Stylus force digital scales

Digital scales from Clearaudio and others range from $200-500. Amazon has 'em for $20. Why cant I use one of these instead and save big bucks?
One problem I found from my $30 digital scale is the battery dies within a month. Used or not.
Then it was hard to use.
I find the cheap plastic manual Shure scale to work well.
And use that only.
I have one and it works well. It takes watch batteries so pricey to replace. I had the AcousTech- $80, pc board made by the same company- and it operated on two AAA batteries and had an aluminum case. They do stop functioning if you drop them. Both had very repeatable measurements and a calibration weight. The AcousTech held calibration well. Not so much the Amazon version.
You can. I use a digital jewelry/gunpowder scale that I bought about 15 years ago for ~$50 . Similar models are cheaper today. I've changed batteries once in all those years, no issues there.

Two issues to be aware of:

1. Many scales are magnetically attractive. The magnets in a cartridge (especially the powerful magnets in LOMCs) will pull the cartridge toward the scale - skewing results and even risking cantilever damage.

2. Most scales are much thicker than an LP, which would put your tonearm at a more upward angle than when playing music. On most tonearms, an upward (or downward) angle will change the downforce on the stylus. Again, this would skew results.

Both of these issues can be addressed simply and at virtually no cost by using a weighing step... a doohickey that sits on the weighing platform of the scale, projects off the side, then drops down to a step that's at LP height. You put the stylus on the step, not on top of the scale.

You can DIY a weighing step from any rigid, hard, non-magnetic material. You could cut up several credit cards and glue the pieces together. That would make a workable step and save a fortune in future debts, lol!

With a little forethought, a weighing step can provide an additional benefit. Digital scales use a load cell to detect downward pressure. Load cells are most accurate in the middle of their range, less accurate near the extremes. The tiny pressures we're measuring with stylus downforce fall far below the midpoint of most load cells, near the low extreme where they're least accurate.

You can address this by making the mass of your weighing step equal to one half the capacity of the scale, minus 2gm or so. (Example: for a scale with 50gm capacity, make your step weigh 23gm.) Voila! Now you're weighing downforce at the load cell's midpoint, maximizing accuracy. Place the step on the scale, tare to zero and away you go.

Or you could do what Elizabeth says. I'm personally more comfortable with my digital scale than a cheap plastic balance, but whatever works for you. Just remember, a scale cannot tell you what the right VTF for any cartridge is. It can only put you in the ballpark. After that, you must fine tune by listening.

one word of caution

If you are using a Clearaudio table with one of the magnetic field arms, you must make sure that the scale measuring point is at the exact same height as the record surface otherwise it could be off considerably.

I use the cheaper model electronic scales ( I have two), and the clearaudio teeter totter scale. When using the cheap electronic ones, I just make sure that I verify their accuracy by measuring the weight of both a penny (2.5 grams) and a nickel (5 grams). Batteries are low when they are off on mine.
Winds ALM -01 is good to 1/100th of a gram it is the best $30.00 gauges are not accurate.
Best digital scale I have used.
If you don't want to mess around with modifying a scale as
Doug suggests, then pick up a Cartridge Man scale. It's
spendy, but is designed well and is rechargeable.

Although, I may be inclined to try Doug's excellent idea if
my Cartridge Man scale dies on me in the future.
After buying and trying many digital scales used for the specific application of measuring tracking force, I agree with Don. This version is clearly superior when compared to similar but smaller scales that use button style batteries. It has the best most solid construction quality, has a non-magnetic platform, measures at the proper height, and provides reasonably consistent readings.
Doug, any magnetic attraction with not affect the weight measured. You will see the scale read negative as the cart. nears the scale; but that's because it's being supported by the cueing mechanism. Once the cart. is released all its weight is on the scale and will be measured, magnetic attraction or not. Think about it.
I use the cheaper model electronic scales ( I have two), and the clearaudio teeter totter scale.

Jim, have you compared how well the clearaudio does next to the digital scales?

I used one of these digital jobs for a while until one of the segments in one of the numbers died. Made figuring out the actual tracking force a real guessing game. Not sure I want to spend so much money again if the same thing were to happen.
John_tracy is absolutely correct, once the weight of the cartridge is supported by the measuring platform the magnetic force is neutralised, as he says "think about it".
For me the most crucial issue is that the height of the measuring platform is exactly the same as the height that the surface of the record would be. Even small differences less than 1 mm can influence the force by >0.1 gram. This obviously depends on where the the centre of gravity of the tonearm is, these numbers refer to the Kuzma 4 point. I suspect that people who change the tonearm height for different thickness records, are actually hearing the change in tracking force, rather than VTA/SRA, since such small adjustments make hardly any difference to VTA/SRA but make a huge difference to tracking force.
I have found the Ortofon DS-3 (only available in Japan) to have a measuring platform, close to the thickness of an lp. The Clearaudio is much too high as are most of the others, including the el cheepose.
Whether or not the tracking force is affected by magnetic attraction depends on what the LOMC cartridge is attracted to. If it's the platform alone then yes, the scale will read true. But if the cartridge is attracted to internal components or the chassis of the scale then no, the cartridge will be trying to pull itself past the platform and the force will not read true.

