VPI Classic/Clear Audio Maestro Wood Question

I just bought a CA Maestro Wood cartridge from an A'gon member. Per the seller, the cartridge is practically brand new and hasn't even broken in yet. The seller has great feedback and I found him to be very reliable.

I mounted the Maestro Wood myself, being careful to double check alignment, azimuth, VTF and VTA. My turntable is a VPI Classic, with the stock JMW 10.5iSE arm. As far as I can tell, the turntable and arm are in good working order. As regards azimuth, I adjusted it with both the little aluminum rod provided by VPI AND with a bubble balance. Azimuth is perfect. Ditto VTA. Oh, per VPI's suggestion, I am NOT using anti-skating force AND made sure the tone arm wire is not twisted.

After all mounting procedures were performed and double checked, I "eye-balled" the cartridge and cantilever alignment while playing a record. I noticed that as best I could tell, it seemed as though the cantilever was pulling slightly inward towards the spindle, maybe 10+ degrees. Same thing with the cartridge just sitting on a record with the platter not turning. However, when I lifted the arm, the cantilever seemed to hang straight down. Sound imaging is spot center in play mode. Ordinarily, I would have thought the cantilever was pulling slightly inward towards the spindle because of excessive anti-skating force, but as stated above, I am NOT using the anti-skating set-up.

Ok -- the question: Is it normal for the Maestro Wood cantilver to pull slightly inward towards the spindle under the circumstances described above?

One more question: I also own a CA Virtuoso Wood which needs a new stylus and cantilever. Does anyone know who the Clear Audio contact is that does the re-tips?

Thanks for the advice.
I'm certainly far from being the "house expert" here when it comes to cartridges, particularly the Clearaudio, which I've never owned, nor have I ever owned a Table with a VPI Arm on board.

But, when you say you "eyeballed" the cartridge, and cantilever alignment, this of course leaves lots of room for mis-interpretation by others.

Perhaps then, you might wish to further elaborate as to your alignment methods, what tool-tools you used?

I would assume if you're noting a cocked cantilever while in play, that perhaps at no point on the record is your cantilever-stylus properly aligned (azimuth angle) to the groove.

From the sound of it, you're possibly under an assumption that the seller somehow perhaps mis-represented what he sold you, that you're having some doubts about the hours of play, and/or the integrity of cantilever-suspension being possibly damaged from whatever possible mishap?

There may be the possibility that you may indeed have to implement some slight bit of anti-skating force, then try again, and see what the results are?

I'm of the camp that believes that absolutely no anti-skate force applied is going to necessarily be the best choice per any given application. Mark
I meant to say that at no point is "Zenith Angle" correct, not Azimuth, sorry. Mark
Mark, as I mentioned in the OP, I used both VPI's very thin aluminum bar that fits on top of the tone arm head to set azimuth. I checked the results by putting a bubble level on the top of the tone arm head. Azimuth should be fine. I used a VPI balance to set VTF and checked the results twice. I adjusted stylus overhang and offset angle using a Dennison protractor (based on Baerwold geometry) and checked my results twice. I think that's it.

And btw, I did NOT intend to imply that the seller misrepresented anything about the cartridge, including hours of use or the integrity of the cantilever. To the contrary, the seller has impeccable feedback and was a great communicator with me.

Thanks for the suggestions.
Sorry, I'm not trying to twist your comments into something else.

I see where you mentioned later about having some other clearaudio cartridge rebuilt, and I wrongly assumed you were referring to the cartridge on the table, my mistake.

But it does seem you are seeking opinion as to why this issue you note is occuring, and I assume you hadn't ever noticed such occuring with another cartridge on this table?

Hopfully, you'll get all solved, and hopefully too, others can give you better advice than I have.

Choosing not to mention any names with this reference I once read, by a very knowledgeable person who I know that posts to this forum once made a comment, along these lines I believe that if one sets up antiskate to track neutrally on a blank test track, that antiskate will most likely be set much too high.

And to further go on, he mentioned that too high antiskate will often be the cause of a cantilever that will take a permanently skewed-crooked set.

But that no antiskate at all can never cause this to happen?

And that's where I'm a bit at a loss to understand this priciple? Where one can be detrimental, but the other isn't?

Hopefully more folks can enlighten up both, and please do keep us posted on your findings. Hope you get all sorted out. Best of luck, Mark
Follow Up Note:

I rechecked my adjustments using different methodology and tools. I rechecked cartridge alignment and overhang using a recently acquired VPI jig rather than my Dennison protractor. Although both tools incorporate the Baerwald (sp?) geometry, the VPI jig enabled me to make more accurate adjustments. The VPI jig lays flatter on the platter and the brightly painted alignment grid is easier to use as a reference. I also used my bubble level in a different way to check VTA. It turns out that additional adjustments were required, especially VTA -- the tone arm had to be raised quite a bit to achieve the right SRA/VTA.

