the enclosure behind so I am hoping your suggestions help. 

I also will have put some bars between the soil and the floor for support, like lifting a car, with the hope that will help. 

 

@larryi  I am glad you confirmed my theory and the effective lengths.

I do not believe the dynamic SRA is that difficult to do, a decent microscope with a good camera/depth of filed, take 10 pictures and average the angles. the big trick is to have the microscope/camera plane perfectly at 90 degrees from the horizontal plane, which it is not that difficult to do either.

Where I see more of the Wally service value is in analyzing how well aligned is the stone, is this called cantilever, with the stylus(?) 

The trick to dynamic SRA is to listen. Only way.

A rack that massive, the mass itself is so much inertia it will not move very fast even if the floor does. Mine is about that massive and I have seen it. Before when it was on cones I could stomp on the floor and the rack would move fast, sometimes enough to skip. Now the whole rack on Pods will sway so slowy, it is like 1Hz, so slow that even if large amplitude (like 1-2cm) records play just fine. My Origin Live Enterprise arm has a side bias weight that dangles on fishing line. It is spooky to see the rack swaying back and forth while the side bias weight hangs straight down not swinging at all because the motion is so smooth and slow.

 

 

I think that even with a good scope it is a lot of trouble to measure SRA.  Dynamic SRA measurement is, however, only a little bit more difficult--it just requires the record to be spinning (spun by hand, any speed) when the image is captured.  The surface must be a record, not something else like a CD, so, one must take a sacrificial disk and shave off the edge bead.  Personally, I don't bother with SRA measurement--I set the arm close to parallel, then I listen when making small adjustments away from parallel.

The Wallytool service that is much more useful is zenith measurement. This is a subject that is not discussed much because few can make the measurement, even very expensive cartridges can measure poorly, and aside from small errors, there are no means to correct the manufacturing defect.  For all the effort one puts into aligning the cantilever to be pointing in the correct direction within one degree, it is a bit disheartening to know that the stylus surface cuts may be misaligned by ten degrees or more.  If I recall correctly, Wallytools has a means for correcting for errors up to three degrees, based on this analysis.

It is quite the wonder that analogue playback dounds so good with all of the technical shortcomings and compromises.

@millercarbon agreed there too :) The way we do it is to do the averaging mostly to always start from a repeatable and consistent place, then modify to what we like, and usually we have 2 settings one for thin records and one for thicker ones, but most of the time we leave it alone, but on some days with some records it is worth the effort.

@larryi indeed...but on the other hand, when you get it really close to right then it is worth the sweat, blood and $.

Another issue with dynamic SRA is that it yields different results from record to record so that too is an approximation. We have found that AnalogMagik does a consistent good job for SRA, their results come very close to dynamic SRA. AnalogMagik’s SRA is always very close to what I like, same with VTF. Not so much with azimuth.

One more week until I get back to the USA and start playing with the new toys.

I will have 2 rack-of-silence with 5 and 4 shelfs, a Pathos heritage, a PS20 and the Acoustic Signature Typhoon, a second REL s/510 and the pods and podiums, that @millercarbon recommended, to set up.

 

@lewm , +1

That said, I have both and use Wallys far more often for my 5 tonearms. Well, actually I have the UNI-Pro but same idea. If p2s is exact, which really ought to be a given, especially if you have the right tools and set it yourself, I find the Wally to be more precise. I like arc protractors because alignment can be checked anywhere along the arc rather than at a single point, a la Smart/UNI Pro; and Wallys are the best arc protractors I’ve found. The originals anyway; I’ve never tried the new ones.

But they’re both excellent, so like Lewm said, don’t overthink.

How many protractors do you need to setup your cartridges/tonearms and enjoy the music? For my 6 turntables and 11 tonearms all I need is one brand new Dr. Feickert NG protractor and nothing else! 

Post removed 

If you're asking me, the answer should be obvious from my post: fewer than I have. Got it now?

... fewer than I have. Got it now?

 

No, I didn’t get it. I asked the OP, not you.

Why do you need so many protractors if all 3 most popular alignment methods are on ONE Feickert Protractor and it’s 100% accurate for all turntables and all tonearms?

 

 

@chakster I have a few osciloscopes, I work with electonics, the SmartTractor and and Wally, plus AnalogMagik.

We used to have the Feicker too but it is now gone..

That protractor is one seriously impressive looking piece of kit for sure.

Now stop and think a moment about what it is doing. 

The hole on the left centers and fixes it on the spindle. The arm with the vertical rod precisely aligns the grid with the arms pivot point. This assures both precise overhang (axial mark) and alignment (tangential marks) with the extra parallel axial marks also aiding in setting alignment.

Okay. Great. Do this and you are perfect. No doubt about it.

But, wait! Why are there only these few alignment grids? Well, because the arm pivots. It swings on an axis. One degree left or right, everything changes. All your expensively and painstakingly acquired alignment goes right out the window!

This strikes me as an awful lot of bother for something you will only hear for those few seconds per side when the stylus crosses those null points.

Still, it would be totally worth it - if it made any difference we could hear. If we put on a record and it sounds funny, then better and better until right at the null point it sounds great! But then it gets bad again.... You get the idea. This never happens. Nobody ever in the history of playing records- we're talking millions of people, over a hundred years- not a one ever complained about hearing this.

Well, the tangential arm guys sometimes talk about it. They are so proud of their having a whole different set of problems! But even they never really complained about hearing the sound vary across a record. No one does.

I've tried. The velocity at the outside of a record is greater than at the inside. Higher velocity results in greater clarity, better detail. Always. This I can hear. Miniscule changes in cartridge bolt torque? This I can hear. No problem. Side bias? Yes, when it is dialed in the image is more solid. This I can hear. 

Tracking error changing the sound across the record? This I cannot hear. 

Can you? Would love to hear about it. While you're at it, would really, really love to know why you kept this a secret for so long?

Once the Smartractor is adjusted for the alignment you want and there are 5 alignments, each one with it's own gauge, it is a breeze to adjust overhang and offset angle. The SmarTractor is the best to use because of the very fine gradations with the optical clarity of it's mirrored surface. It is so much easier to see what you are doing I did not have to use the magnifier even though it works a treat. It also accurately measures P2S distance. I used it to mark the spot for drilling the tonearm board. I have no complaints with it. I was not crazy about the price but after using it I have to say it is worth it. It is a precision device. 

I disagree that the Mint is easy to use. It is pretty difficult to pick up the parallax. I have two Mints and they will likely never see the light of day again. I also have the same protractor pictured above (btw, it is nice to see that this site finally allows images) and I like it. 

But, I like handing it over to Brian Walsh more. The better your analogue rig is the more you appreciate what Brian Walsh does. He brings out all the magic. 

I need a magnifying glass for sure, and that is the kind of difficulty I have with the Wally, I have tried almost every magnifying glasses type there is and when it comes to setting the azimuth that is when I struggle. 

Specially with cartridges like Koetsus and others that the stylus is almost buried in the cartridge. 

With overhang I use an USB microscope.

@fsonicsmith 

I agree with you. I tried the Mint because of the many recommendations. I also found it difficult to use, the mirrored finish seemed dull and grids were distorted. I sold it and am very happy with the Feickert protractor.