Stylus not tracking and sounds terrible


I haven't used my TT in about 6 months due to a remodeling project. The TT was not moved, just not used. Yesterday I fired it up, tried to play some new vinyl, and ran into a problem.

The sound is terrible, shrill and scratchy sounding with no bass. The stylus randomly skates and hops. I tried playing a couple of records I know sound great but the problem remained.

The VTF, VTA, and azimuth are set correctly. I swapped out cables to and from the TT to the phono amp but still have the problem. I tried balanced and single ended cables to my pre from the phono pre.

I tried increasing VTF, playing with the VTA, disconnecting my subs, nothing changed.

The TT is a VPI Aries 1, Benz-Micro LO cartridge, Pass Aleph Ono pre. I've owned all of them since new or almost new so it all has some years on it but it sounded great before. Could the cartridge go bad in 6 months by just sitting there unused?

I had a similar problem a while ago and determined it was vibration/resonance from my room. I have the Aries sitting on a Ginko cloud platform now and it is pretty well isolated.

Everything sounded great the last time I played music on it. The only thing that changed was the location of the phono pre. It used to sit next to the TT but now my ARC amp is in that place. Could the tube amp be doing something here? The TT is right next to it on the same shelf.

Any help or ideas would be greatly appreciated.
nolacap
Have you given the stylus a good cleaning- magic eraser or whatever you use, and ensure the arm is resting properly in the pivot spike?

I've had weird unexplained SQ issues with these two simple checks.
The arm is on the pivot and the damping oil is in the well and the stylus is clean.

I'm going to try moving the table on to the concrete floor.
What type of renovations did you do? Anything that would have affected your tt support structure?
Is there any chance that someone (significant other, roommate, friend, contractor, dog, cat, etc.) might have damaged the cartridge?  If the tonearm has been knocked off its rest while someone was cleaning, partying, trying to play a record, etc., there could be damage to the cantilever that is causing all of the symptoms you mentioned.
The renovations were in another room. I had to move all my records. That's why I didn't use it during the reno.

It's possible someone messed with it but it was covered by a plexiglass cover. The cantilever is not straight, it comes out of the cartridge shell angled towards the record rim. It's always been slanted that way though and seemed to play just fine.

This is my only cartridge. I may buy an inexpensive cart and swap it in to see if that's the problem.
smrex13, I think you are correct. I took the arm off to get a closer look at the cantilever. It is slanted so far to one side it seems to be in contact with the metal housing.

There is what looks like a very small adjustment screw on one side of the motor housing just below where the cantilever connects to the motor. Can this screw be used to align the cantilever? The screw is below the wood housing so I think everything would have to be removed from the wood housing to get to it.
So its always been crooked. Sounds like you've had a bad cartridge for a long time and just didn't know it. Probably the whole motor mechanism was improperly installed, or knocked out of position somehow. But for a long time although it was crooked at least the cantilever was able to move freely so it would play. Until for whatever reason after the remodel it moved just enough so now the cantilever is hitting the body.

When this happens it can't move enough so there goes your bass. With the cantilever in contact with the body its picking up all the vibration and noise of the body. So there's your screeching. The rubber cantilever suspension isn't able to absorb any shocks from vibrations or even slightly warped records so all the shock goes right into the arm causing it to bounce so there's your random skipping. 

That may be a set screw you're seeing. Whatever, main thing is you can probably go back to using that cartridge if you can just get the motor back and held in alignment. 

Ideally I would upgrade to a newer better cartridge. Or if you like it, it could probably be repaired and re-tipped and would be like new. Better than new, from the sounds of it. Or with steady hands, a tiny vise, and some tweezers you could probably line it back up, drip some super glue on there and call it good. Probably better than what you had before! 
Millercarbon, great diagnosis. Thank you.

Benz doesn't retip this model any longer. They offer a rebate if you buy the new version. I'll ask them if they give the rebate for a damaged unit. If they do, I'll break out the super glue and give it a shot.

The cantilever was always at an angle, noticeable to see but it always tracked fine. I always noticed a slight L-R imbalance on some records. Maybe I've been enjoying a broken cartridge all these years.

The fact that we NOW KNOW the stylus has been crooked...……..

Com’on OP shouldn’t that been a major consideration initially?

You're on my "Ignore list"
Thanks Slaw. The cantilever always seemed to tilt left of center. Not like it is now, but tilting to the left a bit. But it sounded good.

I guess I should have tossed it in the trash the first time I noticed it wasn't perfectly straight.

Lesson learned. Thanks Slaw!
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Thanks Elizabeth. I tried this and was able to coax it back to center but now only have sound from one channel. Good sound, but only from the right channel.

Keep it for a mono cartridge.
What about your wall power? Did the renovation involve electrical work?

