Turntable Setup Advice

Better Electricity Took Robert Brook’s Stereo to the Next Level

More from Robert Brook

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls


Below you will find a link to Robert’s story about the improvements he heard in his stereo by doing some experiments we had recommended he do, experiments which, for reasons unknown to the wider audiophile community and generally dismissed by same, managed to take his system to places he never expected it could go.

All at the cost of exactly zero dollars. It’s quite a ride, check it out:


We have written a fair amount about the benefits of feeding the system better juice ourselves:

The value of experimenting with electricity is part and parcel of tweaking and tuning your system to reveal the superior sound locked within it. As we noted in our discussion of the Pareto Effect:

The amount of tweaking you do with your setup, components, room, electricity and the like is the only thing that can take you to the highest levels of audio.

The unfortunate reality audiophiles must eventually come to grips with in their journey to higher quality sound is that you cannot buy equipment that will get you there.

You can only teach yourself, painstakingly, over the course of many, many years, how to tweak your equipment — regardless of cost or quality — to get to the highest levels of audio fidelity.

And tweaking and tuning your equipment has other, fundamentally more important benefits in addition to its original purpose: making your stereo sound better.

At most 20% of the sound of your stereo is what you bought.

At least 80% is what you’ve done with it.

Based on my experience I would put the number closer to 90%.

I suspect that Robert Brook, having heard for himself the remarkable improvement he achieved by simply throwing a few breakers in his home, would be the first to agree with Mr. Pareto.

In a nutshell, Brook’s main goal in audio is to get the recordings that mean the most to him to come alive in his home.

Like me, he is a thrillseeeker, and proud of it. Getting better stereo sound has been my life’s work. It’s not just at the heart of our business, it’s the very reason we created a business in the first place. Our goal from the start was to offer the audiophile public the finest sounding pressings ever made. (We didn’t really know how to do that for the first fifteen years of our business, but that is a story for another time.)

Robert has approached solving the various problems he’s encountered scientifically, methodically and carefully, along these three fronts:

Improving his equipment,

Teaching himself how to do a better job dialing in his turntable setup, and

Learning how to do rigorous shootouts for his favorite albums.

“Bravo” to a job well done by Robert Brook.

More on Robert’s system here. You may notice that it has a lot in common with the one we use. This is not an accident.

And it is also no accident that these two systems just happen to be very good at showing their owners the manifold shortcomings of the Modern Remastered LP, as well as the benefits to be gained by doing shootouts in order to find dramatically better sounding pressings to play.


Turntable Set Up Guide Part 1: Why You Need to Do It Yourself

More from Robert Brook

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls


Below you will find a link to an article about turntable setup in which I am quoted on the subject. 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 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.

Turntable Set Up Guide Part 1: Why You Need to Do It Yourself

Further Reading


Robert Brook Wants to Help You Set Your Anti-Skate

More of the music of Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

Robert Brook writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Robert recently recounted a story that aligned very much with my own experience.

Way back in the dark ages of the 90s, I was afraid to mess with my turntable, arm and cartridge for fear of getting them “out of alignment.”

Of course, I had simply assumed at the time that they were in alignment. I had followed all the instructions to the best of my ability, but it wouldn’t be until years later that I learned just how crude an approximation that way of doing it had turned out to be.

Robert writes:

For years, even decades, I was afraid to touch any of the settings on my turntable, only to discover that when I finally did, I wished I’d done it a lot sooner. Turntable setup has taught me a lot, and as I’ve gotten better at it and better informed about it, I now need to go back and revise the turntable setup guides I posted a few years ago, which are in need of revision and updating.

Here is the complete story. I hope to write more about anti-skate in depth down the road, but for now, check out Robert’s story and then return to this listing and scroll down to read what we’ve written about the subject to date.

System Sounding BRIGHT? 🕶 Might Be Time to ADJUST YOUR ANTI-SKATE

Here we discuss one of our favorite test records. Strings are one of the hardest elements in any recording — including pop and jazz records — to get right. They also make it very easy to spot when something, somewhere, is off.

Advice for using vocals on pop albums to tweak and tune your setup.

Way back in 2005 we discussed the four major imputs that go into setting up tonearms and cartridges.

Wherein we discuss the use of our three favorite test discs, while also providing links to hundreds of other records that are good for testing various aspects of reproduction.

