tracking ability definition


i am a little confused as to what the term "tracking ability" means when referring to a cartridge/stylus and how this translates to percieved sound? could anyone explain?

reason i ask is i recently received an response from KAB regarding my question about the difference between the Trackmaster II AE and the ortofon pros40, saying that the Trackmaster II AE has "fuller midrange and best tracking ability" while the Ortofon pros40 has "more transparent treble and punchier tighter bass"

would i be right in assuming that this means the stylus makes good contact with the groove therefore better reading the recorded sound and playing it more accurately, with more detail?
fadeawayman
I think that your last paragraph really sums it up in a non-technical manner.

The stylus/cartridge should be perpendicular to the record groove. However, with a tonearm on a pivot, it will sweep across the record in an arc. The difference is called tracking error. The purpose of cartridge alignment is to minimize the tracking error. A fellow named Baerwald wrote a paper on tonearm geometry sixty or seventy years ago. His conclusion was that the cartridge should be aligned so that it is right on the perpendicular at 6.6 cm. and 12.1 cm. from the turntable spindle. This will minimize the tracking error and it is how cartridge alignment gauges are (should be) calibrated.

A linear tracking turntable eliminates this type of tracking error by having the whole tonearm slide across the turntable, rather than move on a pivot.

Also, think of a car going around a curve in the road. Some will hug the corner; some will rock outwards due to centrifugal force. Since the cartridge/tonearm is describing an arc, it is going around a curve constantly, except for the points 6.6 cm. and 12.1 cm. from the centre. A well designed cartridge and tonearm will ride the curve more easily, thereby keeping better contact with the record groove.
As I understand it, the tracking ability of a cartridge is the ability of the cartridge to maintain the stylus in the groove of a record in order to extract the maximal information. Lower tracking forces prolong the life of your stylus and reduce record wear, but make the cartridge more susceptable to tracking error (stylus literally being transiently thrown from the groove during playback). Shure used to make an evaluation (test) recording that demonstrated, among other things, tracking ability, and one could actually see how well their own particular setup tracked the Shure "torture grooves" of the test record. Others please join in and let me know if I have it wrong.
Hello again. I just thought of something else. In my previous post, I described tracking error as the difference between a cartridge moving across the record perpendicularly, and a cartridge moving across the record in an arc. Some tonearms can mimimize the effect of this error a bit if it holds the groove well. This is "linear tracking error"

If the linear tracking is off, the cartridge isn't situated properly in the record groove. The stylus will be pushing against the outer side of the groove and not making as good a contact with the inner side of the groove. This imbalance in pressure on either side of the groove will cause a loss of detail on information recorded on the inner side. It may also cause an imbalance in the signal from one channel to the next.

There is also "vertical tracking error". Vertical tracking error occurs when the angle of the stylus on playback is different than the angle of the cutting stylus which made the record. You adjust for this by raising or lowering the height of the tonearm at its pivot point. If the tonearm is too high, the sound will tend to be bright, maybe even a bit screechy in extreme circumstances. If the tonearm is too low, the sound will be darker and muddier.
Dear Fadeawayman: +++++ " would i be right in assuming that this means the stylus makes good contact with the groove therefore better reading the recorded sound and playing it more accurately, with more detail? " +++++

+++++ " As I understand it, the tracking ability of a cartridge is the ability of the cartridge to maintain the stylus in the groove of a record in order to extract the maximal information. " +++++

That is all about in plain terms.

IN two cartridges with similar performance I will choose the one with better tracking ability.
There are several parameters that define the better or worse tracking subject, between them: compliance and kind of cartridge suspension, tip mass ( stylus ), kind of stylus and tonearm matching. Normally the high compliance/low tip mass are the best trackers.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Do not confuse tracking error, which is the degree to which the stylus remains tangent to the groove as it traverses the record, with tracking ability, which is the ability of the stylus to maintain constant contact with both groove walls while playing highly modulated passages. The importance of this is two fold, if the cartridge loses contact with the groove wall, the sound will distort, but of more importance, when the stylus engages the groove wall once again, it can damage the soft vinyl and essentially take a divot out of the groove wall, much as a golfer takes a divot when swinging low upon tee off. This damage cannot be reversed. Interestingly, proper tracking ability in modern cartridges has more to do with the compatibility of the arm and cartridge, and correct alignment geometry, than in any specific tracking problems of the cartridge itself, Decca cartridges excepted.
Dear Viridian: +++++ " tracking ability in modern cartridges has more to do with the compatibility of the arm and cartridge, and correct alignment geometry, than in any specific tracking problems of the cartridge itself, " +++++

Your statement it is not exactly true, the cartridge itself is the first subject on the tracking ability issue.

Take any 5-6 modern cartridges, each one matched with the tonearm and make a test of tracking ability ( usually in a test record at 315 Hz ) and you will find that each one has different tracking ability: 70um, 80um, 100um, etc etc.

