No deep bass or highs: VTF or VTA issue?


I've been using JM Lab Micro Utopia monitors and recently added a sub (via Bryston outboard crossover). Used my music server to dial in the sub (for convenience) and after dialing it in I noticed that my analog rig is not sounding anywhere as good as my digital.

I tried comparing a few LPs to their digital counterparts and in comparison the LPs sounded dark and sluggish.

Relevant equipment:

- Dynavector XV-1s
- Scoutmaster / JMW 9 Signature / SDS / Super platter etc
- Aesthetix Rhea Signature with NOS tubes

Music server -> Benchmark DAC

I used a Mint tractor to align the cartridge, and the VTF on the XV-1s is around 2.0g. I had never done anything about VTA, so I tried raising it. It got somewhat brighter, but now in comparison it lacks deep bass AND the highs of the digital version. Switching back and forth it's like the vinyl is just midrange (that's an exaggeration to illustrate my point).

I also have a Manley Steelhead phono stage; I should probably swap that with the Rhea to make sure the phono stage isn't the culprit but my gut tells me that it's the setup.

Any advice on what adjustments to try would be much appreciated.

Two thoughts:

First: Check the cartridge loading in your phonostage to make sure you're starting within the cartridge manufacturer's loading range recommendations. With the Rhea, this is certainly easy to play with.

Second: Follow Lloyd Walker's finetuning instructions for adjusting your VTF/VTA:

Keep in mind that all of the above are interactive.
Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

Weird thing about the Rhea, loading doesn't make much of a difference - unlike the Manley Steelhead.
I'd double check w Steelhead. I've never heard the Manley, but the Rhea was "underwhelming" when I once heard it. Also, I would check the tubes if you can do so.
I looked at the specs on your cartridge, and with an inductance of only 18 microHenries it's performance should be pretty much independent of loading. The specs I was looking at (at the AudioCubesII site) simply recommend a load resistance of greater than 30 ohms, with no further specification. Capacitance shouldn't matter either.

So assuming your geometries are reasonably correct I'd definitely try it with the other phono stage.

-- Al
Have you checked platter speed rotation with a strobe and strobe light? I see you are using the VPI SDS Motor Controller. If the platter runs slowly, the sound would be sluggish and muddy. I am not indicating the platter runs inconsistently, just slow. Have you ruled out damage to your stylus?
Tried it quickly with the Steelhead and deep bass was present.

Still a little dark sounding though, so I think I need to play with VTA/VTF.

Thanks to all.
FWIW, I've listened to the Dynavector XV-1s through a Rhea in a friend's system. No trouble with deep bass in his setup. The sound of the XV-1s is somewhat dark to my ears, though, in the three different systems where I've heard it.
If your XV-1s is fairly new, I would suggest running it around 2.1 grams or so for the first 100 hours or so, and keep the arm level. Mine is a few years old now. I usually run it between 1.87 and 1.93. My arm is just slightly tail up. Nick Doshi set the loading for my XV-1s at 100 ohms when he built my Alaap phonostage. This cartridge definitely does not sound dark through my system. It doesn't sound any brighter or darker than a ZYX Universe I have also heard in my system.

It was my Rhea that Swampwalker heard, or at least one of the one's he heard. It was rather bumped out in the mid-range, with the lows and highs seeming to be held back or rolled off. Noisy as well. To be fair the Rhea I owned was from the first year or so of that model.
Seems to me that you may benefit from having someone with great set-up experience go over everything with a fine tooth comb.Nick,at Audio Connection in Verona,NJ, sells and services every one of the pieces in your chain.Not very many people can boast his level of experience.
I've had the pleasure of meeting Nick and heard a TT he set up - both were wonderful. While I like learning about setup myself so I can tinker, try other cartridges, etc, I have no doubt that he'd nail it. Unfortunately I live at least 4 hours away.

I did have another setup person drop by months ago (before this cartridge) who filled up my damping reservoir (at the time I had no idea what it was for). Reading the Walker setup guide I'm wondering if I have too much fluid.

