Is there a best cartridge track force gauge?

I have the Shure gauge, a Technics electronic gauge, and an AR gauge. I have seen many electronic gauges reviewed. Many of these are quite expensive. I would, however, consider one were there an advantage. What is the experience out there?
Within the general recommendations of the manufacturer, I use my ears. My preferred settings are usually on the upper part of the recommended range. Maybe its just inadequate hearing on my part, but I've never felt the need to have an expensive VTF guage.
Tbg, for me the answer depends on WHY one needs a gauge that is more accurate than the Shure or others. I'm a believer that the gauge only gets you into the ballpark because the optimal VTF setting must be set by ear and must be determined through iterative adjustment and listening as VTA is dialed in because the two settings interact. I've always followed Lloyd Walker's recommended procedure for fine tuning turntable setup:

So for me, greater accuracy than the Shure provides is irrelevant except in one situation: If one has multiple arm wands and needs to easily move from one to another, being able to re-establish quickly, easily and with great accuracy a predetermined optimum tracking force makes sense, and there are gauges out there that are more repeatable with precision than the Shuure. But in my opinion, that pre-determined optimum tracking force will have been determined in an earlier "dialing in by ear" process. In this case, the important factor is the gauge's repeatability of measurement (i.e., the ability to get precisely the same result over multiple measurements), not its absolute accuracy of measurement.
I have the Shure, an older Weathers ,an older Gerrard and a newer Audioforce digital. All are accurate. I find the Shure to be the most time consuming of them all, but it does the job. I think the Gerrard SPG3 English made guage is very accurate and fairly easy to use..but its an older design and not readily avail anymore of course as is the Weathers.

The Audioforce digital is dead accurate and so very easy to use. Cool digital lcd read out and can be found at Audioparts usually via auction( as I got mine) for under $170.
I have a Jennings JS-50X scale from go to pocket scales it's $58.99US and is good to 50 grams in .01 gram increments. On my VPI I use two cassette cases (one on top of the other) below the scale and it comes to the perfect height. Can't beat that price.
What Rushton said mirrors my experience and practice with VTF gauges, as far as using them is concerned. A scale is useful for REPEATING a good setting. It won't much help you FIND a good setting.

Nevertheless, that is no reason not to have a good scale. If all good scales cost hundreds of dollars anyone would hesitate. But they don't. Only audiophile branded scales cost that much. Normal people buy equal or superior scales for literally 1/10th the price.

There are .01g scales for well under $100. There are .1g scales for under $20. Why use a $20 balance with doubtful accuracy or repeatability when you can get vastly superior performance for the same price?

Here's one source. An internet search will turn up many others:
First, I set the VTF to 1.5 (for shure V15) using the dial markings of my TT. (My TT, a Sony PS-X800 has a servo "Biotracer" arm where the arm is automatically balanced for zero downforce each time you start the TT, and then the downforce is applied electronically...very accurate).

Then I play a tracking test record, and reduce the downforce according to audible results. With the linear tracking arm of the PS X800, the resulting VTF is about 1/2 gram...much less than the same pickup in a pivoting arm, and less than half what Shure suggests.

So, I am in the "by ear" camp, with the provision that the test is done using a tracking test LP.
I second dougdeacon's advice. A good, ditigal .01g scale can be purchased for approx $30 on ebay. I fabricated a platform for the stylus from an old credit card and used double-sided tape to attach it to the scale platform. It is a snap to use.
I think that Albert mentioned having experience with some type of digital tracking force gauge in someone else's system. They couldn't figure out why the system sounded so out of the ordinary until they verified the tracking force. The results obtained using the digital gauge were WAY out in left field, hence the sonic problems. I don't know the details of this specific case in terms of make / model, but it's always good to have some way to appr verify that you are in the ballpark before fine-tuning by ear. Sean
There was a time when pickups tracked at 5 or 6 grams. Yes, really! In those days the VTF could be set by a sensitive finger, and a nickle coin, which weighs exactly 5 grams. Put the nickle on your finger, then substitute the pickup. True story.
I am tracking my Ortofon SPU presently at 4 grams. None of my gauges goes beyond 3.5. Yes, I do remember 5 and 6 grams as well as tonearm that were quite substantial.
I bought an .01 scale here and have pretty happy with it. The Shure just got to be a PITA, and I'm lazy. And cheap, no way was I going to spend a couple of hundred!