Sounds farfetched if the problem seems to be tracking error, but the likely suspects have been checked.
I had the same type of thing happen with an Ortofon MC3. The cantilever was always a little bit skewed to one side but it played perfectly for years on my second rig. Then I noticed the skew angle increased a tiny bit more and by the next day it was worse with tracking issues, channel imbalance, sibilance and reduced bass. If you are immeasurably careful with a needle-nosed pliers, you might be able to bend it back into position.
EDIT - I see updated posts above.
Get the darn amp away from the turntable! 
I'll be moving the amp. I moved it next to the TT temporarily while waiting for some longer interconnects. What could the amp be doing to the cartridge to move the cantilever though?

There was electrical work done during the renovation. Power was turned on and off etc. but nothing in the system was unplugged.


There are very powerful magnets inside the  cartridge. Amps have large transformers in them that generate strong magnetic fields. Need I say more?
mijo, I very much doubt your hypothesis, if you're implying that there is magnetic pull between the amplifier power transformer and the cantilever. Transformers do generate EMI (electro-magnetic interference) but not very much magnetism. And cantilevers are not ferrous.  Could EMI from the amplifier be degrading the sound? Yes, and maybe that is what you meant.  If so, sorry.  EMI usually causes problems by feeding back into the AC supply at the wall outlet.  Try plugging the amplifier into a different outlet, if it is now sharing with the turntable and/or phono stage.

Seems there are possibly two issues which may or may not be related.  The cantilever is not straight, but it was not straight for a long time before the sound went bad.  Possibly it bent past some critical angle and now is hopelessly out of line with the internal generator of the cartridge, or possibly EMI from the nearby amplifier (or some other undiscovered source of interference) is the culprit.  But anyway, the cartridge is now broken, is it not?
mijostyn- inverse square law. Need I say more?

nolacap- that cartridge is worth trading in. Don't mention condition, they don't care anyway. They only care that you're buying one of theirs. Which is a good choice, Benz are fine, had a couple myself. Just check this time first not years later! 

One thing that never was clear was if the cantilever was at an angle because it was bent or because the whole motor assembly was out of alignment. Anyone saying bend it straight had to be assuming bent, but the indications are more likely the whole assembly had come loose and was crooked. The cantilever got the blame simply because you could see it.

So this is one thing to always check anyway. Before unpacking look real closely. With the cartridge upside down and you looking down on it, the cantilever should line up perfectly parallel with the cartridge body. Equally important the stylus should be in-line and pointing straight up. I'm talking vertically. Straight at you when viewed from above.

If these aren't like this send it back. No amount of cartridge alignment will ever correct these faults. 

It seems to me you may never have heard anything but a damaged cartridge. Or in a very long time at any rate. Its not just the little channel imbalance you noticed. Unbeknownst to you the whole sound stage was being ruined. A new Benz properly mounted is gonna rock your world!
So, the transformers in the amp are about three feet from the table. Next to the TT on the shelf but on the opposite side of the arm. I’m not sure that matters or if a TT could be affected by a transformer being located that close. I considered that when I moved the amp but my only other option at the time was putting the amp on the shelf below the TT which seemed worse.

The cantilever is not bent. It’s straight but is being pulled to one side by the motor. The assembly doesn't look to be crooked in the body. The cantilever just pulls to one side. I can pull it back to center and then it rebounds towards the other side. 

Following Elizabeth’s advice I massaged the cantilever towards the center several times and got the cantilever off the metal hole it sticks through in the body. Not completely straight, but not touching the metal body.

It now sounds fine but I have no sound in one channel. I swapped the cables to confirm that the cartridge is only providing a signal through one channel.

I’m thinking there is a defect in the motor assembly that is pulling the cantilever more strongly to one side. Maybe it was something progressive that got worse over the years and/or maybe something happened that tweaked it far enough to finally hit the housing it sticks out through.

Either way, I appreciate the input and help everyone offered, even Slaw, and consider this a sign from the universe to make an investment in a new cartridge after nearly 20 years.

I tried my VPI on a Gingko platform....knew the manufacturers well...nice guys....but the platform ruined the sound of the VPI.  Let Soundsmith take a look at your cartridge.
I had the Aries on a sand-filled base for years. I lost it in a move and had major problems with the Aries on the wife-approved unit I have my gear in now. The Ginko makes it work but not like the sand-filled base sitting on a lead-filled steel stand my welder buddy made for me years ago.

i will reach out to Soundsmith. Thanks for the recommendation. Although I think I have a jonesing for a new cart now.
@nolacap, try a set of the Townshend Audio Seismic Pods (Size "B") under your Aries. If you remove the VPI cone feet, they will fit right in place of them. They have adjustable top caps for leveling the table. The Pods provide real isolation, unlike the stock feet. You will have to put something under the motor pod (perhaps Herbies Tenderfeet), as the Pods raise the height of the table.
Just to butt in and say transformers generate quite a good size magnetic field due to induced magnetic field through wires. There is leakage of the magnetic field even for toroidal transformers which as I understand it minimize the magnetic field effects. This is why wrapping a transformer with low frequency high permeability mu metal should reduce local effects and thus improve the sound. Wrapping twice even better! 🤗 Three feet I’d opine is sufficiently far away.
That is bad nolacap. The little wires on the coil of the bad channel have broken. Happens a lot. New cartridge time. I have had this happen several times over the years usually to old cartridges that have seen a lot of miles. 
After 20 years nolacap you can treat yourself to a new cartridge. If you liked what you had then the safe bet is to stick with Benz. Stick with the same or greater output, get the most you can afford, it will be like what you had but completely across the board better in every way. That's what I found going from a Micro-Glider to Benz Ruby H. The same, only a whole lot better in every way.

