Harshness/Distortion Question - Newbie

I'm new to turntables. I recently purchased a Music Hall MMF 2.2. Using the stock Music Hall "tracker" cartridge and have it hooked up to a Pro-Ject speedbox. I'm running it through a phono stage integrated into my Adcom GTP-500 receiver.

I've noticed with some recordings (Sinatra at the Sands, for example) that when I play it at modest volume levels I get distortion at the high end that I normally would not get at the same volume on my system listening to CDs. It's the sound you generally associate when you play a cheap boombox too loud, if that makes any sense. The record is in "ok" shape.

I suppose I am wondering if this distortion at the upper (treble) end is something associated with vinyl, or perhaps a limitation of my cartridge and/or lack of dedicated phono amp. (Note: I'm planning on buying a dedicated cambridge audio phono amp 640p when I can afford it).

Thanks for the help as always.

Hi David, I am relatively new to vinyl as well, but in my experience there are a few things that could cause this.
1. misaligned cartridge, how did you set it up?
2. Dirty record.
3. dirty stylus.
3.5 static build up.
4. groove damage, not always visible to the naked eye.
5. inability of the phono stage to deal with the higher frequencies properly.
6. It is in the mix of the record.

I'm sure there are more, but these are a few of my experiences.
Try another record, see if you get the same problem. Check your stylus, with high magnification if possible, look for crud. Try the record on a friends system ( invaluable) if it does it there, then it is likely a problem with the record. Try cleaning the record.
This is the kind of stuff I think that drives a lot of people away from vinyl, but when you figure it out and conquer the problem, and your system sounds better, it is worth the trouble.

My guess is alignment/vtf/vta.

good luck.
The only time the harshness could be tied to vinyl,is a bad pressing,production problem,or bad job on the engineers part.Its not a characteristic of vinyl thats done right.
Vinyl is quite capable of reproducing the sound of harsh master tapes, some pressings are just harsh sounding, and some cartridges are quite capable of producing harsh sounds all on their own.

Hanaleimike's advice is solid. If tweaking cartridge setup doesn't work, then consider a new cartridge (I would go MC, myself) and/or a new phono preamp. But don't do that until you've learned cartridge setup basics.
Also besides the above mentioned,usually the cheaper the cartridge and stylus combination,the more harshness, distortion,plus other sonic problems.
Thanks for everyones help. The cartridge was installed by
the manufacturer. I think it's less likely that it's an allingnment
issue because the record sounded fine when I played it last a few days ago. Perhaps static buildup. I've bought a cleaning system the other day to try to keep my vinyl clean.

How do you clean a stylus?

Could tracking weight have anything to do with it (I can obviously experiment wth that).

Does distortion tend to increase more as you increase volume as compared to CDs?

Thanks for helping a newbie...
The simple test would be to play the record on another system of known quality and see if the poor sound quality is still present.

If it is, you simply have a bad pressing. One of the sad realities of vinyl is there are a lot of poorly pressed records. There are a lot of spots in the process where things can go wrong. If nothing else, stampers deteriorate as they are used and someone is going to get the records from the end of a production run!

That's a different issue than a record that has been poorly produced or mastered.

So, play the record on another system. If it still sounds bad, you simply have a bad record. If it sounds fine, go back to your system and look at alignment issues and also check the stylus under a scope for dirt or wear.

Yeah, gotta clean that stylus. I use a dry Discwasher stylus brush before every play (let the stylus rest on the bristles and use only back to front motion), and occaisonally the Onzo Zerodust gel. No liquids.

For the records, I use an Audioquest carbon-fiber brush. Sleevetown sells a cheaper one, and also the Zerodust.
for stylus cleaning I use the magic eraser. There is a thread or two on the subject. Magic eraser, dry brush=very clean stylus under a microscope. It is good you got a cleaning system, I was hesitant to buy a vpi 16.5 wondering if it was really worth it, I mean, my records "looked" clean. Best purchase ever.
If the alignment was done in a factory by the manufacturer, it is probably off, this is based on how much time it takes me to properly align my cartridge. You will also want to invest in a pressure gauge so you can properly set your vertical tracking force. Start asking google questions, many times you will be lead back to agon, but there is lots of excellent information out there, and I guaranty any question you may have has already been asked.
Great, thanks everyone