These are the records that challenged me to make more progress in audio. If you want to improve your stereo, these are some of the records that can help you get to the next level.


Bob and Ray Produced Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

Hot Stamper Pressings of Bob and Ray Available Now

More of Our Favorite Difficult-to-Reproduce Test Discs

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only — the Bob and Ray Test. 

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is The Song of the Volga Boatman on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult track we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last year or two.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection, you need to find one.

It will be invaluable in the long run. The copy we have is so good (White Hot, the best we have ever played), and so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

The Bob and Ray Trombone / Trumpet Test

One of the key tests on Bob and Ray that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the duet between the trombone and the trumpet about half way through The Song of the Volga Boatman. I have never heard a small speaker reproduce a trombone properly, and when tweaking the system, when the trombone has more of the heft and solidity of the real instrument, that is a tweak we want to pursue. The trumpet interweaving with it in the right rear corner of the studio tests the transients and high frequency harmonics in the same section. With any change to the stereo, both of those instruments are going to sound better. For a change to be positive they must both sound better.

What to Listen For (Side One)

That first crack of thunder on side one is an obvious test for bottom end size and weight. On the better copies it really rattles the room.

But the real test for side one is Buck Dance. For the Hall of Fame copy we wrote:

Without a doubt this is the best sound I have ever heard for side one of this album. The sound here is so amazing I’m willing to go out on a limb and make the following recklessly bold statement. Buck Dance on this pressing has the most extended, natural and harmonically correct high frequencies I have ever heard from my speakers (or anyone else’s for that matter).

And the crazy thing about it is, when played against an actual original pressing of Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp, this copy, which one would assume is made from a dub, SOUNDS FAR BETTER. Now of course we don’t have ten copies of LSP 1866 which would allow us to find one with an even better Buck Dance than the one heard here on Bob and Ray, which means we cannot be definitive in any way about the disparity in sound between the two albums.

We can only judge the records we have in hand, not the ones we might have heard years ago or — even worse — speculate about the sound of records we have not actually played, recently or otherwise. So we will stick to the facts, and the facts of this side one are that it is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING sounding.

Bob and Ray and the TAS List

The album comprises a group of selections taken from the best of the early Living Stereo releases, some of which obviously sound better than others, all interspersed with dry dialogue and sound effects by Bob and Ray. From start to finish this record is a blast. The entertainment value is off the scale.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs. When you hear a copy sound as good as this one does you will have no doubt that it belongs there. (Other records on the list, not so much. Played Summer Side of Life or Warm Shade of Ivory lately? These aren’t exactly Super Discs.)

We all owe HP a huge debt of gratitude for turning us on to this wonderful record, which also happens to be my favorite LSP of all time. I might not have ever played it were it not for the TAS List. (That’s actually a bit misleading; any classic Living Stereo gets played around here because the potential for good sound — and therefore a sizable return on investment — is fairly high.)


Listening in Depth to So Far

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Records in Stock

More Commentaries and Letters for So Far

This is a very difficult record to find with proper mastering (and good vinyl, ouch!). It seems that all of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s albums are that way. The average domestic pressing rarely even hints at how well recorded this band really was (and the imports are even worse — we’ve never heard one that didn’t sound dubby, veiled and compressed).

In my experience not even one out of ten LPs sounds right; I put the figure at one out of twenty. Most of them are shrill, dull, grainy, flat, opaque, harsh and in varying degrees suffer from every other mastering and pressing malady known to man.

But the best ones have some tracks in superb sound. When you hear the Hot Stampers for records like this you will simply be AMAZED. If you’ve ever heard a really good If Only I Could Remember My Name, an album that CAN be found with proper mastering, that should give you some idea of how good the first two albums can sound.

Side One

Déjà Vu

When you get a good copy of this album, this song sounds like it was lifted right off of a Hot Stamper copy of Deja Vu itself. It’s so rich and Tubey Magical you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. Huge amounts of deep bass. Acoustic guitars that ring for days. Midrange magic to die for. Not many of them sound this way, unfortunately.

If I could indulge in some more MoFi and Half-Speed bashing for a moment, the bass “solo” at the end of this song is a great test for bass definition. The notes are relatively high, and it’s easy for them to sound blurred and wooly. The MoFi, like virtually all Half-Speed mastered records, has a problem with bass definition. If you own the MoFi, listen for how clearly defined the notes are at the end of this track. Then play any other copy, either of So Far or Deja Vu. It’s a pretty safe bet that the bass will be much more articulate. I know how bad the MOFI is in this respect. Rarely do “normal” records have bass that bad.

