The importance of azimuth

Not a particularly sexy topic, I know, but I recently had a rather ear-opening experience with my VPI Aries 2/JMW-10/Denon 103D. I been enjoying playing records for hours--sometimes days--on end during the few weeks I've had the new 'table and arm (the cart I've had for years). But after endless tinkering with the VTA (adjustable during play--perfect for neurotics like me), even at the "ideal" setting for any given record, there was an unpleasant edge to the sound. It was almost as if everything was digitally remastered!

Needless to add, this was not exactly what I'd hoped for in a record-playing system, though it *still* sounded leagues better than my digital rig (Sony SCD-1), even with the latter playing SACD (no, it does *not* sound as good as vinyl--not yet, anyway). I added some damping fluid. No audible change.

Then it occurred to me (duh!). I'd only made a token adjustment of azimuth when I'd set up the 'table. It looked straight, the channels were well-separated and balanced, and basically I didn't want to screw around with it.

Big mistake. (I'm sure you were all mouthing those words already.) A loosening of the set screw and a bit of twisting, and...everything looked the same. Stylus descended to record...drum! Voices and instruments beefed up and acquired shape, tape hiss magically appeared (where appropriate), and hard left and right images seemed to float about a foot outside the speakers.

I'm sure there are more scientific ways of setting azimuth, but I'm now in one of those situations where everything sounds so fulfilling of my expecations that I don't want to lose it.

Folks, never forget that in set-up *everything* matters. These are tiny increments of adjustment we're talking about here. Take care with everything and your hardware will reward you with the gorgeous sound we know is inside those records.
Yea, just wait until your adjusting a high end cartridge within hundredths of a gram and it's clearly obvious which setting is better.

For my Koetsu it is EXACTLY 1.97 grams with the Walker. It was 1.99 with the Graham.

Crazy ain't it that such a small change in stylus pressure should effect tonal color, tracking and dynamics?
Albert, how do you keep that force stable? It must be sensitive to climate, time of day, who knows what else.
It was with difficult with the Graham, in fact it often took two or three days to "sneak up" on the settings because the rubber parts in the counterbalance stored energy and would move over time.

These changes occurred within a few minutes to as long as overnight. Could be frustrating with this unipivot design where the VTA and azimuth are affected as well.

My Walker. Which I have had for several years never moves. I can literally set the tracking and check a day, week or month later and have no change at all.

In case anyone wonders, I use the Winds stylus gauge with hundredths of gram measuring ability. This is particularly nice if you take the turntable apart for some reason and want to hit the correct setting the very first time.

Setting by ear is important, especially when experimenting to see what works for that cartridge and in that arm. However, its also important to be able to return quickly to the perfect setting, once that has been determined.

The Winds will let you do that.
Nice post Bublitchki, and a good reminder for us all.

My VTF experience is similar to Albert's (except for the Walker part!). My Shelter 901 is exquisitely sensitive to very small changes in tracking force. Changes of .03g or even less are very audible. The best force can only be found by listening and it changes with any significant swing in outside temperature. (Yes, my home is heated.)

During the January cold spell it wanted 1.94-1.96g. With daytime temps now all the way up to 35F, the Shelter wants to see 1.90-1.93g. When the hot weather of summer returns I'll be down around 1.80g. These changes have a big effect on HF extension/cleanliness and the amplitude of dynamics.

Like Albert I have a digital scale that measures to .01g, though mine was much less expensive than the Winds. I've also got a mod on my OL Silver that allows instant VTF adjustments over a .15g range without moving the counterweight. Very handy with such a touchy cartridge. There are no rubber parts anywhere in the arm, so any setting that I choose tends to be pretty stable.

Gosh, if we weren't fretting over stuff like this, think how much damage we could be doing in the real world!
Azimuth is the most important adjustment in a tonearm and best set with a test record and scope......Set it for the same crosstalk per side.....Azimuth must be correct or VTA can never be ascertained.....Recall Dave Shreve spending about three hours setting up azimuth on my new tonearm and then five minutes setting proper VTA.....That was fifteen years ago.....Andy Payor used a test record and gadget that Audioquest made years ago and got the azimuth right in half an hour......Wish someone would make that gadget again as they are hard to find used........
Bob, agreed!

