I need help diagnosing a sibilant problem on vinyl

Rega Planar 2 turntable. Rega Elys 2 cartridge. Audible Illusions Modulus tube pre-amp. Audio Research D-51 tube amp. Rogers LS-2a speakers. Oppo BDP-95 disc player.
My discs, especially the SACD's sound fantastic. Vinyl instrumental's sound good. Anytime there's an "S" in the vocals on vinyl there's a harsh sibilance that doesn't make sense. It would only make sense if there was a cartridge/stylus problem or a phono stage problem in my pre-amp.
Before I take it to my very expensive, very slow HI-FI tech, does anyone out there have an idea of what it could be?
Not enough VTF (tracking force) and/or too much/not enough anti skate could be the culprit. Do you have a VTF gauge?
Improper alignment.
There many possible causes, including but not limited to:
- inadequate VTF
- sub-optimal anti-bias adjustment
- sub-optimal zenith alignment
- sub-optimal SRA (VTA) adjustment
- overload or shearing distortions in the phono stage
- dirty or damaged records
- inability of the Elys to accurately trace/reproduce HFs
- vibrations at certain frequencies exciting resonances in the cartridge body, tonearm or other components

Searches within the Analog Forum for "sibilant", "sibilants" and "sibilance" turn up 17, 6 and 66 threads respectively. There's already a wealth of information/opinion out there. Any one of the hundreds of posts on those threads might (or might not) provide a solution to your problem.

Truth be told, reproducing sibilants cleanly, especially on inner grooves, is one of the most difficult challenges for a vinyl setup. I have a few especially challenging LPs that bring virtually any analog rig to its knees (and send people screaming from the room with hands over their ears). I've only heard these LPs reproduced cleanly a few times. It can be done, but not easily or cheaply.
Damaged or worn stylus. Harsh tubes?
Maybe you should check out my thread regarding Elys 2... Very sibilant on my system.


My problem may be a mismatch between cart and phonostage or the high gain of the Elys.
Are the Walls in your room close to the speakers on the sides? Without knowing your room description ..its hard to say. I get this in my room because its small..but I dampin about 20 degrees to the left and right of each speaker and this helps kill any ringing or harsh reflectance. Also, Cables are another thing to consider a bad cable can sound like u describe. I tend to take the easy route first and work up to the more complex fixes.Stylus tracking force and anti-skate are easy to check as well. Also,make sure the cartridge is not near any transformers from other equipment. I would check Grounding or consider running a ground from table to preamp. Table needs to be Perfectly level,check this at the plinth and the platter to make sure.Stylus or cartridge replacement might be in order if these others dont help.
I agree with all the above, and also add if the turntable itself is properly level on all planes and on a solid platform, and do use a record clamp to better couple the record to the platter.

Dougdeacon is it possible to get a list of those records that are hard to track.
How many hours do you have on the Elys?
I would suspect a damaged stylus first, from experience this was the cause of such sibilance in my cartridge many years ago.

Thanks for asking. For clarity, I didn't mention records that are hard to track. I mentioned records whose HF's (particularly sibilants) are difficult to reproduce cleanly. These are not the same thing, since systems may distort HFs even when the stylus traces them perfectly.

Even distortions that sound exactly like mistracking are often not so. Some phono stage distortions can mimic mistracking even to experienced, professional ears. Frequent contributor Atmasphere has described this on several threads.

A few example LPs:

HARD - Alison Krauss, 'Live at Union Station', MOFI reissue
The inner grooves challenge many systems, though they play cleanly in mine.

REALLY HARD - 'La Boheme' with Renata Tebaldi, London OSA 1299
Mimi's aria at the end of side 1 distorts/congests on most systems. This is one LP I use to test any visiting component or potential upgrade in my own system. I've only heard it play truly clean a few times.

