The importance of proper set-up

For many of the readers of this forum, this may seem obvious. Certainly, had I read this even a week ago, I would have scanned it with only marginal interest. I have owned a VPI Aries 2 for about 2-3 years. I am using a Transfiguration Temper W. Over the years, I have adjusted the VTA/VTF settings. This was a slow evolution. Each adjustment brought improvement. However, what at first seemed like a fix or cure, proved over time to still be lacking. Initially, I thought the sound somewhat strident or etched. I thought, at least in comparison to cd, the bass was lacking. So, I dropped the arm back slightly, each time being sure to re-check the VTF. I use the Shure SFG-2. Almost invariably, the VTF will have changed with each adjustment. While some people might think I was fooling myself into thinking I heard not too subtle differences with each adjustment, I can only tell you, to my ear, the differences were unmistakable. The funny thing is, and the reason that I felt compelled to share this anectode is that each time I would adjust the table, I would think I "nailed it", the perfect balance of treble, bass, and midrange, while preserving all the ambient soundstage and layering I had previously heard. Now, mind you, certain records would sound better on certain settings, while others I recalled sounding better on earlier settings. For instance, a record which had a deep, rich low end, might sound better with the cartridge tipped up slightly to reinforce the top end. It was only after playing literally dozens of records that I began to formulate an opinion, one way or another as to whether the sound was too thin, or the bass too exxagerated at the expense of air and separation between the players. That would cause me to make yet further refinements. However, whether by luck or just perserverence, I have now stumbled on a setting that has revealed so much of the midband that was previously obscured, it is downright spooky. Those who love analog know that the music lives and breaths in the midband. I don't know whether its the table, the arm (10.5), the releveling of the table, or just catching the perfect rake angle, but after more than 2 years, I am finally enjoying the true virtues of my rig.
My purpose in writing is to suggest that even if you think you have your table set to perfection, if you haven't experimented with other settings, i.e. haven't tipped the sylus up or down slightly, haven't tried to add a tad more weight to the arm, haven't levelled the table precisely, you may not be enjoying the full benefit of your investment. Yes, it is tedius, but let me assure you, the rewards are well worth the effort.
Stew, that way madness lies! Suggest you read this whole thread from the beginning:



You can DESTROY a perfectly good groove that way.

It prooves that not all of the factors concerning used vinyl are yet quantified....

Nsgarch is right, madness lurks around the very next corner!

Now, mind you, certain records would sound better on certain settings, while others I recalled sounding better on earlier settings.
You're but one step from where we are, adjusting arm height for each record. Once you go there, there's no escape. The only way to maintain sanity after that (he said hopefully) is to record each record's optimal setting for quick and painless setup on replays. You'll quickly notice that records on the same label tend to like similar settings, with only a tiny adjustment for record thickness/weight. You can even make lists, which makes finding the best setting for a new record much quicker.

As Nsgarch said, madness! But it sure sounds good doesn't it?!

whether by luck or just perserverence, I have now stumbled on a setting that has revealed so much of the midband that was previously obscured, it is downright spooky.
That's the way we first found that sweet spot, dumb luck and fumbling. The right setting for any particular LP is so tiny that stumbling across it is almost the only way, at least until you practice alot.

More madness!
Setting and re-setting VTA is easy enough. But in my experience, any adjustment in VTA requires a corresponding adjustment in VTF. I think the reasonable compromise is to determine the optimal settings for 120-150g records and a second setting for 180-200g, understanding that you will keep VTF fixed.
the small amounts of changes in VTA that Doug uses don't change VTF in an appreciable way. You'd probably not be able to measure the difference with the Shure SFG. These small changes in VTA, we're talking thousandths of an inch here, can make a huge difference on some records and absolutely none on others. I'm in no way disagreeing with finding a happy medium for lighter weight vs. heavier vinyl and living with these settings. This is about all you can do if your arm does not have a VTA micrometer. As Nsgarch and Doug say, to do more is a step into insanity. However, it can unlock real musical magic on many LPs.
Dan's right. I can't even measure the difference with my digital gauge, which goes out to .01g. Certainly no one could measure it with a Shure gauge.

About 2/3 of our LP's fall within a very small height adjustment range, less than one revolution of my tonearm's VTA dial. The bulk of the remainder fall within a similarly small range, but two revolutions lower.

I tweak VTF nearly every day by ear, but adjusting for each LP based on microscopic arm height changes would be madness even for me!
Madness indeed! Without denying at all, or minimizing, the effect of properly set VTA/VTF I can recall all of the trips from my listening chair to the turn table to give another tweek of the VTA, id infinitum. I wonder when I ever found time to actually relax and enjoy the music! Small wonder that many folks like CD's.

In recent years I've learned to avoid this tinkering and settled on just enjoying the music. What little I lose in sonic's I gain in music appreciation. :-)
I can recall all of the trips from my listening chair to the turn table to give another tweek of the VTA, id infinitum. I wonder when I ever found time to actually relax and enjoy the music!
That's why we record the setting for each LP on the jacket. Now there's no tweaking at all. I've got the arm height dialed in before my platter even spins up to speed.

