VPI Traveler - nickel on the headshell worked wonders!

Hi everyone,

I've been trying to get my VPI Traveler dialed in for a few weeks now.  It sounds ok, but I was getting quite a bit of sibilance and distortion on highly modulated passages.  I tried both a Grado Reference Sonata 1 and a Dynavector 10x5 (the Dynavector had been recommended in a couple of different reviews/articles).  I tried different phono amps, different speakers, different cables, even different racks, and there was still something that seemed off.  I figured I probably had something misaligned, being a relatively new to vinyl.  

After searching the forums I saw the recommendation of putting a nickel on the headshell.  Even though I assumed my cartridge/arm match was fairly good, I gave it a shot.  HOLY S--T!  The sound became full and rich.  The highs were controlled and extended.  Sibilance sounded natural and in control.  Clearly, I needed more mass on the tonearm.   

I wouldn't have expected this much improvement if had upgraded several components.  I was thinking that the sound I was getting was just what a $1500 turntable sounded like, and I was searching the adds for an upgrade.  Now, I think I can rest easy with the cheapest tweak I've ever tried.  Nice when things take a big step in the right direction.  I thought my experience might help others in a similar situation.

Happy listening!
A better option! I use them to add mass to my SME 309!
Or this!

I trust you are rebalancing the arm when you add the nickel. A nickel weighs 5 grams. If your not, coupled to the VTF that the arm should be set at, 1.5-2.2 grams depending on your cartridge, that’s a lot of force on top of your records! I can’t imagine this kind of weight doing your records any good. Or the suspension and the cantilevers.

Are you sure the VTF was set properly for either of your cartridges? Also, what kind of alignment protractor are you using? I use the Baerwald alignment on my Traveler and the manufacturers recommended tracking force and have no problems with my Traveler - just pure, unleashed music.

The Traveler is a HiFi deck; not a DJ deck. It shouldn’t need nickels or even pennies on top of it’s headshell,. Especially with the cartridges your using. The effective mass of the Travelers tonearm is a perfect match for the compliance ratings of the cartridges you are using.  You may want to look at another solution. Good luck to you brother.

What Paraneer said. Assuming you did have the good sense to re-set VTF after adding the nickel to your headshell, the results you got suggest that there was a priori a mismatch between the effective mass of the tonearm and the compliance of either or both of the cartridges in question.  (Because adding the nickel would dramatically increase tonearm effective mass.) It would be a good idea to find out what those parameters are for your equipment and to then determine whether this is a possible explanation.  If there is no issue of compliance/effective mass mismatch, then possibly you need to remove the nickel and start over with setting up the alignment and VTF.  (A quality VTF gauge is a good investment for anyone interested in vinyl.)  This cure could be worse than the disease in the long run, for your LPs.
Yogiboy - thanks for the links.  I thought I'd try the nickel first to see what difference it made, but will definitely buy a headshell weight.

Paraneer - yes, I reset the tracking force after placing the nickel on the headshell.  I had resisted trying any additional weight because I knew that both cartridges were good matches with the tonearm.  I really don't know what the problem is that requires the additional weight.  I use the Geodisc alignment tool.  I've checked the platter, and it is level.  The tonearm is level when it's on the record, and I've been using the recommended tracking force, sometime a tenth of a gram higher to compensate for the lack of anti-skate.  I didn't know what else to try, and the nickel seems to have solved everything.  Very odd.  

Another item you can add to the headshell, one proving damping as well as mass, is the little lead weight sold at fishing supply shops. It is a thin rectangle about 1/2" X 3/4" X 1/8" (thick), with double-sided tape on one side. Just attach it via the tape to the top of your headshell, or maybe even between the bottom of the headshell and the cartridge. 
As I have experimented with set-up some more, I have found some issues with getting the tonearm set up correctly.  This is the second Traveler I have had (had to return the first one), and it has a similar tendency for the tonearm to pull back towards the outer rim of the record.  For example, even with the arm lift in place, I can't position the arm over the last track on a album to drop the needle there - it slides along the arm lift towards the rim.  

In addition, the tracking force increases significantly as the arm moves towards the center of the table.  If I place the stylus gauge where the opening track would be, I measure 1.5, but if I place it where the last track would be I get about 1.75-1.8.  Obviously, there is some type of misalignment going on here, but adjusting the VTA seems to have no impact.  There is no antiskate (and that would add to the tendency to pull towards the outer rim anyway).  I don't know why the tracking force would vary so wildly.  

For now I'm listening to my old table.  Not as good sonically as the Traveler, but at least it's aligned.  

If you have any ideas about the Traveler, I'd be happy to hear them.  As this is the second Traveler deck I've had the same issue with, it might be time for me to look elsewhere. 

Thanks, Scott
Here's my 5 cents worth.....Get in touch with VPI and have them be in on the proper resolution of your problem.  Do it right, and it won't be wrong.
The only reason you would need that nickel is if the temperature in the room is below 68 degrees.  The compliance of the cartridge goes down and the nickel will compensate for the higher resonance frequency caused by the lower temp.

Physics guys!

The only way I can think of for the VTF to vary from one position (inner/outer part of platter) versus another is friction binding in the tone arm bearings.  Maybe 3rd replacement is the charm or look for a different brand.