Since the Audioquest is no longer made, could you offer one for sale? The question is sincere, I just don't know what was inside the Audioquest or how difficult the task to reconstruct one.
If I can get pics & dimensions, I'm willing to bet I can make it. Does anybodt have one?

with the vpi scout, azimuth is adjusted by rotating the counterweight. i visually inspect the cart, and also the counterweights by the pivot. things sound fine, centered, etc, but im wondering what more i might do to improve what admittedly at this time is a pretty casual adjustment. i particulary am concerned that vta adjustment doesn't seem to have much effect, and i don't know if that's because of my cart(a benz glider l2) or because my azimuth is off. i'd be interested in what other scout owners azimuth and vta experiences have been.
Rcrump's fascinating post and Albert's response got me started poking around. I found this methodology for setting azimuth by measuring crosstalk in the VA FAQ's:

Not ideal, since it measures at the speaker terminals and therefore measures preamp/interconnect/amp/RFI imbalances, but certainly better than just eyeballing it. Comments anyone?
Dougdeacon. I think Bob's post was describing the Audioquest as a electronic rather than mechanical tool.

I found this on a German web site about the Wallytractor;

When the site opens, click on:

Wallys Vinyl corner and on the next page, select:

WallyAnalog Shop (std).

There you can view this electronic gizmo and download the complete instructions as a PDF.
Albert, I quite understood that Bob was describing an electronic device. Were you perhaps responding to Jphii's suggestion that he could make one? Like you, I doubt that his woodworking skills would suffice, formidable though they be! :)

Thanks for finding Wally's device. I'd quite forgotten that he offered (offers?) that. It precisely addresses what we've been discussing, and his instructions cover the channel imbalance issue raised on the VA thread too. I'll be emailing Wally to find out if it's still available.
Guess I don't need to bother Wally, his Analog Shop is on the Acoustic Sounds website along with all his other tools. Hey, I enjoy talking to myself in public!
As I recall the Audioquest box was actually a phono stage as needed to plug a transformer into it for moving coil cartridges. It had a switch for L and R channels and the meter would read the crosstalk.....You use the 1K test tone played on a the test record and just fiddled with the azimuth until you had the same reading from both channels, normally 25-35db......These were out of print eleven years ago when I bought the Rockport and always wished I could find one......These were about $300 new and you needed a cheap transformer for moving coil cartridges, another $100 I suppose....Shure made essentially the same thing BTW.....
Yep, I didn't know it was an electrical device. Oh well. But, is it worth the money?
Jphii, you are darned right it is worth the money and it would be worth $5-700 today I imagine.....To do this by ear is rough as lots of folks just can't listen to the venue information (they listen to the melody) and get it the same on each side which accomplishes the same thing as this device.....Front surface mirrors are useless as the output of most moving coils is just not the same side to side and usually the cartridge will be slightly canted to one side or the other for equal crosstalk from each channel......
.....the output of most moving coils is just not the same side to side and usually the cartridge will be slightly canted to one side or the other for equal crosstalk from each channel......

This I find a very interesting comment and it explains why, when my preamp is set to mono and using the HIFI test record azimuth check, I could never get what approached silence with the headshell as perfectly perpendicular to the LP as I could get it by eye. When I got it right with the record, the cartridge looked ever so slightly askew. Is this a defect in the cartridge? Will record damage occur with a "canted" cartridge?
4yanx, You will never notice it is off perpendicular and these things are handmade so expect them all to be a bit different.....Lyra uses the body as part of the alignment jig so they are all pretty darned close to correct FWIW.....
The assembly of my Shelter is visibly off-perpendicular relative to the body. Like 4yanx, I've done the best I can getting it perpendicular by eye using a mirror, but I've never achieved silence on the crosstalk tracks either.

