Do You Have a Favorite Disk to Set VTA/SRA?

And what, precisely, do you listen for?
When the highs and bass are right VTA is good don't have a disc use Decca or EMI never 180 gram disc.
I adjust arm height (and thus VTA/SRA) for every LP. This is because I hear the differences and appreciate optimal sonics from each record, not because I love tweaking.

Not everyone is on the lunatic fringe. Depending on your tonearm, your system and your sensitivity, you may want to do that much... or much less.

I'm happy to explain my particular methods, but if you're more inclined to set and forget it wouldn't be helpful. Can you clarify your equipment (e.g., list your System), musical preferences and sonic goals? That would help others respond in ways appropriate to your particular needs.
Malcolm Arnold
English, Scottish & Cornish Dances
Lyrita Label
Dougdeacon, I believe that adjusting VTA to every dorn LP every time is rather spiritual masterbation than proper setup (xc'uz my poor Friench) unless it's TT that has the feature 'on flight VTA adjustment'(adore Technics 1200 for that).
It's especially pain in anus when yo try to do that with 7" records or flexis
Other then that, Ebm gives advise much closer to RW(real world) if you don't have majority of 180...200g pressings. Another words, use the most common size and calibur record from your collection and b done and don't jerk it every time(that's RW).
As far as sound testing of VTA goes, I use Dire Straits "On Every Street" UK pressing or Mark Knophler's "Nottinghillbillies" Italian pressing.
Man, I'm sure glad adjusting arm height, VTA/SRA on every LP isn't considered part of the lunatic fringe.
I'm with Dougdeacon. I do the same based on the methods he taught me. But what may not be clear is that my collection is divided between five different heights (SRA/VTA angles) ranging in 0.5mm. So if I'm feeling a bit lazy and want to spend the evening listening to say piano sonatas, I will bring down two or three LPs with the same SRA settings so that I don't have to change the VTA for each LP played that evening.

And when I do adjust my arm, it only takes about 20 seconds. Not a big deal. The time consuming part is listening initially for the correct setting and making a note of it for future reference.

Thanks so much. If you'd been to my home to listen, learn and enjoy music together - as Peterayer and many other Audiogoners have over the past 10 years - your opinion of my hearing and practices might actually include some useful content. Of course those who chose derogation and dismissal without hearing any evidence are unlikely to receive an invitation.

P.S. If you'd bothered to check my system page you'd have learned that my tonearm does indeed have height adjustment on the fly. But I understand from your post that you prefer to offer opinions without gathering information.


Sorry for the distraction. Audiogon is typically more helpful than this.

I prefer to offer suggestions based on complete information, so I made no assumptions about your system or tastes. I simply asked for more information in order to tailor any guidance I might have to offer. Feel free to fill in the blanks as you're inclined, I'll be happy to reply.

Dougdeacon, do you have 7" records? They have also different thickness. For what it's worth even with on-flight VTA it's insane and sick and not normal. Try to promote your strategy to Rega owners LOL!
Adjustment is a personal preference like everything else in this business. SOme like the plug and play systems and others invest time and money for SOTA on everything. Its crazy only if you don't value it. I will admit however, the rega arms do make it a challenge (at least the older ones)
I do not adjust every one but do adjust based on my knowledge of my collection and general thickness of the record. If it is a new record or one i dont remember, i will adjust to see if i can bring out any more detail. I listen for the clarity of the lows (does it get muddy or sharper), are the notes on a piano clear and crisp versus soft. Those are my typical things i do. I am not a great technical listener, but when i adjust, i know when it gets better to me.

Whether I have 7" records or a Rega arm is irrelevant. What matters is what the OP has, and he hasn't told us yet.

Why do you accuse me of "promoting my strategy"? Read my post again. I didn't promote ANY strategy. The only thing I "promoted" was a search for more information about the OP's system and preferences.

You, on the other hand, are promoting a strategy without regard for anyone else's system or preferences. As Oilmanjo noted, this adjustment is a matter of personal preference.

You call other approaches "spiritual masterbation" and "sick and not normal". Why employ such pointlessly insulting language? Believe it or not, you do not possess all the answers.


P.S. I've owned several Rega and Rega knockoff arms (Origin Live). There are aftermarket devices (Riggle, Teres) which make it easy to adjust arm height, on the fly if one wishes. You apparently don't know quite as much as you believe.

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I tried to make my inquiry very specific. I didn't think that the response depended upon specific equipment or listening preferences. I simply wanted to know if particular recordings have been particularly helpful to others in this difficult (for me) adjustment.

Nonetheless I use a Shelter 501 II with a Soundsmith OC retip on a VPI JMW 12" arm. When listening to vinyl, I listen primarily to classical. But there have been suggestions that some non-classical recordings work better for this purpose.
I used to use the Ave Maria track from The Mission- choral, voices are added, too high and they thin out, too low and they lose their location.
I used to actively change arm height on, if not a record by record basis, then at least by rough gradients of 'thick,' 'normal' and 'thin.' (Easy enough to do on the fly with my arm). But, I've found that some cartridges seem to be far more sensitive to VTA. Right now, my cartridge is a little more agnostic (as was its predecessor) so I'm pretty much set and forget.
I still want a remote controlled arm height adjustment though. (Not laziness, it's hard to tune, run back to the sweet spot, tune, etc).
Back to our original program. :)

Thanks for coming back. ;-)

Your tonearm, like my TriPlanar, offers quick, repeatable height adjustment on the fly. The good news: it's easy to adjust. The bad news: it's easy to adjust! Welcome to the risk of joining the, err... lunatic fringe.