Elinor: I've used the VPI strobe disc to set the speed, but I did it right after changing the platter so I'm due to re-check it; thanks for mentioning it. I don't think my stylus is damaged.

Anyone know of a good LP to compare to digital? With the variability of mastering, I'd like to choose something that brings me closer to comparing apples to apples.

Again, thanks for all the responses.
Many good observations already.

Dan's Rhea (which he, Swampwalker and I all heard in my system) was indeed limited at the frequency extremes and that may be what you're experiencing. Two friends who've compared Aesthetix and Steelhead reported a stronger (though somewhat "steely") top end from the Manley. Tighter, less "rosey" sounding tubes might help, though I've no experience rolling tubes in a Rhea.

I agree with Dan that the XV-1S is certainly not inherently dark or rolled off. I've only heard 2 or 3 cartridges with a more open and clear top end. Question: is your stylus REALLY clean? A mucked up stylus will sound subdued or dark exactly as you described.

As Dan also suggested, you may be playing with a hair too much downforce (and perhaps antiskating too, if you're applying any). Either or both of these can smother the top end of a good LOMC. A dealer visit might help, but learning to fine tune yourself by ear is essential - unless you're going to pay the dealer to visit weekly. Cartridges at this level require regular attention to perform at their best. The link Rushton provided is very useful.

Alternatively, try setting/twisting antiskating to near zero, then take VTF down to near the mistracking point (or until bass/dynamics weaken slightly). Then bring VTF back up in TINY increments (.02g or less) until bass and dynamics are strong, but HF's haven't start rolling off. That VTF should be optimal but it may change over time or even with the weather, so you may need to adjust from time to time.

All this said, I'm afraid your table and arm are not going to provide the HF extension, speed and clarity of the highest quality digital or a top level table/arm. Not even a hotrodded HRX + JMW 12.x can do that. It's possible that making these comparisons is training your ears to recognize that. We all know where this leads, so stop comparing or be prepared to receive ever more costly advice from your fellow 'goners! ;-)
Your anaogue rig is still not "cheese whiz" and I, for one, am amazed that you say CD's sound better. Definitely start from scratch and readjust that table until it's optomized before you spend additional $$$ on anything. It may be your phono stage, but you should still be getting excellent souond out of what you have, with a little effort.

Good luck,
Could it be the bass response on the DAC coming through clearly on the new sub? One thing consistently written about this DAC is the dynamic bass response - now you have a sub perhaps you are hearing the full impact?
It's a good call to find good CD/LP reference recordings. I wouldn't trust any but those made by the same company and preferably from a company that can be relied upon for good sound such as Audioquest. A good choice might be Mighty Sam McLain GIve It Up to Love, or something more acoustically based depending on your taste.

Once you've appropriate discs to compare then you can effectively follow Doug'sexcellent advice.
Simple advice (a la Deacon), make sure the stylus is clean.
Just reporting on my progress so far:

So I've tried both phono stages, I've raised VTA until bass got weak. I tried VTF at minimum (1.8g) and removed the dampening fluid (enough so that it doesn't drip from the arm when I lift it up).

All the changes (apart from phono stages) have been somewhat subtle. While it doesn't sound bad, it doesn't have as much 'air' as digital (I've tried various comparisons and it's pretty consistent this way).

I clean my stylus with ME every LP side.

Madfloyd, if I understand your original post, this bass issue started when you added the capability to your system to reproduce frequencies from about 60Hz on down. I'm assuming that when you say you have "dialed in" the sub using your music server. (I hope those are lossless formats. ;-) ) I assume that means that you have the sub crossed in around 60-80Hz. That is well within what your vinyl rig is able to reproduce if set up properly. No news to you here since you've already started looking into this. What I can't say is how your VPI setup should sound from my own experience.

