Is extremely accurate "VTA" adjustment necessary?

Here's a very interesting article by Geoff Husband of TNT on the importance (or better relative unimportance) of overly accurate VTA adjustment.

Exposing the VTA myth?

A short quote form the article:

Quote - "VTA, or Vertical Tracking Angle is one of those topics that divides opinion...That 'VTA' matters is indisputable, but the purpose of this article is to examine the validity of the claims made for the relative importance of VTA...SRA/VTA matters of course, but in the real world not THAT much, rigidity, simplicity and lateral alignment are all more important"

What are your thought and comments on this issue?
A lot will depend on the contour or your stylus - how sensitive it is to groove tracing - and how resolving your system is. Some cartridges (and some systems) simply are not that sensitive to modest VTA changes. Others are highly sensitive and spending the time to make those adjustments can be incrediby impactful on the sonic quality of the playback. In my system, I can make seemingly minute changes (as in thousandths of an inch) and it can make all the difference on certain (but not all) LPs. On a previous turntable with different cartridge, small changed were not so impactful for me. Today they are (and my system today is also much more resolving and musically satisfying, I would not willingly go back).

See my post from just a month ago:
I think it depends on how fussy you are, and how much trouble you want to go through to perfect the sound of every record.

Since record thicknesses vary, you'd need to adjust the VTA, for every record you play, if you want "perfection". I don't think anybody does this.

I'm pretty fussy, and I just make a single setting that is good for all my records, but only perfect for some of them.
I still enjoy my listening.

You can get "crazy" trying to make everything perfect all the time.
Thank you Rushton and Tom for your contributions here.

I think the question here is whether changes of 0.1mm in tonearm height are actually necessary. I would agree based on my personal experience that changes on the order of 0.5mm to 1mm do make a difference. The question is more about smaller changes than that.

The problem is that I have to mostly agree with the article. Following the same geometrical argument I do also think that the variations from cartridge to cartridge, temperature fluctuation, thickness variations in records (even in audiophile ones) are much bigger change the vta/sra angle more than a tenth of a millimeter change in the tonearm height.

Looking at my turntable and even with a record clamp and an unwarped LP you see changes in the record of more than 0.1mm which would say that the vta/sra angle changes as much as if you would change the tonearm height on the same order. On a highly resolving system this would change the sound as the LP goes round at 33rpm. This would be quite damning result for music reproduction through LPs. I good measurement of the thickness variations is to shine a laser pen on the record and look at the reflected light some meters away. You then geometrically determine the difference in height as the record goes round. My guess is that unless you use an inner and outer record clamp you will have variations bigger that the 0.1mm adjustment possible on some tonearms. Otherwise one could be quite busy adjusting the VTA as the record turns.

I would think in agreement with the author that mechanical stability, when a more staple thread of the VTA adjuster is hit, accounts for most of the difference in the sound for these tiny adjustments. Rushton, this could for example explain your observation a couple of months ago, when adjusting vta and hitting a "mechanical" sweet spot.Roy Gandy would be really happy about this argument, although I think he goes to the other extreme by not providing any possibility of vta adjustment on his arm.

A good example is the new vta adjuster for the Teres turntables. They allow adjustment of the vta to 0.0254 mm (1/1000 inch). If we can here differences in the sound on that order we really would be distracted by the VTA variations during the turning of a record. On the other hand I do see a good reason for this degree of fine adjustment. If I can adjust the vta by 0.0254 mm I can set a more reasonable 0.25 mm very accurately and reproducible. Also you have ten possibilities to hit a good thread.

Meine zwei Pfennige...

I use an additional DIY wool felt "rider/spacer" mat for thin LP stock (set the VTA using thicker late 50's/early 60's RCA "shaded dog" stock).

During the Winter months I use DIY cork "Spot Mats" (made up thicker/thinner versions).

I have some killer stuff on thin import LP's (like Mari tribal music), and it sounds nicer/fuller with the thicker mats.

Simple, easy and effective.

"Since record thicknesses vary, you'd need to adjust the VTA, for every record you play, if you want "perfection". I don't think anybody does this."

Hello. I know several people who do exactly this, ourselves included. Ask Colitas. I just cleaned, played and returned some LPs for him and forgot to remove our yellow stickies from the inner sleeves. Damn! Now he knows our secret arm height settings for three different copies of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'! :-)

Even worse, it's more complex than just adjusting for record thickness. Different cutting engineers and record labels used different cutting angles, sometimes even for multiple copies of the same LP. I have a couple of boxed sets with different arm heights for different discs. Uniquely, so far, I have one London FFss with a different setting for each side! That struck even me as bizarre. I suppose Fred cut the lacquer for side A on Monday and Bill cut the lacquer for side B on Tuesday. Or something.

Easy, repeatable and on-the-fly arm height adjustment is precisely the reason we replaced a pretty nice sounding HIFI-modded OL Silver with a TriPlanar. For us it's just part of playing an LP, like CF brushing or screwing on the clamp. I think of at as tuning my instrument, which it is in a way. The good news: once the optimal setting is found it goes on the sticky. Now it's a 2 second adjustment every time I replay that record.

SRA adjustment is certainly a YMMV area. But as Rushton said, if you're willing to take the time then the benefits on some LPs can be astonishing. Like him, we sometimes make adjustments that are very small. The scale on the TriPlanar is accurate to the nearest .007mm (not inches).