Stephen Barncard Does It Again

Listen to this song and compare it to anything on the Barncard-engineered first solo LP by David Crosby. That is the sound of Barncard’s engineering — open, spacious, rich, sweet; tons of deep bass; absolutely no trace of phony eq on vocals; acoustic guitars that ring for days — the man is a GENIUS. Thank god he was involved with music of this quality. If only more of the LP pressings did a better job of revealing the exquisite beauty of the recordings themselves. (I suppose that burden must be carried by the few Hot Stamper copies we can dig up.)

Helplessly Hoping

This is a wonderful song that has a lot of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly.

When the arm is too far down in the back, the guitar at the opening will lose its transparency and become dull and thick. Too high in the back and the vocals sound thin and shrill, especially when the boys all really push their harmony parts. The slightest change in VTA will noticeably affect that balance and allow you to tune it in just right.

To be successful, however, there are also other conditions that need to be met. The system has to be sounding right, which in my world means good electricity, so make sure you do this in the evening or on a weekend when the electricity is better.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is that you need a good pressing of this song, and those don’t grow on trees. The vast majority of CSN’s first album and the vast majority of So Far’s are junk. Trying to get them to sound right is impossible, because they weren’t mastered right in the first place. But if you’re one of the lucky few who has a good pressing of Helplessly Hoping, try tweaking your VTA adjustment and see if you aren’t able to dial it in even better than before.

Since the Classic heavy vinyl version is also excellent, it too can be used to set VTA. But of course you are setting VTA for a thicker record, which means you will need to note where the setting is for thick and thin vinyl respectively and make sure that the VTA is correct for each.

As good as the Classic Record is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency that cannot be found on Classic’s version. The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

(I’m laboring mightily to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sound because of all the wonderful “details” it allows them to hear in the music. The MoFi guys and the CD guys usually fall into this trap. Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left. Detail can never be the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.)

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this song. The hot copies are just too rare.

Note that only the best of the best copies can get this song right. Even a “good” pressing can be beaten by the Classic. The Classic 200 gram pressing is fairly sweet and present in the midrange, with less strain in the loud harmonies. A White Hot or Super Hot Stamper will of course positively decimate anything Classic ever did. It would be no contest, take my word for it. Better yet, don’t take my word for it, or anybody else’s for that matter; buy a Hot Stamper and hear it for yourself!

Wooden Ships
Teach Your Children

This is a tough one; very few copies of So Far reveal how good sounding this song can be. On most copies this song is distorted and congested. But on the best copies it has many of the same qualities as Almost Cut My Hair from Deja Vu. We wrote:

This is the one and only time when Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young actually sounds like a rock and roll band. Supposedly (according to Stephen Barncard) this was recorded live in the studio. It sure sounds like it. The amount of energy this band stirs up on this track exceeds all the energy of the first album put together.


For a More Scientific Approach to Finding Better Records, Sweat the Details

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

When it comes to doing shootouts, half the battle is just being able to play the record right.

Our approach is simply a matter of precisely adjusting the arm and cartridge for every title, then comparing the various pressings, properly cleaned of course, under carefully controlled conditions, with as much scientific rigor as we can bring to the proceedings.

In some ways it is analogous to rocket science, which we would define as the seemingly simple process of discovering all the details that need to be sweated and then sweating the hell out of them.

It’s the opposite of theoretical physics. One doesn’t need to be a novel thinker or have big ideas to do audio well.

Obsessively working through the basics of table setup, tweaks, room treatments and electrical quality will take your system to levels beyond those you could have ever imagined.

And, you sure don’t need a bloody microscope to check your stylus rake angle, unlike some audiophile reviewers who insist that such devices are somehow essential.

Your ears, if they are any good at all, will do the job just fine, and probably much better.

The Turn of a Screw Gets Sticky Fingers Sounding Right

More of the Music of The Rolling Stones

Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Robert writes:

When we hear a truly great rock & roll record played back with the massive power and thrilling energy only such a record can deliver, what else can we do but turn the darn thing up! In my view, this is the litmus test for most records, and nearly every rock record. If we’re not inclined to want to hear it even bigger and louder, then I can’t help think, why bother?

