Remove your bias for better sound


I have a VPI Superscout rim drive and Classic platter, with VPI 10.5 arm and a Benz LPS cartridge. I had been using the anti-skate gizmo for some time, with only a minimal amount of exertion on the arm. I removed the gizmo, remounted the counterweight, just to try listen without the anti-skate. Much to my pleasure, the sound is much better with increased dynamic contrasts, cleaner mids, and more ease with the highs. I don't find that tracking is any less than with the gizmo installed. I recommend that all should try it. With the device still on the arm, but disconnected, there is only a very small increase in sound...remove the whole thing.
stringreen
I will try it out this week and report back. The best part about this experiment is the cost.....free!
I've always had a hard time understanding how zero anti-skating force can result in optimal sonics. It will cause the cantilever to deflect toward the outer edge of the record, as viewed from the front of the cartridge while the record is rotating. Especially (I believe) if the cartridge has relatively high compliance. How can that improve sonics? Unless:

(a)It compensates for some internal misalignment in the cartridge. Or,

(b)The cartridge is designed with the expectation that it will be used that way. Or,

(c)The arm is applying some amount of anti-skating force even when it is adjusted to zero.

Can anyone provide a technical clarification on this?

Regards,
-- Al
Almarg,

First, a correction if I may: playing with zero A/S will not cause a cantilever to deflect toward the outer edge of the record. Think about it. Groove friction pulls a cantilever along the line of its own axis (subject to minor variances in zenith alignment at any given point). Deflection of the cantilever could only occur if the tonearm resisted the inward pull of the groove. An arm with good bearings and zero A/S applied furnishes almost no resistance to the force vector created by the groove-cantilever interaction. Result: no deflection.

OTOH, playing with excessive A/S may indeed cause a deflection of the cantilever, but toward the INNER grooves, not the outer. This occurs because A/S causes the tonearm to RESIST the natural tendency of the stylus to spiral inward. The outward bias is applied to the ARM, not the cantilever. Imagine holding your stylus snug between two fingertips of your left hand whilst pulling outward on the tonearm with your right... for hundreds or thousands of hours. That's what A/S devices do, they push/pull outward on the tonearm. With the cantilever locked in the groove (your left hand) while the tonearm (your right hand) is constantly pulling outward, the cantilever is permanently pressured against its elastic suspension. That suspension may eventually take a "set", like the hole in my pillow when I wake up in the morning. That set would result in an inward-pointing cantilever.

As to sonics, I've posted many times as to why I believe zero A/S sounds best with many cartridges. Two clues:
1. re-read the paragraph immediately above, which describes what an A/S device actually does (permanently pressuriing the cantilever against the elastic suspension inside the cartridge).
2. consider that sonic penalties of excessive A/S are virtually identical to the sonic penalties of excessive VTF... diminished HFs, dimished speed, diminished air, diminished micro-dynamics, less life and zip, more weight or flab.

When the cantilver is most free to move in response to the slightest groove transient it will respond most quickly and accurately. Pre-loading the cantilever against the suspension, whether vertically with excessive VTF or laterally with excessive A/S, diminishes the cantilever's freedom to respond as quickly and completely as it might. Result: sonic dullness.

I've played with every level of A/S on my TriPlanar, from too much to the very least the doohickey is capable of to none at all. With my (mostly ZYX) cartridges, playing with none at all is the clear winner. About the only exception is some brand new cartridges, which may need a touch of A/S for best tracking until their suspensions loosen up a bit. Since my A/S device was removed long ago (with further benefits, since it's a resonance trap), I just boost VTF up a tad when breaking in a new cartridge. Not a bad practice in any event.

Other listeners have different carts or different sonic priorities, so testing for oneself is the only way to be sure what's best in one's own system.
Thanks very much, Doug. I was hoping you would bring your expertise to bear on this.

However, although my experience is limited to relatively high compliance moving magnet and moving iron cartridges, my observations have been inconsistent with your first two paragraphs. Every time I have installed a cartridge, in most cases using the Magnepan Unitrac tonearm I have had since the 1980's, I can easily vary cantilever deflection, as viewed from the front of the cartridge while the stylus is in the groove of a rotating record, both to the left (with excessive anti-skating force applied), and to the right (with little or no anti-skating force applied). This is all with respect to the angle of the cantilever when the stylus is lifted off of the record, which is nominally straight ahead.

