Mint LP a no go – now what?

After some back and forth with Yip and after relaying some particulars supplied by VPI, Yip said that he would not be able to provide a protractor for my set up (a VPI TNT 6HR with a JMW 12.5 tonearm). After all the great things I’ve read about the Mint, I was pretty disappointed.

I currently am using the VPI jig for set up, and I’m wondering if there is another product I might use to dial things in a little better. Any suggestions would be welcome!
If you're up for a challenge you can try and get a Wally Tractor. I was fortunate to get mine within a month.
Within a month for a Wally-tractor, that's a record!!! They are good, but you will wait.....and wait..... and wait

I go nuts when manufacturers won't divulge a simple spec. like effective length.

I've been trying to find this number for the Well Tempered arm for someone, and Well Tempered treats this number as if it were a military secret.

Don't these guys want their products to sound good? I consider an arc protractor to be an essential tool for vinyl playback and actually put up a dedicated page to Yip's product in my accessory section. I consider it to be be that important.

Rant off ...

How good are you at using a ruler? You can find a good enough working number for effective length for Yip to make you a protractor.

The easiest way to measure this is as follows:

1. Put a thin strip of masking tape on your headshell - between the two cartridge mounting slots and extending forward to the front of the headshell.

2. Move your cartridge midway (front to back) in the headshell slots.

3. Find the midpoint between the two cartridge screws and mark this point.

4. Measure forward of this point by 9.25mm (9 and "little bit").

This is the point where the "average" cartridge's stylus is located. This offset differs by manufacturer and is one reason for the slots in the headshell. The other reason is to allow for fine rotational adjustments to compensate for skewed cantilevers.

Now, measure the distance from the tonearm bearing pivot to this point where your virtual stylus is located.

This is your effective length, and all that Yip needs (other than your record spindle diameter).

Note, that a few of my customers have gotten confused by tonearms with offset mounts like your JMW, the Tri-Planar, and the Schroeder Reference. They mistakenly think of the center of the Tri-Planar's VTA tower knob as being the bearing pivot.

The with your JMW, this should be a bit more intuitive. If you remove the arm wand assembly and do this job on your desk, you won't inadvertently measure the distance to the VTA knob. It's too far away (grin).

As long as you're within 1 or 2mm, you'll be fine because you'll be able to compensate for various cartridge brands (having differing stylus offsets from the mounting holes) by moving the cartridge in the headshell slots.

Let's say you arrive at a 290mm effective length and later discover that the "real" number is 288. Don't lose any sleep. The difference is meaningless and don't let any "experts" tell you otherwise. As long as you align to a 290mm arc you'll be grinning ear to ear.

Thom @ Galibier
What makes you think the VPI jig is in some way deficient? I have set my Aries II with the jig and I cannot imagine achieving any better performance. I realise that as good as I have my rig sounding there may be greater improvement to be had, but then again, there may not. Have others found the jig is not accurate enough, especially when using a JMW arm?
>>What makes you think the VPI jig is in some way deficient?<<

It's not deficient.

But the Mint LP is far more accurate.

I have several (well many) of them and not a single tonearm manufacturer's jig/gauge/template has been as precise.

Some of these tonearms are very highly regarded in the audio world.

Dealer disclaimer.
I should have been a litle more specific as to how this played out. I want to be clear that VPI did indeed provide the arm to spindle distance, the overhang and the amount of adjustability. When Yip plugged this information into his formula (Barewald algorithm), the degree of adjustment allowed by my set up was insufficient for things to work out. I'm afraid this is far over my head as to the principles involved.

In looking at information as to the Wally, I note this same algorithm (and optionally another one) is used. I can't help but wonder why the Wally would work and the Mint wouldn't.
I believe the VPI jig is meant to be easy. The Mint takes patience to get it just right. Very worth the effort IMHO.
Talk with Steve at 'The Analog Dept.'

He made me a very nice arc protractor for my 12.5 after I, too, failed to get one from Mint (though at some point I hope Mint can do one for me). Not made to the same standards as the Mint, but still very good, and let's just say that the price was right. My review of it can be seen at the Oswald's Mill site.

