Which arms are really SOTA, and can be properly setup?

Absolute “must have” mechanical adjustments for a SOTA arm IMO!

1) Micrometer arm height adjustment that has index marks for VTA/SRA. Index marks are needed to ‘fine tune”, and go back to a previous setting, when the last setting was better.
2) Fine azimuth adjustment with index marks. Azimuth is as important as VTA/SRA, for sound quality.
3) Internally damped arm tube, and adjustable external fluid arm damping.
4) Anti-skate adjustment, including no anti-skate option.
5) Fine tracking force adjustment with index marks. For ease of adjustment, azimuth setting should not need to be reset when tracking force is changed IMO.
6) Adjustable head shell cartridge position, and arm pivot-to-stylus distance, for desired horizontal alignment. Straight non-pivot arms also need proper cartridge alignment (if off, they will be off through out the entire record). They also may have equal left-right channel sidewall force issues as the arm moves across the record, depending on the type of arm movement mechanism, IMO.

Tuning the arm by ear is “subjective”! Set for the listener’s sonic taste, as to what playback sounds best!

Electronic amplification, and the cartridge, must be “settled in” (warmed up) before adjustments are made. Play a few Lps before “fine tuning” any adjustments. Keep the stylus clean.

Incremental, “very fine” adjustments, over long term listening, with many Lps is necessary.
The optimum setting is always within a very small “window”.

Certain settings affect, other settings, that may need to be re-adjusted.

Listen for sonic changes as you make incremental adjustments, back and forth, as “clues” for the best setting.

Optimal setting are not for one record, but for the “mean” of all your Lps IMO.

Adjustment for each Lp is “madness’, time consuming, and interrupts the enjoyment of repeated playing during long listening sessions IMO.

When all adjustments are complete 80% of your Lps will sound at their best, the remainder very good IMO. I throw away bad recordings, why waste time listening to crap?

Not every record is well recorded, or will sound great, even with the arm properly set up.

Cartridge suspension break-in and settling over time, and stylus wear, requires arm re-adjustment.

Resistor loading, arm cables, and step-up transformer, gain and impedance (if used), are also big factors in getting best playback sound.
6) should read "pivot to spindle distance and stylus angle for chosen alignment "

Only some VPI arms and most Triplanar models meet my SOTA adjustment requirements.

SME arms do not.

Any others???
Which VPI arms meet your criteria? Thanks.
arsh: The original JMW 10 and 12 do.

Most newer VPI arms with dropped counter weight come close (If you use Soundsmith counter intuitive).

The VPI 3D does not have adjustable damping (I disagree that it is not needed).

Graham and  TriPlanar arms do. There are others I am sure.
Thanks. I did not realize that the JMW arms had adjustable damping? Could you elaborate please? Thanks again.
The Audiomods arm out of The United Kingdom has all the mechanical adjustments you specified Don.
Im using TW Acustic 10.5 it does everything i need very well.

Some versions of the VPI JMW arm have adjustable fluid damping, but others do not. For example, the 12.6 did not, but the 12.7 does. Cheers,
You’ve clearly owned some top notch tonearms (and I’m not naming names, but you gave a few away in your comments). I try to emphasize exactly what you have done in the setup section of my support pages.

One key point I make with my customers (to the question: "which arm is best?") is that the tonearm you set up the best is the best one for you.

People interact with mechanical devices in different ways, so there is no single best adjustment design for a chosen parameter (e.g. VTA, anti-skate, etc.), but rather good ones and not so good ones.

I believe your #6 implies a #6a: adjustable effective length (i.e. cartridge slots, at least for pivoting arms).

This enables the use of arc protractors (which are designed for a fixed effective length) - knowing that the stylus offset from the mounting holes is not an industry standard. IOW, using an arm with a fixed mounting hole like the SME, the arm’s effective length will differ for a Dynavector XV1s (8.0mm stylus offset from mounting holes) vs. a Lyra which is closer to 9.0mm. Of course, with a linear tracker, an adjustable pivot to spindle distance will suffice.

In general, there are arms with great adjustment features which also sound great (I’ll stay out of naming names), and I’m all for ease of adjustment (my opening sentence).

Having said that, I might end up selecting an arm for a particular customer that might have compromised setup convenience in one or more parameters, if it fits their user profile. For example, if they were mechanically adept, and were using the arm with a conical stylus, mono cartridge, I might downplay azimuth precision (much as I don’t like to give up any design sophistication).

Your comment:

"Optimal setting are not for one record, but for the “mean” of all your Lps IMO."

hits the nail on the head. Finicky adjustment for each record is a path to misery, and yes, I know that it’s possible to extract the best by adjusting for each record.

Thom @ Galibier Design
Another problem with SRA  adjusting each Lp, is that there is a"settling" of the suspension that takes 30 to 60 minutes of play before getting good quality playback.

Before this settling time has elapsed the SRA adjustment would yield poor results.

Don, It's interesting that you're running this thread right next door to a thread on Class A cartridges.  We only now need a thread on "the best tonearm/cartridge combination".

I think that a world class pivoted tonearm MUST have:
(1) Decoupled counter-weight with center of gravity in the plane of the LP.
(2) Adjustable azimuth
(3) Easily adjustable and precisely repeatable VTA adjustment, but not necessarily "on the fly".
(4) Medium effective mass but adjustable effective mass would be even better.
(5) Relatively non-resonant arm tube. (I say "relatively" because no material is non-resonant.  The best one can do is to spread the resonant peak out over a broad range of frequencies thereby reducing its maximum magnitude in a narrow band.) I have no beef with using wood; it may in fact be the best solution when done right.
(6) Fixed headshell so as to permit one set of wires from the cartridge to the phono stage, but lately I have come to appreciate the advantages of a removable headshell.
(7) Anti-skate. What is the best method?  Magnetic?
(8) I prefer gimbal bearing vs unipivot but I am open-minded.
(9) I love the Schroeder LT, in principle. 

Reed, Durand, Triplanar, Schroeder.
I like to have a tonearm that give flexible choice in cartridges, which I can tune to get the most out of.

I agree with many of you points, I was concerned with the ability to fine tune the arm for best sound quality, easily, by the owner,  to his tastes, as what sounds best to him.

Lets talk about one thing at a time.

"the best tonearm/cartridge combination" brings into play cartridge/arm debates and too many arguments IMO.