Setting VTA on a new Shelter 901?

I'm trying to dial in a new Shelter 901, knowing I face several dozen hours of break-in before I ought to be too critical.

It's in an SME arm on a SOTA Star. The arm has a VTA adjustment dial/rod...but it's not that easy to move, up or downward. Both ways requires loosening some base screws, etc. Not precisely repeatable, either. Nevermind that, my question is...

What's a good "geometry" ballpark to begin VTA tweaking...
cartridge bottom parallel to record? Slightly down at the back? Somebody on Audiogon mentioned slightly down at the front, but that sounds (and looks, in my mind's eye) very scary. But, so far, what do I know?

The cartridge is very, very slightly down in the rear right now, about 1-2° I'd say. Bass seems mostly controlled, but load...treble (strings) are very bright...vocals I'm familiar with seem pretty about far, nothing I'd call warmth. That's some break-up that happens on crescendos...sounds like eggs frying ...seems more like electronic distortion ugliness that mistracking.

Thanks for any help and ideas.

Hello, I have same table and arm with a helikon cartridge. My cartridge took at least 60 hours to break in. I seriously thought about selling it during this period it sounded so bad, take your time. I would set the arm so that the cartridge is level with the record. You can also play with the fluid damper setting ,I found this made a big difference, unfortunately you will find almost every record requires a different setting to sound its best.I would let the cartridge break in before you start to pull your hair out.I also found that the sound of the SOTA table depends a great deal on what type of surface it is sitting on. In my system I have tried mine on concrete, metal,granite but it sounds by far its best sitting on 1X4 soft wood with tip toes.
How can you possibly tell that the back is down only one to two degrees? Such discrimination is impossible with the naked eye and likely at the limits of tolerance with even the most advanced turntable setup tools. I hope this thread is a joke.
Some time ago, I forget what for, I made a protractor (just several accurate fine lines of acute angles from 0° to about 10°) on a sheet of clear plastic. I lower the stylus onto a record (not playing) and then lay the base line (0°) of my protractor on the record, slide it till one of the lines match and note the angle of the cartridge.
It's really pretty easy to be very precise.
The breakup on crescendos sounds like existing record wear from previous mistracking damage - electrical input overloading distortion would be very unlikely, for either a phonostage or a preamp partnered with one - but make sure you're not tracking at too light a VTF if your records are known to be in great shape. Anything near horizontal (I'm talking about the 'arm) should track properly with the correct VTF applied on the new cart. Give it around 50 hours before getting concerned about the tonal balance. When it is broken in, look into optimizing the loading impedance if you haven't already done so, and I wouldn't worry too much about fussing with the VTA until then either.
My Shelter 901 took ~80 hrs for break in, it's sound is getting better and better.
I would just set the cartridge in parallel to record until cartridge has at least ~50hrs on it(same for the loading, run it at 47k until cartridge has ~50hrs on it).
Initially, changing VTA did not yield significant changes in the sound. But after break in, I like the sound of it when it is slightly tilted back(very slight) with 1.8gram VTF.

Also I messed around with cartridge loading initially and ended up staying at 47k(becasue before cartridge was broken in, any loading under 10K yielded somewhat of muffled/congested/lack of dynamic). After ~80hrs, I tried the different values again and now I'm running at 200 ohm.
That sounds like a pretty precise instrument, very interesting.
I use a deck of playing cards when setting the VTA on arms that have coarse adjustments like yours. Put the deck under the arm, touching the bearing and lower the arm until it touches the cards. To increase VTA add more cards and lower the arm down on the deck again, to reduce it, just remove some cards. This allows very, very precise control of VTA on even the most persnicity of arms.
The playing card approach is a GREAT idea, Viridian. No dealing off the bottom, though!

901, apparently due to its geometry, is very sensitive for VTA. The people who report opposite are just have low discrimination playback systems or hearing. The 901 yields the best result around 1.7-1.9 and for each mass it would require own very precise VTA setting. Unfortunately, due to luck of precise unified VTA measurement, no one would be able to tell you an absolute values for a specific mass. You have to plays with it. The Playing Cards method is very useful however it would not necessary work with 901. The “standart” playing cards are too thick for the 901’s VTA sensitively and you will eventually find the 17 cards is too high but 16 cards it too low… You may search for the thinner cards or to tape on some of the cards 0.1 mm tape (as I do)… Also, you might discover in future that to set VTA according to the system tonal balance (bright, warmth, break-up that happens on crescendos and so on…) is not correct way to search for a correct VTA... Good luck.