Damping fluid is usually applied to focus bass but using too much can also detract from the upper frequencies. This could result in the loss of air you mention. Too little could result in little or no weight to the music. I experience this with my Vector tonearm when adjusting damping.

As an outside observer I notice that you seem to be making large swings in your settings. IME that means it is very possible that you are skipping over the sweet spot. I would suggest trying to go back to a very neutral starting point. Level tonearm, around 1.9 VTF (assuming a broken in cartridge), little or no AS, damping fluid at the VPI recommended level. Listen and make very small adjustments from here, but remember that changing one parameter will affect another so go slow. Listen some more. I think you know the drill, but leave the fluid alone until you have determined that you really are getting closer to what you want to hear.

If you add a bit more fluid, I'm talking a few drops at a time, and bass impact improves then try backing off the VTF just a little, a few tenths of a gram, to see if the HF reproduction improves. If you remove a bit of fluid and HF improves, then try adding a tenth or two of VTF. This process of finding the best fluid level can be long, drawn out. Think days and weeks, not minutes and hours.

However, if you are not hearing any bass impact or air from this neutral position then I think you need to realize that there may be a limit to what your table and arm can do. It doesn't sound to me like the cartridge (assuming it is healthy) or any other components are in question. For any given combination of CDP and turntable it is entirely possible that one will outperform the other.

Also, I don't think you have mentioned where and on what your table is sitting.
Is it possible that the "air" you are hearing from the CDP is an artifact of that rig, and not necessarily a "better" thing?
In response to the last couple posts:

- My music server is not lossless (shame on me, I know, but it was established a few years back when hard drive space wasn't as cheap). That being said, it's not overly compressed. My recollection is that CDs sound better - brighter with more air.

- I think the salient issue is 'air'. The integration of a sub hasn't caused this in any way, it just caused me to notice the difference between the two sources as I used the music server to dial it in (not only more convenient, but safer since there are no setup variations to throw it off).

- I'm using Micro Utopia monitors which are much more detailed than my previous speakers (Aerial 9's). In some ways I'm finally hearing the high frequency detail.

- If the air I'm hearing from digital is an artifact: I don't think so; I feel I'm hearing more detail. For example, when playing Deacon Blues (Steely Dan/Aja) the beginning of the song has some gentle taps on cymbals that on my analog rig I hear mostly the transient while on digital I can hear the cymbals shimmering with reverb. I can hear clean rhythm guitar on the choruses clearly on digital and on analog it's more buried.

- I have made sweeping changes, but wasn't trying to dial it in so much as see what types of changes were possible - e.g. could I make it sound TOO bright? I would have expected that raising the VTA would have made things get much brighter, but all it seemed to do was affect the amount of bass. And this is with drastic changes in VTA... leading me to believe that slight changes wouldn't do much at all. I was also trying to follow the Walker approach (raise it until bass drops out, then lower it a bit).
I should add that I have no issue with taking my time to dial the TT in with small changes at a time - but when I go to the extremes and don't hear much of a difference, it isn't overly encouraging.
Here is a link to a white paper that another A'goner referenced several days ago. I think the concepts presented in this paper will help explain why your theory of what large changes show is full of holes. So don't despair yet.

Vacuum State GuruSetup

What you describe as shimmering from your digital source is, as Piedpiper points out, not correct. I've used that term incorrectly myself so I'm not sure I understand exactly what you are talking about. Shimmering implies something is being added and is most likely an artifact. What you want is that strike and long decay from cymbals. I'd be curious to compare your music server to a decent redback cdp.

At the same time I think I understand what you're saying about the cymbals on Deacon Blue's. I'll pull out my copy today and get more familiar with your reference.
Hi Floyd,

Based on what I’ve read from you so far, I’d suggest the following in its entirety as a test:

- Set the tracking force to 1.8 grams (If the cart/arm combo tracks at 1.7, you can try that short term for this test)

- Raise VTA until bass just begins to fall off.

- Set the cartridge loading on the Rhea to its highest setting (47K Ohms?). Also, make sure you are setting that loading for the input you are using on the Rhea since it has three of them.