With too little anti-skating force applied, the effect is as if skating force is acting on the tonearm, rather than on the stylus.

And what I have observed has nothing to do with the suspension taking a "set." The deflection I have seen as anti-skating force is adjusted occurs immediately and repeatably, in either direction, and occurs only when the stylus is in the groove of a rotating record.
Deflection of the cantilever could only occur if the tonearm resisted the inward pull of the groove. An arm with zero A/S applied furnishes almost no resistance to the inward path the stylus wants to follow.
I see what you are saying. Perhaps the key to reconciling all of this is how close to zero "almost no resistance" is, for the particular arm? With cartridge compliance also presumably being a factor. Although an explanation based on bearing resistance would still leave me somewhat puzzled with respect to deflection in an outward direction.

Best regards,
-- Al
This discussion reminds me of my old Thorens TD-150, no antiskating to worry about.
Al/Doug - To me Doug's logic has a flaw.
Although the stylus is being pulled inline with the cantilever, there is a resultant force on the arm itself pulling the arm toward the centre due to the cartridge offset and overhang. Now the arm also has an inertia resisting this inward force proportional to its effective mass. Therefore there is more than likely a conflict of forces on the cantilever - inward force applied from the offset & overhang versus inertia of the arm. To my mind the amount of antiskate required is that required to keep the cantilever in line with the groove. I very much doubt that this would be 0, but it would also be influenced by the horizontal compliance of the cantilever pivot.
Intuitively unipivots have lower bearing friction than traditional gimbal arms and that would reduce the antiforce required assuming the same cartridge and tonearm effective mass is the same.
Let's face it the VPI unipivots are junk anyway, they are overdamped, the leadout wires are so rigid they must be loading the horizontal movement of the arm, the pivot point is upside down in terms of acting as a mechanical diode and every one I've heard has lacked transparency and sounds slow and turgid - this might explain why no antiskate sounds superficially better on these particular arms.
Most of pivot arms already have an antiskate. Try to remove the cartridge and let the arm float free. It will slowly rotate towards rest position. Applying antiskate may be necessary for the warped records or with crooked edges. I usually land the needle right on first track so don't really care about antiskate.
Folks went for yearss without antiskate.
Some folks still say it is not good.
I would not argue the 'theory'.
I would just try it with, and without. Decide for yourself by listening.
Dover,

Thanks for the alternate view... very useful insights on the competing forces at work here. I'll defer to anyone with a real understanding of physics as to how the forces net out. In anecdotal terms, I've played with zero A/S on my Triplanar for several years. My main cartridge has ~1000 hours of play under that condition and displays no cantilever deflection whatever... FWIW.

In real world use, I believe that A/S devices present a greater risk of causing (inward) cantilever deflections than the risk posed by skating forces to cause (outward) cantilever deflections. This is because the majority of A/S devices and users apply TOO MUCH FORCE.

Unless one does some fairly tedious and involved experiments one may not appreciate just how little A/S force is actually needed to achieve balanced sidewall pressures when playing real music. On my way to playing with zero A/S I experimented for months by reducing A/S to truly tiny amounts, far lower that the original design of my TriPlanar's device would permit. I replaced the metal A/S weight with rubber O-rings, each of which weighed only 1/23rd as much, and eventually played without even those, only the empty dogleg itself was applying any force.

To hear the effects of this required playing at the lower limit of VTF needed for clean tracking. That's where my cartridge plays best anyway so I was already tweaking VTF on a daily basis, sometimes by less than .01g. Having found the knife edge of trackability I began reducing A/S while playing difficult-to-track passages (real music, not test records). I was surprised to learn just how little A/S was needed to eliminate R channel breakup. As my cartridge passed 500 hours I found that essentially no A/S was needed, but even when it was the amount applied by the tonearm's supplied weight was vastly too much. I never needed more than 1/4 that much weight, even when the cartridge was new. My conclusion: the majority of users have not taken the time to experiment to this degree and are probably applying too much A/S, particularly as the A/S devices supplied with some tonearms apply too much by design.