Small wonder that many folks like CD's.
That's funny, but I can't imagine anyone abandoning vinyl for CD's because they're tired of fussing over VTA. CD's are more convenient, no question, but anyone sensitive to VTA isn't likely to find them fully satisfying.
So, you come home from the garage sale with a 6-eye copy of something or other and you run it through your VPI RCM. You ever so gently drop it on your platter and try to remember what the last record was you played. You can tell from the VTA tower or whatever mechanism your table employs, that the last record was a thicker slab of vinyl so you know right away that you are likely going to raise the VTA to match the profile of the LP. Here is where the mystery starts for me. What general characteristics are you listening for when you are determining what the best VTA setting is likely to be. Can you relate some time-honored generalizations that might be of assistance to the uninitiated? How long does it take you to find the sweet spot? Can you ever be sure you have found the optimum position? Does the genre of music clue you in for starters as to the range you think your going to end up at? How 'bout some pointers our veteran obsessive VTA'ers.
i go over my setup monthly, or when i find that maybe i need to, the thing with spinning lps is you need to do maintenance, you do it because after playing cds you know with out a doubt vinyl is king, right now i have little feet playing on one of the finest rock lps let it roll, the sound is so sweet up and down, the bass is rock solid, mids and upper end as what you would expect, after playing with vta with my arm a vpi 10.5i one of the easiest to do it with on the fly, i have come to the realization to stop playing with everything sit your self down and enjoy the music, the reason why you made the choice to put a small fortune into musical enjoyment, not to tweak often, but to listen a lot, mike
It seams that I am one of the lucky few who can not hear the change in VTA/VTF. That is why I have an SME V and enjoy the music.;)

Since you're crazed enough to ask, the best primer I've seen on VTF and VTA adjustment by ear is at Lloyd Walker's site. Read this first:

As LW points out, their are two levels of adjustment for VTA. Call them coarse and fine.

Coarse adjustments effect either tonal balance, bass vs. treble, or nothing. IME the degree of change varies from cartridge to cartridge. Coarse VTA changes affect tonal balance on my Shelter 901 but do little or nothing on my ZYX's.

The fine adjustment effects something much subtler, tightness and integration of notes in the TIME domain. (I'm not talking about image focus or tightness. Imaging happens in the SPATIAL domain, L vs. R, and is largely controlled by azimuth, not VTA.)

If you hear these time domain changes you'll hear them from anywhere. Being in the sweet spot is unnecessary (unlike imaging, which can only be evaluated from the sweet spot relative to your speakers). My partner hears VTA changes from two rooms away, especially if I goof it up!

When VTA/SRA is spot-on, each note gets as short and tight as possible. This is easier to hear with bass notes than treble, due to their longer wavelengths. The different frequencies that make up a sound are also integrated for maximum realism and impact. Getting drum, cymbal or piano hits right works. It is much easier to hear on good recordings, acoustic instruments and top caliber vocals than on poor recordings, amplified instruments or poor quality vocals.

It is harder to hear with unipivots than with more stable arms. It is harder to hear with conical styli than elliptical, and harder with elliptical than with fine line or micro-ridge. It is harder to hear in bloomy or less resolving systems than in tight and more resolving ones.

It's also harder to hear when dancing or singing along, so Newbee, Stltrains and Styx all have strong musical arguments on their side!
Doug, One thing that never seems to get discussed when folks talk about VTA and the need for fine adjustments, or any but the most gross for that matter, is the type of stylus they are using. I suspect some folks with good systems and ears who don't hear the benefit have eliptical tips or (do they even make them anymore) conical tips, which are far less demanding than line stylus and the like. BTW, out of shear laziness I just (pre)set my VTA for record thickness now-a-days. Talk about gross! :-)

Stew, That question is downright mean! :-)

As in all things audio related you either have developed a sense of 'rightness' or you haven't. By rightness, I mean personal aural preference of how your record should sound. If you put on, for example a 180gm record and your VTA is set for 180 gm records, and the records tonal balance seems off you fiddle with the VTA a little bit. If it gets more in line with your expectations you continue 'til it doesn't get better (but don't get too anal about this). If you notice no change or it gets worse, you've got a bummer record. Thats a real problem, there are some bummer records out there and if you think you can make them all into silk purses by fiddling with VTA/VTF you're going to get very frustrated.

Have fun, don't make this into rocket science. :-)
As a newbie making coarse VTA adjustments, how do I know if I'm adjusting for differences in the record thickness.. or merely adjusting for variations in sound engineering and mastering?
Some of my records have a heavy, dark sound with lots of bass and some sound thin and bright. If it's a cd or other source, I can be assured that these differences are in the actual recording or mastering and not a VTA/vinyl thickness issue.

But with records, I suspect that I'm often using VTA as an "eq" for variations in mastering rather then as an adjustment for physical variations in the vinyl itself.

What should I be hearing to know the difference?

Even more disconcerting:
On a TT only system, how do I know I'm not using TT setup as a system eq? What if my preamp/amp/speaker combo is overly bright (or bass heavy) and I've inadvertantly compensated for it by playing with VTA and cartridge loading? What are the repurcussions, if any?
I thought Stew just asked this question, perhaps in a slightly different form.