The impact of SRA adjustment varies greatly with the type of musical sounds. HF's are more sensitive than LF's, obviously. Long, sustained tones like an organ may produce are fairly insensitive. Sounds with quick transients and decays are quite sensitive, especially if the decay of the instrument is at a different pitch than the leading edge. Piano and percussion are pretty sensitive. Well trained vocalists may be the most sensitive of all. Getting their sibilants just right is a sure sign that SRA is spot-on. Obviously the better and more HF extended the recording, the more it matters.

As for that article, to me it's just another pointless argument offered by a theory-blinded engineer trying to "prove" that I can't hear what I hear. If his theory doesn't explain my hearing, it's of no concern to me. Sure, solidity and lateral alignment are more important. But most of us already have that. As for simplicity, I have no idea how to adjust that! Tri-Mai didn't mention it in the manual. ;-)
Doug thanks for your insights. I know that you and other (TWL etc.) probably know a lot more about this than I do. After all I have only been into analog for a little more that 10 years. I just would like to make some point before you dismiss this article completely.

I think the author does agree with you that different thickness of records need different arm height adjustment, and that you will hear that difference. After all the difference between a thick and thin record can be quite substantial and on the order of an mm. The question here is more on how accurate does it have to be. If 0.0254 mm difference is audible on your system, I think you should hear a variation in your sound as the record turns, since the record thickness is varying more than this. Do you?

Sorry, but this might get quite controversial now. As a physicist I got to take issue with the following statement:

"As for that article, to me it's just another pointless argument offered by a theory-blinded engineer trying to "prove" that I can't hear what I hear."

- First of all the article does not say that you won't be able to hear differences in VTA adjustment.

- Second it does offer an explanation for what you hear if you do micro adjustments. It is just that what you hear might not be the vta/sra adjustment itself but more the mechanical rigidity of the tonearm mounting and selecting a good thread. In particular the triplanar arm might just offer you ten settings with the same average vta (across a record) that offer different rigidity of mounting. This probably is better that if you had only one good setting available. And my guess is that you will hear all the different settings on a good resolving system, except the reason is not the VTA or SRA angle.

- Third, his arguments are purely geometrical, not scientific. The argument just you that other geometric variations are much bigger than adjusting vta to 0.0254 mm accuracy and which should have a bigger impact on the sound. All this discrepancies and error are clearly measurable and like I said you might actually hear them. But then you should hear the VTA adjustment varying as the record is rotating as well.

As a physicist I do believe that there are a lot of things you will be able to hear in a good system that are not measurable and maybe not even scientifically explainable yet. These are complex physical systems and much more difficult to describe than most engineers think. However, geometrical changes in the vat angle just does not seem to be the correct explanation for this phenomenon of being able to hear extremely fine changes in VTA. In particular with turntables resonance control, vibration control, and rigidity are very important. There’s s lot of deaf (and blind) scientist and engineers out there, but this example does in my opinion not fall into this category.

Also the other important point here is that if we know what is going on, maybe there are better engineering solutions out there. The Teres project is a great example for this.

All the best,

One question I forgot to ask everybody here:

How accurately do you adjust the VTA via tonearm height adjustments (0.02mm, 0.1mm, 0.5mm, 1mm)? For example Rega spacers are 2 and 4mm, which is certainly does not seem to be enough.

I think that it is absolutely essential. When exact VTA/SRA is achieved, the surface noise and groove damage are sonically in a different plane from the music and very easy to tune out. Otherwise, these distortions occur within the fabric of the music itself and are far more destructive to the musical experience.
Decay, how thick are those spacer record mats that you add for thin LP's?
This does seem a like good option, since you are not disturbing the mechanical aspects of the arm mounting. However, like many popular tables mine does not use any record mats, which makes this impossible for me.

(sorry for adding another answer to the thread hear, I should learn to answer everybody in a single response..(:-)

Restock, I appreciate your intellectual curiosity about this issue, but it strikes me that you are asking but not accepting the sharing of experiences you are receiving. I can tell you only what my ears tell me while listening to my system.

Doug Deacon's experience matches my own exactly. We approach our solutions to this somewhat differently, but we we share the same experience, we are hearing the same things, and we both adjust VTA on an LP-by-LP basis. In my case, I have settings marked that are ballpark correct for "most" 120 and 180 gram records, and which I have carefully selected based on the interplay of VTA and VTF on my tonearm (each affects the other). I start at that applicable ballpark setting for the given LP (or slightly off from it if the record is 150 gram or 200 gram, based on experience). I then will adjust by ear if things are not sounding right: if it doesn't sound dialed-in, I simply stop the record, make a VTA adjustment, and start up again. My tonearm allows for very minor adjustments (in the .001" range and continuously adjustable), and even very small changes in this sub-.005" range can, on some LPs, make a difference in whether everything locks into place or not. I have experienced the sonic improvements such minor adjustments can make, my listening partner spouse has experienced it, my audio friends listening on my system have experienced it, and the manufacturer of my turntable experiences it. We've done it numerous times in our listening sessions together.

I try not to get compulsive about VTA - after all, this is about enjoying the music! - but I do pay attention to it and often I notice that when I'm simply not as engaged in the music, often the VTA is slightly off.

I will also add that, in my system, the answer to why such minor VTA changes are audible is not an artifact of mechanical stability variables as you hypothesized could be the case. My tonearm (Walker Proscenium) is not adjustable on the fly for exactly those types of concerns. Locking rings and a set screw bring the toneam to a mechanically rigid state after adjustment, and must be loosened to make any adjustment; nevertheless, it only takes 10 seconds to make an adjustment.