Then I fine tune by ear.
Tbg...Is 4 grams what Ortofon recommends? Last time I was seriously interested in phono pickups 2.5 grams for some MC models was the highest. And they had to make apologies for this, saying that low stylus mass resulted in low wear despite the "high" VTF.
They recommend 3.5 grams,but Shindo Labs recommends 4 grams. When I get the modified cartridge, the tracking weight is to be 2.8 grams.
I bought a 0.01 gm scale here on auction for $40.00. I checked it with calibration weights I have from my diamond scales which weight to an accuracy of 0.005 of a gram. The scale was off by 0.01 of a gram at different points but mostly accurate. I then checked the stylus tracking force on my SME V on my Nottingham Hyperspace @ the platter lever (by removing the graphite top portion of the platter which is the approxamite thickness of the scale) and above the platter by placing the scale above the platter. At both planes the gram weight remained the same on the scale. Just my 2 cents. I don't know what it all means but once it sounds great it is amazing. Once it is out I just know it & keep on adjusting all my settings. Nothing like doing it by ear. The scale servers its purpose mainly when you switch between cartridges
What brand is it?
Electronic scale
I bought one on eBay for $35.
Goes to 0.01 gram
Works fine
I too reset it to zero with a slip of paper on the stainless steel surface of the scale. (to protect the stylus)
Elizabeth, some tracking force scales make much out of testing tracking weight at record surface height. These scales seem to be .6 and .75 inches thick. Do you make any effort to somehow test tracking force at record height? Do you have the 50 gram to .01 gram scale or the 100-.01 gram scale?
If the stylus were elevated 0.75 inch, and the arm was 10 inches from pivot to stylus, the arm would be off level by 4.3 degrees.

Cosine of 4.3 degrees is 0.9972

So a VTF that ought to be 2 grams will measure as 0.9972*2 which is 1.9944 grams.

This is an error of 0.0056 grams.

Big deal!

It strikes me as funny that vinyl fans, who usually discount all forms of measurement and insist that only listening tests count, should fuss so much about accuracy of VTF scales. Of all the audible characteristics of pickup setup, VTF is the easiest to optimize by ear.
Of all ... setup(s)...VTF is the easiest to optimize by ear
Actually, I agree -- as long as you don't get carried away over (or well under) the limits!
But a reliable digital gauge is useful to re-set a cartridge to an optimum setting found in the past.
Eldartford, my arm is spring loaded, the Ortofon, in this case the spring load would be off by more than you suggest. Generally, I agree that your ears are the better gauge, but there are interactions with VTA to consider also. The Ortofon cartridge at least in this arm likes a positive VTA (up in back). I have no idea why this is true.
While I agree that VTF and VTA are interrelated, as a pratical matter this need not be anything to consider on a day to day basis, if during initial set up you pick the mid range of the cartridge manufacturers recommendations for VTF and then set your initial VTA for the thickness of LP's you use the most. Once you have done this, then you can further fine tune the VTF and then the VTA by ear for that thickness of LP, and thereafter only the VTA for record thickness.

I can't imagine that anyone without dog's hearing could hear a difference in VTF caused by VTA changes for different record thicknesses. The obverse would not be ture at all.

Although its going to be considered a heresy on this forum, you can make minor VTA changes when you're lazy, by merely rotating the counter weight on your arm, assuming that it has settings marked so you can return it to its original settings after your done. This works especially well for those without the ability to do VTA on the fly. The key word here though is "minor".
Tbg...I did think of the situation where downforce is applied by a spring. My old Empire turntable worked that way, and I believe it is the best approach because the arm can be mass-balanced so that vibration effects are minimized. With a spring the VTF will be affected by arm angle, but the question is, how much. In the Empire the downforce spring was a multiturn clock spring, and I doubt that a couple of degrees would have much effect.

