Help me understand cartridge alignment

I have a Ortofon Bokrand AB309 arm and I'm using a Royal N cartridge set up using Baewald geometry using the Feickert protractor. It's sounds awesome. I also have an Ortofon SL15 and I put it a cartridge and weighted it so I can swap it out for the Royal N any time without adjustment. The thing is, I don't have the right headshell for the SL15 yet so it can only line up like 5MM short on the Feickert. It also sounds great. So why is this? It doesn't line up with Stevenson or Lofgren. It's just off the grid and yet it's fine. I don't understand.


This is the kind of thing that good little vinylphiles don’t mention. Rigorous alignment is a sine qua non, except when it isn’t.

Different alignments (Baerwald, Stevenson ...) have lowest distortion at  different points on an LP. Due to the arc that a stylus/pivoted arm travels across an LP there will always be distortion. These alignments attempt to reduce it. A rule of thumb is: "the longer the stylus/arm pivot distance the shorter the overhang" - and consequently the overall lower distortion. That's the advantage a 10" or 12" arm has!

If your overhang is off by 5mm, you're not doing your LPs any favors by playing them with it.

An LP played by a stylus/pivoted arm has two points where the stylus is tangent to the groove. These are called null points 1 and 2. Starting with the outermost groove the tangentcy is lowest and distortion is highest. As the stylus approaches the first null point distortion is decreasing until it reaches the first null point. Leaving the first null point the distortion again increases, reaching a maximum at the halfway point between the first and second null points. Then distortion decreases again as the stylus approaches the second null point. At the second null point the distortion is again at a minimum. As the stylus moves away from null point 2 distortion increases as the run-out grooves near.

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Have to agree with @cleeds that being 5mm off on alignment you are not getting the most from your setup. Yes I'm sure it sounds fine but when aligned perfectly I would bet you would be amazed at the sonic improvement. 

The only way to have tangency and lowest distortion from outer to inner grooves is to use a linear-track arm.

you need a headshell with long slots that go further to the front.

this one has azimuth adjustment, slors, and is plastic, so you could extend the slots or drill holes closer to the front if needed



this one, also azimuth adjustment, the slots go near the front, BUT, how long is it? It is metal I think


I do have a Fidelity Research headshell on the way that has enough adjustability to make for correct alignment. 

I guess I expected to hear the distortion if it was off by that much which is the point of the question.

I'm interested to see if there is any sound difference when the proper alignment is achieved with the new headshell.

I expected to hear the distortion if it was off by that much which is the point of the question.

That you couldn't hear any distortion suggests problems elsewhere in the system, such as a sworn stylus, improper P2S, turntable way out of level, low-res phono preamp ...

"It's sounds awesome."

"The thing is, I don't have the right headshell for the SL15 yet so it can only line up like 5MM short on the Feickert."

I use the Feickert jig. Baerwald pushes the cart the most forward of the 3 alignments. At least you can do other 2 with good results (of course with the inherent limitations) My hearing isn't sensitive enough to hear any real differences between the 3.

So you need a longer headshell with more slot to get the cart to align with the grids?


Dear @dhcod  : The cartridge/pivotes tonearm alignment must be accurated for the cartridge can shows at its best.


It's not posible to have 100% accuracy but with your protractor you can stay near to that accuracy target. 

All over the LP grooves even if we " have " 100% accuracy we will listening different distortion levels but at the 2 null points, so we all the time are heraing distorted sounds. How much distorted? dpends of the accuracy of our aloignment efforts.

With aremovable headshell tonearm the change in the " color " of the reproduced sounds depends of the material of blend materials of the headshell and its build quality. There are several and different headshells that everything the same gives you different " color " no matters what. I don't like FR but that's  me, you have try and decide bit not only whith the FR but with other headshells out there.

You said that even with those 5mm out of the protractor grid the cartridge sound good and yes is very dificult ( everything the same ) that with a non-accurated alignment the sounds beeeen really bad and for this could happens the misalignment must be really high. So forgeret that you like rigth now what you are listening because you can listen it with higher quality performance when that cartridge/tonearm been " perfcetly aliggned " and remember that each headshell is part of the sounds reproduced " color ".


Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,


Everyone who’s responded is correct except everyone equates tracking angle error (the degrees by which the cantilever is not tangent to the groove) with “distortion”. Where are the data that confirm a linear relationship between the two?

I have said this before and will say it again. VTF, leveling, azimuth, and twist (horizontal alignment) are far more important than "optimum" spindle to stylus distance aka overhang. If you resort to a spherical stylus even twist is not crucial. An old hand at TT set-up once proved this to me. He wanted to hear my deck but did not want to spend the time to optimize set-up with a new cartridge. He said "you can slam the cartridge forward in the headshell, set VTF and azimuth and do an approximation of twist and the sound will be fine". The sound was amazing. So my point is that "alignment" is a nebulous term. Most of us define it as so-called perfect alignment including overhang or pivot to stylus which is only a compromise.

Everyone here is right.

But the most right are those with parallel trackers.  @lewm  This is the only condition in which there can be a linear relationship between cantilever/stylus correctly mounted in cantilever and groove.  Beware.  Many so-called high-end cartridges do not have accurately mounted stylii.  They are often out by a few degrees, nulling all the efforts we make in set-up.

Clearthinker, Your remark about parallel tracking tonearms is totally beside the point, but someone will always bring up parallel tracking tonearms in a discussion about alignment, so you cannot be blamed. But it doesn’t help us or the OP to understand why he is happy with his SQ despite being 5mm off in alignment. My point is that tracking angle error (TAE), while it is best minimized, does not so obviously manifest itself as "distortion" in the electrical sense. For my evidence, I give you underhung tonearms with zero headshell offset angle. Such underhung tonearms can only achieve a single null point on the surface of the LP, where also the skating force is zero, and deliver gobs of TAE at the extremes of the arc across the LP surface, much more TAE than almost any "properly aligned" overhung tonearm with an offset headshell. And yet, my experience with two different examples suggests their TAE is relatively harmless to SQ.  I admit this is subjective evidence, and I have not made measurements.  But neither have the alignment police.

Beware.  Many so-called high-end cartridges do not have accurately mounted stylii.  They are often out by a few degrees, nulling all the efforts we make in set-up.

Uh,what does a linear tracker do to solve problems with stylii not mounted square to the cantilever? 

Wow, Audiophile blues, I am honestly glad some have good enough hearing to decern the fine differences here.  I hope those who can truly appreciate how they are blessed. 

As one that has impaired hearing, I just wanted to say, you guys are fortunate. 

Sorry for the distraction, no I'm not jealous, just sayin, enjoy.   

@gregchick0 , your unusual but sincere post made me curious and so I viewed your posts in the last month since joining this forum. You sound like an interesting person, truly. So sorry for the thread drift but how about telling us more about yourself. Nationality? Occupation? Why did you join here? System details?

Hey Greg- as a person who will no doubt based on family history begin to have a decline in hearing soon, I do appreciate every moment I can enjoy music!

Thanks for your post. Hope you have a great holiday season!


fsonicsmith, Thanks, I'm a white bald old guy that gets excited about stereos and music.  Retired Plumbing Contractor self-employed, over 45 years.

I actually joined here to read what others say about equipment, as well, "misery loves company" in the endless search for the effect of a live concert at the turn of a knob!  

Also, to sell at least one of my Amps to help pay for new equipment.  The Anthem STF amps my wife got me.  After all wife's lives matter!  


fsonicsmith, Yes, the hair falls, the earlobes grow, the hearing leaves, and wisdom takes over!  Take a tip from the wise, turn it up! Try some Miles Davis and prepare for the future, streaming music is trying to get you!  Develop a sense of humor to replace your sense of hearing. 

I hope this reply is not a violation of thread sequence!  If it is copy paste it elsewhere. Or tell me to. carry on with the azimuth and grove path. 

