Is your image centred?

I am giving up on my old Analog rig soon!
The image on most of my disk is not centred! Some shifted to the left, some shifted to the right!! Yet, some are dead centred!!! WHY???
My rig:
Thorens 125 mark2
SME 2009R
Otofon MC20 Super, Grado Prestige Gold
Maybe that's how they got recorded and your analog rig is simply doing its job. You might also check your antiskating adjustment and azimuth alignment, though. Sometimes adjusting antiskating helps pull the center image to the center. But I also have to ask myself if it has more to do with mic placement or mixdown than my playback adjustments.

Are there things in your listening room that get moved around from time to time? I've noticed shifts in soundstage depending on where chairs are placed and whether something is stacked high enough to influence the tweeters' dispersion patterns.

This past Christmas I could hardly wait to get rid of the tree because it was wrecking the soundstage. How's that for a Scroogey audiophile?
Thanks for your reply. You are right about things in the way which effects the image. I have no problems with my CDs. With the 3 cartridges. The Denon is the least affected but the Grado is almost unlistenable! Yet, I am not sure if the tone arm is too old to do its job. I have not used the set up for a fews years and now I am tring to set it back up again. But I don't think it is damaged! Anyway. I have to continue tomorrow...Thanks.
Perfectly normal, and if you increase resolution you will hear this even more. Vinyl playback is not perfect, but it still makes beautiful music. So if one insists on rock-solid, pin-point images there is always the IPod. ;-)
Since I've set up my table with the Mint, I have very centered imaging. I have been in the live recording studio, and attest that singers are in a booth. Their performance is carried on an individual track and in the mix, is positioned in the center of the orchestra. If your image is moving around, it's a fault and I would look at your setup. You say the Grado is the biggest culprit..probably the Grado is off "perfection" the most.

I agree with you regarding most every classical LP I own, which isn't much, and with jazz. But with most other recordings (pop/rock/country) this shift in image and soundstage happens most often. Usually it is done as a gimmick. At least that is what I experience, even after Minting.
What you describe is normal and is what a good system should do. If everything was to the left or right then you have a problem.
You cartridges could be magnetized and or you could have a loose wire or connection on the turntable at the cartridge end or the interconnect end.

I would demagnetize the cart then clean the connections to make sure they are good and tight and treat with Pro Gold or other. Also, stylus wear could be a problem or VTA or Azimuth could be off. Last if you are using a tubes in the phono section they could be weak tubes too.
That's just my opinion.
I agree with both Stringreen and Dan_Ed. Most pop music recordings are multi-miked, multi-tracked and mixed (up) in post-production engineering. The end result is typically an imaging and soundstaging mish-mash, and the better the playback system the more obvious these engineering manipulations become. This is one reason we dislike most popular music recordings. If you listen on anything more resolving than a 1965 AM car radio, they sound completely fake. (Singers who can't sing are another reason, but that's for another thread!)

Good classical, jazz, folk and blues recordings are another matter. They provide solid, pinpoint imaging that stays put - assuming your components and setup are good of course. (I wouldn't bet on a Grado for imaging or soundstaging though. Accurate reproduction is not what Grado's are about.)
I have had the same chronic issue, also with a Grado cartridge (Statement Reference), which did not occur with cd. I have wondered whether the Grado was off or just more sensitive than other cartridges. It was improved by readjusting azimuth, and to a lesser extent, anti-skate. Hoping that buying and using a test record can fine-tune setup and complete the solution. Mine was also noticeably affected by the tubes in the phono stage. My next preamp will definitely have a balance control.
It's most likely your system telling you what you want to hear. :) If the image shifts on the same record, then you may have problems as stated such as wiring or room characteristics like doors that will shift images if they are open or closed. If the images on the same record stay consistent after different plays but are always in the same place, then that's the recording. If you listen to records that have had different masterings, you often find the instruments have been moved to different locations.
You say cd's are no problem, ie. it is something in your phono stage, turntable or cartridge. Cartridge allignment, especially azimuth has a lot to do with channel equalization. Otherwise I would say you are properly hearing what is on some recordings.

I don't understand you don't hear this lack of centeredness on cd as well. I hear it on both cd and vinyl, drives me nuts at times. The people mixing some of these horrors gotta be idiots.

Anyway, perhaps the problem is in your digital?