As to sonics, I've no experience with VPI arms so won't comment on your impressions, but the sonic improvements from using zero A/S are very clearly heard on my tonearm too. As stated, I believe these improvements result from eliminating the pre-dampening of the cantilever against the suspension. Of course the audibility of this or any tweak will vary with the cartridge, the tonearm and the transparency of the entire system.
11-08-12: Dover
Although the stylus is being pulled inline with the cantilever, there is a resultant force on the arm itself pulling the arm toward the centre due to the cartridge offset and overhang. Now the arm also has an inertia resisting this inward force proportional to its effective mass. Therefore there is more than likely a conflict of forces on the cantilever - inward force applied from the offset & overhang versus inertia of the arm. To my mind the amount of antiskate required is that required to keep the cantilever in line with the groove. I very much doubt that this would be 0, but it would also be influenced by the horizontal compliance of the cantilever pivot.
Thanks very much, Dover. That all makes sense to me, and is consistent with the observations I described. Which would say that as anti-skating is fine tuned by ear, a visual check should also be performed to confirm that no perceptible left or right cantilever deflection occurs, as viewed from the front of the cartridge, as the stylus enters the groove of a rotating record. Perceptible deflection occurring most readily, as a result of non-optimal adjustment of anti-skating force, in the case of high cartridge compliance, low tonearm effective mass, and also, if my understanding is correct, low cartridge weight. All of which is what I happen to have, relatively speaking.

FWIW, with my Soundsmith re-tipped Grace F9E Ruby and my undamped Magnepan Unitrac unipivot arm I've settled on an anti-skating force equal to about 56% of the arm manufacturer's recommendation. I suspect that their recommendation is based on setting anti-skating force equal to tracking force, which is a ridiculous notion IME.

Doug, thanks also. The concluding sentences of your two posts above seem to sum up the bottom line -- as is usual in audio, things are system dependent.

Best regards,
-- Al
Stringreen, after removing the anti-skate device did you then use Harry's recommended "twist" to the connection wire or plug that in straight from the arm? (for non-VPI owners, this is their recommended method for all the counter force they believe is necessary)
Doug/Al - I 100% agree with Doug's comment that too much antiskate is applied in most instances. The proof is that very few cartridges have straight cantilevers after a short while. The most common mistake I've seen is people using antiskate to adjust channel imbalances in the system. The other major factor is armboards that are not level. How many people 0 balance their arm and make sure there is no drift in or out before they start. This is a simple check to ensure there is no inward or outward pressure on the cartridge from the horizontal bearings in the arm being out of level because the armboard is not level. When I recently installed a new arm I had to shim the armboard by a only few micron to ensure the arm had zero drift and the resultant decrease in antiskate required was significant - 0.5gm.
Almarg.....What I hear is a "freedom", and suspect that the constant force of the anti-bias is damping the stylus. With or without the anti-skate connected or disconnected I don't see any deflection of the stylus....it always sits between the space allotted to it. ...and no twist to the wire, which I believe the force will diminish with time. Harry uses no a/s and no twist as well.
What I hear is a "freedom", and suspect that the constant force of the anti-bias is damping the stylus.
Bingo. A concise distillation of the long-winded explanations I've been posting for years, including my first post above.
I agreed with VPI arm that no anti skating is by far the best option. However, for example my Reed 3Q arm, it does sound best with anti skating. With Air Tight PC-1 supreme, quite a lot of anti skating, with Lyra Atlas, a bit less but both sounded better than with no anti skating.
I don't think you can generalize this to every tonearm/cartridge combination.
I have tried the VPI anti skating mechanism. I have also used the wire twist method. Harry states that very little AS force is needed for the 10.5 arm. I found that the VPI AS mechanism exerts too much force even at its lowest setting. I use 1 single twist of the tonearm wire. I find this to be the best solution for my setup. Yours may vary.
I have tried the VPI anti skating mechanism. I have also used the wire twist method. Harry states that very little AS force is needed for the 10.5 arm. I found that the VPI AS mechanism exerts too much force even at its lowest setting. I use 1 single twist of the tonearm wire. I find this to be the best solution for my setup. Yours may vary.