Your question, however, was is such extreme accuracy "NECESSARY." My answer to that specific question is: in my system, yes, it truly makes a difference and I hear it. I don't always bother with it and still enjoy the music, but to get the maximum quality of playback that the system can deliver, it is absolutely necessary to pay attention at these minute degrees of difference. And, I don't always do it because sometimes I'm not being that pickly; sometimes FM radio is OK, but most times I'm looking for more - especially in my listening room.


Speaking of which, I've just come back to edit my post to share this experience after writing the above: As I was finishing the post, I was being troubled by the piano reproduction on a Philips LP of the Beethoven Cello Sonatas with Rostropovich and Richter that was playing as I was writing (Philips 835 182/83). The piano sound was "shattering" slightly on some strongly struck notes in some louder passages at the end of the last movement. I changed the VTA by possibly .002" (two-thousandths of an inch), relocked the arm and replayed the section. The "shattering' was gone and the notes were reproduced in their full clarity and dynamic.
Hi Rushton,

I do not dispute that you and Doug and others are hearing these changes.
And I do trust your ears and system more than mine. To keep my question
short and precise: My question after reading the article is just: Why don't we
hear the variation in VTA as the LP rotates, since this variation is much bigger
than changing the armheight by .005'. This was really the technical problem
that stroke me the most when reading the article.

I guess we can't really tell the change in sound over a two second period but
then we all can hear diffrences over a much shorer timescale than that. It
seems to me from your experiences It might be just the average vta that
counts for each record even if the errorbars are much bigger than that.

Oh, this doesn't come quite down to just intellectual curiousity. I am
deliberating to get a Teres table and I was wondering whether a $200 VTA
adjuster would make sense and whether I am giving up mechanical stability in
that case. The above article just caused myself to rethink some of what I have
heard here on Audiogon and elsewhere. I guess based on your experiences
maybe I should just give it a try.

Thanks again,

How about this for a practical answer? If you are debating whether to spend $200 to allow EASY and REPEATABLE VTA adjustment and you think that you will be adjusting VTA on an even occasional basis, buy it!
Rene, I think you are right on target with your question as I see you just stating it:
Why don't we hear the variation in VTA as the LP rotates, since this variation is much bigger than changing the armheight by .005'
For some turntables, the geometries are such that the variations over the playing surface of the record can and do simply swamp efforts to be hyper-critical in setting VTA (and azimuth and VTF for that matter). Design and execution can allow arms to vary in height across the surface of the record, platters may not be flat, records may not sit flat against the surface of the platter (for a host of reasons), etc., etc. All of these will do exactly as you describe: create VTA changes that are far greater in magnitude than the adjustments Doug Deacon and I are talking about. You are correct to question this.

For example: For many years I owned and enjoyed an ET II tonearm. For all its many virtues, however, the implementation of its design allowed the arm to sag by as much as .006" from one end of its travel across the record to the other. The resulting change in VTA was clearly audible as the tonearm traveled across the LP. You could either have it exactly right at the center, or at the outside edge or in the middle, but not all the way across the LP. The result, with some cartridges, was an audible shift of soundstage as the cartridge tracked across the record, with some shift in tonality as well. My solution was to use a Grado Reference cartridge in the arm which was less fussy about critical VTA and enjoy the other virtues of the arm.

With my turntable today, and I can only speak to my turntable, it's a whole different situation. My turntable today is a Walker Proscenium, and this turntable has no variations of geometry across the LP playing surface. Given your interest and your background and training, I thought some technical information would be interesting to you, so I called Lloyd Walker to get some specific data on various measurements:

Platter: a 70lb lead platter machined flat to within "one-half of one-ten-thousandths of inch" across the entire platter surface.

Platter diameter: smaller than the lead-in grooves of the LP so the raised lip of the outer edge is OFF the platter; label area deeply recessed and larger than the label. Result is that the playing surface of the record lies perfectly flat on the platter.

LP Clamp: pulls the LP firmly down onto the surface of the platter so the LP is in continuous contact with the platter across it's entire playing surface.

Platter Bearing: Air bearing that maintains the surface of platter in a perfectly flat horizontal plane - their is no spindle so no spindle play, only a centering pin.

Tonearm: Air bearing tonearm that maintains a tolerance of "one-half of one-thousandths of inch" variance in height to the platter across it's entire travel. Rigid VTA and azimuth lockdowns to eliminate any structure flexibility or play. The set up time for the tonearm at the factory to achieve these tolerances typically takes about 2-hours.

VTA adjustment: Rigid and locked during play. Allows for continuous adjustment in amounts as small as "one-half of one-thousandths of inch" - 0.0005".

People sometimes wonder why a Walker Proscenium turntable is so expensive. It's expensive because it's built to these incredible tolerances. (Lloyd says the tolerances he demands are unique.) And those build tolerances are reflected in the incredible playback resolution this turntable delivers. This is the reason that, for me, VTA adjustments are not swamped by other aspects of the LP spinning on the turntable: that LP is spinning as virtually flat as is possible to achieve.

Hope you've found the technical data interesting. I did as Lloyd explained it to me.

With regards,
Platter: a 70lb lead platter machined flat to within "one-half of one-ten-thousandths of inch" across the entire platter surface.