The sound is night and day different than with the VPI jig, and by that I mean night and day better. Sorry Audifeil, I think the VPI jig *is* deficient, and HW should reconsider his setup parameters. Perhaps the jig is designed for ease of use, as Srwooten says, but if so, I'll take accuracy and sonics any day as a trade off for putting in the labor necessary to make it right.
Steve's work well too!! wasn't sure if he was making them a public offering yet but I would check him out too. Ken's are really nice in that they have 4 different geometries on them.
To put things into perspective, I've found the card-stock protractors that I print to scale on a laser printer to be far superior to any two point protractor I've used.

A wonderful tool like the Mint will get you the last 10%, but treat it like icing on the cake if you will.

It's been quite some time since I handled a JMW tonearm. Doesn't it provide for fine-tuning the pivot to spindle distance in the manner that the Schroeder Reference does?

My memory may have faded in this regard. Assuming that this is the problem (no easily adjustable pivot to spindle distance), you'll need a means of either accurately measuring p-s or alternatively getting this number from VPI.

Once you've established the pivot to spindle distance, you'll need to work backwards to establish the desired effective length.

Use the Ellison spreadsheet on the Enjoy the Music website (there's a link to it on my support page). Set the decimal precision to 3 decimal places (I'm nuts, so I set it to 4).

Iteratively plug in different effective lengths until you arrive at a pivot to spindle distance that VPI tells you they use (or the one you have measured).

I'll run into situations where someone has a fixed mount arm which is not easily changed, and this is how I solve the problem.

Once you arrive at the Baerwaald predicted effective length (that yields the VPI provided pivot to spindle distance), you can use the procedure I mention above to measure your effective length.

You want to see if it is close enough to Baerwaald to trust (remember, you have headshell slots to compensate).

If it is not in agreement, then VPI has either misdrilled your 'table or they are not using a Baerwaald. Even if they use a proprietary alignment, you at a minimum deserve a yes/no answer as to whether they use Baerwaald or Loefgren from VPI. These are not state secrets.

If you can't get the numbers to agree, then your only option is to move the arm mount, by using your measured effective length to derive the new pivot to spindle distance according to the Baerwaald equations.

Thom @ Galibier

No, the JMW arms are not easily adjusted at their mounting position on the plinth. Thankfully, it's easy-at least, as easy as any arm-to measure spindle to pivot. Pulling the arm reveals the pivot point, and believe me, it's a 'point'-the greatest threat isn't an inaccurate measurement, it's the potential to draw blood on that thing.

An extensive study on the JMW arm geometry was done on VinylEngine

which showed relatively conclusively that VPI uses a proprietary cart adjustment geometry. Not necessarily a bad one, depending on what you're seeking sonically, but definitely not a Baerwald or Loefgren. Incidentally, this all came about because J. Elison could not get HW to cough up the math that he used to generate the VPI mounting jigs. Not the lengths or distances, mind you (those are available on the VPI website, for all arms other than, oddly, the 12" arms) but the math.

For the record, the VPI alignment does, as it seems to be intended, deliver a bit less distortion on the inner grooves, but since switching to Baerwald I'm much (much) happier with the sound over the entire record.

BTW, I agree that this info should be easily available, for *all* the JMW arms-why it's not is mystifying. Frank Schroeder sure wouldn't pull this crap. Can you imagine HW helping diy-ers mimic his arms, the way that F.Schroeder so generously does? Guess it's a personality thing.
WOW! Those are wild null points in the Vinyl Engine writeup. It's an interesting analysis, and raises an interesting question. Is this an alignment with great merit, but implemented with an inferior tool?

I suppose it's HW's call as to how his turntables are heard. He's obviously invested in his geometry, and thinks this is how we should hear his 'tables.

I think there's a better way to sell your prejudice than by merely refusing to divulge a fairly readily available number (p-s or eff. length, or both).

In fairness to Harry, he's a helpful sort, but I think he's not a numbers guy. I had to fabricate a custom armboard for a 12.5 a few years ago.

When I asked for the mounting pattern, Harry was good enough to send me an old acrylic mounting platform with the marked position of the 3 holes.

If asked the same question, I'd send someone a .PDF copy of the drawing. I think it's a matter of how Harry views these problems rather than any reticence on his part.