I listen to 90% classical myself, with a particular interest in period instrument performances. About 4,000 LPs, perhaps a third from musicians like Hogwood, Harnoncourt, etc. I'd take exception to a suggestion that such recordings aren't sensitive to SRA adjustments. In fact, I find that good recordings of certain natural (not amplified) instruments are more revealing of SRA changes than any other type.

We probably have records in common, but rather than provide a list I'll address your comment that you find this difficult by describing what to listen for. From this, we can deduce what type of instruments are most revealing of SRA changes and why.

There are two schools of thought on what sonic changes an SRA adjustment typically makes. Those with less experience and/or less revealing equipment often describe a change in treble/bass balance, rather like a tone control rolling off one end or the other. Raising the arm strengthens treble, lowering it strengthens bass. I used to play a (stock) Shelter 901. The above is exactly what I heard with that cartridge.

When I moved to more revealing cartridges, I began to hear something different from SRA changes. It was more subtle and more closely related to reproducing the sound of real instruments. A stock Shelter 501II would probably not reveal this, but that OC retip will make all the difference. (Great move, BTW.) A line contact type stylus is needed to reproduce what I'm about to describe.

Frank Schroeder (the tonearm designer/builder) described the sound of SRA change to me very succinctly. He said, "Listen for the timing between a fundamental and its harmonics."


Imagine a plucked string like an acoustic guitar or harpsichord, or a struck piano string or cymbal tap. The first sound that reaches your ears is the fundamental. Following immediately after that are various harmonics generated off that fundamental. If you listen attentively to a live instrument, you'll be aware of time lags between the various sounds that make up one "note".

Raising tonearm height causes the harmonics to occur too early relative to the fundamental. Lowering tonearm height causes an unnatural time lag after the fundamental before the harmonics arrive. The difference may be nanoseconds, but getting SRA just right "pops" all these facets of a note into temporal (NOT spatial) focus. The instruments sound more real.

The easiest instruments to hear this on are those with a crisp attack followed by a naturally decaying bloom of harmonics. I named a few examples above. Instruments with a soft attack and/or a long sustain, like pipe organ or recorder (or electric guitar), are difficult or impossible to adjust SRA with.

Considering the above, I'm sure you can pick recordings from your own collection that would be suitable.

For any given record, the window for optimal SRA is EXTREMELY TINY. Raising or lowering the arm outside of that zone typically makes almost no sonic difference at all. This may be why you're having trouble getting your ears around it. Move your arm more than a half turn of the adjustment dial and you'll zip right through the sweet zone without even knowing it. So, start with the top surface of the cartridge level. Then tweak up or down in TINY movements from there.

For this to be really audible, VTF should be dialled in first, by ear. Anti-skating, if you use any, should be as minimal as possible, consistent with clean tracking.
Doug- your way of describing the differences is helpful. The difference in timing between the fundamental and the harmonics/decay is consistent, i think, with the grosser difference in 'thin' v 'thick' sounding. I agree that the window seems to be tiny, in that there is a 'just right' spot (just as I think most records have a 'natural volume' where they tend to sound best in a given room). But, when I had Lyra cartridges- I guess very revealing at least at the upper rungs of their ladder- i found them incredibly sensitive to VTA. Not so much with the Airtights which I've been running for a long while.
New generation tonearms should have VTA and other adjustments with remote control, so you don't have to leave a sweet spot.
Here is another discussion about setting VTA on Whatsbestforum: post #38 is
quite interesting.

The methods may be similar, but it seems that the language used to describe
what to listen for is different.

Thanks for posting a link to that discussion, which I hadn't seen. Post #38 seems problematic in two ways:

1. He "doesn't get" how the timing between fundamental and its harmonics can change. If we were discussing the original sound itself, neither would I. But we're not.

The sound source of interest is no longer a trumpet or guitar. It's a modulated piece of plastic. We're extracting sound by tracing those modulations with a stylus. All manner of mechanical inaccuracies, including SRA deviations, can and do alter the original sound in ways that could never happen when listening to live music.

Have you ever heard a live musician and said to yourself, "He needs to be playing with higher VTF, or less antiskating?" Of course not. The poster is suggesting that recorded and reproduced sound must have the same characteristics as live sound, which is patently untrue.

If the SRA of the playback stylus differs from that of the cutting stylus, the contact surfaces of the playback stylus will encounter groove modulations "out of synch" with what the cutting engineer intended. This, to my ears, alters the perceived sound as Whart and I have described.

2. His recommendation to set SRA by minimizing IM distortion using a test record is 100% correct; provided that, all you ever intend to play is that test record. As soon as you change records, however, the validity of that "perfect" result goes out the window.