But I do wonder. Since you have an accurate gauge, perhaps you would favor us with some measurements.
One thing to be careful of with many digital scales, including mine, is magnetic attraction. If I dropped the stylus directly on the platform as Elizabeth does the pull between the magnets in the cartridge and the scale would make VTF far greater than normal. With my scale the attraction is so strong I'd be afraid for the cantilever.

This requires a doohickey of some kind to seperate the cartridge and scale, which secondarily affords the opportunity to weigh at record surface height.
Newbee,very interesting comments.I agree with you,but have some pals that think they can hear the diff in downforce caused by vta,though.I,myself don't have that kind of ego,and cannot,nor do I care to listen that closely,unless I've had too much Pinot Grigio!

I do understand part two of your comments,but,once again you are right.It's heresy.

PS: HI,Doug.Hope all is ok in CONN,after the latest barrage of rain you got.
i use the Winn's ALM-1 electronic VTF guage good to .01 of a gram. i also have the Shure which works fine as a backup.

i agree that once you are in the ballpark it becomes a matter of tuneing by having exact tracking force measurements is not so critical.

but i do find that having the ability to make .01 gram changes that are repeatable has a value. as i own three cartridges and the Rockport arm makes it very easy to change cartridges; it is nice to KNOW you are back exactly where you were.

another benefit is checking the 'tune' of your cartridge. with such precision i will know if anything changes......and the process of measurement is very speedy......and the guage is easy to read.

the Winn's guage puts the stylus at the same height as the record so you know that the affect of VTA is considered. not cheap but i would buy one again......i've had this one for 6 years.
PS: HI,Doug.Hope all is ok in CONN,after the latest barrage of rain you got.
Thanks, we're bailing out okay.

It's a good thing I use a VERY heavy periphery clamp. Otherwise this silly wood turntable might just up and float away!
Mikelavigne sez:
the Shure (...) works fine as a backup
Mike, how do you get round avoiding the (cartridge) magnets attracting the metal base?? Whenever I get the stylus in the slot, the whole metal pivot sticks to the cartridge:( Of course the reading is way off...
Some of the Shure scales have a steel arm, while others, like mine, have aluminum. I simply cannot believe that Shure ever made such a mistake, but they did. Find another one if you plan to keep using a Shure gauge.

As an aside, I've compared the Shure to my digital scale and it is very accurate. But, the "repeatability" factor as accomplished by the digital is one that cannot be beaten by the Shure. Otherwise, they are about a wash and you should always do a final fine tune by ear anyway.
4yanx, you concerned me as my Shure is too shinny to be aluminum. It is not magnetic, however.
Tbg, I am not CERTAIN that my Shure is aluminum, I suppose. Someone said that those that aren't steel are aluminum, maybe nickel-plated. All I know is that mine is not magnetic while one that a friend once owned was magentic. In any event, this is a serious flaw in some of those scales and one would be wise to ensure that any they were interested in buying (ie used) was not magnetic. Otherwise, they work great.
Tbg...Stainless steel is non magnetic.

SOME stainless steels are non-magnetic.

Other stainless steels are slightly magnetic, probably to a degree that could readily affect the small forces involved in stylus downforce measurement and adjustment.

Whether a particular stainless steel object is magnetic or not, and to what degree, depends on both the alloy and the way it was worked or machined into the final product.
Dougdeacon...Perhaps you should say it the other way around.."SOME stainless steels" are magnetic. The commonly used ones are nonmagnetic. I never ran across one that was magnetic, although I can believe that metallurgists could cook up a formula if they tried.
My Shure gauge may be plated stainless steel, if there is such a thing, but it not unplated stainless steel. I too have never seen magnetic or even marginally magnetic stainless steel, but I guess if you reduce the percentage of chromium it could happen. I am only mildly interested in what the metal is. I am dismayed that anyone would make a cartridge gauge that uses normal steel.
Great thread, thanks guys....
The one I have is ancient, a Shure fromthe 60's or 70's...and it is magnetic as hell!!...When I got back into vinyl some years back, and mounted my new Glider, it snapped together with the scale so tightly that I thought the stylus was stuck in the groove!!.. I was sure my new $750 cartridge was toast!!... When it pulled apart I know my blood pressure went negative, I was so releived.
Time for a new one, and surely non-magnetic.