Mft 's suggested VTF: Follow or not to follow???

Dear all,
I would like to seek your advice on this issue: Should we or should we not always follow the manufacturer's suggested VTF???

I've been dealing with female vocal's sibilance since like forever and NOTHING seems to help totally eliminate the phenomenon of sibilance pulls to the left channel !!! I have read numorous posts and try them all without achieving the level of satisfaction i expect.

I ran though this problem with an Avid Acutus-Origin Live Conqueror tonearm - Koetsu Urushi, SME 20/2 - SME VI.Vi - Lyra Helikon - Project Perspective - Sumiko Blackbird on discs like Holly Cole " Dont Smoke In Bed", Diana Krall " From this moment on"...(All of them are Classic Records). Using Feikert Protractor AND Wally's universal tractors (have settings for most of popular arms), I can achieve rock solid imaging, huge soundstage and make the speakers totally disappear with LP playing, EXCEPT making that siblance disappear ! With other discs like Classical, Jazz, 60s-70s-80s-90s pop/rock, I DO NOT detect (or extremely rare) distortion/mistracking. ONLY Female vocals, especially discs from Classic Records.

I'm very careful and patient in setting up turntables, also played around with VTF, VTA, Azimuth...etc..etc but i cannot get rid of that annoying sibliance. On some discs, that pull-to-left-channel never seems to happen, but it always happens to some degree in Classic Records' female vocals. Until now, i'm so frustrated I dont know which to assump: my setup or those discs??? Would greatly appreciate if someone can point me to some directions.

(I have the tendency to refuse in believing that Classic Record's mastering-cutting head is cutting these bad sibilance in discs like

now, a question also emerges during my LONG setting-up sessions:
ALL of the cartridges-arms-tables combo that i have tried (listed above)only pass 2nd track and NEVER get passed the 3rd Anti-skating track on Hi Fi+ Test record (the 300hz, 14dB). With all other parameters (VTA, VTF, Alignment, Azimuth..) carefully checked, IF i use more VTF (up to 2.1-2.2gr for Lyra Helikon, 2.3-2.4gr. for Blackbird), the cartridges tracks a bit better.

So..Should i use the VTF which helps the catridges track better or just stick with what the manufacturer suggested VTF and forget about the HiFi+ test record? My concern is that those sibilances are mistrakings, and that will ruin my records ( i care more about records than cartridges !!)

PS. Even with the cartridges tracking better, the sibilance issue doesnt improve much.
Thanks in advance.
Hi Jaytea,

You have tried alot of things so I'm going to suggest a few more things for you to try.

1. Make sure your table is level in the x, Y, and Z dimensions. Don't just use a bubble level to confirm.

2. Set you VTF to the midpoint of the manufacturer's specification. Then set your antiskate to 15% of the VTF recommended by the manfacturer (see Thornes white papers on the subject).

3. Clean the record. If you live in a dry environment make sure that you use a zerostat. Also use Last record preservative or gruv-glide after the record has been cleaned.

4. Don't rule out the possibility that your cartriage is defective.

Good luck.
classic records is the skull and crossbones of vinyl.

05-28-07: Jaybo
classic records is the skull and crossbones of vinyl.
You definitely need to expand the selection of LPs you use to test this. It appears that you've changed all the variables *except* the "test disks." I've sometimes reduced or eliminated spitty sibilance by changing VTA/SRA (usually by making the arm tilt backward a little bit), but you mention that you've experimented with this as well.

The Diana Krall recordings tend to be on the hot and spitty side. I have several of her CDs, an SACD ("Girl in the Other Room"), and a Classic Records LP of "From This Moment On". Although my Krall LP has some noise issues on some of the tracks, the sibilance is OK. On the digital disks, though, they're almost all spitty, so I think it may go all way back to the way she's recorded.

Anyway, try some other female vocals. A lot of people on this forum have issues with Classic Records pressing quality.
Many of Classic Records classical music reissues have pushed HF's. This can make female vocals, violins, etc. sound edgy. Perhaps their jazz/pop vocal issues are similar.

Try the "hand play" test on a few suspect passages. Play them with the TT motor OFF, spinning the platter verrrrry slowwwwwwwly by hand, say 5 rpm or less. The music will all be a LF growl. Any pressing flaws will be sharper, crisper and easily identified.

Your "sound pulling to the left" sounds like a case of too much antiskating. In order to set this accurately (by ear) it's necessary to set VTF first (also by ear). To set VTF, start with antiskating at zero. Reduce VTF in small (.05g or less) increments until you hear audible mistracking (fuzz or buzzing) on dynamic peaks. Now bump VTF back up just enough until this just barely goes away and tough passages play cleanly.