Romy the Cat

PS: posted despite a great opportunity that the post will be vandalized by the local “administration”…
Clearly, as far as the Shelter is concerned, I am not playing with a full deck.
OK Mr. Verybigamp, then what is the correct way to set VTA. Just curious as to how you set yours, Thanks. Ron

Also, you might discover in future that to set VTA according to the system tonal balance (bright, warmth, break-up that happens on crescendos and so on…) is not correct way to search for a correct VTA... Good luck.
Primary by “imaging” (it very loaded word), x-force generating, dynamics, some dynamic qualities of dynamics, articulation, musical accents, musical time distortions and so on. Do not forget that when you balance VTA tonally you make your cartridge to cure the imperfections of the rest of your system but you should not care about a “crappy” system but only about the cartridges-record interface. A properly assembled, tonally neutral system will accidentally (?) yield a proper tonal balance in the same VTA point where the optimum “imagingabilety” (along with the rest parameters) would be reached (actually they all come together into one single point). In many instances for some people it is difficult to understand the “imaging” results because they deceived by the tonal distortions but with a certain experience and, the most important, with an ability to interpret results it is perfectly possible. Tonal accurateness is very tricky, mostly misunderstood by audiophile awareness, abused and generally non-essential part of audio reproduction... :-(

Romy The Cat
Verybigamp, Thank you for your very informative VTA information. I have also read where it was expressed, you will know when you have the VTA correct when the "image" snaps into focus. This only happens at one point.
I have had problems in the past trying to do this, and am getting a new Table, Arm, and Cartridge from Jay Kaufman at Audio Revelation. This should be a major upgrade for me. Then I can, as you say , stop trying to correct front end problems with my VTA setup. I have always found that if I get the cartridge body parallel with the record surface, I have the VTA at its best for my current rig. My new front end will be a lot better, and I belive, I to will be able to set me VTA better, and get better focus.
I asked Jay Kaufman for his opinion about the 901 being fussy for VTA, He said it was not. Just insure that the cartridge body is parallel with the record surface.
I respectfully disagree with this imagingability concept of setting VTA. In my experience VTA is correct when surface noise is reproduced in a different plane than the music on the disc. If the noise is within the fabric of the music then you ain't there.
I gotta respectfully agree with Viridian on this one. I would have repsonded sooner but I have been caught up in trying to find micro-thin playing cards or, alternatively, modifications to my VTA adjuster that will allow such minute changes to be effectively realized.

Seriously, though, I don't know that you can ever get all surfacce noise to an otherwise inaudiable level (but one could hope). There does seem to be a magic point at which everything "clicks" or, rather, doesn't click, as it were.
Viridian, I do not think you disagree with the “imagingability concept” but rather you’re trying to expand the said. Yes, at the correct VTA setting the surface noise become the orders of magnitude less annoying but this it not a reason but a consequence of something else. When “imaging” (as a correct PATTERN of phase randomonization) kicks in; when the X-force (I intentionally left without explanation what it is) embraces the musical messages and opens a communicative bridge between a musical event and a reproduced Reality; and when some other parameters of sound reproduction are set “correctly” then a specific mechanism get activated that tune a listener’s consciousness out of the external irritators and make the surface noise “reproduced in a different plane”. So, a minimization of noise is a process that flows out of something else. Besides, there are many other ingredients that affect a perception of a surface noise… There are some phonostages (assumedly they all have equalized input R and C) that make a cartridge to reach the best imagingability (Please, remember I said that “imaging” was VERY loaded word) and a less-annoying “plane” of surface noise at the different points/heights (there are some mechanism how a noise reduction could be done inappropriately-electronically) However, there is no free lunch and along with noise reduction those phonostages fuck up something else musically. I have seen those examples again and again…. So, what I propose is that the noise flipping in a different “plane” is one of the properties of the “Correct VTA” but this is not NECESSARY THE SIGN that a cartridge is in the correct VTA point.
Thanks for all your tips and comments.
I'm still breaking-in...just reached the 20 hour mark on my Shelter 901. But I have found a really sweet spot in my slowly increasing VTA adjustments. Having started at about 1.5° down at the rear, and adjusting my SME in 1/8-clockwise increments, I'm now just a tiny hair from dead flat (cartridge bottom relative to record surface)...with probably a bit more to gain in treble smoothness.
But I think I'll wait till the 50-hr. mark before further "+" VTA tweaks.
Cheers, all.
Nnauber- This is revealing to me, since I have a 501 MkII with about 40 hours on it, thus far. I started with the VTA about the same 1.5 degrees "butt-down", upon general recommedations from others. I have since raised the VTA of my Nottingham Spacearm just a silver at a time, increments of about 1/64 of a turn on the adjusting screw, until I am a cat's whisker or two below flat-level. Sounds sweet but I, too, will wait until about the 100 hour mark before trying to get any finer with the adjustment.
Your comments are revealing, as well. My 501/II has about 35 hours(Oscar P. & Ray Brown are working on hour 36 as we speak!), and I'm relishing every nugget of info in this thread. My Spacearm is set about flat for now, and I'm also going to wait until 100 hours before I tweak it much. With this arm, I haven't yet figured out the best way to adjust in an ideally methodical fashion.

Anybody finding phonostage impedance settings having affect on break-in and/or? I recall someone suggesting to go w/setting at 47k until about 100 hours, then switching down to the recommended 100 ohms. Mine's been at 100 ohms all along. Thoughts?
100 ohms is where it should be. Also a hair down in the back, just like 4yanx says. The cartridge is broken in after 40 hours. There is no need to wait beyond that for making your final adjustments.
Thanks for the insight, Twl. I'll get working on it.
The fun is just beginning! Spencer