Weird issue with my VPI... please help

I have a VPI Scoutmaster with a Shelter 501 MKII cartridge.

This is fairly new, so cartridge has maybe 40 hours on it.

Imagine a graphic EQ where you pushed the lowest band up full... and did the same to one other band in the upper midrange... and that's what it sounds like.

I thought it was something else in the playback chain, but I've isolated it to the turntable (switched phono stages to be sure). Other sources play fine so it's not the preamp or speakers etc.

Any ideas? I don't know if it's always been like this because when I first got the turntable I had some serious speaker issues where I couldn't hear the difference between any electronics (had a very muddy sound). Now that I have that cleared up (CDs sound great) I can hear the difference between different preamps etc... so I finally sit down to hear what my new vinyl collection actually sounds like... only to find out I have a problem of sorts.

The cartridge was setup by where I bought the turntable.

Any help much appreciated!
Try another cartridge? Even a cheap one will let you know if the problem persists. If not, suspect the Shelter.
What's your phono pre and what settings are you using?
I had a Shelter 501 II for a long time and could never get the system balance sounding natural. I changed out everything except the Shelter with no improvement. Then one day I sold the Shelter and bought a Benz. That fixed the problem nicely. Maybe Elusive Disc would swap you out for a different cartridge. Even the less expensive Benz Ace sounded a lot better than the Shelter 501 in my system.

They may tell you it needs more break-in, or to change the loading, etc., but I bet changing the cartridge will be the best fix. I wasted a lot of time and effort trying to get my Shelter to perform respectably but in the end, it never happened. Good luck to you.
I'm thinking it's something in the set-up of the cartridge. Being set up, and then shipped, something could easily have gotten out of whack. It's a good and rewarding thing to learn proper set-up, and not that difficult to do, with the right tools. I, as well as a growing number of members, have found the Mintlp BestTractor to be the most precise tool to use for cartridge/arm effective length, and overhang. They are only about $95, though ti is made specifically for the table/arm you order it for.

I wouldn't want to give up on what may be a good cartridge without knowing the set-up is right first. JMHO

Good luck,

Thanks for all your help.

I am using an Aesthetix Rhea. I forget what gain I am using, but I did read up in both the Shelter and Rhea manuals to determine which gain. Reading up on the Rhea, I tried different loads to see if it would help, but it didn't.

I tried my first turntable (Rega P3-24) and it sounded pretty darn normal, so I'm pretty sure it's the Shelter. It almost sounds like the phase is shifting, like it's not playing one channel consistently. Just happened to play Dream On by Aerosmith and a guitar lick that I know very well that is localized to one channel wasn't even audible. It truly sounds, well, wrong.

I know nothing about turn table setup. Was trying to purchase Michael Fremer's DVD from AcousticSounds for a while now, but it's been backordered. Can anybody point me in the right direction to learn about setup? Where would I buy this Mintlp BestTractor tool?
First, I wouldn't play any more vinyl until you're confident the alignment is proper. You stand to irreparably damage the records.

Second, I've found that Benz and Dynavector cartridges perform better than Shelters in VPI arms.

I heard the 501 on a VPI aries and it sounded fine. I personally have an VPI 10.5 i arm and a shelter 7000 and a rhea and its magical (set up by me using Harry's instructions). My thoughts- read and use Harry's instructions especially focus on the VTA. The shelter is a fine match for the tone arm. Setting up a tone arm and then shipping it is useless in my opinion. Tone arms are extremely sensitive and moving the table around even in the car will screw up the set up. Fremer's DVD is excellent but Harry's instructions work just fine.
I would also suspect and look at tweaking the VTA. Does your arm allow for easy consistent adjustments there? The Shelter is a hell of a cartridge and should be fantastic if it's VTA is adjusted correctly and this can be done by ear.
"........It almost sounds like the phase is shifting, like it's not playing one channel consistently. Just happened to play Dream On by Aerosmith and a guitar lick that I know very well that is localized to one channel wasn't even audible. It truly sounds, well, wrong."

I'd check the connections at the cartridge. Sounds like it may be wired out of phase......

Is the Rhea phase inverting? Some phono pre's are. If so, you need to connect the cart out of phase to compensate for this.
You could have a bad cartridge. I bought a Benz L2 which gave me fits trying to zero it in. A test record showed that it would not pan which seems like your problem as well. Anyway I sent it back to the factory for inspection and they concluded that the coil windings were faulty and replaced the cartridge.

