experiencing distorted playback with Benz Ruby 2

Hi everyone, this is my first post here, hoping that some of you awesome audiophiles might have some insight to help me out.

I just received a Benz Micro Ruby 2 (LOMC)cart that I purchased here on Audiogon. The seller seems reputable (300+transactions, great feedback, etc), and has told me that the cart sounded beautiful when he had it set up. So I am hoping it is somehow the setup I have.

During playback, pretty much everything is distorted, crackling, etc. It's horrible. Prior to this, I had a Grado Gold MM cart, and it sounded pretty darn good. I changed over to the Ruby 2, and added a stepup transformer. The transformer is the only new part of the setup besides the Ruby 2. Here is what I have for gear:

Turntable is a VPI, essentially a HW 4...has had just about every upgrade available
Graham 2.2 tonearm
Bellari VP130 phono preamp
Bellari MT502 transformer (this is the new one, figured it made sense since I have the phono preamp already)
Amplifier is a Classe 75
All interconnects are decent quality.

I initially tried the cartridge without the transformer, basically to see how it sounded without it. I immediately noticed the distortion and chalked it up to a low-level signal coming from the new cart. Then I hooked up the transformer...much louder now, but the distortion is unbearable. It's not just an annoying thing that can be tweaked, it sounds horrible. I have played with the ground settings, A-B preference switch on the xformer, different tracking setting., etc.

Any ideas here? If I need to provide additional info, etc., just let me know. Thanks in advance!
Are you sure the suspension isn't bottoming or a wire hitting the record? Distortion is simply a deviation from the input signal - it can actually sound more pleasant than the original signal. Sounds like you've got noise, not distortion. It also sounds like it might be mechanical in nature. Just a guess of course.
Guys...after spending some time with a test record and tweaking, I noticed on the vertical tracking test the needle was almost bouncing out of the tracks in the 19-20Hz range. I increased the tracking force a bit and this went away.

Now the thing sounds awesome! I can't believe it is so sensitive, but it must have been a simple setup issue. I actually measured the tracking force at 1.9g, but I am thinking there must be a problem with my scale. It "felt" lighter than the 1.9g, and now it feels about right. I think I will invest in a new force gauge to make sure....but listening is believing.

Any other tips are certainly welcome..
Agree with Chayro. Unless you're listening to a filthy or damaged LP, "crackling" sounds are noise (an addition TO the signal), not distortion (a modification OF the signal).

The improvement from increasing VTF confirms that, and stylus mistracking was my first suspicion. Letting a sharpened diamond bounce around in a plastic groove will cause irreparable damage to the LP. Good thing you diagnosed this so quickly.

Another suspect would be dirty/loose connections between cartridge pins and tonearm wire clips. Make sure those are clean and snug. If you have a loose fit, slide a wooden toothpick into the clip and squeeze gently to snug it up a bit.

An accurate VTF scale is critical and need not be expensive. You shouldn't have to spend more than $50. Audiophile approved scales costing hundred$ are no better than a jeweller's or gunmaker's scale with a DIY'd weighing step.

Make sure you're weighing at record level and that the magnets in the cartridge are not being pulled toward any ferritic metal in the scale. Be careful! The magnets in a LOMC are powerful... a cartridge can destroy itself in a second if it whips out your grasp and crashes into something.

Please note, no scale can do more than get you in the right ballpark. Every cartridge is unique. Final tweaking of VTF (and some other setup parameters) can only be accomplished by listening. This sort of tweaking can wait until you get more used to the sound and more comfortable with delicate adjustments.

Until then, be *certain* that your stylus is not mistracking (and ruining your records) by operating the Benz near the upper end of its recommended range. Running with VTF too low has trashed more records than all other causes combined. Pay special attention when playing the inner grooves of tough-to-track LPs. That's where mistracking is most likely. If you hear that "crackling" or "fuzziness" again, STOP playing and increase VTF and/or anti-skating until it goes away.

Oh... and have fun!
Thanks a lot for the detailed thoughts. As I also explained to the poor guy I bought the cartridge from, this is my first time ever playing around with a cartridge of this caliber. I was initially concerned that I was putting too much tracking force on it...but, as you elucidated, one has to trust ones ears at some point in the process.

Thanks to both of you for pointing out the distinction between noise and distortion...makes perfect sense. It seems that what I was hearing was the needle lightly leaving the surface of the groove, and likely damaging that particular Beatles album. Luckily, I did catch it quickly and the record subsequently sounds great.

I spent last night in listening bliss...the cartridge now reveals all kinds of new things in records I have listened to several times in the past. Quite a bargain, when you consider that my entire record collection is now brand new to me.
Well, I'm glad you got everything sorted out. Now, all you need is a decent phono stage. :)
perhaps the next upgrade....the system can always sound better! That's what drives us. That, and maybe some level of insanity, as well
i have tracked all of the benz's i've had ( H20, rubyH, ruby3, ebony, LPS) at max or above max recommended tracking force, typically around 2.5gms.
you will find the soundstage huge and deep defined bass if you track heavier.
Well, if I'd known it was just a Beatles album...