I also notice as my system increases in resolution, much greater air and spaciousness around images decreases the bothersome aspects of strange production values. A smaller, more focused soundstage makes these anomolies more bothersome to me.
You should test for a properly centered image with a mono recording

Wow, So many replies! Thanks.
I am interested to hear that other people have the same problem. I tried with the azimuth and seemed to correct it a bit, but still not centred. Also, all of these happened with vocals and rock & rock albums, They are old LPs of the seventies and eighties. In my memories, they were not that bad but my systems were not as good at the time.
I was thinking that it might have to do with the the rig losing its tracking ability? Well, would a more expensive tonarm or cartridge do a better job better or worst???
Antiskate is almost literally in these cases like a balance knob... I have heard it on the fly while an album plays as my table will allow for it and I can pan left and right like sitting in a car with the fader or balance knob! But again this is very difficult to adjust unless you have a table with an actual device built into the arm to do so, many just have a fishing line with a lead weight hanging off the back of the arm...

I have found the lower the antiskate gram weight the more to the left the image shifts, the higher the skate in grams the more to the right it pulls... Could be opposite on some tables but I doubt it.

To say the least I thought I had some really in-balanced classic rock and new albums especially some of the beatles and zeppelins, now 99% of anything I throw on the table after finding the correct antiskate have played pretty much dead on equal DB from each channel.
Does anyone adjust perfectly for every disk they play!!
Have you tried a mono LP? Now, that should be centered image. Use a simple production, uncomplicated one, such a a single voice or instrument. There are also test records for center channel.
If I mislead sorry, I have set it to "ONE" setting and it plays them all fine now, not setting each album everytime..
LUNA: Take it from me, please, if you dwell on this past due diligence you will spoil your pleasure. Do whatever you can, with yourself and your chosen experts, to make your rig as good as it can be. Past that there is a point of no return where it ain't about the music at all anymore, and that will not be satisfying or fun on any level. Do what you can, and project your mind into that off center image as if it were the whole of space. It is all mind anyway....
With what I just said not withstanding, yes, try a mono record and know for sure.
I also mostly hear the off center effects with 70's and 80's lp's (mostly rock), although some lp's from all era's have this anomaly.

I also hear variations within the soundstage. The most hard panned information can sound like it is coming right out of either the left or right speaker. Sometimes hard panned images can also be located at various depths right behind speakers.

As for the loudest sounds (what I would call the center image), that can vary anywhere within the soundstage, in other words, from side wall to side wall (sometimes even the illusion of outside the walls), it can also change in depth, from in front of the speakers to the front wall. This also sometimes changes within a single cut and/or album.
Also, often the highest level information is off centered, while lower level information is centered. If you understand how a stereo mixing board works, you'll discover that almost any variation of imaging is possible.

I would think if you are hearing every album with a centered or near centered image, you're not hearing a high resolution system. The fact you hear variation in central images is actually a good thing!
If it is natural to hear these things with analogy, then I can accept that. After all these years with CDs, I just found them sounding a bit steady in this regards. They may have artificially corrected the mix before creating the CD masters! I will get a mono disk to try out as well. Analog could be more fun but also more hard work to get it right!!!
Analog could be more fun but also more hard work to get it right!!!

Yeah, well. Where ya' been? ;-) Digital does a few things well. In some cases, very well. But to get that real, you are there sound. Analog is the way to go. For the record I do work at and enjoy both mediums.

A mono recording is good for helping to set azimuth, and maybe trouble shooting a system problem. But I suspect that for someone who seems to be sensitive to imaging, you probably won't enjoy mono. Hopefully, in spite of all of this mind trick image stuff that some place so much importance on, you will find a mono recording of music that you enjoy. Regardless of the medium that is still what all of this is about.
Luna, you are correct, they often remix the remastered cd's. Still, I have any number of cd's that replicate what I hear with analog, ie. strange imaging.

I also simplified what can happen in the studio during mixing. It is not only mixing boards, but miking techniques, the mikes used, the recording space, limiters, faders, equalizers, compressors, etc., all can affect imaging as well. The amount of tools they have is almost unlimited, its no wonder there is almost infinte possibilities in reproduction of soundstaging/imaging.

As Dan ed alluded to, there are some who don't prioritize imaging on the sonic palette, Art Dudley of Stereophile being perhaps the best known. There is no doubt a system with good imaging can make some of these anomalies more difficult to listen to. As for myself, I don't prioritize imaging, but I find it critical to reproducing a more live experience in the home, three dimensional images (holographic) can be a thrill. One's system can excell in all sonic parameters if one is willing to work for it, I don't want to deny myself anything in the sonic palette. It sounds like your system does imaging pretty well, enjoy it for what it is.

