I think of it in terms of the rear of the arm because that is what is happening to change the VTA. The stylus/cantilever acts as a fulcrum or pivot point in this adjustment.
1) raising rear of arm ~ more crispness of highs and sharpened bass
2) lowering rear of arm ~ less air in the highs and more boominess in the bass
Focus on listening to the vocals, the goal is to find the setting that results in no excessive sibilance nor boom in the body of the voice; get the vocal clear and natural with the best annunciation quality and the rest will follow.
Also do this with 180 gram disc; this is a good average weight that should work for most other disc thicknesses.
Read Lloyd Walker's article on fine tuning your turntable
. Be careful not to listen to a single instrument or just voice. Instead, listen to complex music (large ensemble jazz or orchestral). You also need to listen for soundstaging and resolution of inner detail. What Stevecham describes is good, but you can get mislead listening only to voice.
I actually listen for the surface noise on the record moving to a different spatial plane from the recording.
I tuned it to the sound of a Cembalo in the midst of an orchestral Bach suite with excellent success. On an Eterna digital recording no less. The VTA was right, when the cembalo sound became clear and airy and the soundstage opened up both in depth and width.
What Viridian has mentioned is exactly the side-effect of a properly set VTA in my experience.
I hear a shift between muddy slow plodding muffled sound (VTA too low)- to shrill, hurt the ears, ringing nastiness.
With my line contact stylus the correct setting is quite precise and the range of acceptable is narrow.
This is an interesting but very controversial subject as it relies a lot on what people hear and how they describe what they hear. I am not saying VTA makes no difference but your great question will be answered correctly by a lot of people who sound like they are disagreeing. I know it makes a difference to get it right and once you hear that sweet spot, you will understand. In my experience it is like the music becomes distinct notes with beginnings and endings. The sound stage or spatial impression of the different instruments becomes more apparent. There is a smooth transition from treble to bass without ringing(tinny sound) or slurring particularly in the bass. What is hard about this is that some cartridges seem to have a very small "sweet spot" versus others. The other thing that one must tweak when you move VTA is the VTF as they play off each other to some extent. (IMO only). My experience with the ZYX Universe is that a VTF on the lighter side of the acceptable range with a slight tail down is close to the sweet spot, then slowly move up a small amount, then move down over a listening session. One small tweak is to wait until the second or third record to do serious adjustments. I do believe it takes a couple of records to get the suspension loose. Also on cold days, it may take a little longer if you let it get too cool.
I agree, again.
One thing that has helped me a lot is to play many records within a boxed set. Then you can be pretty sure the pressings are more or less uniform in vinyl thickness and the cutting angle. One set I have has aprox 100 records in it of all different periods in classical music. You get harpsichord - very difficult if the VTA is too high - strings, organ music -plodding, poor muffled bass if VTA to low, voice (opera) which sounds a mess if VTA either way is incorrect.
Pretty quickly you can dial it in.
There is no general rule for the VTA (and the results), probably some explanation will be useful:
1. All up and down (VTA) is depending of the angle the grooves were cut into the record.... different years, different angles, different labels, no Standard...
2. The diamonds from the cartridges have also some influence (Shibata, Paroc....), but even more important the polishing of the diamond (contact area). When the angle is "right" into the groove, you simply habe an optimized contact area and you will hear more details, specially in the higher frequencies.
No matter what Arm or cartridge you use, it depends on your own findings.
Let#s talk about an original from the 60's, done with a few microphones...normally the Arm has to be a bit lower in the rear, when you do that, the sonic result is like "zooming into the Soundstage", it gets wider and you are more "in it". When done wrong it is like listening to a "point source" between your speakers.
For stylus that elliptical or non-fine lined, the VTA is less critical. Generally the description of tighter non-muddy bass and clean highs makes sense.
But for a fin-line or Shibata stylus I think you need to listen a bit differently. The groove wall modulations for bass are large, and any semi-aligned crtridge will play them. But high frequencies are very small, to the point where the angle of the cutting head plays a major role. Since a fine line stylus shape is also narrow it becomes apparent that the high frequency grooves must align with the narrow stylus edges.
Therefore you need to listen to leading edge transients on cymbals and bells and such. If you get that right then all else should fall into place.
Do a search for SRA. The Stylus Rake Angle (SRA) is not exactly the same as the Verticle Tracking Angle (VTA)and much has been discussed on this subject. In the SRA search under the analog section there is a discussion about using a USB microscope for setting the SRA. About half way down Doug Deacon has an entry that I found enlightening and specifically discusses the audible changs to listen for as you adjust the SRA up or down. Doug adusts his by ear on each album and has keen insight to what you can listen for. Very interesting read that helped me find the proper SRA for my table/arm/cartridge by listenind also. I would place a link to it, but I do not know the proper procedure.
A VTA/SRA self-appointed "expert" once listened as I played around with the VTA adjuster on my new tonearm. He was most careful to have the arm moved up and down two or three times before he finally announced where the sweet spot was. "Anyone can hear the effect," he proclaimed, but in fact I couldn't hear any difference whatsoever. A few hours after he left I found that the adjustment collar was not in fact threaded to the arm pillar, and that my "adjustments" had not altered arm height by even a mm.
Take what you will from this anecdote. I haven't bothered to try and enlighten the expert, and I've gently parried his offers to recheck the setting since then.
I think you meant this thread
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Glad to hear some of my endless babblings helped. ;)
Thanks to Doug and others who helped on my thread. I think I have a better grip now.
Like Doug had previously said, adjust for proper temporal integration of the note and its harmonics. Works best for my on piano as I am more familiar with the sound. SRA too high would put the harmonics ahead of the note and vice versa. Bass drums and strings pizzicato also good for me.
Properly adjusted SRA will also enhance the soundstage, more 3D and less congestion. IMD is minimized when SRA is optimized. Poor SRA will increase IMD and muddy up soundstage.
Way too high or low setting will change high and low frequency balance but IMHO, the setting needs to be way off (varies with cart). It is also tricky adjusting SRA just listening for tonal balance. If room has inherent frequency anomalies, it is very easy to fall into using the SRA as tonal control and ultimately arrive at wrong setting and compromise other areas.
Changing VTA changes VTF slightly and will alter geometry very slightly ( longer arms less affected). Recheck VTF if VTA is changed a lot >2mm.
Best way to learn VTA setting is using the adjustment itself. Start by aligning the arm horizontally which usually puts VTA at 22 to 23 degree. Adjust in 0.5mm increments. I would suggest 5 increments higher and 5 increments lower. Listen for everything mentioned here. Try and maintain VTF constant. You will come to a setting that you like the most and probably the correct SRA/VTA.