VTA for arm vs VTA for cartridge

Hi have a Thorens 125 MKII, SME 3009 Series II tone arm and Grado Gold cartridge.

I've been looking for a better bass response, and decided to reassess my VTA.

It was set for the tone arm (arm horizontal to the record, or nearly so). I tried lowering it, but didn't get the improvement in bass I was hoping for.

Something motivated me to check my cartridge instructions. The VTA for the cart is supposed to be set so that the base is horizontal. Because of the way its designed the arm ends up angling down. This makes sense as far as the cart is concerned, even if it defies the tone arm instructions.

I have a thick mat which makes it impossible to get this exactly right. But it is just a bit lower now than the correct VTA now.

Here's the interesting thing. When I compare the bass and highs, etc. in recordings from both VTA setups I don't hear much difference. In fact, the bass seems a little more prominent in the VTA I set had originally set for the arm.

Maybe it all too subtle to tell with my headphones right now.
Here's my opinion:

1. The best you can do is only get the best AVERAGE VTA across all your albums. To get the correct VTA you'd need to adjust it for each record as there are many variables that will change from LP to LP such as thickness of vinyl and the original angle of the "needle" on the lathe used to cut that album.

2. There is no such thing as a VTA setting for your arm. VTA refers to the vertical tracking angle of the cantilever to the LP surface. We refer to the arm's role such that if the arm is parallel, we assume the VTA for your cart's cantilever is close to where it will sound best across a variety of albums.

3. You can also set your vertical tracking force to adjust VTA.
Gritingrooves, various cartridges are more and less sensitive to changes in VTA. Grados typically are pretty tolerant of VTA and typically don't change much sonically with small changes in VTA (unlike some other cartridges). Trust what your ears are telling you about the best setting. Many Grado models seem to sound best with a slightly lowered VTA (the arm slightly down at the rear). As you comment, give priority to the cartridge manufacturer's recommendations because of variances in alignment of the cartridge body from manufacturer to manufacturer.
You really shouldnt use VTA as a tone control. The idea is to get the best from the cartridge. VTA also changes depth, air, etc. Make it ALL work for you, not just the bass or treble.
Stringreen is 100% correct
Thanks, folks,

Stringreen, and all of you, points well taken. The motivation for taking on this hassle has been as sense that I was not getting the best sound, and apparently missing bass was the main clue. I certainly am listening to everything (checking distortion vs clarity, etc.)

The following URL gave me the sense that it was worth taking a shot at adjusting the VTA. I had tried tweaking the VTF but it didn't seem to help.


I've received feedback elsewhere that the "bottom" of my particular cartridge (which is not parallel to the shell) is not good for setting the VTA. It raises the arm significantly and can cause tracking and distortion problems.

Given that, I don't understand why Grado would make that recommendation. The drawing on the instruction sheet that came with the cart actually shows the flat part above the stylus being parallel to the record. That's what I tried to emulate.

Back to the allen wrench!

Based on the feedback so far, it sounds like getting one of those devices that lets you find tune the VTA is not worth the cost and effort.


- gritingrooves
Sorry, meant to use this URL at the end:

Follow Lloyd Walker's fine tuning instructions to which you provided the link, Gritingrooves. After getting the arm and cartridge in place as best you can visually, let your ears be your guide in the iterative listening process Lloyd describes and you will get good results. This is the best process for fine tuning a turntable setup I've ever used.
I contacted Grado, and got the feedback that "cartridge must be parallel to the record". Guess the tone arm requirements are secondary.

So, at least according to the cart maker, that is my starting point.
Yes, agree the cartridge should be your starting point. The angle of the arm is irrelevant in and of itself. This is all about getting the angle of the stylus in the groove set correctly. Here's a good diagram illustrating what you're looking to accomplish.
On almost all of the arms I am familiar with, the arm tube is parallel to the headshell, even if both are not in the same plane. Assuming that the cartridge bottom is parallel to its top, then, all three -- arm tube, headshell and cartrige would be fixed at the same angle. Therefore, if the manufacturer says to keep the cartridge parallel to the record, the easiest way to determine this is to look at the arm tube because of its much greater length. I like using a ruled 3 x 5 index card placed behind the tonearm when the arm is on the record surface in the playing position. This establishes a parallel starting point from which one can make adjustments.

If the sound is brittle, sibilant and harsh sounding, one needs to lower the arm. If it sounds too shutdown on top, muddled and dull (like a blanket has been thrown over the speaker) then raise the arm at the base. Lowering the arm may restore bass that is lost due to incorrect VTA, but, it cannot really ADD bass that is not there in the system. I personally would not use VTA adjustment as a means to increase bass -- correct VTA improves imaging, top end response, recovery of room ambience cues, etc., more than anything else.
I just read that you do your evaluations with headphones. I have the Sennheiser 650's with Cardas balanced upgraded cables and use the Headroom Blockhead (top of the line) headphone amp. The sound is in many ways better than my speakers, but for some reason is much less sensitive to the fine adjustments on the cartridge/arm/table interface. I don't know why, but to really evaluate the differences, I have to use the speakers.