You won't get *that* with a wooden platter!!!
Dear Rene: I agree with you ( your second answer ) and Twl
points of view. here it is one of my answers in the past on this subject:

05-24-04: Rauliruegas
Dear Samir: Here it is another way to adjust VTA/SRA:
invert the polarity in one channel, put a mono record, set the preamp in mono and adjust the VTA/SRA where you hear least sound.
The VTA/SRA is a critical parameter, but don't be madness and obsessive with it.You, like me, want to enjoy music instead of adjusting equipement, so always we have to take a compromise position. I recomended that you use an average thickness record or 3 to 4 different thickneses/labels of records and finding the best compromise. Then : turn on your audio system and enjoy listening to the music.
BTW and only for information: The industry standard for cutting head VTA is 20 degrees, each cartridge is designed to function around this angle when the tonearm is parallel to the record, so you have to start with your tonearm parallel to your records, this position is very very close to the " ideal ".
There are many issues in the VTA/SRA, but what you want is to know how adjust it and I think that now you already knew it.
Best wishes and always enjoy the music.
Rauliruegas (Answers)".

Now, the only way to get the perfect VTA/SRA on a record is using a scientific tool like the Spectra Lab. We can't to have the perfect VTA/SRA through our ears, but through our ears is the easiest way.
Now, I don't want to go on with the same answers that other people ( including the article reviewer ) already speaks about. What I can tell you is that with your cartridge it will be very dificult to hear minute changes in the VTA/SRA.
Rene, you told us that you have 10 years of experience in analog: Doug has only 13 months on analog, but as you can see he feels like an " expert ". Hi is an inexpert people (likes to be in any single thread repeating what other people say. Don't do any own contribution )on analog and this is reflected with his wrong attitude against the article on VTA/SRA and that in your fouth answer you put all things very clear. Be carefully with this Doug.
Regards and enjoy the music.
I have read many of Doug Deacon's posts over many months (both here and on Audio Asylum) and I consistently find them independent, thoughtful, based solidly in his own experience and listening tests, and quite well reasoned. I think you have very inappropriately "slammed" him in your comments. You and Doug have disagreed a number of times; that is no reason to make this personal attack which I find both unwarranted and offensive.
Thank you all for your responses.

4yanx - Thanks for your response. Of course I could just go ahead and get the vta adjuster anyway. I just wanted to have some more rational reasons before handing out $200 for vta. Since everybody here seems to agree that differences in record thickness need vta adjustment possibility, it would be difficult to find a better solution for the price.

Rushton - Thank you very much for all the details about the Walker Proscenium turntable. Out of own experiences I know that any tolerance below a thousands of inch takes a lot of effort and care and is certainly not cheap to produce. I very much doubt that my Michell turntable is even close in tolerances. I never had a chance to see the Walker table live, I would be very interested to see the solution they found for a rigid vta adjuster. Another number I am really interested in is the thickness variation of a record. I probably should call Classic records to find out what the tolerances are in the production of their current Quiex LP's. I'll keep you updated if I find out more.

Psychic - For now I was more thinking along the lines of an acrylic platter, which is probably closer in tolerances. I doubt I will be able to afford a Teres with wood platter anytime soon.

Raul - Thanks for your support. So far I haven't really worried too much about vta. I do have a Rega arm which is a pain to adjust on any table. The Michell vta adjuster (or the incognito for that matter) is fine but I suspect it is going to have exactly the mechanical problems mentioned in the article. The vta I found with the adjuster was actually close (less than +-0.5mm) to the 2mm Rega spacer, which I thought sounded actually slightly better when I changed it. I would certainly appreciate a more solid vta solution, however I doubt I will play with vta adjustment too much. I usually adjust everything in my system so that I really like the way it sounds and then usually just leave it alone for a while and just enjoy the music. As with respect to my experience in analog: I only have had three different turntables and four cartridges, which certainly does not make me an expert. Also I never really had a high-end setup. Also I do think Doug does give good and thoughtful answers. I have posted several times in the same thread as Doug and I always thought he was quite spot on. Also on Personal turntable/cartridge evolution he did mention that he had a various tables since 1967. (If you get a chance it would be great if you would post your history there as well.) Otherwise, I agree: Enjoy the music.

Also one more comment: I just think the science perspective on audio has always led to heated debates, and vta adjustment is right on the line in that respect. I would prefer though if we can keep personal attacks aside.

All the best to everyone,

I reread the article and understand that a key aspect of it is your question, "Is it really VTA/SRA changes that we're hearing or is it something else?" Apologies if I seemed to be dismissing it. This article has been used or mis-used both here and elsewhere by those with non-scientific motives. I suppose I was responding to those rather than to the article itself.

"Why don't we hear the variation in VTA as the LP rotates, since this variation is much bigger than changing the arm height by .005'"

That is a good question. Finding answers could indeed lead to improvements in music reproduction on vinyl. Even if the TT is perfect, many records are not. Neither Rushton nor I have vacuum hold-down, though I do use a periphery clamp. Even with two clamps however, some records just aren't flat. This makes the question very interesting. Wish I could suggest a satisfactory answer, but at the moment I can't.

The theory of changing resonant behavior doesn't seem completely satisfactory when the same differences are being reported across multiple, high quality rigs. I wonder if that theory came from the well-observed behavior of Rega style arms, which DO change audibly every time you adjust the arm locking nut?