I rechecked the cantilever alignment after I made the adjustments described above. Interestingly, because I raised the tone arm to achieve better SRA/VTA, I actually had a better "look-see" of cantilever alignment. I believe the cantilever is pretty straight. It might always have been ok, it's just that because the tone arm was hanging so close to the platter, it was hard to get a good look at its position relative to the cartridge body.

Moreover, consistent with other posts in this forum, I believe the various adjustments affected the sonics somewhat. In particular, the music playback is more airy and less bassy. Imaging is correlatively improved as well. I'm still fine tuning SRA/VTA, but the adjustments are now pretty small -- on a "tweak" magnitude of change. Overall, an improvement!
Good light is important to setting up a TT. Make sure your TT is level before setting up the cartridge. A good alignment protractor is helpful as is a good digital scale, VPI setup tools, in my opinion, are a rough estimate of a set up. To set azimuth on a VPI arm the arm has to be balanced (set to proper weight) after setting the aluminum rod on the arm or the weight added by the aluminum rod can skew the results. A bubble weight can crush the cartridge. After setting azimuth with the rod it's best to visually check the cantilever for azimuth.
From your OP I think you misunderstand anti-skate:--"Ordinarily, I would have thought the cantilever was pulling slightly inward towards the spindle because of excessive anti-skating force, but as stated above, I am NOT using the anti-skating set-up"-- When antiskate is applied it prevents the arm from being excessively pulled to the spindle. On a VPI TT the external anti-skate rig is probably not recommended but one twist of the tone arm wire might be a good idea.
It takes time, a long time, to get it perfect.
Mjglo, Thanks for your comments.

I agree 100% with what you said, particularly using the bubble level to adjust azimuth. Hence, I set the azimuth with the level using the tonearm lift to gently lower the arm to just touch the record a tad. I then checked the level at the point of contact and determined which way to rotate the tonearm weight. The process was iterative and a pain in the as* because the adjustments were just a hair touch and everytime I screwed with azimuth, I affected VTF. FWIW, I agree that using the bubble level could damage the cantilever unless extreme care is used, but it's inherently much more accurate than using the aluminum rod. The rod is useful to do an "eyeball-double check" of azimuth. You're right . . . it takes time and patience.

BTW, as I mentioned above, I do not use the external AS rig, but as you said, just a little twist of the arm wire is plenty.

It has taken time, but it was fun!
Another simple method to fairly accurately eyeball azimuth angle, and will be free of cost, is use a thin mirror to set the Stylus upon, and the symmetry of the Stylus, and the reflection of the Stylus in the mirrror should be noticeable if it is off.

What you're looking to achieve-see, is a precisely symmetrical hourglass shape.

And the Mirror can be something as simple as a CD you don't much care about, to set the Stylus upon. Neither Glass, or Plastic will hurt the Stylus.

This view of the Stylus from the exact front of the cartridge can be enhanced by the use of a Jeweler's Loupe, or a magnifier.

Glad to hear things are getting better with the set-up! Mark
Azimuth can only be ball parked by levelling. I'm not saying you're wrong to do it that way, but ultimately there are better ways to align the actual stylus with the groove rather than aligning the body. The azimuth adjustment is one for lowest crosstalk. If you have a balance control you can do it by ear and a mono record, preferably a vocal. You can get a test record with tones to set azimuth. These are 1KHz tones in one channel at a time. You adjust it so you have equal output in whichever channel is quiet - balanced. A tech can view the outputs on a scope or a computer screen. You can also buy programs or testers that will help you. Soundsmith has a set-up device for $900 that will do everything but your dishes. Feikert had a program for $350 that you use with your PC. I really don't think they are necessary if you're willing to spend a little extra time. An Analogue Productions test record is $50. Most of the tests require test equipment that only a tech has. You can do azimuth by ear and a balance control, just like a mono record.

Every set-up parameter is interrelated. Sometimes when you make an adjustment, another has to be tweaked. I'm not sure whether you were referring to the back or front of your cantilever being angled. But you have to be sure you're viewing straight on and not at an angle. Your lighting has to be even and not coming from one side or the other. This will effect results. It could easily look different than it really is. If the arm is closer to the spindle than the needle is, you need more anti-skate, and visa versa. Yes, it can change the angle of your cantilever. The thing is, anti-skate requirements vary at different parts of the record and at different groove velocity. So you should find a setting that sounds reasonable for what you normally listen to. Skating force is very real and to think otherwise is deluding yourself. I have no experience with a VPI arm, maybe you always have some anti-skate?