@gregchick0 Well, to keep the groove on thread and track, your sell-deprecation is admirable but I am not sure one has to have the hearing of a teenager to appreciate the sound of a great vinyl rig. I saw that you posted previously about cleaning records so you do have a turntable and yet you seem to mostly mention streaming. I take it your point is that access to all-important music is so [nearly] unlimited with streaming and that the music must come first for all of us, and particularly for you with old man's disease. My own belief system is that digital and vinyl will never sound alike. And contrary to the beliefs of some, it is not about so-called masking due to euphonic distortion. Instead it is simply due to radically different technologies and the amazing ability of most music lovers to discern differences over time. I am willing to venture a guess that with the right system you too would appreciate the SQ with an optimally set up table. IMHO, 70-80% of the time if you stream an album and compare it to playing the same album on a top vinyl rig the digital will win simply because having a great pressing is so vital and so hard to obtain-involving pure luck way too often. But that 20-30% of the time when you do have a great pressing of what you are in the mood for hearing, the vinyl version soars above. As it so happens, I have an exceptional pressing of Bitches Brew. 


fsonicsmith, don't get me wrong, I am not really happy streaming is muscling in.  Actually, your point on the "best" LP pressings is painfully accurate. But I read from some well-respected LP master pros, that is possible to correctly master digitally too.  So, the poor pressing LP's and not to mention those old Record Club pressings, are in my room, unlistenable.  

Yes! a good pressing of Bitches Brew is like the Holy Grail, especially after I upgraded my TT to an outboard Tube Box S2 Phono Preamp and good cartridge & stylus.   Actually, after doing such, half my recordings both LP and CD became annoying, unless just background music.  

Oh, the pain of having a good stereo!  Now I need wall treatment. 

Dear @lewm  : "" except everyone equates tracking angle error (the degrees by which the cantilever is not tangent to the groove) with “distortion”.  ""

Everyone but you? then you are just wrong. Which's your take?


I give you these measured examples in a 250mm EL pivoted tonearm Löfgren A IEC where is clear that as tracking error goes down as traking distortion goes down too as the cartridge is aproaching a null point or goes higher as the cartridge goes away of a null point:


at 66mm groove radius tracking error is zero and tracking distortion is 0.0001%

at 70mm tracking error is -0.359 and tracking distortion is 0.256%

at 90mm tracking error is -1.014 and tracking distortion ism 0.563%

at 115mm tracking error is -0.310 and tracking distortion is 0.135%


The measures was made at each mm and has a linear relationship between both calculated parameters.




I think the arm must be off somehow. I've explored every option. Tomorrow I'm going to adjust the PTS by 2.5mm (I measure today) so an SPU will hit Baerwald exactly.

Raul, I just saw your post. What is "tracking distortion"? Are you talking about harmonic distortion, IM distortion, or what? Can you refer me to the source of your data, or have you yourself made these measurements? I am certainly willing to believe there is a relationship between tracking angle error and distortion of some kind, but I have not seen the data, until now possibly. My private hypothesis is that stylus overhang and headshell offset angle taken together are examples of the cure (for TAE) being worse than the disease. Invented 80 years ago by a few guys, who were more mathematicians than audio engineers, to drive us crazy. I realize that my view is not the norm, so I am not anxious to argue about it. But tell me how "tracking distortion" was measured, please. And thanks.

Dear @lewm  : Were measured through the Löfgren A-B equations in reference to cartridge/tonearm alignment and under IEC, DIN or JIS standards.


This is not new and this is not the first time I posted.


" is that stylus overhang and headshell offset angle taken together are examples of the cure (for TAE) being worse than the disease. "  , probably you are rigth but where are those alignment equations that proved it, at least Löfgren did it.


I think in the last 15 years you are sticked to your opinion and nothing wrong with that but I wonder why after 15 years you just has a " wondering " instead to have the maths that proved.


You are wrong about my "opinion". For most of my audiophile life, I went along with the idea that very precise alignment is important. Only in the last few years have I begun to seriously question that proposition. And the key word is "question". I am not about to say that alignment is NOT important. And I do align my cartridges carefully. But I don’t fret over a mm or 2, just because of my own experience with underhung tonearms and the fact that once or twice I have discovered that my alignment of overhung tonearms was way off (only because I periodically check with a protractor) without any audible associated deficit in SQ. This may be because, even based on your own data above, the associated distortion (which I still do not understand the nature of) is low compared to the sum total of all the other distortions associated with vinyl.