The differences between thick and dark and thin and bright are emblematic of the differences heard when you are playing LP's of varying thickness using just one setting for everything and is IMHO why one needs to be able to adjust VTA at a minimum at least to compensate for such thickness.

An alternative for those who are trying to avoid being neurotic about adjustments is to get a cartridge with an eliptical stylus and set this up using a high quality LP which represents the thickness common to the bulk of your LP's, then just play your reords and relax and forget it. For those of different thicknesses you won't hear that big a difference and the energy/angst saved will be its own reward. BTW with experience you will in a short period of time be able to tell whether or not you have a recording problem or a set up issue. With experience. Takes time. No one can do it for you.

Regarding VTA to compensate for mastering problems. Its not an issue IMHE. You can't correct mastering problems with VTA adjustments, at least I haven't yet.

Regarding you last question. Ye old chicken/egg inquiry. What difference does it matter how you get synergy - matching the source to the electronics, matching the amp to the speakers, etc. So long as you get a sound you find acceptible when its all plugged together and turned on. Obviously it makes a difference if you have more than one source, but I suspect you knew that already.

FWIW, I can be quite anal with vinyl at times. I have a pre-amp where I can adjust loading on the fly. I've been know to change the loading to compensate for a really bright recording. I can hear the drums now, they're coming to get I know, bearing their tar an feathers.

Bottom line, do what ever feels good, even aurally. :-)
IME it's rarely possible to use VTA to balance out frequency problems from the system, room or recording. VTA adjustment just doesn't alter bass/treble balance that much. It alters bass/treble timing, which is a different thing.

As Newbee said, the only way to hear the difference between these effects is experience. Listening closely to systems other than one's own is helpful. Whether you like or dislike what you hear elsewhere, you always learn something from the experience.
I am playing with my first unipivot arm, a Kuzma StogiS, which rests in a trough of silicone damping fluid. Something strikes me as irrational about this approach. If an LP is not absolutely flat, the silicone prevents the arm from moving instantly with the up and down motion of the record surface. The result is that SRA is constantly changing, and not by a small amount I think. How can that be anything but wrong?
Giving this a bump in hope of getting a response to my post above. Where are
all the analog mavens?
Well, I'm not one of those mavens you are looking for but you sound lonely so what the hell. IMHO, fluid damping, just as putting a brush on the front of the stylus, should help out in smoothing warps, etc, in less than perfect records. You will probably see a lot less woofer cone motion when your stylus/arm encounteer a warp. That motion robs you of amp power and can alter/cause deterioration in upper frequency response. Other than that, you're probably right. Except that perhaps this damping might minimize vertical displacement somewhat you have encountered airborne vibrations or other groove defects. I don't know. Just a WAG for your entertainment. :-)
Thanks for looking out for me, Newbie. :-)

I just put on a record that is slightly warped on the outer portion and it won't track because the damping of the arm doesn't allow it to drop fast enough.
Dumb question. Can you change the viscosity of the fluid in the damper? Would that help? FWIW, some years ago I had your problem with a 'normal arm' so I thought. Well I developed what I though was a subsonic problem due to cartridge/arm mismatch. One of those mavens on the net told me I could and should add fluid to the arm at the pivit point, that it had a well for it. Well, I did and it worked. Suggests to me to ask, is there any other adjustments mentioned in the owners manual that have been overlooked?
Not a dumb question. You can change the viscosity, with mineral oil (I believe), and I think that's exactly what I should do. How much to thin it is another question, and something I could use some guidance about. Another parameter to play with is the amount of fluid in the well.

The owner's manual is not helpful on this matter.
Durbin, You need a rocket scientist. A dumb suggestion - BTW I think the mineral oil is a very safe and potentially effective oil to use - go down to the skid row part of town and bum a 'needle' from a resident. Then, once you clean it out, extract a small measured amount of the fluid in the trough and replace it with MO in the same amount. Just keep doing this until you no longer have your problem. Edison did this type of thing regularily with some success (at least with light bulbs). :-)
I don't think mineral oil will work well. It is much too thin for most tonearm damping situations.

I've not measured any of the silicone damping fluids that tonearm manufacturers' supply but I would guess they are somewhere between 2,500cs and 10,000cs perhaps more. Dow Corning is the largest manufacturer and makes a product that is 60,000cs. It pours like molasses.

I doubt if mineral oil is more than 100cs.

Good luck.
Tim at Turntable Basics sell 5 different viscosities of silicone damping fluid from 10,000 cSt (CentiStokes) to 600,000 cSt. For everything from cueing mechanisms to unipivot arms. At $10 for a 10cc syringe, you can try them all! Here is the webpage:
Bill, the idea of the mineral oil is to thin the silicone, not to be a complete replacement for it.

I am using the fluid from Turntable Basics, the 600,000 cSt version, which is what they specify for monopivot damping wells.
In that case contact AJ. He has lower viscosities available based on a conversation I had with him a couple months ago.

Sorry I misunderstood you.