Now listen for R channel mistracking only. Increase antiskating in tiny increments just enough to eliminate this. Any more is excessive.

Finally, stop worrying about the HFN&RR antiskating tracks. They bear little relation to real music and are certainly NOT "tests" that have to be "passed". This common misconception has resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of poorly set up rigs. Most rigs that "pass" track 8 (or 9?!) are set up with excess VTF and/or excess antiskating. That won't be optimal for real music. The best way to use those tracks is to ignore them.

Guys..thanks for your input.

Dougdecon: I'll try your method to see if it helps.

And just a "little" more info on what i have experienced:

The reason why i want to use a test record isnt because i want torture my setup or anything..believe me, i want to spend time listen to music than doing that. The thing is that i need a guideline, a startpoint in order to choose the right anti-skating for my turntable-arm-cartridge setup. Given that different cartridge's stylus profiles, different types of vinyl require different amount of anti-skating force, i think that using a real-life playing condition (test record) to set anti-skating might be better/more correctly than the general, theoretical method which set anti-skating force relatively to just tracking force.

Others have suggested that dirty or damaged records might be the cause of the sibilance pulling to one channel (beside wrong Anti-skating). I already took this into account, but the records i have problem with are NEW, and i also tried to chean them using VPI record cleaning machine and various cleaning fluid brands. It just help the records play quieter with less groove noise without improving the sibilance issue.

I checked cartridge alignment numorous times using Feikert tractor, Wally tractor, and also manufacturer supplied aligment tools..and the alignment is spot on..i dont think it can get any better than that. In some cases, the cartridges tracks the test records slightly better but it still DOES NOT improve much on that sibilance.
(Combos that were set up for me by experienced dealer personel results in the same problem.)

Some suggested that with the sibilance pulling to the left channel indicates too much anti-skating. I tried reducing anti-sakting force until the right channel is at the edge of mistracking and it still doesnt improve !

Arm-cartridge incompatible? I just got an SME20/2 with SME IV.Vi running a Lyra Helikon as suggested by most people here and over at Audiogon..and still there is the same problem on those so-called "Audiophile " discs !!! Also tried that combo with that Blackbird, Koetsu Urushi..the result is more or less similar.

Why do the LPs from the 60s-70s-and even 80s dont exhibit or rarely exhibit this problem while so many of the current "audiophile" discs nowadays do?? Those of those older LPs might not sound as good of their current sibblings but they also do not have these weakness. Many other aspects of music-reproducing of these new LPs are very satisfactory like soundstaging, imaging, bass, mid, hi freg, 3d stereo image..etc...EXCEPT female vocal's sibilance. It sounds SO UNATURAL when the image of the singer is so vivid, 3d infront of you and her sibilance is like 7, 8 feet away from where her mouth is. I found that the percussive aspect of sound-reproduction is the key of localization the sound source; and the percussive aspect of human being's singing is the sibilance or consonant. If a system cannot reproduce this correctly then it is no good.

Table level? It is like impossible to level a turntable spot on..even with tight-precision like the SME..i used different bubble level with different sizes, shapes and the reading is different at different place on the turntable. even when the suspended subchasis might be level, then the plater is i just tried to level the chasis, then subchasis relatively so that i get a level reading on the platter at the plane of playing (the plane where the stylus reads the groove). If you have any better method of leveling turntables, I'd LOVE to hear from you.

I will try the zerostat as suggested, not sure how much it will help but i will try..dont wanna rule out any possibility.

Uneven Sibilance due to room acoustic ? standing wave? early reflection? I have the CD or SACD of the same content as the LPs and play them on my Ayre universal C-5xe without any sibilance problem. Many cds/sacds have very strong sibilance but it even on 2 channels and stay where the singer's mouth that possibility is safely ruled out.

So..what else can i try now? Or I have to settle with the fact that this is a prominant limitation of Vinyl playback using pivoted tonearms, and i will have to spend much more money on tables with linear tracking arms with fussy, noisy airpump to play these audiophile LPs correctly? Or just go back to CDs again??

Or only listen to instrumental music like classical and jazz LPs? Why my system almost never mistracks on classical or jazz no matter how complex the music get or how big the climax is...but it so easily slips on female vocal's sibilance!!

Please help. I want to hear from all of you who has any experience on this stuff. Thnks again.
Well, first of all I would scrap most of that low/mid-fi equipment that you have. Then I would...

Just joking!