And even if the cartridge is only being attracted to the platform, a strong attraction will collapse the cantilever suspension when the magnets within the cartridge body pull the cartridge onto the platform. It may weigh correctly, but the stylus and cantilever will be shoved up against the cartridge body. Trust me, I've seen it happen. :-)

My recommendation is to buy a good durable scale and make a platform adapter out of an old pre-paid "credit" card. I tried one of the low profile "audiophile" scales but it was fragile, not very consistent, and it failed after about 18 months. The scale I ended up with is a My Weigh Palmscale 7.0. It's built like a proverbial tank and is extremely consistent in VTF measurements. Unfortunately My Weigh doesn't carry it anymore but it's still available from many retailers. Their are other scales from My Weigh that would work as well. The prices are reasonable and they have a great warranty policy.

Here's a picture of the credit card platform adapter:
John Elison's example posted at VinylAsylum

You don't need to cut the card down if you don't want to. You can make the adapter so it sits a little too low and then adjust the height above the platter by adding shims.

great tips - thanks guys.
I made something similar out of two pieces of acrylic and a long bolt to use with a lab style full size top loader. Works great.
Although a bit pricey, you might consider checking out this
Ortofon gauge. It puts the stylus at lp height and its flat measuring surface works well with cartridges with very short cantelevers like my Transfiguration. Good luck.
I used the Shure for decades, but earlier this year purchased the Ortofon. Seemingly good build quality and very easy to use. My only criticism is that the platform doesn't have any markings to indicate the center point.

The Ortofon confirmed that the Shure is more than adequate for the job as far as accuracy goes. This makes the Ortofon more of a luxury item as opposed to an essential accessory.
Ortofon gauge looks nice but it's basically a standard digital scale with an alloy platform adapter/extension. You can buy a good digital scale that's (probably) more durable with better button layout and easily make your own platform adapter/extension for a third of the price.

It won't say "Ortofon" though. :-)

I'm using a DIY platform extension with a Dynavector 17D3, which also has a very short cantilever and the setup works great.


PS: I'm not intending to "dis" the Ortofon gauge; I'm sure it works well for measuring VTF. But the original question was "Why cant I use one of these [inexpensive digital gauges] instead and save big bucks?" The answer: You can.
Johntracy and Dinster,

My apologies for not making a long post even longer to thorough explain how magnetic attraction:
1) may increase the downforce recorded by a scale, and;
2) will increae the compression of cantilever and suspension beyond the downforce applied by the tonearm.


Thanks for adding the details... bingo.

BTW, my scale is also a My Weigh. Bought it 10+ years ago and it's as good as new... and just as accurate as Ebm's $300 Winds, lol.

Is there a sonic benefit for having better than 1/10th gram accuracy?
Onhwy61- It's not necessarily the accuracy, it's the precision. IOW, it matters not if the VTF that sounds best to you is, to make up an example, 2.12, 2.13, or 2.14. Or in fact any value between 2.1 and 2.2 gms. However, once you determine the optimal value, you would like to be able to get back to that # w regularity, if you need to, for any reason, dismount and then remount the same cart. If your scale can only display to 0.1 gms, you will not be able to get back to that "optimal" VTF other than by trial and error. OTOH, if your asking if differences of < 0.1 gms are audible, then I have to say it's up to you and the resolution of your entire system. I know Doug can hear those differences on his system, and I'm pretty sure I can, too. Not necessarily 0.01 gms, but 0.05 for example. YMMV.
I would advise against the Sure scale. I happened to have two identical Sure scales and they were very off against each other. Will never trust them again.

I currently use an APTP445 scale, which is digital and cheap (more or less $10 on ebay), but works well. It's too thick as it is so I made a step out of a credit card and a little bit of Blu-Tack to measure the VTF at the record level. I regularly re-check it with a 5-gram reference weight and it appears to show repeatable measurements. For those on a budget it's a good option.
Swampwalker, thanks for the informative answer.
I meant "Shure" scales. My apologies for the misspelling.
YW, Onhwy. All part of the service ;-)
Dougdeacon, thanks that is something I have not thought about. I have confirmed on my el cheapo digital force gauge that it does measure the correct weight despite the attractive force by zeroing with the cartridge on the platform, and then lifting the cartridge away, and it gives the exact negative reading of the force I set in the first place. The magnets on my Lyra are unbelievably strong and I'm sure the force on the suspension during measurement is not good for the suspension...finally a reason to never measure with a gauge that is magnetic, and a compelling one!!
according to my new digital force gauge my loading was heavy by over .25 grams. it made a substantial improvement when I decreased the weight. I previously used an ortofon scale which was difficult for me to get a good reading. cheers
I was setting up my clear-audio with a Steve Blinn Digital and ended up with better results using the clear-audio included manual gauge. Go figure like Jinpitsburgh said.
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The Winds ALM 01 is the best good to 100th of a gram.I once had a $50.00 one it was junk it depends on how good a table,arm and cart you have.
I very much agree that the Shure scale is good enough. After getting the VTF in the "ballpark", you should experiment with a little more, and a little less to find the optimum for your cartridge. All that Dougdeacon said is "golden", ...I have an electronic scale, but its really not needed.
The Audio Additives gauge from Music Direct reads to three decimal places. I have found it to be accurate and consistent. It appears well made(china) and is only 79.99. Another benefit, battery requirements are triple A's not the high dollar watch type batteries.
Is that Audio Additives scale truly non-magnetic?

I have the identical one from Acoustic Sounds (provably made by the same manufacturer) and its magnetic and still needs taring when I put my cart hovering over the weigh scale area.
Another recommendation for the Shure scale. Accurate and easy to use.
Ortofon DS-3
Philb7777, the audio additives scale is completely non magnetic. I double checked last night.