ABSOLUTELY FRIGGIN IMPOSSIBLE - Rene Clemencic et al, "Les Plaisirs De La Renaissance, Danses Et Chansons", Harmonia Mundi HMU 963
The last two tracks on side B will drive nearly any system into fingernails-on-blackboard distortions/congestions. I can empty a room full of audiophiles just by pulling this LP off the shelf, lol. I've heard it play cleanly exactly once, in my system but with a better tonearm than my TriPlanar VII (which is no slouch). Every component in the system must be top class to avoid distorting the closely spaced harmonics of Clemencic's counter-tenor, an alto recorder which doubles him and the many echoes in the stony room where this was recorded. IME, this LP is the acid test for a system's ability to sort out tightly packed upper mids and highs. Try it if you dare. ;-)
Doug, There's not too many adjustements you can make with Rega arm. Proper alignement, VTA and nothing more to adjust there. If gazilions of trial-errors made and still the damn sibliance, than it's time to inspect the cartridge.
You can add inadequate PS filtration in the Phono Pre and the rest of the chain to the list. I have become aware of this over the last year or so. My DIY gear (all K%K Audio fully differential designs) use active constant current sources in series with the B+. A resistor shunts a small amount of that current to ground establishing the B+ voltage (V=I*R, ohms law). These active CCSs have a very high AC impedance. One would think that very little crud would get through. However, replacing the shunt resistors with active shunt regulators made for a huge difference in clarity and yes, a reduction in apparent sibilance. The first shunt regulators used a simple JFET in series with a resistor to set the reference voltage for the shunt device. A second generation shunt reg. used a LM-334 current reg. wired as a zero temperature coefficient current source cascoded with a MOSFET (cascode current sources almost always perform better than single devices). Again, more transparency and less sibilance.

Recently I upgraded an early but fully modded K&K Maxed Out SE phono pre for a friend. This unit has active constant current plate loads on all the tubes. One might think that adding a current source fed active shunt to the B+ supply would not make a huge difference. It did, by a large amount.

I guess the take home here is this: no matter how much filtering you have in your power supplies, crud can get though and muck up the signal. I'm not a big fan AC power line filters as I think this should be addressed in the design of the equipment itself; but if all else fails you might try it. I would suggest you borrow the clean up filter first and try before any purchase.
Nine times out of ten lowering the rear of the cartridge (SRA) will cure that problem.
there's not too much room on p2 to lower the SRA. one can use washers between headshell and cartridge to make it taller.
Doug, There's not too many adjustements you can make with Rega arm. Proper alignement, VTA and nothing more to adjust there.
Regas aren't the most adjustable arms, but in addition to alignment one can certainly tweak VTF and anti-bias. IME, these are the three tonearm adjustments most likely to affect (distort) the reproduction of sibilants.

My prime suspect is the cartridge, but before dropping money on an upgrade it would be prudent to eliminate user adjustments.

One more possible cause: a dirty stylus. Is the stylus cleaned after each side (preferably with the Magic Eraser method?)
I do not, but sounds like I need one. Thanks.
Sounds like I need to check the tracking force to start. The records are brand new. I hope it's not the Elys. Thanks for your help.
I'll start with a level. Good call, thanks.
Maybe 100.
I endeavor to clean it, but don't know what the magic eraser is.
search the forum for magic eraser. A home cleaning product that has proven to be a most effective and economical tool for stylus cleaning.
If maybe 100 is 100 hours, that may be your problem. Phono carts need a lot of break in. To me a new cart can actually sound broken. If you are not keeping track of how many hours you have, it probably is a lot less than 100. Its a bit of work putting that many hours on a cart. On a CD player, you can just hit repeat. All of the other suggestions about setup are excellent and worth listening to but keep in mind that you may need to play a few more records for things to smooth out.
Most cartridge suspensions are fully broken in between 25 and 50 hours.
If what you have is the stock RB300 arm consider counter weight and wiring upgrades. I found these to be helpful. I also find moving magnets exaggerate sibilants unless you have the very best of turntables. You may find a high output moving coil more pleasing on the Rega Planar.
Moving magnets do not exaggerate sibilants.
Bad/good tracking is a function of tonearm/cartridge compatibility.
give me a MC any day of the week over a MM in playing an LP with minor surface defects... a good MC will be a relaxed sound as it plays through a defect whereas the good MM will make you jump from the high frequency spike. I call that sibilance.

