Turntable Setup

Turntable Tweaking Works Its Magic Once Again “I’m sitting in shock!”

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More Turntable Setup Advice 

Hi Tom,

Just wanted to give you a big thank you for the commentary on turntable tweaking. I constantly learn important advice on the audiophile subject from your website. I check it everyday.

Lately I have been thinking my audio sound was lacking. It didn’t sound as good as I remember it. After reading the turntable tweaking advice I reset up the tonearm. VTF, VTA, and azimuth. I have “magic” in my sound now.

Listened to some Neil Young, [Ten Years After] A Space in Time. Very Tubey.

Listened to my Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It sounded better than I ever heard it. I’m sitting in shock!

The killer was Chicago 2. I love 25-6-to 4 so I was blown away and normally I’m not interested in the rest of that side of the album but I sat through the rest of it and was enthralled by the vocals. Memories of Love is one track I was never interested in but it sounded so good I loved it. When you want to listen to every record in your collection you know you’ve done something right.

Anyway I want you to know we audiophiles appreciate the time you take to put up your advice and commentaries. I just got a huge upgrade and it didn’t cost me a cent. Only some time and I learned a little more.

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Turntable Testing Using Court and Spark and a Yellow Pad

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

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There are loud vocal choruses on many tracks, and more often than not at their loudest they sound like they are either breaking up or threatening to do so. I always assumed it was compressor or board overload, which is easily heard on Down to You. On the best copies there is no breakup — the voices get loud and stay clean throughout.

This assumes that your equipment is up to the job. The loudest choruses are a tough test for any system.

Setup Advice

If you have one of our hottest Hot Stampers, try adjusting your setup – VTA, Tracking Weight, Azimuth, Anti-Skate (especially! Audiophiles often overlook this one, at their peril) — and note how cleanly the loudest passages play using various combinations of settings.

Keep a yellow pad handy and write everything down step by step as you make your changes, along with what differences you hear in the sound.

You will learn more about sound from this exercise than you can from practically any other. Even shootouts won’t teach you what you can learn from variations in your table setup.

And once you have your setup dialed in better, you will find that your shootouts go a lot smoother than they used to. (more…)

Turntable Set Up Guide Part 2: Dialing In Tracking Force By Ear

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below you will find a link to an article about turntable setup. I would have loved to write something along these lines myself, but never found the time to do so. Robert Brook took the job upon himself and has explained many aspects of it well, so if you would like to learn more about turntable setup, I encourage you to visit his blog and read more about it.

I do have some ideas of my own which I hope to be able to write about soon, but for now, check out what Robert has to say.

Turntable Set Up Guide Part 2: Dialing In Tracking Force By Ear

Grieg / Peer Gynt – Speakers Corner Reviewed, with Handy VTA Advice

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

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Reviews and Commentaries for Peer Gynt

Sonic Grade: C+

The Fjeldstad has long been one of our favorite performances of Peer Gynt here at Better Records. 

This record is handy for VTA set-up as well, a subject discussed below in our listing from 2010.

The sound is excellent for a modern reissue*, but in the loudest sections the orchestra can get to be a bit much, taking on a somewhat harsh quality. (The quieter passages are superb: sweet and spacious.)

So I adjusted the VTA a bit to see what would happen, and was surprised to find that even the slightest change in VTA caused the strings to lose practically all their rosiny texture and become unbearably smeared.

This is precisely why it’s a good heavy vinyl recording for setting up your turntable. If you can get the strings to play with reasonably good texture on this record you probably have your VTA set correctly. (more…)

Mendelssohn / Symphony No. 3 – Adjusting the VTA to Achieve Rich, Textured String Tone

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

More VTA Advice

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When your VTA, azimuth, tracking weight and anti-skate are correct, this is the record that will make it clear to you that your efforts have paid off.

What to listen for you ask? With the proper adjustment the harmonics of the strings will sound extended and correct. And you can’t really know how right it can sound until you go through hours of experimentation with all the forces that affect the way the needle rides the groove.

