Why does my system sound so shrill and distorted?

My system has been sounding very shrill and in some situations it will have a little distortion in the higher dynamic range with vocals and horns. I have used the feickert protractor to align my cartridge and have tried all three of the different geometries with not much change. Any ideas?

My set up,

Wilson Benesch Full Circle turntable with ACT TWO tonearm 9gm effective mass

Grado Reference Platinum cartridge 20cu compliance, I have a Sound Smith Carmen on the way.

Grado PH-1 Phono pre, Musical Fidelity M1 phono pre on the way

Manley Stingray II, pretty much always run in triode mode

Sonus Faber Liuto Monitors

cables are all Cardas Quadlink's

Can't say for certain but those are classic symptoms of stylus wear and/or damage and/or dirt deposits. Inspect under a magnifying glass carefully. Try cleaning stylus if not already. See if new cart on the way works better.
What do you have your equipment sitting on i.e rack? The differences there are very large.
Many of my analog concerns, including shrillness, disappeared when I put my turntable on a sandbox. So, I agree with headsnappin on the importance of the rack.

Do you have the stand that appears to be optional for your turntable?
I think I would look at cartridge set up first. If you know it is spot-on, then consider other areas, as already advised. What method do you use to achieve overhang and alignment?

Best of luck,
Thanks for the replies, I just recently purchased the this table/arm and just recently notice that I have twice as many anti-skate adjustments as I previously thought. The arm uses both the thread slots and the spaces, held in place by rubber O's, in between the grooves for anti skate adjustments, .25g per groove and I guess .125g if you count the spaces. This awareness has helped out a lot, sibilance and other vocal related things have cleaned up a good bit.

This arm apparently is incredibly sensitive to this, which consider the way the bearing it sits on can freely float from side to side isn't surprising.

The rack is all maple with two two inch platform and one 4inch on top with turntable. I have been wondering if that could be a little too thick, In my head that could cause less bass and sharper highs.
Ohnofiasco, have you experimented with cartridge loading. What you describe could be the result of too high a setting. If adjustable, lower it to the next lower setting and listen. If its better, lower it again until you find the best setting.

SRA/VTA could also be responsible.
I haven't tried loading options yet since my grado pre doesn't have any, but my new Musical Fidelity M1 Vinl that should be in the first part of next week will. Im hoping that will solve most my issues and if not I have another cart also on the way, ha.

VTA/VTF have been pretty much my biggest focuses. Ill get dialed in for one particular problem album and get it sounding pretty clean then when I move on to the next, regardless of the thickness, It seems like every change I made went out of the window. Given thats not the situation 100% of the time.
Make sure the arm and cartridge mounting hardware is not loose at all. The loose hardware can give you some resonant distortion that will have you adjusting tracking force and antiskate for hours. I doubt that would be the whole problem but it can contribute. This going to seem like a dumb question but are the records clean ? Also, when you are making your adjustment try not to do it on an album that has 6+ cuts on each side, greatest hits albums and compilations are generally a little more compressed. If those are the types of albums you listen to often disregard that. As far as the vta goes I'm using a reference sonata and I seem to get the best results with the arm just below parallel to the platter so the cartridge is tipped slightly back. I track at best around 1.75g.

Regards, Bill
.... sounding very shrill and in some situations it will have a little distortion in the higher dynamic range with vocals and horns....

I would use a different Tonearm. Carbon is the worst material I ever listened to.
Or, you try to get the best out of it with a Moving Magnet System.
Maybe a Lyra Kleos with its round and soft upper frequencies can help, when you are ready for experiments.
I would love to know what you think of the Musical Fidelity M1, I've been using their kWPhono with great results so I would think that the M1 would be a great product.
Check and experiment with your anti-skating. I recently dealt with a problem sounding similar to what you describe, and wouldn't have believed anti-skating could be the culprit, until I found out it actually was.

The rack is all maple with two two inch platform and one 4inch on top with turntable. I have been wondering if that could be a little too thick, In my head that could cause less bass and sharper highs.

For what it's worth, I had my turntable platformed on a 1-1/2" thick butcher block cutting board. A year ago I replaced it with a 3-1/2" thick maple butcher block cutting board and the sound improved in every way, especially lower noise floor, better clarity, tighter and livelier bass, smoother up top, etc.

You may need to look at your VTA/SRA. When the stylus is pitched too much forward, it emphasizes the treble and reduces the bass. I also agree about checking/cleaning the stylus. I clean mine regularly with a piece of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, used dry, followed by a stylus brush to sweep away the abrasive residue.
Hi - the Grado phono stage has 2 settings for gain on the bottom, have you got it on the low gain setting.
Before you go off the deep end to blame this on your turntable or tonearm or cartridge, have you tried another hi-level source, like a CD player, to determine whether the problem really has anything to do with phono. A bad or dying vacuum tube alone can cause the symptoms you describe.
Second Lew's advice, and also suggest that you make sure that the problem is not the LP pressings that you are playing that are the problem. Did you have a turntable before this one? And did the same LP's that are problematic now show the same symptoms before? Some LP pressings are just plain bad, and will play with some distortion no matter the equipment or the attention to setup.
Any significant change in distortion when you run the Stingray in Ultralinear? At 86 db, your speakers might be over-taxing its 18 watts in triode if you're playing loud in a large room. Probably not the problem--the sound would likely be kind of flaccid at the frequency extremes rather than shrill in the highs--but it's worth checking.

As dover said above, what gain setting are you using on your PH1? If you're on high, you're probably over-driving your amp's input, since your cartridge is high-output at 5 mV. That could make the sound shrill.

Your loading isn't a problem because 47K is what your PH1 gives you and also what your cartridge wants to see. Your 4-inch thick maple slab isn't the problem--if anything, the additional mass would emphasize the lows, not the highs.

Otherwise, it sounds like a stylus/cartridge issue. Make sure VTF and is in the middle of recommended range (to start); and set anti-skate to zero or barely above zero just to see what's what, and then gradually increase in tiny increments to see if it helps. You probably know these things already but they're worth a reminder.

Good luck!
Thanks for all the responses they have been very helpful and I think I finally have this nailed down.


I just got the M1 vinyl in and its fantastic, It has a little bit of a clinical side to it with a pepper smidgen less lows than I normally go for but considering my room much welcomed splash of precision. The sound stage is fantastic, has a very clean top end, and the definition in the lows is really good. Plus you have to like the loading options.
Where are you located? If in NYC - we can arrange you come over to my place with a favorite record, I go to yours. Can compare and contrast. Sometimes it is not related to tonearm etc. But instead something completely different. Like you don't have a VPI brick near your wall outlet. Or a phasing problem from a mis-wired cartridge. Let me know if you are in the area.

Also you need a good cartridge protractor to set it up correctly, along with VTA of course. The latter being one of the most important influences on sound I know of.

Sorry just noticed your post Jkorten, I live in TN. I just recently got the Well Tempered Labs Amadeus and I am now in complete audio bliss, ha. But really it is that big of a change.