The tracking ability subject is a critical issue and the cartridge designers take care in extreme about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Raul, my friend, I would agree with you as far as test records are concerned, but most of the modern cartridges that I have used in a sympathetic arm will track all modern, undamaged, records without tracking distortion, the Telarc 1812 excepted. I would certainly defer to your experience though, as you have tried far more cartridges and arms than I ever will. Or anyone else probably will as well!

Fadeawayman, click on Rauls system if you want to know why he is a true authority on all things analog and has a fantastic base of experience as well. It will be worth it.
Marty
those are GREAT explanations, thank you! I have learned a lot so far. Raul you said:
++IN two cartridges with similar performance I will choose the one with better tracking ability.++
i am having a hard time deciding between 2 cartridges, the trackmaster II AE and the pros40.. punchy bass is very important to me (for rock) and that is how the pros40 is described. however the trackmaster is described as having better tracking ability, and in your opinion tracking ability is paramount.

however, you also aim for accuracy (and probably acheive it to a high degree), which is a luxury i cannot afford.. i think at the level i am at budgetwise (poor music lover) it is all about deciding what KIND of distortion is acceptable (please let me know if you disagree). will it be 'punchy bass' or will it be 'emphasized midrange' or something else.

listening at home is a lot of rock, pop, electronic music and classical. in classical my favourite things to listen to are solo piano, cello, guitar and violin. not so much orchestral music however.

one knows what a piano sounds like, one knows what a cello sounds like. when they are distorted, it becomes obvious and ugly. an overdriven guitar amp or a drum machine on the other hand have no frame of reference and therefore do not require an accurate playback system as much as acoustic music. sometimes, in my experience, a distorted (i use this term loosely to describe any discrepancy between the recording and the playback) playback system will embellish or 'sweeten' a rock/pop recording (especially given that many rock/pop recordings are sub par, overcompressed etc, their aim is to sound good on car speakers and ipod headphones).

sorry i go off on a bit of a tangent here because i am thinking out loud in the context of choosing a cartridge/stylus that will be best for me playing all types of music, but wanting 'impact' with rock/pop.

raul i had a look at your system and oh my do i feel like a novice (which i am of course). i am also impressed with your commitment to attaining neutrality and accuracy through a 'less is more' approach.

its real hard making buying decisions without hearing...
Dear Marty: +++++ " but most of the modern cartridges that I have used in a sympathetic arm will track all modern, undamaged, records without tracking distortion " +++++

I agree. However this is true at low recording velocities. Where the tracking ability is really showing is on those tracks or part of a track where was recorded at higher velocity, maybe ( till today ) you never put serious attention on it but I can asure you that ( between some limits ) you can perceive changes in the sound reproduction between two cartridges because the tracking distortion, those changes usually are not evident but exist, usually like sound " colorations ".

This tracking ability is like a car on the road: any car can track very well almost any road at 60 mile/hour but tracking that same road at 100 mile/hour is different, maybe two differents cars could track but certainly there will be differences ( because the car suspension and tires type ) on how well each one do the tracking. You know what I mean?

The tracking ability on a cartridge is of great importance and many of us don't think about to often but for the cartridge designer is one of his more important targets. Remember, at the end, that the very hard/critical/delicate task of any cartridge is that: tracking a record, this ability ( at any recording velocity ) is of paramount importance for the quality sound reproduction.
The cartridge tracking ability has to handle not only the low or high velocities but the instant changes in velocity that was on the recording, like I say: very hard task!!!!.

Btw, thx for your kind words.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Fadeawayman : I think that the KAB people know-how about cartridge tracking ability is near cero, let explain me:

the Ortofon Pro S40 measure a tracking at 90um!!!!!. This measure is on the high value about cartridge tracking. Usually a MC cartridges stay between 70 and 90um and only a few on the 100um!!!!!.

So, the Pro S40 is the way to go. No question about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Raul, the trackmaster I am comparing it to has a tracking ability of 100um, even higher!

Thanks for your suggestions and advice.
Dear Fadeawayman : I think that with these two high tracking ability values you can't have any problem about tracking distortion with any standard LP but the Telarc 1812, at least I'm sure you can't heard it through your today system.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
I would make my choice depending on which sound quality you are seeking. From their description - I have not heard either cartridge - I would say to go for the Trackmaster if your taste runs to classical, vocal, acoustic jazz, or if your system is too brash or too lean. The Pro 40 may be the ticket for rock, dance, hip-hop or if your system sounds a bit tame or warm. Of course, these would be generalizations.

I forgot to ask, but I assume that you are using a Technics 1200 as your deck.
i decided on the pro S40 for my 1200. mainly because rock pop etc is most important to me. thanks again for the suggestions!
I have heard the Ortofon Super OM-40, which is similar to the Pro 40, I think that you will just love it. The 1200 is a great table as well. Best of luck.