Without precise VTA adjustment there is almost no way this record will do everything it’s capable of doing. There will be hardness, smear, sourness, thinness — something will be off somewhere. With total control over your arm and cartridge setup, these problems will all but vanish. (Depending on the quality of the equipment of course.)

We harp on all aspects of record reproduction for a reason. When you have done the work, pressings such as this one are simply GLORIOUS.

Whatever Happened to Decca’s Famously Rich, Rosiny Strings?

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl). It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play, it’s an art that is not lost on us.

It’s also as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the resolving power, clarity and presence that are missing from so many Golden Age records.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them on ebay. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them up for sale, please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their insufferable mediocrity.)


Jethro Tull / Thick As A Brick – A Top Test for System Accuracy

More Jethro Tull

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From 2009 to 2010 this was our single go-to record for testing and tweaking the system.

Although we now use an amazing copy of Bob and Ray (the big band version of The Song of the Volga Boatmen located therein has to be the toughest test we know of bar none), we could easily go back to using TAAB. It’s absolutely ruthless when it comes to the slightest hint of artificiality in the sound of the system.

Since the biggest problem every audiophile is always fighting is artificiality (and, more often than not, losing, if I may be that cynical about most audiophile systems, our customers’ systems excluded of course), TAAB is one of the best recordings one could ever find to test and tune with. 

  • The better copies are shockingly dynamic. At about the three minute mark the band joins in the fun and really starts rocking. Set your volume for as loud as your system can play that section. The rest of the music, including the very quietest parts, will then play correctly for all of side one. For side two the same volume setting should be fine.
  • The recording can have exceptionally solid, deep punchy bass (just check out Barrie “Barriemore” Barlow’s drumming, especially his kick and floor toms. The guy is on fire).
  • The midrange is usually transparent and the top end sweet and extended on the better pressings.
  • The recording was made in 1972, so there’s still plenty of Tubey Magic to be heard on the acoustic guitars and flutes.
  • The best copies can be as huge, wide and tall as any rock record you’ve ever heard, with sound that comes jumping out of your speakers right into your listening room.
  • Unlike practically any album recorded during the ’80s or later, the overall tonal balance, as well as the timbre of virtually every instrument in the soundfield, is correct on the best copies.

That kind of accuracy practically disappeared from records about thirty years ago, which explains why so many of the LPs we offer as Hot Stampers were produced in the ’70s. That’s when many of the highest fidelity recordings were made. In truth this very record is a superlative example of the sound the best producers, engineers, and studios were able to capture on analog tape during that time.

Which is a long way of saying that the better copies of Thick As A Brick have pretty much EVERYTHING that we love about vinyl here at Better Records.

Furthermore, I can guarantee you there is no CD on the planet that will ever be able to do this recording justice. Our Hot Stamper pressings – even the lowest-graded ones – have a kind of ANALOG MAGIC that just can’t be captured on one of them there silvery discs. (more…)

Turntable Tweaking Advice – Try This at Home, It Worked for Us

More of The Beatles

More Revolver

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The Mapleshade website has a piece of audio advice that caught the eye of one our customers, who sent me the excerpt below.  

Like most advice, especially Audio Advice, we find that some of it accords well with our own experience and some of it clearly does not. The relationship of good to bad is hard to determine without making a more careful study, but let’s just say that there is plenty of both and leave it at that. That being the case, we thought it would be of service to our customers to break it down in more detail, separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

Here is the complete quote:

To get first rate sound and to get your money’s worth from any expensive cartridge, you MUST meticulously adjust VTA or tracking force every 3-4 months — that’s because stylus suspensions always sag with use. This lowers VTA and seriously kills dynamics and treble sparkle. Lots of people misinterpret this as a worn-out cartridge, an expensive error. Instead, raise VTA or lighten tracking force until your test record’s treble sounds too harsh, then drop VTA or lighten tracking force a hair. Your test record must not be thicker or thinner than the bulk of your record collection. Adjusting tracking force yields slightly better sonic results and longer cartridge life than adjusting VTA — and adjusting tracking force on most arms is WAY easier than adjusting VTA.

