SME IV Tonearm and Warped Records


I love my SME turntable and tonearm, but one frustration I have is that warped records will bump the base of the tonearm as it tracks toward the end of a record side.  The taper in this tonearm design does not allow for much clearance from the record edge.  I can raise the tonearm in the mount, increasing the VTA, but the sound is not as good, so I do not consider this a good option.  I guess I am left to only play flat records, or buy one of the devices to flatten warped records.  Or, I can replace my tonearm, but I'd rather not do that.  

Anyone else experience this issue and solve it in ways I have not considered?
172b5c3b ea6a 496a 90b0 a5fe6f5abfbbsnackeyp
Hi. You could perhaps add a spacer between the cart and the headshell? This might also be an opportunity to tweak the sound as there are many options for the material of the spacer. Wood, C.F., carbon-nylon plastic etc.
snackeyp
... warped records will bump the base of the tonearm as it tracks toward the end of a record side ...
To be clear for those not familiar with your arm, I’m pretty sure you’re referring to the underside of the pickup arm rather than the actual base. This can be an issue with phono cartridges that are very short in height, so one solution is to choose another cartridge.

I can raise the tonearm in the mount, increasing the VTA, but the sound is not as good, so I do not consider this a good option.
When you increase VTA, you also change VTF (however slightly) and overhang. And changing the overhang also affects tangency - a critical and often neglected aspect of phono cartridge alignment, ime. So if you want to increase VTA to improve the pickup arm’s clearance over the LP surface, you’ll also need to check those other parameters to ensure a valid comparison.

I've been using SME products for nearly two decades now and have never seen or experienced that problem. I heard it on the forums once or twice before, but always figured it was a bad rumor. 

Properly set up, serious warps play without a problem in my system, with plenty of clearance left. These records so warped, that I toss them into garbage right after.

So my questions are:

Are these records so severely warped that you have no business playing them on such nice components? If so, junk them.

Is the VTA properly set up, where the white line at the center of the arm wand is parallel to the surface of the record? And verified with a proper measuring tool within 0.1mm?


invictus005
I’ve been using SME products for nearly two decades now and have never seen or experienced that problem ...Properly set up, serious warps play without a problem in my system, with plenty of clearance left ...
Same here. But it is true that the SME pickup arms can have problems with phono cartridges having a very shallow height.

Is the VTA properly set up, where the white line at the center of the arm wand is parallel to the surface of the record? And verified with a proper measuring tool within 0.1mm?
That’s a very good starting point for setting VTA, but it’s not likely to yield the best result. The ideal VTA for any setup is defined by the cartridge, not the pickup arm. Many modern cartridges are designed to track at 20 degrees, while earlier stereo cartridges were often set for 15 degrees. (Hence, the legendary Shure "V-15" cartridges.)

When aligning a phono cartridge, you really need to be looking at the cantilever to get it right, not the pickup arm. That’s why the best cartridge alignment gauges rely on a mirror, such as the WallyTractor or Mint gauges. But for VTA, using the white line on the SME arm wand is a good reference when combined with a proper measuring gauge.
@cleeds Hmmm, I disagree. One should never ever align VTA to the cantilever. VTA should be aligned by either having the top of the cartridge be parallel to record’s surface, or if you’re Fremer, one can use a microscope to look at the stylus’ SRA.

I personally find the microscope idea ridiculous.

I have corresponded with just about all major cartridge manufacturers and every single one of them recommend that the top of the cartridge, or the tonearm wand should be parallel to the record. And that’s good enough for me.

If the cantilever is mounted wrong, or the stylus is crooked, get a new cartridge. Why bother compensating for crap like that?
invictus005
... I disagree. One should never ever align VTA to the cantilever. VTA should be aligned by either having the top of the cartridge be parallel to record’s surface ...
If you do that, you’re not assuring the exact VTA for each single cartridge. Different cartridges specify different VTAs. As I noted, some are designed for 15 degrees, many for 20, some even more. Remember that VTA is the angle between the LP surface and the cantilever itself. (That’s a slight oversimplification, but sufficient for this discussion.) So the only real question is whether you want to get VTA correct, or you’re happy with an approximation.

If the cantilever is mounted wrong, or the stylus is crooked, get a new cartridge. Why bother compensating for crap like that?
If the cartridge is out-of-spec, it’s defective and should be returned. But every product is manufactured with tolerances and with a phono cartridge, even a slight deviation can be audible. In particular: Tangency. To visually set that properly, you need a mirrored gauge that uses a crosshair and reflection of the cantilever itself, such as the WallyTractor. Many listeners, however, are happy to get "close enough," and can’t be troubled with that step.

Of course, if you use a conical stylus, none of this matters. But as the stylus shape gets finer - from elliptical to any of the "fine-line" or Shibata-type stylii - precise alignment becomes all the more critical for best results.

if you’re Fremer, one can use a microscope to look  at the stylus’ SRA.I personally find the microscope idea ridiculous.
Why? In many respects, getting the correct SRA is even more important than getting the VTA spot-on.
@cleeds All cartridges should have their tops parallel to the record’s surface and all of those angles you speak of will be correct if the manufacturer didn’t muck something up during assembly. If the cartridge is out of spec, get a new one. Simple as that.