With respect to the unknown poster, his method is that of someone who prefers the certainty of numeric measurements, even when those measurements have no applicability to the real world problem - which is how to adjust SRA for the particular record I'm about to play.

Totally agree that "thick/thin" sound is consistent with the fundamental/harmonics timing differences one hears in more sensitive setups.

Also agree that this is cartridge specific:
1) A cartridge with a spherical/conical stylus does not really change sound at all with SRA adjustment.
2) Shelter 901 has an elliptical stylus, and it sounds "thick or thin".
3) AirTight Supreme has a "semi" line contact stylus. Not sure just what that means, but it makes sense that it would be more sensitive than a 901 but less sensitive than a true line contact.
4) High end Lyra and ZYX cartridges use a micro-ridge stylus, which provides the shortest contact radius of any stylus I know (short of a cutting stylus). It makes sense that such cartridges change sound in subtler or more detailed ways.
Interesting pictures of stylus shapes.
Chayro, great link, thanks! The pics/diagrams help explain what I was attempting to describe.
During the cutting process, the cutting needle lasts about 10 hours and then must be replaced. A worn needle cuts a noisy groove. Many people don't know this but if the cutter needle is set up right, the resulting lacquer cut is so quiet that no matter how quiet your playback electronics are, they define the noise floor.

As a result the cutter head must be removed and the needle replaced fairly frequently. Then it has to be reinstalled, aligned and then one goes through the process of getting it to cut correctly. This is the case regardless of the fact that the settings of the cutter head were previously recorded.

The issue is that every cutting stylus is slightly different. As a result, the 92 degree cutting angle can be regarded as an average and not an absolute as the mastering engineer is looking to get the machine to cut properly and is not aiming for 92 degrees. This means that every LP is cut at a slightly different angle. IOW its not just the thickness of the LP that is a variable. Even if they were all the same thickness to get ideal playback the VTA/SRA would have to be adjusted.

Hence the utility of the VTA tower pioneered by Triplanar. There are several arms now that use a similar design; if you really want to hear everything on the LP such adjust-ability is really handy!

Thanks for your expert insights from the POV of a cutting engineer, which do gibe with what I hear during playback.

Similar weight LPs from the same label and pressing plant do tend to have similar arm height settings, but it's only a tendency, a reasonable point of departure to begin fine tuning by ear.

I've always found the obsession with setting SRA to EXACTLY 92 degrees with a microscope amusingly arbitrary. You explained why that is so very clearly.
So - Wouldn't the average audiophile's life be easier with a spherical stylus? Just set the overhang and a reasonably parallel arm tube and you're pretty much done. I wonder how compromised the sound would be if a high-quality spherical stylus were put on a good cartridge, say $1500-$2500. This is of course for those not willing or able to achieve perfect alignment and reset VTA for each record. I haven't done a survey, but I think sphericals are used on lower-priced carts to keep the price low, but why not on a better cart? What do you think, Doug?
I have used this method as well as the record mentioned to set VTA with good results.

I am more of a set it and forget it kind of guy. Mostly because I can't hear such small changes from my turntable which is not in the sweet-spot but off to the side quite a way from the listening position. One of my TTs has a Terminator tonearm which allows easy VTA adjustments on the fly but I do not wish to stand there and try and dial it in for each record. I'm not saying it isn't worth it for some, but I'd rather be listening!

That said, I have used a USB microscope to confirm my settings by ear and they seem to be very close (within 1 degree) to the supposed magical 92 degrees. OTOH, who decided that the playback SRA needs to be the same as the cutter angle? The cutter angle is a compromise between all sorts of parameters including getting the tool to cut in such a way that the waste material curls off properly. Those with machine shop experience will recognize that. Some of those factors have nothing to do with playback! Just an opinion. No facts involved!
The setting on the fly isn't an issue for a lot of arms. The issue, for me, is running back and forth between the table and the listening position to hear what my adjustments are doing~ thus, the overwhelming value of a remote controlled arm height adjustment. Because, if you are going this far, and doing it record by record (respecting Ralph's point that no record is cut at the same angle), it just becomes a giant PITA unless your listening chair is adjacent to the turntable; not a set up I've ever run. Has anyone else? Ralph: are you dialing in and having to jog back and forth between the table and your listening position?
I don't generally change the VTA once I have it in the right area (IOW, proper tonality, no breakup). The arm/cartridge resonance is far more important IMO; once that is right and you have otherwise proper setup, the SRA is not going to be particularly critical. If you set up for 92 degrees you will have a good average.

The really important thing here is that there are cartridges where the stylus is installed improperly in the cantilever; if this is the case you will never get the cartridge to work correctly as it is defective. So actually working to get the 92 degree angle is a good idea even if the LPs themselves are not cut exactly at that angle.

The amazing thing about the LP is how well they work, especially since so many aspects about them are compromises. Overhang is a good example, and SRA is another.
With help of headphones you don't have to jog between sweet-spot and equipment stand.
Cz- clever idea.
Ralph- thanks, that's where I'm at too, not fiddling too much.