The basic idea here is that your cartridge sags over time, causing the VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) to change, which results in less dynamics and “treble sparkle” (a term you will never read on this site; treble should never “sparkle”, but we get the point).

So, with this idea in mind, after doing a serious shootout with Revolver and hearing a Triple Plus side one with amazing bass and energy, we decided to reduce the tracking weight on our Triplanar arm a tiny, tiny, practically non-existent amount, something in the range of 1/100th of a gram perhaps (we do not use gauges of any kind for setup as they cannot be trusted; they have all proven to be much too crude relative to what our ears tell us).

Taxman

Cueing up Taxman, we immediately we’re knocked out by the amazing bass line that came jumping out of the left speaker. It was bigger and punchier than we had ever heard it! Wow — who knew? I thought it was amazing before. Hell, it was amazing before, the best I had ever heard it, all of ten minutes ago. (more…)

Set-up Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Turntable Setup Advice

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I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a “T”. Over the years I’ve found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.

When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well.

Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.

And if I only had one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin’. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order. (more…)

Holst / The Planets – Proper VTA Adjustment Is Critical

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

More VTA Advice

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Accurate VTA adjustment for classical records is critical to their proper reproduction. If you do not have an arm that allows you to easily adjust its VTA, then you will just have to do it the hard way (which normally means loosening a set screw and moving the arm up and down until you get lucky with the right height).

Yes, it may be time consuming, it may even be a major pain in the ass, but there is no question in my mind that you will hear a dramatic improvement in the sound of your classical records once you have learned to precisely adjust the VTA for each and every one of them. We heard the improvement on this record, and do pretty much on all the classical LPs we play. All records really.

VTA is not a corner you should be cutting. Its careful adjustment is critical. Of course, so are anti-skate, azimuth and tracking weight. The links below have a fair amount of advice on turntable setup which might be worth checking out.

Blockbuster

This is what we sometimes refer to as Blockbuster Sound. It does not sound very much like a live orchestra, nor is it trying to. It’s trying to be huge and powerful in your home.

It’s more in line with a Rock Demo Disc such as Crime of the Century or Dark Side of the Moon, in the sense that everything has been carefully placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities. It’s not the recreation of a live orchestral event — it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral staging of its own making.

Which is ironic. HP talked about The Absolute Sound of live unamplified music as being the standard, yet somehow this recording ended up in his Top Twelve All Time Greats. Makes no sense to me, but neither do many of the records on The TAS Super Disc List. That said, our current favorite Planets is the other Planets on the TAS List, Previn’s on EMI.


Further Reading

Record Cleaning Advice

Record Playback Advice

Turntable Setup Advice

and

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

Albeniz / Suite Espanola / De Burgos – Such a Dynamic Recording

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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Wow, is this record ever DYNAMIC! I would put it in the top 2 or 3 percent of the most dynamic recordings we have played over the course of the last twenty five years. It also has tons of DEPTH. The brass is at the far back of the stage, just exactly where they would be placed in the concert hall, which greatly adds to the realism of the recording.

The strings may not be quite as sweet as the best earlier Londons, but the trade off is well worth it when you hear a record with this kind of LIFE and so little distortion.

Note that careful VTA adjustment for a record with this kind of dynamic energy is a must. Having your front end carefully calibrated to this record is the only way to guarantee there is no distortion or shrillness in even the loudest passages.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Clear castanets.

Big bass drum thwacks.

Crescendos that build to intense climaxes.

Rich strings (or as rich as they can be in 1969, a good ten years after the amazingly Tubey Magical recordings of the ’50s).

Heavy Vinyl

In 2011 we made the (usually pointless) effort to compare our London pressing to the 180 gram Speakers Corner reissue which we were carrying at the time. We noted simply that it “was a joke next to this copy.” We don’t have the reissue to play this time around but we are confident that the results of any comparison would be the same. (more…)