Wally's Analog Shop, as referenced by Albert Porter above, measures crosstalk at the speaker terminals. That should better what we can do by ear. $400 including a copy of the Cardas test record. Very tempting. Can anyone think of a reason NOT to buy it (other than the price of course)?
Anyone want to go in and share one? Or buy one and rent it to me for a short spell? :-)
Hey, put me in for $100 so just need a couple more.....
Giddy-up. Mr. Crump is trustworthy beyond reproach and "in" if this moves forward. I'm willing to handle this business. Anyone else interested, e-mail me.
Sberger....I'm with you . These adjustments just don't make THAT big a difference. Hundredths of a gram? come on. I've got all the stuff, too...JMW 12.5/Extended Aries/Lyra Helikon, and have to crank away on the old VTA before any sonic differences appear.

Reading this thread would make anyone give up analogue and buy CD's.

BTW, My Linn Ikemi CD player will kick the turntable's ass now that I put a Valhalla cable on the CD player. (Quattro-fil tonearm cable)

So, OK analogue guys, whazzup wid dat?
Never been all that crazy about the Helikon, the Aries/JMW arm or the Quattro-fil myself and think you need to wake up your vinyl system a bit as that combination will put you to sleep and no amount of adjustment is going to help the PRAT, where that combination will fall flat on its face compared to any CD player..........Time to look into a more dynamic cartridge and/or lead-in wire and you can do a bunch better than the Valhalla with its hole in the middle of the venue information that you could drive a Hummer through.....Sorry to be blunt, but you asked....
Put me in for a hundred too. By the time it makes the rounds, we'll all be ready to use it again!
Giddy up, again.
3 down and at least 1 to go
David, count me in. Time to party!! Or, whatever you do with a customized multimeter.

Jbatlanta, I'll try to temper Rcrump's response a little, but both my partner and I DO hear VTF changes as small as .03g, and very easily. And contary to finding this onerous to deal with, we enjoy it. It's a hobby!
Ooooochie mama. Jphii. Send to me an e-mail via the 'Gon so I have yours and set the wheels in motion.
Guess we still need one more!
Rcrump + 4yanx + jphii + me = 4.

Do we want more?
Check yer email, Doug.

I don't know how many in such an agreement pushes things beyond practicality, but I'd want as many as wish to particiapte to be able to do so. Perhpas multiple groups, given, desire, is appropriate.
I'm in, check your emails!
I couldn't find this damn thread! Took me 15 min. So, I moved it up.
That would have been the smart thing to do. As you know, sometimes I like doing things the hard way!
4yanx If you need one more for 100$ I am in sounds like a great idea send Me a e-mail and let Me know if this goes forward Marc
We were able to assemble a consortium for the purchase of one, Marc. Another group could well be initiated but I will forewarn you that it has been well over three weeks since it was ordered and no word about when it will ship. It seems Wally has been ill. While I do feel badly about his illness, it exacerbates and already common problem - deliver of any Wally product is s l o w. He needs to enlist some help or stop marketing his products without a warning with respect to very poor delivery times. I was hoping that the first one or two users would have been able to supply a report on the unit by now.
Me three. From the chat on VA it seems like we may be waiting for months. David, I trust AS didn't hit your credit card. I don't think it's even legal for them to charge you before they ship.
Hey did you guys acquire the Wally tools azimuth tester yet? Are you open to renting it out? I am expenting a new Debut Sig with a Vector arm in a few weeks and would love an opportunity to rent/borrow it if the consortium would allow....

I have the Wally azimuth tester, and with my setup, I could not get particularly reliable readings utilizing the instructions. I could merely confirm that my visually adjusted azimuth was not far off from acceptable electrical measurement.

I now feel that the best way to set azimuth is to first determine that visually that the stylus is aligned properly with respect to the cartridge body and then align the body perpendicular to the surface of the record (look at the cartridge from a head on angle and compare the cartridge with its reflected image on the record to see if the cartridge is canted left or right). In this way you can get an approximately correct physical alignment. If that is not the ideal electrical alignment (because the coils and magnets are not aligned properly) you will not get the maximum separatation, but at least the stylus and the record will be in alignment -- I prefer lower wear on stylus and record than maximum separation.

I suppose the best way to do this by measurement is to use an oscilloscope.
I own a dual trace 'scope (Tek 475A). Haven't used it much yet. Bought it off of Ebay. What would be the best way of using it to adjust azimuth? Look at a L-R constant tone and adjust for minimum signal?