It is *possible* to carelessly adjust arm height on a TriPlanar in such a way that its sonic character *might* be effected. The VTA tower raises/lowers the arm on a large diameter threaded rod. The good aspects of the design include a long thread contact area, to prevent wobbling about the vertical axis, and a set screw that pulls the entire mechanism tight against the outer housing. Lots of contact area, not just one screw point. Still, as with any mechanical device, there is some play in the mechanism. For example, one can approach any given arm height setting from either above or below. If one approaches a particular setting from above, the slack in the threads may not all be taken up. For this reason, I always adjust by bringing the mechanism *up* to a setting before locking the set screw. I can actually feel the weight of the arm moving up, so gravity is helping defeat any looseness in the threads. I also give the arm support a little nudge back and forth while turning the set screw to lock the setting in. This assures that the set screw mechanism is solidly seated. When carefully adjusted like this, a TriPlanar is quite rigid. Once it's locked down, any attempt to move the arm mount in any direction simply moves my 60 lb. turntable, without affecting the arm mount itself as far as one can tell by feel. No, I'm not going to pick up the table by the tonearm to test that!

I suppose it's possible that the mechanism's resonant behavior could change when I raise or lower the arm a few thousandths of a mm, but the kind of musical changes I described above don't seem to be consistent with that model, at least to me. They seem more consistent with the idea that the timing of when the playback stylus hits each individual groove modulation must match the timing as they were originally cut. SRA in other words. :-( Back to where we started.

Thank you Rushton and Restock for your supportive comments, and for even taking the time to unearth examples of why these attacks are without basis. I guess that's what honest men do. This little vendetta has appeared on multiple threads in the last couple of weeks, for whatever reason. I have chosen not to respond so as not to contribute to any deterioration in our normally enjoyable atmosphere. I will continue that policy. We all disagree from time to time, but that's no reason to poison the room. One wonders why the moderators haven't stepped in.

One point Raul made does need elaboration. "The industry standard for cutting head VTA is 20 degrees..." That may be true today, but manufacturing variances happen at all times and millions of records were cut before the standard existed. Old Deccas/Londons, for example, were cut at lower angles than more modern ones. If one only listens to recent releases then Raul's point would be more valid.

Golly, I sure hope Rushton's platter is flatter than mine. He paid enough for it. Why don'cha know, last Summer my li'l Teres actually absorbed 158 pounds of airborne moisture (Raul measured it for me). Why it blowed up so much it looked like Jabba the Hut. The spindle turned into an "inny"!
There are some very interesting answers, but honestly, after reading, most of the readers will know, why the CD had so much success.

Anyway, in real life the VTA is important, but I think, when some will hear every nuance from every little bit of a hair when changing, what is happening when the record has a little warp ? Or one bigger and a flat one ? And where are they ? In the middle ? Or more inside ? 80 g pressing or 180 g ?
Throw them away, adjusting every time again, depending on the warp of a record, or it's thickness or on air pressure or, or depending on the new power cord or ...( endless ).

What do you do without a vacuum hold down ?
Getting mad ?
Anyway, there will be always differences, I can hear it while using Vacuum or not, without changing the VTA.
Next is, some cartridges are more sensitive for VTA than others, some sound very good in a wide range of setting than others... there are so many points to do something, it is not easy to find the "only" point. More important than VTA is the adjustment for Azimuth in my opinion, that's the real thrill .... Anyway, enjoying the music is not easy, it is a tough task, to find the right "note", only a few will find the light in the darkness ...( I am joking ) Happy screwing

The wool felt mat is apprx. 1/16", or a bit less due to the felt compressing. I use one and/or two of the same mats along with an 8 ounce record weight. I suppose that garment/upholstery wool would work if thinner mats/shims are required. Not thinking I recently discarded a moth damaged Winter weight Burburry wool suit (should have saved a few 12" sqaures of material from the back of the jacket).

The cork I purchased (to make the Spot Mats) was spec'd in millimetres, but I've since tossed the packaging. The materials look to be approx. 1/16" and a bit less than 1/8", so figure less than 1/16" difference between the lower/higher mats.

A simple Spot Mat can be made with a sheet of paper and cork "rounds". Not very durable, but it will allow you to see if the design works with your deck. I've also used felt Spot Mats, but prefer the cork versions.

Not a perfect solution, by any means, but the added height does improve the sound of thin LP stock quite a bit.
Thomas is back...and Raoul hasn't followed my prescription!

Raoul, not to defend Dougdeacon--he hasn't asked for help--but I am surprised at all he's improved in such little time. That he's obsessive, yes he is. He goes into an area that's against my ethics. My TT has *on the fly* VTA adjustment and I just did an average setting. Raoul, you *need* to do the internal cleansing and the ocean wash--for real.

Thomas brings an excellent point regarding digital. Feeling blackmailed by e-Bay and surfrace noise I took a serious effort to make my digital rig sound really good, even though the majority of my recordings ( 3 out of 4 ) were vinyl. The effort payed off beyoncé my expectations.

And once more, Thomas hit it right on the money with the Azimuth adjustment. That's the real critical adjustment and all protractors do is give a little mirror and wish you success...

Agree with you and Thomas about azimuth. Yes, we're learning, thanks for the props. As for who's obsessive, oh never mind! Trying to teach the VA crowd about belt drive digital? I was ROFL.

We're part owner of a Wally Analog Shop, which let us measure electrically what our eyes and ears told us about our old cartridge. An off-line cantilever and twisted motor make for lousy imaging and seperation. (Duh!) About 8-9db of crosstalk. Ouch.