- Remove all clamps and record mats

Once you have done the following setup above, check to see if you are getting any additional “air” from the cartridge. If you are getting progress and can still track records well, you may be going in the right direction. This test can result in a very bright sound in many setups but we are looking for the “air” and then want to bring things back to normal from that point. Please let me know the results of this test.

If the test above doesn’t show any signs of improvement, the information gained may be pointing to one of the following remaining possibilities outside of cartridge setup/maintenance :

- Your VTF gauge may not be working correctly. BTW, which one are you using?

-The use of NOS tubes in the Rhea is limiting the high frequency reproduction of the phonostage (as well as the low frequencies you noted by using the Steelhead).

-The 9 inch VPI uni-pivot arm may not be able to exert enough control over the XV-1s to reveal the low-level detail and the higher frequencies you are looking for.

-A possible issue with the interconnect between cartridge and phonostage or the Phonostage and the Preamp.

Some general thoughts are that the sound of the digital rig is more inline with your tastes in music playback. As such, you may want to borrow a solid state phonostage that is fairly detailed as a next experiment to see if it produces a more extended top-end that is more in line with your preference. There are probably some tubes you can roll in the Rhea to achieve the same things. The point is to take advantage to being able to borrow a few components before you invest heavily in an unknown solution.

Hope this helps,
Dan: thanks for the white paper, I'll digest it. When I mentioned 'shimmering', I meant the decay of the cymbals (as they vibrate). I think I know what you mean by digital shimmer; I used the term incorrectly.

Dre: I really appreciate your post. I'm just now switching back to the Manley again and have been wondering about the interconnects. I'm using a Pro-ject gauge (it appears the same as most other digital gauges I've seen - perhaps all made in the same Chinese factory?).

I'll try your suggestions. Btw, what happens when a cartridge 'mistracks'? I assume it would be obvious when it happens, but haven't experienced that yet so I'm curious.


Excellent advice from Dre. Just trying 1.80g isn't enough, since no two cartridges are exactly alike. You need to keep going lower until you loose bass/dynamics and/or reach the mistracking point, then start moving VTF back up in very small (.01-.02g) increments.

Mistracking sounds like:
- if slight - a trace of fuzziness on strong, high frequency notes
- if severe - short bursts of static-like noise, like high frequency “farts” (sorry!), provided that they’re in synch with dynamic peaks or strongly held notes and not in synch with LP revolutions (which would tend to indicate pressing flaws in the vinyl)


I’m sorry I called you Floyd based on your forum tag.

Your gauge is one of the typical ones used and it should work well. To test the gauge (crudely) you can place a dime on the gauge. The dimes after 1965 should be in the ballpark of 2.268 grams. I checked 7 dimes plus had a friend check another 10 to 12 and we both came up with around 2.26-2.28 average with a very small number reading 2.29 and 2.24. So, somewhere in that range will give you a general idea if the scale is working properly. I suspect it's OK.

Mistracking can take on many forms depending on the type of music being played. So I don't take this thread off topic, I'll just state that mistracking is an artifact of the stylus not staying in contact with the groove wall. This results in audible breakup of the sound being reproduced. Sometimes it may favor one channel over the other. In other instances, it will mistrack in both channels during the same high velocity amplitude level (a function of anti-skate). In any event, gross mistracking will be clearly audible. If you want to hear what some types of mistracking sound like, take an old LP that you don't care about and lighten the tracking force on your arm until you begin to experience a distortion (fuzzy, humming, crackling sound) like presence added to your music that you know is not supposed to be there. This is not all encompassing of the types of audible mistracking by any means. There are probably a few threads on the forum that discuss this phenomena in more detail. Again, so I don't cloud your thread with a new issue, I'd suggest reviewing one of the threads already here on the forum.

A side bit of information for you: I played all three copies of Aja that I have and I hear the missing information (Cymbal decay) clearly. In fact, the decay is extended so much that it never completely goes away before the next cymbal strike during the opening of Deacon Blues.