You might want to consider Soundsmith to re-tip your Virtuoso. For $350 you can get a ruby cantilever/micro stylus. I'm sure this will outperform the stock stylus. It will probably better the Maestro. It appears to me that all the CA MMs share the same generator, at least the top ones. Inductance and resistance are identical.
You simply can not "eyeball" that rod correctly. My suggestion is to put some small block of wood...dominos, Cardas blox, etc. under the ends of that rod so that you can determine if it is indeed square. I suspect you are very much off the mark. In addition, I would be very suspect of that cartridge...
Stringreen, thanks for your suggestion -- it makes sense. What do you think about my careful use of placing a tiny bubble level on the tone arm head just over the cartridge, perpendicular to the tone arm wand, to measure azimuth? As I mentioned in a post above, I take great care when lowering the tone arm onto the record to avoid crushing the cantilever.

FWIW, after I very carefully adjusted azimuth using this method, I double checked my results with the VPI aluminum bar thingy. Based on an "eye-ball look see," it seemed as though azimuth was lookin' good.
Actually, I use a carpenters level with the weight of it in my hands...I just touch the top of the tonearm head and adjust the rear counterweight so that the bubble is absolutely cenetered. This works if and only if the cartridge stylus was mounted perpendicular. I trust my Benz LP, however, there are many top of the line cartridges that are not manufactured with such precision.
Stringreen, my bubble balance level is part of a 40+ year old Sumiko Dennison protractor kit. The bubble level is about an inch or inch and a half long, is made of plastic and is very light. Even still, I am very careful when lowering the tone arm so as not to crush or damage the cantilever assembly of my cartridge. IMHO, I believe the bubble level is very accurate. Hey, at least I'm tryin' to get it right!
Where's Doug Deacon when you need him?! lol

Speaking of Doug, I have not seen him post here in some time. Is he OK? Anybody know?

Somehow, I hope some of what I wrote might be of help.
Never forget to cover all bases I say, and one should not ever overlook things that are assumed, and thought to be correct.

You can best believe, any Unipivot Arm is going to be a PITA to set up. That you're going to have to invest more time, versus a dual pivot design.

Tools help. And the better the tools, the better the accuracy.

But Doug's advice always rings in the back of my mind.
His take will usually always revert back to trusting your ears.

That one cannot solely rely on VTF Scales, no matter if it is a $600 Winds Scale. That 1.7g VTF might work just perfectly on your friends Dyna DRT XV-1 Cartridge, but that doesn't mean yours will follow suit.

Nor any form of tool to aid Azimuth will necessarily be ultimately best, that the ears will always be the final criterion in most matters concerning vinyl playback.

About the only tool perhaps one shou;d place sole trust in, is a highly accurate Protractor. And which one is that?

Many have opted for the MintLP Arc Tractor, versus VPI, Dennison, Fiekert, etc etc. I myself think it is an outstanding tool, with little peer.

When people like Thom Mackris of Galibier suggest such, and another common sense no BS person such as Bill Feil conclude to settle on such as a no holds barred, no BS tool as thE MintLP Protractor, trust that they can find no reason to slam such in any form.

Keep experimenting. You'll most likely continue to improve your set-up. Mark
Hi Mark -- you're 100% correct. I'm still fiddling.

My most recent tweak is VTF. Clear Audio recommends between 2 amd 2.5 grams, with 2.2 grams recommended. I followed that recommendation, but I noticed that there was a low frequency resonance when I played classical music and the cellos and basses came on line, probably somewhere between 50 and 100 Hz.

I turned off my sub woofer, but still the resonance; the sub rolls off at 40 Hz. I fiddled around with VTA which resulted in a very slight improvement, but the low frequency resonance was still there. I then rechecked alignment -- no problem there. Azimuth was ok too.

So, I turned back to VTF. I increased weight. Yuck - even worse and the top-end took a vacation. I tried damping fluid. Worse still. I then lowered VTF to 2 grams and got rid of the damping fluid. The resonance disappeared and the top-end came back from vacation. Tomorrow, I may try reducing VTF by another .1 or .2 grams and see what gives.

Ok, so it was fun when I started, but now I'm getting bored. I just want to enjoy my music and stop listening to my equipment.

I share this tale because my experience shows just how much tweaking this arm requires. Hopefully, there WILL be an end-point, and then I can get back to the music. Also, I agree 100% with your comment "that the ears will always be the final criterion in most matters concerning vinyl playback." FWIW