New cartridge
Set up by eye on the mirror
First measurement with Wally: 0.5db
One tweak just for kicks: 0.2db
Is that okay? :-)

That cleansing and full body purge seems like good advice. Would RRL solutions help? I'd gladly spare the man a bottle or two.
I completely agree with the article. I also want to mention people go wayyyyyy to crazy with obsessing over VTA
While I have nothing substantive to add to this dialog I would think that anyone who wants their LP's to sound as good or better than CD's, and uses a line stylus, would have to pay close attention to VTA on a record by record basis. :-)
With any pivoting arm, the effect of azimuth variation and skating force variation over the playing area of an LP will swamp out any effect of VTA variation between LPs. If you are serious about vinyl, get a linear tracking arm.
Words of wisdom...
for you young whippersnappers. you may look up back issues of the audio critic by peter acel. He broke the story on vta. He gives a detailed analysis of vta, overhang and and antiskating.
while i think vta is important, i never took anyone seriously who cliamed to do it by ear or by eye. check michael fremers colum in stereophile for the necessary tools.

Go away until you have "first hand" experience on anything other than ZIP/Whack Off in this regard.
Isn't Fremer the one who started measuring TTs specs a while ago and then stopped because their specs weren't really good and that would affect advertising?
first hand experience? try thirty years as an audiophile. I have heard or owned most of the major turntable, tonearm, cartridge combinations. i currently own a vpi aries 2,sme 4 and benz glider. I have old sota star waiting as a back up.
As far as Michael Fremer is concerned, while I am a fan of his, it is a fact that he reviewed a set of tools that take the guess work out cartridge tonearm alignment. A stylus is so small that even the smallest movement has an effect. anyone claiming to be able to get those adjustments right by eye strains crdebility!
One reason why the Wheaton tonearm was so easy to use was the micro adjustments it allowed. I now have a Schroeder, however, so I now know the benefits of its design. What we really need is a rigid, low mass, easily adjusted linear tracking arm. Having gotten my Schroeder adjusted, I can patiently await this perfect arm.
Having long since gone to a linear tracking arm, it is some time since I had to make all those critical adjustments. However, for most pickup adjustments, the technique of inverting one channel, AT THE PICKUP BY REVERSING WIRES OF ONE CHANNEL, is probably better than any measurement method. This approach adjusts the axes of pickup sensitivity (what you hear) rather than some mechanical axis that, even if perfectly measured, may, or may not, correspond to the axes of sensitivity.
How does going to a linear arm negate these adjustments? With it being absolutely level is added to your problems, and if your overhang is off, it is off all the time.

The idea of reversing the ground and hot on one channel is old and does not work with having any other input as you have to reverse that side's speaker cables also.
Tbg...True...if you run one phono pickup channel with inverted polarity you need to invert other inputs of that channel. I did it with electronics modification, but you could also use a simple "knife type" switch in the speaker circuit. There are a number of advantages to running one channel inverted, which I exploited, but in this thread I was thinking only of phono pickup setup procedures.

I cannot begin to explain all the ways that a linear tracking arm eliminates the plethora of adjustments needed for a pivoting arm. The real problem with a pivoting arm is that many of these adjustments can only be correct for one or two points in the LP recorded area.

Your comment about the overhang, "if off, is off all the time", hits the nail on the head about linear tracking. Whatever the error, it's not changing, and can therefore be adjusted effectively.

My arm is servo controlled, and does not care about level. Some linear tracking arms were demonstrated playing the record upside down! A stunt, of course, like Fritz Kreisler playing his virtuoso violin encores with the instrument held upside down.

Fascinating that you have not learned to set VTA by ear in all this time (30 years - I certainly have:-)

As cartridge manufacturer's recommendations/guidelines are generally far from spot on I can't imagine a better way (in general) to adjust VTA.

This said, in the spirit of the thread, adjustable "on the fly" VTA is a desirable feature, IMO, but then again this is usually adjusted/set by ear.

As to not confuse the subject your initial post/claim specifically regarded to VTA.

Tools/"O" scopes are helpful for other adjustments (not VTA).

My last reply to you disappeared, hopefully this one will stick.
Dekay, you not being nice? How come?

Attended a wedding today. Nice kids, both musicians/songwriters, and still feeling positive in the aftermath (this will most likely pass:-).
dekay, i see, you took my comments as a personal assult on your golden ears. that explains everything.
i stand by my position that vta adjustments require such minute adjustments that they require they assistance of very accurate measuring devices.
if you are lucky, the tonearm designer incorporates it in your tonearmarm.
if i was inclined,how do i prove you personnally are not acurately setting vta by ear? i'll leave that alone. maybe your ears are better than mine. If you are one those mechanically gifted persons who can repeatedly make micro adjustments by eye god bless you. I'm not. nor have i seen anyone else do it. what you are really talking about is rocking the tip of a micro fine stylus back and forth in the groove(raising the arm pitches it forward-lowering the arm pitches it backward) until it reaches a theoretical optimum position. putting aside a discussion of whether that optimum position actually exists,finding it by ear is a hit or miss proposition. Indeed finding it with the aid of tools is also extremely difficult. At least with the aid of tools you can be sure you're actually changeing the height of the arm in a predictable repeatable way. with my sme 4 I have some success with a vernier caliper and other drafting tools.
As far as you being nice. we need more people who are not afriad to speak thier mind.
Gregadd, for VTA I suppose I'm in the adjust by ear camp (but not by eye!). For azimuth, I totally agree with you about using some additional mechanical/electical aid to the process.