Or if you can swing it, Koetsu Black Goldline is another one very similar so the only surprise will be how much better things can keep getting and still be supremely balanced with nothing hyped or exaggerated in any way. Just more and more refined.


This whole thing is a silver lining. One result of the renovations is that my lps now reside close to my system. For the past several years my records were located in the next room. The result was that I didn’t play them as often as I would like.
I started with a Denon DL103 cartridge way back with a Well Tempered Record Player and the sound was so much more musical than my Sony cd player at that time.  I went to a Benz MC3.  Huge improvement.  Upgraded turntable to Well Tempered Classic. Small improvement.  Next was the Benz Ruby II.  Another small improvement.  Then Benz LP, and finally Benz LPS MR.  Huge improvement. Upgraded to the Well Tempered Reference Turntable.  Another small improvement.  Went from Audio Research SP9 II to Mare Connoisseur to Esoteric E-02 Phono preamp.  Incredible sound, beats my PS Audio Direct Stream Dac and Direct Stream Player.  Not even close.  Analog has that organic sound that digital cannot match.

Definition of motor: Device that converts electrical or other energy into mechanical energy or imparts motion.

The advisers that talk about motor inside a cartridge have no idea what is it all about.

 

The cartridge (in your case MC type) is very simple devise (by design) and very complex (by execution).

 

First- the moving part has only one joint (human hand with fingers has 27 joints). The rigidity of a cartridge joint supported by tension cable. The softness of a cartridge joint supported by 1 or 2 dampers. The dampers deterioration causes ALL sonic and physical properties of a cartridge become progressively worse. Different manufacturers using different damper material. They last for 1 to 10 years.

Stylus life is 500-2000 hours. If you play 2 LPs a day average life span of your cartridge  is 3/4 - 3 years. There is no magic of having the correct, good sound at all.

You have no doubt that you need to change oil in your car every 3,000 miles and tires every 50,000 miles. Cartridge need to be change every 3 years. If you invest into analog- this should be planned expenses.
 Most modern automobiles can go at least 10,000 miles between oil changes. Just so, it is no stretch of the imagination to think of a phonograph cartridge as a motor. It converts mechanical energy of the cantilever into an electrical signal. As in many motors, coils of wire around an iron core or other and permanent magnets are involved.In a way, it’s a reverse motor. It is no problem, when everyone knows what you’re actually talking about. No need to get hung up on semantics.

There is no such a thing as reverse motor, unless you invented one. If everyone understood the nature of a cartridge and related problem solving, there would be no such discussion. Your definitions of cartridge's motor make no sense at all and leads to more confusion. The MC cartridge has generator. That is plate with cantilever/stylus attached, that has wires( coils) wound around such plate/cross/ barrels. The generator movement creates magnetic fields that magnets transfer into signal. No motor or "inverted motor".

 

Generator definition, a machine that converts one form of energy into another, especially mechanical energy into electrical energy.

 

Your analogy with 10,000 miles would count if you present the proof that the modern diamonds are 3 times harder that they used to be.
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no... generator cannot be a transducer. Transducer is a device that converts one type of energy into another. Whereas generator is a device which convert any form of energy into electrical energy..
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I can give you unlimited number of transducers that not related to electricity. 
A Temperature Transducer is a device that converts the thermal quantity into any physical quantity such as mechanical energy, pressure and electrical signals etc.
Bio transducer converts a biochemical signal to an mechanical, electronic or optical signal.
Chemical transducer, heat, nuclear, sound..
And so on.
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it is too early on Friday to make statement that bike or boat is a vehicle.
I prefer to stay with my type of logic.
if you bring some info that suppose to be helpful or educative at least respect the readers. Your posts have nothing but flood gush.
Not interesting to have more discussion.
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NEW Cartridge, New Stylus, Perfect Alignment: Nirvana

All these years I thought it was a motor. Until I married my Canadian wife I thought eavestroughs were gutters.
The term 'transducer' got into music reproduction parlance from piezoelectric ceramic cartridges.
GRG, A phono cartridge is a "reverse motor", in the sense that it converts the physical motion of the cantilever into electrical energy.  A motor takes electrical energy and converts it to physical motion.  That's the way in which the two can be viewed as opposites. If you don't like it, don't use it. I really could not care less, and I do not think anyone was confused by referring to the "motor".

"Transducer" is also a perfectly valid description of a phono cartridge; it takes one form of energy and converts it to another.  If you don't agree, then don't use the term.  A loudspeaker is also a transducer.  So is a microphone. Can you get off it, now?
I think I understand phono cartridges and the words I use at least as well as you do.