The only way to know is to check all the setup parameters and if it is setup correctly and you still have the same problem, I'd talk to the Dealer about checking the cartridge for defects
What you describe is NOT a VTA issue. I don't even know how you can set the VTA to get what you are hearing. The cartridge may be connected out of phase. Easy enough to check.
OK, here's some more info.

When I first noticed how weird it sounded (absent midbass etc) I quickly tried another phono stage - a Pro-ject Tube Box SE II and in about 30 seconds assessed that it didn't sound much different (leading me to suspect the cartridge or turntabe setup).

This morning I tried the Tube Box again with the Aerosmith LP and it played the 'missing lick' just fine; also noticed the soundstage was much wider than the Rhea. Going back to the Rhea it pretty much collapses to the center. If I really listen closely, I can hear the missing lick, but it's normally mixed very forward. You'd think if it wasn't playing one channel it would be obvious (e.g. the image wouldn't be centered between the speakers). So there's something wrong with the Rhea.

But it doesn't stop there exactly. While it sounds better on the inexpensive Tube Box phono stage, it still doesn't sound at all full - like there are dips all over the place. It's not the speaker or preamps because If I play a CD, the frequency spectrum is fine.

Any suggestions?
Starting to really sound like a bad cart. Could have an intermittent coil connection... I'd contact the dealer.
Must be a wiring issue within the cartridge.

My experience is that Shelter performs absolutely outstanding in a VPI TT, so stick with it and isolate the problem.
Bad setup error that I know will make a cartridge sound like that. I agree about Shelter cartridges...they sound fine in a VPI arm. Call back your dealer, explain the problem and get an RA number to send it back.
Shelters are low to medium compliance cartridges. As such the ideal tonearm for them is not a unipivot such as VPI. Of course they will "work", but won't be optimized. The cartridge/tonearm combination is critical for top performance.

In fact, Shelters do much better in fixed bearing tonearms.

Anybody with analog experience would know this.
The fact that Shelters do better in fixed bearing arms is not the issue. Madfloyd's complaints are not of optimumization, but of severe frequency response errors. I suspect a bad cartridge the replacement of which will sound very good indeed. ..just my suggestion.
I have a scoutmaster with the signature arm from elusive disk, which I originally bought with the Shelter 501.

The problem is that the cartridge is too light for the signature arm. With the counter weight pushed forward all the way, the maximum tracking force is 1.45 grams,

Most people say the shelter tracks best at 1.85 grams. I had to remove the fine tracking bolt in the back of the arm in order to increase the tracking force to 1.85 grams. It makes tuning the arm more difficult since you no longer have fine-tuning capabilities.

My opinion: the cartridge should not be sold with the signature tonearm unless it includes the 3 gram headshell weight.

The Shelter sounds better once you increase the vertical tracking force. Setting the azimuth properly is also critical for getting it to track right. I got to where it sounded sweet, but was unable to get rid of a lot of noise. Since I decided to upgrade to the 10.5i arm and higher-end dynavector cartridge, I gave up on setting the cartridge up correctly, which takes a lot of time. So I can’t really tell you how good it can sound.

I hope this helps.
>>The fact that Shelters do better in fixed bearing arms is not the issue<<

Your prior comment Stringbean-
"I agree about Shelter cartridges...they sound fine in a VPI arm"

You can't have it both ways.
I wonder if it was a mistake getting the signature arm? I understand that this arm is brighter sounding and that using a Dynavector on it would be too bright (and the reason ElusiveDisc says most people prefer the Shelter with it).