For setting both VTA and VTF, I've learned from Lloyd Walker's approach, and I find that, with an appropriately designed tonearm that gives one a way to make highly controlled micro-adjustments to the VTA, doing it by ear is the only way to get done well. (Trying to insert shims would be the death of me, though. :-) )

Here is Walker's explanation of the fine tuning process for any who have an interest:
of course any adjustment to your sytem should result in some improvement of sound or mechanical function.
what is the purpose vta adjustment? some say it is to duplicate the angle of the cutting head. If you accomplish that you have got it right. other's adjust vta for the "best sound". the latter of course is a subjective determination and by definition must be assessed by ear. However, I contend the actual arm height adjustments must be measured either by using the tonearm manufacturers built in device, a la wheaton triplanar, or some other extremely accurate measuring device. Only then can you be sure of what you are doing and to be able to repeat your efforts. the more sticky issue is duplicating the angle of the original cutting head, assuming one could determine what that is. Of course you would need some fancy protractor to adjust your tonearm to achieve that angle.
then of course what do you when your golden ears tell you that some other vta produces "better sound"? I don't know.
in a perfect world we would hope that the angle of the original cutting head and the "sweet spot" as determined by our golden ears would be the same. not likley.
Addressing the issue of "golden ears" here, for a minute, I'd suggest that everyone has "golden ears", and by this I mean that everyone has an idea of what they think it the best sound performance in their own systems.

So, in this respect, each person can decide which settings are most pleasing to them. There is no "perfection", so everything is some kind of compromise. Even with the most accurate measuring equipment, there is an accuracy tolerance which will allow error, even if small. Some might say that the ears are flawed as measuring devices. Others would say they are the most meaningful measuring device for audio systems.

Regardless of your measurement techniques, getting the audible results that you desire is the end goal. I know that opinions vary greatly on this issue, and there are some who don't want to accept any compromise, while some will easily accept compromise for ease of use.

To each his own. If measuring everything precisely with meters and gauges makes your experience more satisfying, then by all means, go to it. If just simple "set it and forget it" adjustments make you feel better, then that's fine too. It is all in what you want as a listener.

I think many of the above posts gave excellent information for people who are trying to maximize the performance of their systems.
what is the purpose vta adjustment? some say it is to duplicate the angle of the cutting head. If you accomplish that you have got it right. other's adjust vta for the "best sound".
Your two "alternatives" do not represent different purposes. They represent different techniques for achieving the same purpose.

The purpose of our hobby for me is maximising musical enjoyment in my home. I set arm height for best sound, since that maximizes enjoyment, but isn't it likely that I'm also matching stylus angles, within the limits of my hearing of course?

I listen for and hear certain specific things while adjusting arm height, so it's reasonable to think there's a consistent mechanical explanation. (That hypothesis is the topic of this thread.) My current unproven belief, until a better explanation comes along, is simply that I'm using "best sound" as a proxy for matching playback stylus angle to cutting stylus angle.

Whether I'm matching as well as one could with a scope or other measuring device is of little practical significance. Optimum arm height varies from record to record. Having to drag out a scope to calculate arm height for every record would be wildly impractical for home listening. I can adjust arm height to my satisfaction while listening to and enjoying the music. As Rushton said, using a scope to set azimuth is preferable. This is because, unlike arm height, azimuth does not change from record to record. Use the scope once and forget it until you change cartridge or arm.

If I were playing LPs for archival or commercial transcription to digital I would take the time to get SRA technically "perfect". But for home listening that seems over the top to me.
In several instances where I have had others around while seeking to set the VTA, there has been total agreement. I do not think it is so totally subjective as TWL suggests. But I totally agree with him that it is a subjective experience, that you say, "Aha, that is it."

Dougdeacon, yes for most arms the VTA has to be a compromise setting. I once had the Wheaton arm which has an easy VTA adjustment with an easy reproducted marked scale. I did mark many albums as to where they should be set. One cannot do this with the Schroeder so I use the best overall setting.
ok, here's what you want with respect to vta. the stylus manufacturer has decided stylus stip shape. maybe spherical, eliptical, micro line,etc. your goal is to have that stylus tip rest in the grove exactly as the manufacutrer intended. thus you will achieve maximum contact of the stylus as was intended. thus you need to have the cartridge aligned perfectly in all planes. Also correct antiskating force is essential.
If vta is off it will cause the tip to tilt forward or backward giving less than optimum contact. Take a good record get the vta right. tonearm parrallel to the record surface while stylus is resting in the grove with correct tracking force and anti skating force. then you need only measure the width of each record and adjust tonearm height for the difference. don't measure the thickness from the lip of the record but from the middle part of the record.
Good, as far as it goes. The challenge is the inconsistency with which records have been mastered over the years. As has been commented on already in this thread (Doug, I think) a standard was not adopted until later on in the LP era and even then not all mastering engineers rigorously followed the standard. So you have cutting angles anywhere from 20 degrees to 23 degrees, and thus variation from some LPs to other LPs even though they are the same thickness.

I believe that there is a "play" area as far as VTA goes. VTA to me is then a tone control/balance adjustment.

The interaction between various LP grooves and various styli is far from being of a consistent nature.