I know your anxiety. I sometimes have that same problem that you have, even including, at times, piano that sounds a bit “ripe”. I also have gone through checking and re-checking (VTF, azimuth, anti-skating, alignment) but to no real avail. I would follow the suggestions as earlier mentioned (especially the slow rpm test) and see what results you get. If you still do not obtain the results that you expect, then, in short, you might have to change your expectations (as I have) of what you can get out of vinyl. I mean that in a polite way.

Does loading make any difference? A friend of mine usually load down quite heavily on his Steelhead.

I have the Holy Cole record you talk about and will check it out on my new rig. I remember I had some trouble with it on mye Orbe/Mørch/Benz combo. Back then sibilants almost got me quitting vinyl, seriously, I can't live with it, it ruins the illusion. But I got a new life with the combo I have today. I don't think player/arm/cartridge is your problem, but I do understand your frustration very well.

Here's something to ponder. Your old records were recorded/mastered on older tube gear with rolled off highs. The modern record has frequencies very much higher. Could it be that your left tweeter is exhibiting erratic behavior at those higher sounds coming from either the corssover, the tweeter itself, or a loose grill, surround, etc. I'm using a Benz Ebony and have no such problems with siblents as you describe on the Holly Cole, or any other record
Jaybo got it right.

Most Classic Records just plain suck.
The thing is that i need a guideline, a startpoint in order to choose the right anti-skating for my turntable-arm-cartridge setup.
I gave you that. The right startpoint is ZERO antiskate.

Given that different cartridge's stylus profiles, different types of vinyl require different amount of anti-skating force, i think that using a real-life playing condition (test record) to set anti-skating might be better/more correctly than the general, theoretical method which set anti-skating force relatively to just tracking force.
Fully agree, with one correction. Your tonearm manufacturer has no idea what cartridge you're using or what record you're playing. So setting to some theoretical number is just that, theoretical.

But as I pointed out above, the HFN&RR "test" record is NOT a "real-life playing condition". Its frequency mix is not music, its so-called antiskate tracks are all on inner grooves and, most important, its amplitudes are WILDLY unrealistic.

Throw that record away. Learn to trust your ears while listening to what you bought all this gear for.


P.S. Everything you say keeps pointing to one thing, lousy LP's. I tend to agree with Jaybo and Audiofeil.
Hello all,
I'm extremely happy to inform you that i have solved the sibilance & tracking problem that i recently encountered in my system.

The thing was that i had been using the Loefgren alignment for most of my turntables (since this is recommended for modern records that have the modulated grooves (musical signal) no less than 65-66mm from the center of the record, as stated by Mr. Wally Malewick). When i encountered the sibilance & tracking error problem, i tried many different suggestions from members from audioasylum and audiogon with little success, I got very frustrated and i decided to re-align my setup again. This time, i took time to read the manual of the tonearm i am using (SME IV.Vi) very carefully. I discovered that i have overlooked the SME arm's nullpoints, which coincide with the Baerwald alignment's nullpoints !!! (Stupid me). I decided to try this alignment since it makes more sense on the SME tonearm.

After carefully seting up my tonearm this time using the Baerwald method, the tonearm/cartridge now sounds much cleaner with less, tighter and cleaner sibilance and distortion. The sound now is more natural than before!

Now, I am not very sure if those two alignment methods could be used interchangeably on different tonearms, but if the tonearm manual specifies the nullpoints, better choose the alignment scheme that is closest to ur tonearm geometry. Given that those two methods only result in addressing the tracking error differently, i made an assumption that I could just pick either one and it just did not work that way, at least for me.

I also tried to use the WallySkater to set the anti-skating and it is almost identical to what is suggested by SME 's manual. As Doug pointed out, the HiFiNews test record suggest too much anti-skating (Thanks, Doug).

I'd like to thank all and everyone of you who have contributed to this post to help me solve this problem. I really appreciate all of your inputs.

Best regards.
When setting up my Superscoutmaster, the instruction book was clear on leveling the table. It MUST be level, and the best way is to put a level on the platter front to back, and then side to side. I had an SME V sometime ago, which didn't seem to be problematical, however with my VPI unipivot arm it was stressed that laveling is VERY important. Try to level yours as discribed above.
Aha! Glad to hear you found a way to eliminate (or at least reduce) the problem.

I don't think your improvement is particularly because the SME is designed for Baerwald. It's because Baerwald results in lower overall tracking distortion than most other schemes, on any pivoting arm.

I've always preferred Baerwald, even on arms designed for something else, like Rega's. (Using Baerwald with a Rega usually requires a table with a moveable armboard, but that's another story).