The reason I am still in the dark as to the nature of the distortion associated with minor misalignment of an overhung cartridge is that your response, "Were measured through the Löfgren A-B equations in reference to cartridge/tonearm alignment and under IEC, DIN or JIS standards." suggests to me that you misunderstood my question or I misunderstand your response. Do you mean to say that (someone) measured actual distortion of the audio signal in relation to IEC, DIN, or JIS standards?  If that is what you mean to say, what sort of distortion was being measured?  To say the standards used is not to describe the nature of the distortion.  What I am asking cannot be answered by any equation, because an equation will give you a theoretical answer only, and my real question is whether reality conforms to theory.  Lofgren, Baerwald, and maybe even Stevenson all did their work around 1940, so far as I can find out.  Way before stereo or any high fidelity home audio.

A 2.2mm shift in the mounting hole dropped the SPU I have right into place for Baerwald geometry. While I thought the sound was great with it off by the 2.2MM (I know I said 5 but I was wrong in the end) it turns out that it's better properly aligned.

I didn't really notice because even improperly aligned, the new 401 w/SPU is so much better than my old setup!

@lewm  , no I'm not was wrong because that opinion you had it just when you set up your Dyna 505 where I questioned you not to use Stevenson but Löfgren and you said no because all that bla, bla, bla.

I was not wrong, things are that you have short memory and this issue is not the first time coming.



Raul, in that interaction you were per usual arguing the superiority of Baerwald vs Stevenson. We were not discussing the importance of very accurate alignment. Perhaps it is you who have the faulty memory. Also back then I was reporting a problem that arose when I used Baerwald with my 505, which requires twisting the cartridge with respect to the headshell. Again, that had nothing to do with the anal approach to alignment. I won’t rehash the whole issue here.

"  I was reporting a problem that arose when I used Baerwald with my 505, which requires twisting the cartridge with respect to the headshell.  "


Exactly, my memory is not faulty and here you are discussing about  that offset angle and TD not accuracy.



for those who do seek to get better sound, i do advocate good tools and possibly having JR at WAM engineering analyze the cartridge and prepare appropriate shim. Of course a few cartridge manufacturers hit the lofty tolerance targets….but….. enjoy the music


If my alignment measurements were off, then I would feel compromised unless I could make the adjustments necessary. Anyway, there is an art to setting up a cartridge and there is a science too but nothing is so exact that you cannot make evaluations based on critical listening, So please post your findings after you've gotten the other head-shell. I'm interested in knowing what you prefer once your capable of adjusting the cartridge according to specs.

Am having JR at WAM scope 2 cartridges. One can be brought to nearly perfect  alignment in azimuth, SRA and zenith. The other has too much error to be compensated , even with shims. Personally prefer this scientific method rather than trial and error on my part. And yes I'm going to get anal here. After all for many here it is a big deal. I'm no exception.


Clearthinker earlier brought up a great point about zenith errors in the fastening of the stylus tip to the cantilever, which of course is done by the manufacturer. This came up in the other long thread on the Viv Float tonearm. Apparently, Ogura, and Namiki, who make the cantilever/stylus assemblies for most new cartridges, have a tolerance of +/-5 degrees in zenith. Even an error of a few degrees will throw off even the most carefully done alignment. So I imagine that many of us who think our cartridges are near perfectly aligned are laboring under a delusion. This was demonstrated to me graphically and computationally in my own home with actual measurements. When my cartridge was then twisted in the headshell to compensate for zenith error, three of us in the room heard a massive improvement in clarity. Sorry to Clearthinker that I did not recognize the importance of his remark when he first mentioned it here.  I am not sure what dentdog is describing, but it does sound as if he had the same epiphany regarding zenith adjustment.  Unfortunately, probably none of us has the tools needed to correct for aberrant zenith by actual measurement at home.  For one thing, mine was done with a special test LP that enabled measuring IM distortion.