I also DO NOT make "minute" adjustments on an LP to LP basis, and instead use the simple rider mat procedure I mention first on in the thread. However, I would enjoy having this capability if it were easy to use.

The adjustable arm I tried years ago may have been an Alphonsen (sp), but I'm not certain. The deck itself was a higher end Rega. I can't image easily adjusting this arm on my suspended deck (it was tricky enough on the fixed deck), nor do I even know if the arm works well on suspended decks.

I set the standard VTA of my arm/cartridge (standard being a mean of the typical/thicker LP stock I play) using two sets of ears. My wife prefers less treble/more bass than myself and I adjusted the VTA with both tastes/preferences in mind.

I installed coaxial drivers in order to make adjustments, other than that of VTA, as my everyday speakers start rolling off @ around 14Khz. Instead of normal placement the two speakers were placed out into the room, approx. 4' apart, in a triangular near field setup.

I used to have these adjustments done @ a local shop that used an "O" scope along with my test LP's, but the shop and my friend who worked there are long gone.

Both setup methods seem to give the same results, though there was a certain peace of mind having it done @ the shop with the test gear. The shop was also much faster (1 hour VS my few weeks of making further minor adjustments when I felt like it).

I find it impossible to set up a cartridge (by ear) in a single attempt as after a short while I loose my ability to hear clearly. Big difference between analyzing sound and listening to/enjoying music.

TWL mentioned an add-on VTA adjustment device for Rega arms (got the impression that it could be used "on the fly") a few years ago, but I have not read/heard anything further about it.
ok then i concede that the cutting angle varies form lp to lp with no real way to tell. so let's suppose using my method you landed at 22 degrees as optimum. that would leave you with a +/-2 degrees window for any given record.
Let us be generous and say by the golden ear method you are using a one minute passage of music to find the vta.
I could be mean, but I will not. Since you don't want to measure, I assume you have a contioulsy variable method of varying tonearm height. That would mean there is infinite number of settings and assuming you did not get lucky, you could be left sampling an infinite number of settings with no way to repeat them or even be sure you were listening to them all with any real consitency. If you remeber the abx comparator box one of the problems was sonic memory. But let's be nice and assume you have an arm which allows you to divide each degree into tenths. Again assuming you did not get lucky and have it "snap into focus" right away you would have to pick one setting and compare it to the 39 others. it would take atleast forty minutes to do that. That also assumes you were satisfied with only one pass, that you had the sonic memory to allow you to make just one pass and remember where the best one was. Since you don't measure, even if you could remeber the one you like ,how could you find it. I could go on, but i think you see why i am skeptical of the golden ear method.
Dear Doug: ".....why these attacks are with out basis...".
From the first time that I post in this forum you was attaking me, last time in the Shroeder tonearm thread. You don't like that I don't agree with you in every subject, sorry I can't do that, but when I disagree with you or with any people in this forum I never attack to anyone: I only expose facts about the subject and always trying to help. I know that many people don't agree with my points of view, but I don't attack them for that, as a fact I always learn from their points of view.
I'm not against you and I have not any bad fellings about.
Many times we think that we already learn everything in the music home reproduction and we close the door. Many of my points of view are very differents from the people point of view in this forum and many of those peoples are really close to learn/change/test/check/understand and that's why all of them ( including you ) have so many trouble with my posts.
If you or anyone don't accept differents facts on differents subjects from yours: it's ok for me and bad for you.
I think that in this kind of forum all of us wins one way or another: it is not who are right but how can help to all of us.
There are many ways to growing up in the knowledge in home audio. Doug for your last choices you choose one of the hardest roads for growing up, I explain this ( it is not nothing against you,please ):
as I already speak about and the time confirm it, you do a mistake when you choose the Origin live tonearm against the Moerch one: and that desicion do that you have to pay for two tonearms ( OL and Triplanar ) instead of only one, the Moerch.
Like five months ago you not only be happy with the Shelter 901, I read your posts about it and I can say you was in heaven with it. In that time I disagree with you and I post that the 901 was a hi-fi cartridge and that the 90X ( as you know I own both ) was the " lonely star ". Five months latter you find that the 901 is a hi-fi cartridge and you do another double mistake: buy the ZYX cartridge, why a double mistake?: you already like the Shelter sound and the 90X is an stellar performer, why don't change the 901 for the 90X?, instead you choose a cartridge that in its actual generation it is not in the same league that any other top highend cartridges, maybe " other peoples " take this desicion for you: Salvatore, reviews and all your audio friends. Yes, I already hear three differents models in my system ( one of them I buy it and two months latter I sold ). I think that this manufacturer is right on the road and that their next generation of cartridges will be on the very top.
I know that this is your money and that you can spend where you want, but there are better ways to spend our money: the audio is a expensive love for the music, don't do it very, very, very expensive.
As I already told you: no bad fellings.
Regards and enjoy the music.
Raoul, what are you doing? I can see *you* need software: a complete DVD collection of "El Chapulín Colorado".

¡Cállate cállate que me desesperas!

Ooops, that's "El Chavo del Ocho." Same comedian, what the hell...
Raul, if you are buying all of these cartridges new, then "testing" them, only to sell them in a month or two, you are wasting more money that Doug ever dreamed of wasting! Of course, as you say, people are free to waste their money at their own whim.

You have indicated that you have tested quite a wide variety of tonearms and cartridges. Please provide us with your first-choice combo at, say, three different price levels. Should be easy for you after all of this testing and would give us your "reference points". Thanks