I use a lined index card folded in half in such a way that the blue lines are horizontal - left to right. This makes a "tent" which I put between the turntable's spindle, and the arm cued down, resting on a record. I line up the arm tube with those horizontal blue lines of the index card tent, and can see quickly if the rear of the arm is not parallel to the front. Personally, I wouldn't be overly anxious regarding VTA...if the arm is parallel, or slightly lower in the back, it is fine. An easy way to adjust the azimuth is to go to your local camera repair shop, and get an old SLR camera mirror...I'm sure he has lots of old ones hanging around and may even just give one to you. I like this mirror, because it is silvered on the face, and is far more accurate than the mirrors most people have which are silvered on the back so that the silver isn't easily scratched off. Anyway, lay the mirror in the turntable with the arm/cartridge resting on the mirror. You should adjust the arm so that looking head on at the cartridge end, the cartridge and the image of the cartridge is exactly square. Joe Grado told me about this setup, and it works well. You can also use an electrical method which others may say is far better, however, it is a pain to do, and offtimes, not nearly as effective. Once you get these two adjustments done, You don't mention what cartridge you are using... if moving coil, I would check to make sure you are happy with the loading. Personally, I don't use side thrust compensation...others do, but I hear no improvement, and indeed less performance using it. Happy listening.
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This is one of those skills that can have a definite learning curve - I know on a internet forum this will not be a popular idea- but do you have a reasonably close B&M dealer who you could pay to set this up for you -while you watched and got to ask questions?
Once you've been thru it the first time - you will have acquired a skil set that will transfer to future arm/table set ups. A good alignment gauge is a necessity - other wise you're whistlin in the dark.
The best TT/arm/cart mechanically out of alignment is going to sound worse than a much more modest combo properly dialed in.
Getting the alignment is critical before you try to optimize vta and vtf imo. Using a tool such as the one you mentioned is very good. Once you get the tonearm set up correctly where the tracking error is minimized, then move to worrying about vtf and vta. I like to set vtf first by moving up and down the acceptable range until the cartridge tracks well and it sounds best to me. I go by my ear more than any instructions or guidelines. Once i get the vtf sounding good (my universe cartridge likes a vtf on the light side) then i start making moves on vta. Again, let your ears tell you when you find the sweet spot. Also, be patient. I have found that when setting a new (but broken in) cartridge, it takes three or four sessions before i get it right. I also adjust on the same album to get the initial settings right. Once it is close on vta, i always go back and check overhang and vtf to make sure it has not drifted much. once i get it optimized, then i move based on thickness of record and how it sounds to me. In my experience, once you get to the sweet spot, you will know it because sound stage opens up, you are able to differentiate between different instruments (separation) and there is balance between bass, highs and midrange.
Hang in there, Ahochan! Trust your ears, get the alignment tool in hand that you've ordered, then take a deep breath and proceed slowly, step by step. When you have your alignment tool, start with overhang, then azimuth, then zenith. These are largely visual checks you will be making.
Setting azimuth on some cartridges can be tough if the cantilever is hidden underneath the body of the cartridge. The best tool to help you set azimuth will be a mirrored surface with scribed lines so you can see the length of the cantilever reflected in the mirrored surface (which will double the appearance of any offset) and align it to the scribed lines. Zenith is a bit crazier to get right. In all cases, keep in mind that your goal is aligning the cantilever, not the cartridge casing.
When you have your visual alignments made using your alignment tools, then move to set VTA and tracking force. Remember that these are interactive, and that some cartidges are more sensitive to VTA than others. Once you have them set approximately correct, then it's time to follow the Walker Audio instructions you found by listening and making the iterative adjustments Lloyd recommends. His directions really pay off if you're willing to invest the effort.
Among the articles you may have found online, I hope you found this one from VinylZone. It's a pretty good explanation for what you're working on:
Great suggestions from others above -- we all seem to have been preparing replies simultaneously. :-)
Sorry, forgot to mention my cartridge. Its an Audio Technica AT33EV MC. One thing that worries me a bit is that the manual for the cartridge says to set overhang to match the overhang of the cartridge that came with the table, but of course there was no cartridge installed. The pro-ject manual doesn't seem to say anything useful about overhang, so when I initially installed the cartridge I just put it about midway along the rail.
VTF: About 35 years ago I worked a Shure cartridge clinic with a engineer from the Shure factory. Folks could bring in any turntable and cartridge and we would inspect for stylus wear and set up their cartridges using a test record and oscilloscope.The engineer would always ask me for the maximum tracking force for that cartridge (regardless of manufacturer) and set the Tracking force for that. I finally asked him why the max every time - his response " Minimums are set by the marketing dept - max's by the engineering dept - believe whichever one you want". He then waited until the next V-15-II came up ( top of their line at that time) - set the VTF and antiskate for 1 gram -put it on the test record and the waveform distorted on a much lower velocity band of the test record - increased VTF and antiskate to 1.5 grams - it tracked cleanly every band on the record.
I have installed and set up several thousand cartridges since then - always have set to max.This was one of the things ( along with the outrageous performance to price ratio - always a best buy) that I liked about Grado carts - VTF 1.5 grams -period. Most of these were relatively modest tables that in the pre-CD era folks used a LOT.
YMMV - but max VTF works for me.
Stonedeaf, that was the 80's when people judged how good a cartridge was by how light the VTF was. If you sold a $100 cart with 1.5 grams listed as the VTF and some competitor sold one at the same price but listed a 1.0 gram VTF people would flock to the lighter spec'd cart.
It's not really like that anymore, thank goodness.
But you are correct in the 1970s and 1980s that is exactly how it was. It's just not that way now.
Thanks for all the tips. I'll be patient and wait for the protractor to arrive, and try it out on my own. Here's hoping the instructions are of better quality than the Pro-ject manual :)
I have also considered getting the dealer to help me set up, and I might try that if I don't get the results I want. I'm not quite sure exactly _how_ good I should expect though, all I know is that the same table and riaa stage (pro-ject tube box ii se) sounded very good in the shop.
One concern I have is that I don't have all of my reference records on vinyl yet, and some of them I have only been able to get second hand, so I don't really know if they have the potential to sound as good as the cd's.