As an aside, there are quite a few alignments used by various Japanese manufacturers - alignments for which we Westerners have no name.

Plug for example the effective length of the Dyna DV-507 into Ellison's spreadsheet and you'll be surprised at how it varies from both Loefgren and Baerwaald.

I own several SAEC knife-edge tonearms, and though the workmanship is gorgeous (watch-like in a way) the called-for alignment strategy is off the charts, and not in a good way. Fortunately, they can be returned to Planet Earth by changing the prescribed spindle to pivot distances. I've heard that when these were available new, they weren't highly thought of, and I wonder if the cart alignment was the reason-to me, they sound like a more accurate SME 3009, which I'm sure they were copying.

*" Is this an alignment with great merit, but implemented with an inferior tool?"*

Perhaps, but as I said, I prefer the Baerwald. The VPI jig is clever in that it eliminates sighting a straight line between the spindle and pivot point, but sadly, the grid lines are too thick to be very accurate, and the black surface color(at least on mine) makes observing the cantilever virtually impossible.

*"In fairness to Harry, he's a helpful sort,..."*

Indeed. On more than one occasion he's been kind to me. But if he smells any possibility of negativity concerning VPI products, he's gone. Which is probably what happened with Elison-he can bring that derisive tone in spades.

Thanks for your help in determining effective length. Maybe the OP and I will get a Mint protractor someday after all.
"Plug for example the effective length of the Dyna DV-507 into Ellison's spreadsheet and you'll be surprised at how it varies from both Loefgren and Baerwaald"

The tonearm parameters given by Dynavector for the DV-507 are for Stevenson's alignment. From what I've read Elison doesn't think highly of Stevenson's method so it's not included in his spread sheet.
Hi JohnBrown,

I have had great experiences with a well implemented Baerwaald alignment as well. The distortion profile of the JMW did however catch my attention.

A note to owners of DV-507's and other unconventional mounts when implemented on a fixed mount plinth. Even though you may have a fixed mount, you can likely still achieve a Baerwaald alignment.

Your protractor of choice will guide you. In the case of an arc protractor, it will take some messing with the Ellison spreadsheet, because you need to derive a new effective length that is consistent with your pivot to spindle distance.

First, verify your pivot to spindle distance. Then, iteratively work through the Ellison spreadsheet to find an effective length that yields your (non-moveable) pivot to spindle distance.

Finally, verify that you can achieve this effective length - that you don't run out of fore/aft adjustability in your headshell slots. Use the method I propose above to determine the effective length.

Note that a difference of .5mm pivot to spindle distance will drive you nuts. As long as you can verify your pivot to spindle distance (or there's a enough play in the mount to compensate), you'll be fine.

Fun with geometry ;-)

Thom @ Galibier
As suggested by Johnbrown, I contacted Steve at The Analog Dept. He is sending me his protractor for the 12.5 arm - I'm looking forward to trying it out.

I have the Wally tractor for the VPI 12.5/6 arm
- effective length is 315mm
- pivot to spindle 302.1mm
- overhang (B) 12.9mm, (L) 13.3.

I have used the Wally many times, but ended up preferring the sound of Harry's plain old one point jig, which Harry indicated he chooses as it ensures better sound over the last 3rd of the LP, which is where most trackling issues occur.

Yip told me he is not confident that his baer algorithim will give you any better distortion figures based on VPI's effectibge klength and pivot to spindle dustance - at least for me on the 12.7 specs

I will quote Harry's last email to me regarding the 12.7 effective length details and other alignment methods.

" If you go by science, bumble bees can't fly, tell them that when a hive is chasing you. Seriously, I don't use either of those curves, I did it by ear on my system, not by math on a computer. If you go by distortion you would never use tubes, only solid state. I began using the Mitch Cotter system and tweaked it from there.

This is not a condemnation of either system, it's just that I know what they sound like (doing this since 1958) and like my system better. That does not say you shouldn't make the guage, it may sound better for you so I would do it.

They said the same thing on Vinyl Asylum and the German guy ran the number and said the distortion is higher, then he listened to the arm and said I understand why he uses it.