Any thoughts on this?
I don't believe the problem you are having has anything to do with cart/arm mismatch. I still believe you either have a bad cart, or it was incorrectly connected causing a phasing problem. his usual arrogant best!!
VPI can be adjusted with added weight at the headshell end. If this is how the setup was done I don't know, but that is the reason Harry provides it. When I heard the VPI/Shelter table, it sounded excellent to me. Audiofiel...I'm just stating the facts as I see/hear/read them. I'm not being biased or snotty nor am I trying to have it both ways. Read carefully what I say and take issue or not..that's what this hobby and these posts are all about. If I made my living selling high end goods to those whose interest is high end, I would be more careful in what I say...
Madfloyd... The VPI Signature 9 incher works extremely well with Dynas and Benz's. The "signature" is mainly the use of Nordost tonearm wiring (there is additional tonearm tube damping). I must admit it doesn't sound very good at all when new. My tonearm (or cartridge - but I suspect it was the tonearm Nordost) took hundreds of hours to break in. Be patient though, the rewards are great. A light bulb just went off as I wrote this. There are those that really badmouth VPI arms. I'm just wondering if they heard one that wasn't yet broken in... just wondering.
Those people who are Anti-VPI tonearm people might also check out Here is a listing of tonearms that rank the VPI 10.5i in the same category as Graham and Triplanar. Don't believe everything in print..especially on the internet, however, it is interesting.
Dynavector does work very well in the signature arm. Not bright, but well balanced (amazing with those high-rez 45 lp's). You might consider getting another cartridge, something fairly inexpensive yet good, to see if that takes care of the problem. It's good to have a spare cartridge around, too. I happen to have Fremer's set-up disc, and I'm through with it now. Send me an email, and we can probably work something out, if you like. Best of luck, Dan
Madfloyd. I upgraded to the Signature arm and never looked back. It was a very good upgrade which I would recommend. My room is an untreated living Room. If I have any problem with it, it would be its slight tendency towards brightness on some albums. I have noticed no undue brightness with the Sig arm. Tighter bass and more detail is what I heard. There is no more tendency towards brightness with the Sig arm than the standard arm. I have used a Dyna 20XL and a Benz Ebony L with great success.
As someone else has said, your problem is not the arm/cart match. I suspect a bad cartridge.

If I'm not mistaken, the Dyna 20 is $700 and the Benz Ebony L is $3500?

What are the sonic differences between the two? Which do you use now?

Received my (Michael Fremer) setup DVD and Analog test LP so hopefully I can learn a bit over the next few days and rule out poor setup, but at this point I'm figuring it's either the cartridge or just the sound of VPI.

I've played some more LPs over the past few days and it doesn't sound so much out of phase as a total lack of midbass and midrange, very thin highs. I'm now worried because I've been getting some private emails suggesting I may just not like the VPI sound.
It's not the sound of VPI. Look elsewhere.
Madfloyd. The Ebony is brand new and is not broken in. Maybe only 2 hrs on it so far. That said, it does everything on a bigger scale than the 20XL and has a better separation of instruments. But the 20 XL is indeed a good cart and doesn't need to apologize for its performance when matched against the Ebony. The Ebony is a better cart without a doubt. But is it 5 times better? probably not. Then too, the Ebony is not broken in.
That said, I have never heard anyone say bad things about the Shelter cart. I've heard of others who are using it on the Sig 9 arm with great success. I doubt it is the VPI sound that is the problem. I doubt it is an arm/cart mismatch. I also doubt it is a setup issue. Even so, I'd still check it.
FWIW, with my bad Benz cart, some albums sounded good while others that I knew were recorded well sounded very bad. I'd send the cart back to have it checked.
Thanks, Artemus.
Artemus..remember that the better the component, the car, the wine, the watch, etc., etc., the bigger the price which goes up exponentially. Therefore the Ebony may only be better in some ways..maybe even marginally better, but to get that bump in resolution, smoothness, wide soundstage, depth, have to pay, baby, pay.
i ordered my Fermer Set-up DVD from Barnes and Noble. They even honored my coupon!

Stringreen. The Ebony is starting to open up very nicely to the point where my previous comments should be revised and extended. Sure, the 20XL is a good cart for its price point, but at this point the Ebony is starting to show that it will be a great deal better than the 20.
The sound stage is huge. The layering is captivating. The bass is deep to the point that I can almost hear the string resonating at times. I don't know all the appropriate audiophile terms but I know that it is besting the 20 by a wide margin as it should. In spite of the law of diminishing returns, I have no regrets with my purchase but must admit that my first impression was somewhat lackluster. But that is changing very quickly. I still only have 3-4 hrs on it so I expect even more to come.
I am using the Benz LP, and it took this cartridge a very, very long time to really come alive...maybe hundreds of hours. Maybe it was the Nordost cable in the arm, but patient. You have a very low output cartridge so you have to be careful that it is set up properly with the preamp.