SME V setup


I discovered recently (after acquiring a new DB cartridge alignment protractor,) that using the factory provided alignment tool (for the SME V anyway) produced results that were really just a close approximation.

After doing a precision alignment/overhang adjustment on my just-broken-in-after-100-hours Transfiguration Temper W, (and without changing any other setup parameters) the soundstage and the placement of instruments and soloists, gained a quantum leap in performance that I was totally unprepared for.

I'm sure some of you are going "Well, Duh!" But the kicker is, that I had been informed at CES, by one of the senior management people with a well known audio accessories vendors (no names) that sells DB alignment tools, that I shouldn't waste my money on one, because the tool that came with the SME was more accurate! Go figure.....

The SME alignment tool does get things pretty close. And I agree a more fine grained tool gets better, and more repeatable results that can take your cartridge beyond what is possible with the SME jig.

Wally Malewicz of Wally Tractor fame makes the suggestion to enlarge ever so slightly the SME's cartridge mounting holes using a 2.8mm or 7/64 drill bit. Use a nice sharp drill bit turned into the existing holes. I was able to do this turning the bit by hand - the metal (magnesium?) is fairly soft. This allows the cartridge to be twisted a teeny amount to get better alignment of the cantilever with the line on the mirrored surface. A mirrored tool with a thin line works great - ideally one not wider than the cantilever. Really paid off for me with a SME Vd and Shelter 901.
I've fiddled with my SME IV.Vi a bunch. I'm using a Lyra Helicon. I can hear differences in VTA, Anti-skate, and tracking force. Pretty much just set it all close...and then expirament by ear. What I haven't done is go back and check overhang with a Wally tractor or your protractor. Makes sense to me.

I think the SME gauge gets things perfect assuming the cantilever is perfect inside the cartridge body...the protractor and wally tools get the more important thing right (cantilever alignement)

Do you use the damping trough? I don't hear much change by raising lowering the needle/paddle...
The SME setup jig has two basic problems. (One may or may not be a problem depending on the cartridge.)

1.) The method of reading and making adjustments leaves too big a margin for error, and the overhang can be off by as much as +/_ 3 to 4 mm.

2.) Unless the stylus tip falls directly below the pointed tip of the headshell (and most do), the SME jig will not be accurate anyway.

Yes, I also think the cantilever must be centered in and parallel with the cartridge body. I sent my vdH Frog back to be better aligned.

As for damping. MC cartridges are generally less compliant than MM's and so can usually do with a little damping. All other settings (particularly anti-skate) must be right on before trying to assess damping effects. I usually adjust anti-skate visually, increasing it until, when viewed from the front, the stylus/cantilever remain in the same position (relative to the cartridge body) in or out of the groove.

I think it's important to fill the trough right up to the first ledge (the instructions show it a little below.) Using a strong flashlight with the arm lift "up" and the arm swung to the center of the platter, I just lower the paddle/screw until it touches the surface of the silicone.

You can then increase the depth one turn at a time, but the effects are subtle. Too deep always reduces both image focus and overall output, because the outer groove wall is pushing so hard against the stylus to overcome the damping force that the stylus can't "wiggle" freely enough to trace the groove.

Damping is an adjustment that can't be objectively measured and really has to be done by ear (unless you have an ocilloscope.) I usually use a symbol crash, and adjust for the cleanest sounding decay -- that's always seemed to work. It's better to err on the side of too little IMO.
No matter what tool you use, I found using a line laser to aim the protractor to arm spindle much more accurate than eyeballs. You can get them from Home Depot, but they are bulky and not very bright under bright light. Fortunately my friend makes high power laser that is housed in a tiny enclosure, slightly bigger than a match box, and can be easily placed on platter or right next to it. I have loaned that laser to aother audiophile friend and he also found it to be more accurate than what his naked eyes can do. We are now seriously thinking of marketing the laser here on Audiogon.
semi, I'm not sure I understand what you are describing. My DB protractor has a hole that fits over the spindle. Perhaps you were referring to the SME "protractor"?
Dear Jfrech: +++++ " What I haven't done is go back and check overhang ... " +++++

Before you do that, check that the distance between the center of the V to the center of the spindle is right on target.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I find the DB to be much more accurate than the supplied SME paper one.

Have they fixed the case for the DB? It was always tight, but now I have to use pliers to remove it. 'Course, I bought it when they were only $20...
SME's approach to everything is one of extreme accuracy and leaves nothing to chance. Their method of alignment is simple and easy to effect. The only criticism I have is that the hole of the alignment protractor is a loose fit over the plastic sleeve that fits over the spindle allowing the possibility of variable results. In any event, there are a number of different alignment theories about the location of the null points and other parameters such as overhang etc. that I wonder if alignment is little more than a guess or an opinion. The most commonly used one, Baerwald's, is said to be inaccurate because it was an approximation and that the Loefgren one is more accurate. Then their is Stevenson's and a number of others. So I don't know????
The key here is having a cart with a cantilever/stylus precisely aligned, the V doesnt allow for alignments "out of square" easily. Ive found with good straight carts (soundsmith, clearaudio, lyra etc) they pop right in with the supplied guide and a little tuning by ear of sra/vta vtf and possible tiny overhang adjustments. With a few out of whack carts couldnt get it to work at all.