Hope this helps,
Thanks again for the replies. I lowered the VTF to 1.75 and it's tracking fine. I may try it even lower for the education (especially now with the explanation you provided). Funny, it sounded real good (playing Aja again) but then I made the mistake of listening to the digital version again and it still sounded much airier.

I took a break for a while, but now I'm going to play around some more...
Just learned something else: when I read that VTF and VTA were interactive, I thought that meant that an adjustment to one may mean that a different value is required on the other. I didn't realize that adjusting the VTA would literally change VTF! I'm now tracking at 1.5 (well below the 1.8 spec) and still have bass.... should I keep going?

I tried a couple dimes on my gauge and I'm getting 2.300g.
OK, so now I've raised the VTA much higher (maybe even as high as it goes). I can clearly see the top of the cartridge is on an angle and doing this resulted in a VTF of 1.062g.

No mistracking as far as I can tell. Does this sound as whacked as I think it does?

Btw, in measuring the dimes again, I did get 2.262.
After playing Aja again, it's been a while, I can understand why you may think it sounds dark. That album sounds like that to me all the way through. But I can confirm what Dre posted about the cymbals in the beginning of Deacon Blues. Plenty of decay after a whack and the next whack comes before the decay ends. It is continuous but the individual cymbal whacks are very discernable. I don't have CD copy of Aja so I can't compare. I suggest double checking that you are comparing the same mastered versions of that album. Even then the digital version can sound different than the LP.

I've not heard of anyone tracking an XV-1s much below about 1.9, but Doug is right. Not only are cartridges different but so are arms, etc.
I would check resonant frequency of the arm. A high resonant frequency would make the highs less open & muddy the bass. One other note, is that the Subwoofer can affect the isolation of the turntable and then create resonances that would again muddy the bass and reduce the extension & clarity of the highs. When you integrate full range bass into any system, you now test the limits of all your equipment. This is where it really gets challenging and can be expensive.

On a note re: VTF & VTA. As I change VTA I do always recheck VTF (depending on the arm) and then reset the VTF to the previous setting to make sure I am listening the effects of the VTA change and not the interelated VTF change. I hope this is clear. All the best. I wasn't a fan of the XV-1s but it did have good bass and sweet highs.
Dear Madfloyd: IMHO the XV-1s is far from be dark and sluggish.

Your TT/tonearm are good enough to the XV-1s performs ( if not at its best ) in a very decent way, no doubt about.

Even that your phono stages are not my " favorities " out there it can make a better work that the one you name It: dark and sluggish: no frequency extremes.

Now, a good digital source/recording almost always will be better ( quality/quantity )on bass than an analog one so you can't try to look ( it is useless ) for a better deep bass in your analog rig in the other part almost any analog rig always will be better on the high frequency range against a CD ( IMHO only a DVDA could compete with analog on that frequency range ). Of course that everything will be dependent on the quality of the recording on each source: digital/analog.

A good example to compare could be Patricia Barber/Cafe Blue ( Nardis track ), the 33rpm version and the FIM label on CD, other one could be Janis Ian/Breacking Silence 33rpm against the Analog production ( Gold limited Edition ) label on CD.

You already follow almost all the advise that several people give you and almost nothing change. There is something that could help: try to change the Azymuth and see what happen.
I have success with the Dyna running at 1.9 or 2.0 and VTA on the positive way ( a little ). I have to say that this cartridge is excellent at both frequency extremes.

One alternative ( between others ) that you have is to take your XV-1s and test on another system and see how it performs, in the same way ( if you can ) try/test a different cartridge in your system.
First than all you have to be sure that your cartridge in right on specs and if it is then the problem can be every where in your system ( other than the cartridge set-up ): cables, tonearm, phono stage, line stage, amplifier, etc, etc.