Just my take on audio, yours may be different and there is absolutley nothing wrong with getting the lowest distortion possible. "

Oddly enough, there seems to be some variation in the measured numbers - which wouldn't seem to make a lot of sense. Although it may become apparent that the VPI system is preferable, I'm curious enough to try an alternative or two. If nothing else it will be interesting to see what set up changes another system results in.
I wanted to post a follow up to the previous comments. I took Johnbrown's advice and contacted Steve at the Analog Dept. He was great to deal with and he had a protractor on hand for my 12.5 arm. He sent it the next day and I received it a couple days later.

I spent about an hour with the protractor yesterday. Definitely a fussy process. I had taken a fair amount of time several weeks ago setting up a new cartridge using the VPI instructions, and I was convinced that I had it pretty well dialed in. When I started using Steve's protractor it quickly became evident that I was off - and by quite a substantial margin. I probably moved my cartridge back in the head shell at least 1/16 of an inch -likely just shy of 2mm??? Once I did that it was just a matter of fine adjustment to align the two primary points on the protractor. The cantilever on my cartridge (a Dynavector XV 1s) is pretty exposed so care is required, but it made it easy to set the zenith. I then went through the tracking force, lateral, VTA, rechecking, etc.

As soon as I put on the first record I must say that the change was awesome! Clearly, the set up process using Steve's protractor definitely made an audible difference - and for the positive. Everything is better focused and sounds much cleaner - less distortion I presume. Anyway, well worth the hour I spent on it.

Johnbrown - thanks for pointing out this alternative. I don't know how the results would compare with a Mint, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
The vinylengine site on JMW arms states 262mm spindle to pivot distance for 10.5i. That is not even close on my Aries 3.

I measured it myself and it matched Yip's number. The Tractor does sound great but I think the VPI jig has it's own sound which is good as well.
It is impossible to align the cartridge without a mirrored protractor. The reason is that, without being able to align the line with its mirror image you cannot know if you are looking vertically down on the cantilever as opposed to one or other side of it. If you are looking slightly to the side the cartridge could be perfectly aligned but will look out or vice versa.
Holly cow! A thread resurrected after two years! Does the OP even care at this point? If he/she does, I have a Classic and used both the Mint and the VPI jig to set up the cartridge and honestly would not worry too much about not being able to have a Mint for the set-up. The Mint is designed to decrease the distortion between the null points (across the record) while the VPI jig to decease it in the last 1/3 of the record, according to Mike at VPI. I indeed verified it with a few records and currently have the VPI jig set-up and enjoy the sound tremendously. I don't think it's something worth losing sleep over.
I just re-read this and you know the odd thing, is that for each turntable I have owned, I bought a MintLP (or once a Wally Tractor, which came after MONTHS and MONTHS of waiting) and they are great to set up any specific tonearm. But with the Classic, when I got the MintLP tractor, I was shocked, that it was DEAD ON already. I didn't loosen the screws thank God. I wanted check where we were to start, so I put the cartridge on the null points to start and man, how lucky was that?!
It's very interesting, Mac. I had mine set up with the Mint and was happy with it, but when I got one of Diana Krall's albums, I was getting distortion on the last two songs on one side. I then decided to try the VPI jig to see whether it would make any difference. I actually did notice less distortion even though it had obviously more to do with the recording than the cart set-up since it was only on one side. To the point, the zenith (I think it's the right term) was spot on, but the overhang differed by about half a millimeter from the set-up with the Mint.
I've had some time to try out different tools and to my ears, VIP jig for the 10.5i arm sounds quite good. But it is bettered by Dertonarm's Uni-Pro using his template for the 10.5i arm. I did not like Baerwald at all which is what my Mint is based on.
Can you say more about what you liked better after the setup with the Uni-Pro? Is it the pricey protractor I've seen some discussions about on A-gon? After realigning my Delos with the VPI jig, I'm inclined to say I might be liking the VPI jig over the Mint as well, but the differences are perhaps less pronounced than one might expect. Thanks.
You can read my review of the Uni-pro in another thread. As for the sound, the thing I noticed right away with the VPI jig was that grand pianos came more alive and smooth to my ears. As a disclaimer, I am a professional musician and have also mastered and engineered some award winning jazz albums. I've been listening critically to serious music since I was 2 years old. So I trust my ears more than anything else.