Tracking is an innate capability of the cartridge. A mismatch between arm and cartridge compliance causes a wow and flutter effect... it was kind of fun to put a Grado on a Grace 707 arm and see what an out of round record caused for horizontal vibration.
I suggest you bone up on basics concerning the synergistic relationship between tonearms and cartridges.

Good luck
that would be boring after having done TT setups professionally for 4 years in the 80's. Far more interesting is reading techniques for arm bearing friction optimization, tone arm wand rigidity and arm resonance damping technology. Tonearm cartridge matching is pretty rudimentary compared to discussion on these design needs.
Setting up cartridges and understanding why they perform well (poorly) are unrelated. Cartridges are not " innately" good trackers as you seem to believe. Only when matched with a proper tonearm, will a cartridge perform optimally. Vice versa- great tonearm bad, improper cartridge match.

A great cartridge installed in the wrong tonearm will track poorly. Same outcome with great tonearm/bad cartridge match.

When you gain more experience, you'll understand better. I've been doing this for 50+ years and would be glad to help you.
David256, the " high frequency spike" when a MM cart. "plays through a defect" is not inherent to the cartridge. It's the result of improper loading. Typical MM carts have a rather high inductance compared to the usual MCs. This makes them much more sensitive to the amount of shunt capacitance loading them. Too much results in an electrical resonance at the high end of the audible range. Any defect in the record that causes an ultrasonic pulse will excite this resonance and cause it to ring, resulting in a "high frequency spike". Please refer to Jim Hagerman's white paper on cartridge loading for more information on this subject.

IMO, excessive sibilance is a different animal than high frequency ringing. My experience has been that distortion in the payback chain can cause issues with excess sibilance and all the monkeying with cartridge set-up in the world won't cure it if the problem lies elsewhere. That's not to say that a badly set-up cartridge won't cause problems, it will. But it's not the end all, be all, cause of the problem. In my experience distortion is the problem. Whether it's caused by the stylus profile (think elliptical and inner grooves), improper set-up (imperfect azimuth leads to excessive IM distortion for example) or lack of transparency in the playback chain of electronics. Every link in the chain has to be addressed or the problem will persist.
John_tracy, thanks that's good information and timely. The phono section of my CJ pre amp has a noisy channel and since that's acted up I've been thinking of finally tossing in the towel on Grado Signatures and going to a Dynavector MC setup. So I'll have to think about which is the more cost effective path, paying more for a MM phono pre with loading control to use with the Grado I have or getting a simpler phono pre and new Dynavector MC.
John_Tracy - excellent post. Concur with you on all points (and with Wc65mustang).

HF ringing and sibilance are different phenomena. Calling the first one "sibilance" is a common misunderstanding and may engender further confusion.

"Sibilance" is the collective phonetic term for a family of sounds made by the human voice. A single example or type of sibilance is called a "sibilant" (plural, "sibilants"). Sibilants occur in nearly all human languages; therefore, so does sibilance.

A formal definition:
Sibilance is a manner of articulation of fricative and affricate consonants, made by directing a stream of air with the tongue towards the sharp edge of the teeth, which are held close together; a consonant that uses sibilance may be called a sibilant. Examples of sibilants are the consonants at the beginning of the English words sip, zip, ship, chip, and Jeep, and the second consonant in vision.
Credit: Wikipedia, which has a comprehensive and well annotated discussion

An audio system may distort sibilants. If it distorts them all, it may be generically said to distort sibilance.

Complaints that a system has too much "sibilance" are mis-stated; a system has as much sibilance as there are sibilants on a particular recording - no more, no less. What a system may have is the inability to play some or all sibilants without distortion. The possible causes of this distortion are many, as my previous posts and John_Tracy's latest have emphasized.