Other issue that you have is to re-check the sub system seamless integration that you recently add, normally it takes a lot of time to integrate it to any audio system ( some times several months ) and very difficult to integrate seamless to an analog source and at the same time to digital source too, the integration of a sub is difficult even with two subs and a lot more difficult with only one like you. Adding subs means not only " think " on the sub position/place but " think " if the satelites ( JM Labs ) needs to move/change a little along with some room treatment.

Sometimes, at the begening, we tend to set-up the subs a little louder that it real need it and this could be a problem for the XV-1. It is clear too that the external crossover could makes a signal degradation but Bryston is very good on that regard.

Regards and enjoy the music.
a good digital source/recording almost always will be better ( quality/quantity )on bass than an analog one

Not my experience at all, but we certainly use different system components and hear differently.
Thanks, Raul. With the Bryston I can easily mute the subs (which I have done at times while making adustments) and of course all sources are going through the same preamp.

I thought of switching back to my Dynavector 20XL but it takes me several hours to set overhang (using Mint tractor) and the thought of that is somewhat discouraging. However, it's a good idea since I did buy the XV-1s used. The seller seemed quite respected here on A'gon and claimed low hours so hopefully it's not the cartridge, but you never know.
Quick question: when you adjust VTA, can it affect overhang? My brain keeps telling me that raising VTA would pull back the stylus...?
Yes to VTA vs. overhang.
Dear Madfloyd: How " things " goes before you add the sub? the analog quality performance was better than the digital one?
Btw, check that the tonarm wires are connected to the XV-1 pins in the right way.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I never really directly compared digital to analog prior to adding the sub.

I'm now wondering if my problem was simply VTA was off and by changing it I've messed up overhang.
Ian -- My understanding is that the Mint Tractor is customized based on the exact pivot-to-spindle distance of the particular arm. Are you certain that the mounting hole for the arm is drilled in exactly the right place on the armboard, and that the pivot-to-spindle distance that the Mint was customized to corresponds to the actual distance?

Also, I would expect that the effects of geometry-related problems would vary depending on what part of the record is being played. Do you notice any such variation, or are the character and magnitude of the symptoms consistent throughout the record?

-- Al
One more idea. Listen with headphones and compare CD to Analogue. This will let you know if your subwoofer is interacting w. the turntable.

If Ian's tonearm mounting distance weren't right he would know it. With an arc protractor like the Mint the stylus either tracks precisely along an arc or it doesn't. If it does, tonearm mounting distance is correct by definition.


As Swampwalker confirmed, your suspicion is correct. For any given cartridge mounting position, moving the armtube away from level shortens overhang while moving it toward level lengthens overhang, as you figured.

Therefore, before using ANY cartridge alignment protractor we should adjust arm height (and VTF) to approximate normal playing values WITH THE STYLUS SITTING ON THE SURFACE OF THE PROTRACTOR.

With the Mint this means raising the arm, since the Mint is thicker than most (all?) LP's. Do your setup and then return the arm to its normal height for LP play.

That said, I doubt this is the cause of your lack of "air". I had plenty of air before acquiring my Mint. Using it improved other things, but not really this.
I was all set to switch back to my 20XL cart this morning. Removed the red cable and noticed the white was disconnected. Made me wonder if it was loose so back the TT went for another listen. Sigh, no change.

If anyone is willing to do this test: assuming you have both CD and analog copy of Nowhere Man (Beatles), do you hear a gracious amount of reverb on the opening (acapella) vocals? On CD I do - the vocals are in the right channel and I hear stereo reverb that sounds beautiful. On LP I don't hear much at all - it's there (I think) but so subtle that I have to really tune into it - while on the CD it is very present in the mix. Don't know if this is mastering (I'm using the Beatles Blue Box) or my setup.

Dgad: sub is not the issue. I can bypass it - and the digital source is playing through the same rig.
So the switch back to the 20XL didn't magically give me more air... I guess that's good in a way.

Unfortunately I broke my mint Tractor - cracked it lifting it off the spindle. That'll teach me for being in a hurry.