As for the differences between digital and analog. You should be hearing more of these anomalies with your digital setup. Digital has more inherent seperation, which should exasperate sounstaging cues, on the other hand, analog often has a larger soundstage which tends to have the same effect. I would suggest your digital is homogenizing imaging, shrinking the soundstage to the point where everything sounds more centered.

One more issue in the recording chain I almost neglected, and perhaps the most critical of all. In monitoring the playback in the recording studio, the systems they use likely don't image or soundstage anything like our home systems. Look inside many recording studios, and they have speakers tacked to the wall, they haven't a clue as to what we're going to hear at home!
No doubt that the above statement is true. I have many records and their CD counterparts, and very often the soundstage has been 'moved' to appear more balanced or centered. I think it almost always is more contrived, and of course, less natural. Besides the 'you are there' seal of reality that vinyl has, the engineers who do the digital remasters end up throwing in their 2 cents on top of the original artists work. If they were such geniuses they would have albums of their own. I want to hear the original artist's and engineer's work, not some later day yahoo who got hired for the job. The only exception in when a really great engineer does the remastering, which happens every so often.
Great responses,thanks.
I will play with my rigs a bit more and will make up-date later. Anyone, Please feel free to input your experiences, I think this is a good thread!
Thanks again
This definitely occurs - hard to say why. I have some records that pull badly to one side and many that pull just slightly. Yet I can easily check with test LP's and CD's that there is no issue with my system. My best guess would be poor mastering.

Some classical lp's may appear to exhibit this because that's how the sound was when recorded. Quartets often have the 2 violins on the left overpowering the viola and cello on the right, for example. Not much you can do about that - except find a better performance/recording.

If small changes in your antiskate matter a lot, it may mean your tracking force is too light. A gross mismatch between A.S. and T.F. could cause one channel to reproduce with more distortion/less volume than the other channel. Keep in mind that it's sonically best to be as close to the UPPER end of the cartridge manufacturer's recommended TF range as your arm's mass allows.
Couldn't improper azimuth shift an image?
Couldn't improper azimuth shift an image?

It may, but it would have to be grossly off. Usually, azimuth just makes the image sharper. However, that is not really what Luna is asking about.
I had the same problem that Luna had and It drove me nut: Some LPs and CDs OF THE SAME MATERIAL exhibit dissimilarity in center imaging (My digital front end was Ayre C5xe). I re-set up my turntable starting from realign cartridges, played around with VTF, Anti-skating, VTA, Azimuth, changing cartridges (including Sumiko Blackbird, Koetsu Urushi, Cardas Heart, Lyra Helikon), arms (Triplanar, SME IV.Vi, Origin Live Conqueror, Graham Phantom), tables (Avid Acutus, SME 20/2), cables then played around with speaker set up, even changed amps (BAT VK-75SE, BAT VK-150SE, Cary CAD-211AE) and preamp. Some of the components made the problem more or less obvious, but none of the above solved it.

I consulted with many experienced people (including Michael Fremer, Wally and respectable dealer such as The Analog Room (where the Wavestream phonostage is from). While some of them experienced the same situation, none could give a definite explanation.

I also took these discs and played them on my friends systems with the same results.

While most of my MONO and many Stereo LPs can be dead center, In most cases, my LPs and CDs (of the same material) do not sound similarly in term of center image, and CD seems to have less of a problem.

I then drew a conclusion that my analog system (or systems) were just playing what was embedded in the groove. HOW and WHY the information in the groove does not conjure up the same center image as the CDs do, I have no idea. It could be the LP manufacture process is more prone to imperfection which in turn effect the original signal in such a way, or could be the way LP or CD mastered is different?, The list could go on and on..

But i came to accept that it's not my system's fault.

****I do not mind when the "center image" (meaning the soloist or singer) is not center, as long as that is the intention of the recording/ mixing engineer. But the same material (same source) sounds different on CD and LP (different formats) in term of balance...that bugs the heck out of me..must be something not right going on !!! ******

Regarding Azimuth, I do not believe that it has an effect on making an image centered or not. It helps the images to get into focus, but not to an extend to move them that much.

I do use anti-skating, but just enough to keep both channels from mistrack as much as possible. Because the inward skating force is ALWAYS there once the offset headshell that carries the cartridge hits the groove, I feel it 's better to compensate for it as much (and balanced) as possible than rather than doing nothing at all and let the L groove wall subjected to more force than the R wall constantly.

In my experience, Anti-skating has very little effect on output balance and how center an image is. It rather just depicts how clean (less distortion due to tracking error) the sound is. I would LOVE to be successful in using anti skating like "a balance knob" as some mentioned above !