SRA should be correct if top of the cartridge is parallel to the record. If not, get a new cartridge.

This is direct information from speaking to engineers at Ortofon and Audio Technica.


Some do, some don't . Some carts are better tilted up a tad .
I agree...cartridges should provide the proper angle when the top is parallel ... Few cartridges I’ve seen conform to this...Also, the stylus tends to settle trough time. For this and many other adjustments, I’m always futzing around with setup. The joys of vinyl.  As to this particular problem.....I'd get a different cartridge....at least get this one checked out - might be damaged.
I stick to real companies who have been in business manufacturing cartridges for a long time (i.e. Audio Technica, Ortofon, Nagaoka, etc.) and have never had any problems whatsoever. If a problem is suspected, then it should be checked by the manufacturer and all of the good companies are willing to do that no questions asked.

I question the ability of an end user to measure anything cartridge related properly. Audiophile ninjas armed with junk Chinese $12.99 USB microscopes make me laugh. Many times I've seen people take 10 measurements and get 10 wildly different SRAs. 

You guys honestly think that you can accurately measure stylus and cantilever geometries? Maybe a few, sure. Cartridge manufacturers use hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of dollars worth of sensitive calibrated tools. And they have technicians with decades worth of experience assembling and testing each cartridge.

All these stories of angles not matching up, or styluses mounted improperly are 99.9999999 end user error. 

The only thing that anyone can and should be measuring is that the top of the cartridge or the tonearm wand is parallel to the record's surface, the rest should be left and assumed that the experienced manufacturer got right.

If in the extreme rare instance there is a defect, the good companies will take care of you. If they don't, buy from better companies. And stay away from used cartridges. 



invictus005
All cartridges should have their tops parallel to the record’s surface and all of those angles you speak of will be correct if the manufacturer didn’t muck something up during assembly. If the cartridge is out of spec, get a new one. Simple as that.
It’s not even remotely that simple, which is why tools like the WallyTractor and Fozgometer exist. Your oversimplification also completely ignores tangency, which is a critical aspect of proper phono cartridge alignment.

It’s fine to subscribe to the "close enough" school of turntable setup, but just silly to insist it’s sufficient for all, and even sillier to dismiss Fremer’s approach as "ridiculous."

You guys honestly think that you can accurately measure stylus and cantilever geometries?
Certainly, and many think it’s worth the effort. You can also use test records to measure the result.
@snackeyp,

I agree with vusi-khumalo. Adding a spacer isn’t an ideal solution, if you like your cartridge/arm it is an easy inexpensive fix. I made one out of carbon fiber for my ET 2.5 arm when I bought an Acutex 420 STR as the cartridge pins are at such an angle that I could not attach the leads.

@invictus005,

The top of the cartridge/parallel approach is just a good starting point. The magic happens when you spend some time further dialing it in.





I use a heavy outer ring and a center record weight. They flatten all my moderately warped records very well.
@cjaronica Why not just throw the warped records away and get flat ones?
@invictus005,

"why not throw the warped records away and get flat ones?"

Have you no heart? Have you no soul?
Thanks for all the feedback on this issue.
I had this issue since I first got the TT.  I have already added a spacer between the cartridge and arm, which helped a lot.  After doing that I hadn't had any problems in a long time.  The other night I was playing a brand new record from Deutsch Grammaphone and the first side played fine, but when I flipped it over I discovered it had a dish warp.  Side one was the outside of the dish and side two was the inside.  The outer edge of the record was at least 2mm higher than the center on side 2.  
To be honest, a lot of brand new vinyl has issues with warpage.  Even when the tonearm doesn't bump the record, I am still certain that they are not providing the best sound.  Dead flat vinyl tends to sound the best.
Also, I have a Kiseki Purple Heart cartridge.  I should have mentioned this in my first post.  I had the same issue with the previous cartridge (Lyra Delos) but it got worse when I switched to the Purple Heart.  

@snackeyp Your tonearm is set up incorrectly. 
You may be right, but how can you se so sure?  I have followed the set up instructions to the letter, repeated several times, and finally felt like everything was dialed in.  I even exchanged several emails with SME directly.  On the topic of warped records, they simply told me that warped records do cause issues with the tapered tonearms and that tweaking it with spacers was the best way to resolve it.  
snackeyp
On the topic of warped records, they simply told me that warped records do cause issues with the tapered tonearms and that tweaking it with spacers was the best way to resolve it.
Both SME and its dealers know that cartridges having a shallow height can be an issue with their tapered arms. Some reviewers have also noted the problem, including AHC in Stereophile, here.

" The V can bring the rear of the tapered arm-tube a bit too close to the record with some cartridges and turntables, and can foul on warped records. This problem is not uncommon, and is probably the arm’s one really serious design fault. You should check carefully with your cartridge and turntable on a mildly warped record to be sure that the SME V will be compatible. This limited arm clearance at the rear, as the arm moves towards the inner grooves, could mean that the arm will cause problems with some future cartridge or turntable of yours. You can solve the problem in part by putting washers under the arm base, or shims between cartridge body and headshell ..."

I've never had this issue with my SME V, btw.