The Mint which is based on Baerwald gave an edgier and grainier overall sound to much of the music I listen to. The Uni-pro using his template made specific to the 10.5i arm gave my lps a sound that reminded me of some of my sessions that were mastered onto analog tape when I was a kid. Not sure what Daniel base his template for the 10.5i to but it sounds great.

Finally, his uni-pro is so easy to use and I can see very easily the cantilever of my Grado Statement1 cartridge which was an impossibility with the Mint and the 10x loupe. And of course, as you know, with the VPI jig, accuracy is a bit wanting.

Just my 2 cents.
I haven't read this whole thread and probably won't, but Johnbrown you might try the Stevenson alignment with your SAEC. That works best with my Dynavector DV505 and many of the vintage Japanese tonearms were designed with Stevenson in mind. There is a free Stevenson protractor on Vinyl Engine. They are not easy to find these days.

Do you guys think it's possible to adopt Baerwald with a vintage tonearm designed with a headshell offset angle for Stevenson? When I tried that, the cartridge had to be twisted inward in the headshell, so the cartridge and headshell were not aligned in the longitudinal axis (viewed from above). Therefore the cantilever is not aligned with the vertical motion of the pivot (in a Dynavector, where the two pivot points are separated.) This sounded awful and did not sound good until I re-aligned using Stevenson, which when done resulted in the correct longitudinal alignment of cartridge and headshell.

Thom, You have customers who can look at a Triplanar and think that the bearing pivot is at the center of the VTA dial? And these guys were smart enough to make enough money to afford a Triplanar. What a country!
I'll resurrect yet again. I agree with those that believe that the VPI jig is a good tool poorly executed. Aligning the cantilever, for me, is the difficulty. But having fiddled endlessly with it, I have hit the nail on the head... finally. I don't hear distortion at all, that I can identify anyway. I think I would be able to recognize any now that my system can resolve the way it does. I attribute a major portion of getting to this point to the system component isolation provided by Stillpoints products. Before reading these threads again, I was considering a Mint LP protractor but am reconsidering that purchase. I don't want a next step to be a compulsive purchase so I'm stepping back to ponder this a while longer and just enjoy the music
Obviously, there are several different alignment philosophies, and if anything can be agreed upon on this topic, it's probably that there isn't just one, ultimate, "right" way to align your cartridge.

Those who contend the VPI jig is "inaccurate" tell me nothing what that really means. Inaccurate as opposed to what? Another alignment approach? Those who use linear tonearms will tell you that all pivoted arms are essentially a poor man's way to listen to records. Those who say that they realigned their carts with the Mint and the difference is "night and day" tell me that they personally prefer the sound resulting from the new alignment significantly, and nothing more. Why would anyone accept this as the US Supreme Court's verdict in the case of Mint LP vs. VPI Jig is a mystery to me.

I had my Lyra Delos cart aligned with three different protractors, including the Mint, and they all rendered a terrific sound, but I ultimately prefer the VPI jig. Every time I listen to music, I'm mesmerized but just how good the sound is from my Classic. Is anyone going to try to tell me that it's not possible because the VPI jig is inaccurate?

So by all means, everyone should try different alignments to see what gives them the best sound, for them. After spending thousands of dollars on the analog front to get the best sound you can get from the money you spent, it's simply common sense. But dismissing the VPI jig as inaccurate and deficient from the get-go is just stupid to me. And if you can't see the grid on that jig, how on earth are you going to align your cartridge with the Mint?
Actusreus, I agree with you re the VPI jig. First, there is noting magical about the VPI jig. Based on some e mail communications with Mike at VPI, I understand that the VPI jig is based on Baerwold (sp?) geometry.

And btw, I also have a 40 year old adjustable metal protractor that also is based on Baerwold geometry. Should it then be any surprise that after I align my cartridge using the VPI jig and then recheck the alignment with my old netal protractor, that there is no discernable difference in alignment between the two tools.

I'll leave it to others to debate the pros and cons of one geomtry over another. But for the record, I do not concur that there is something "inaccurate" about the VPI jig.