These based on my limit experience. I' d love to hear more inputs so i can learn more.
Dear Luna: In normal conditions I never experienced that trouble, the voice always ( almost ) is dead center on my system and if it is not then something is faulty every where on my system.

+++++ " . If your image is moving around, it's a fault and I would look at your setup. " +++++

so I agree with Stringreen.

When the image " suffer " a shift to one side then I know that something is wrong ( it happen to me more than one time ): sometimes a loose headshell wire, a loose internal tonearm cable, that the tonearm or headshell wires are connected ( by mistake ) in different way than left+/white, right+/red, left-/blue and right-/green , even a phono stage failure on differences on gain between channels, cartridge out of specs, tonearm internal wiring, that the tonearm/phono stage cable is wired in a wrong way, etc, etc.

Your analog rig was out of work for many years as the phono stage so IMHO you have a fault elsewhere, it is not normal what you are " suffering " about.

Well that's is MHO and my experiences about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul, when the image shifts differently while the LP is playing and differently from LP to LP, to me that does not act like loose wires or worn caps. Have you never heard a singer's voice centered at one point in the soundstage and then shift to somewhere else during another passage of the song? Not just LPs, I have many CDs that are mastered this way. But we don't really know exactly what Luna is experiencing without hearing it for ourselves, so it doesn't hurt to check everything.
I'm with Dan_ed on this one, this is soundstaging. Images are never always going to be centered, producers and engineers fool with this stuff all the time. If a hard or medium panned image was centered this would be wrong.

Also, these images often shift within a song, a voice on the right side may shift to the left side over the length of the song. Cds do this as well.

On the other hand, one may have issues with a weak center image, this is generally due to room interaction issues. It could also be setup or electronic issues.

I think Luna is experiencing mixing anomalies on lps. If he never has a strong center image then it is something else. The one thing I don't get, is why he doesn't seem to have this issue with his digital.
Hi Sns,
Thanks for your comments,
I do have good imaging with my set up. In fact, very good! I noticed there were imperfections in CD mixings as well but most of my CD collections are newer than my LPs. Well, only a small amount of CDs are like that. On the other hand, I noticed many of the Lps have problems. That is why I start questioning my analogue rig. I have to confess that I had abandoned my turntable for many years, I had it stored up. Lately, I have got a chance to buy a whole lot of good quality Lps of the 60s, 70s and 80s, so I am giving my turntable another go. May be the recordings of that time were the problem?
During these few days, I have been playing around with the set up and brought some improvements. Azimuth does make a different, Anti-staking only slightly. Even what is under the turntable helps with imaging! I was using some cones at the bottom but when I took them off and used a marble platform, the imaging is more solid. Some of the imagers that were way off before are now much closer to the centre. One interesting thing I found is that on those disks, the tracks at the middle seems less affected than the first few ones! (note: not all disks, some played good from start to finish)!
Your variations from track to track point to cartridge alignment issues, you should have very little variation within a single LP. I suggest if you're going to keep your present turntable for some time, get the MintLp Tractor alignment device, about $100, your deck will sound a lot better. I found it better than VPI alignment jig and DB protractor. Just google MintLp tractor.
Luna, changing the interface to your table and hearing improvements does make a lot of sense. Different materials resonate in different ways and can sometimes smear the notes causing all kinds of havoc. I've been through that with hard maple, granite, Stillpoints, etc. All tables are different so it does quite often require experimentation. For me, about 1/2" of aluminum as a shelf has so far worked the best with my table.
I have made some improvements again! It is the null point there was out! I found the template and reset the arm. The overhang may be out but I can’t do anything. The two albums that I listened last night were centred, not shifting around as I remembered. Just a little distorted at the last track. May need to fine tune something else?
I am getting excited!
One thing I noticed is that the sound stage has grown much wider. There is much more spatial information coming from the speakers. More music fidelity means more to worry!!!...Just joking, I am enjoying all the way. Will up-date again.
Thanks all for your input.
To sum up, I have successfully revived my 20 years old turntable. Amazing that it stands its ground against a top CD player. The most useful tweaks in my situation are azimuth setting and a very solid platform underneath the turntable. Interestingly, I found levelling of the platter not very important as it is impossible to have it and the arm base level at the same time! The inner and outer grooves are not levelling too!
Now, the image is dead centred with good recordings. With not so good recordings, the centre image will floats left or right but the background music is coming from both speakers. Where as in the past, all the sound seems to have moved to one side of the speakers only.
Have a good analogue session, everyone.