And the fact is, some records need to be played loud for us to dive deeper into the mix and fully grasp the size and scale of the recording. That is, if we can find a copy that will let us in in the first place.

But when we do have the right copy of a record that’s well recorded and well mastered, and we’ve built and tweaked our stereo and room to be up to the task of playing it, turning the knob a bit further can indeed make a great rock record a thing to behold. We can find ourselves not just seeing into the recording, but even feeling like we’re in it ourselves.

In my recent article on anti-skate I discussed how, even when you think this and other settings on your turntable are right, you may eventually play a record that will show you otherwise. In my case, I could tell something wasn’t right with my system, but I wasn’t really sure what it was until I played a record that should have sounded fantastic but didn’t. That’s when I realized, for reasons I explain in the article, that it was time to readjust my anti-skate.

Click below to see how just how good a Hot Stamper pressing of Sticky Fingers can work as a test record for table setup.

Getting AZIMUTH Right Lets You SEE INTO the Recording!

It’s hard to imagine that anyone or any group of individuals could possibly have played as many copies of Sticky Fingers as we have. It must be close to a hundred by now. That would be my best guess. We do shootouts for the album about twice a year, which is as often as the supply of clean originals we can find makes possible.

(We even played the new Half-Speed cut at Abbey Road, review coming soon.)

The picture you see nearby was taken many years ago, circa 2005 I would guess, just as we were preparing to do our first shootout for the album.

That shootout turned out to be a bust. Without the Walker record cleaning fluids and a number of dramatic improvements we made to our front end in the ensuing years, the copies of Sticky Fingers we had on hand back then were just too noisy, and many of them were very crude sounding.

(An equally famous record we tried to shootout in 2005 was also a bust. And I’ve never taken the time to write about the three days I spent playing Houses of the Holy around the same time with nothing to show for it. Same problems: the improperly cleaned vinyl was too noisy and the system was not good enough to bring out the best in the top copies.)

Eventually we achieved the technological breakthroughs that were necessary in order to be able to clean and play Sticky Fingers properly. Sticky Fingers is a tough record to get to sound good, let alone really good, as Robert Brook can tell you.

It’s a challenge for any system, regardless of cost.

“The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.” – Epictetus

More to the point, it’s an extremely challenging recording that offers the advanced audiophile a precision tool for dialing in his setup on a modern, high quality turntable.

By ear! Can’t forget that part. Nothing is more important than learning to do everything in audio by ear.


Bizet-Shchedrin / As Tough a Test Disc As Any We Know

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

More Turntable Setup Advice

If I had only one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, a killer copy of this Bizet-Shchedrin record would certainly be at the top of my list. (Here are some others.)

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.

Many copies are bright in the upper-midrange, sounding as nasally and artificial as a bad Mercury or London. Many lack weight down low. The lower strings and heavier percussion play a crucial role in balancing out the upper strings and lighter percussion, so without enough going on down low, the sound skews upwards in an artificial way.

If your copy has either of these problems don’t use it to set up or tweak anything in your system.

Use one of our Hot Stampers, the hotter the better.

The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce. Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the back of the stage, exactly where they should be) that getting each one’s sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge. And when you’ve met it, a thrill.

If you’ve done your homework with VTA, Azimuth, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight, this is the record that will make clear just how much you’ve accomplished.

Neutrality Is Key

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. And if you have any peaky audiophile wire in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this.

More than anything, this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality.

The recording has tremendous transients and dynamics. Be prepared to have trouble tracking it. In that respect it’s a prime candidate for table, cartridge and system tweaking.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound.

Azimuth, VTA, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight – We Got to Live Together

More Record Playback Advice

More Turntable Setup Advice

With a shout out to my man Sly!

The commentary was written in 2005.

One of the reasons this record is sounding so good today (1/12/05) is that I spent last weekend adjusting my Triplanar tonearm. The sound was bothering me somewhat, so I decided to start experimenting again with the azimuth adjustment.

I changed the azimuth in the smallest increments I could manage, which on this turntable are exceedingly small increments, until at some point the following changes became evident:

  1. The bass started to go deeper,
  2. The dynamics improved, and
  3. The overall tonal balance became fuller and richer.

Basically the cartridge was becoming perfectly vertical to the record.

I don’t think this can be done any other way than by ear, although I don’t know that for a fact.

Azimuth, VTA, anti-skate and tracking weight all work in combination to create the sound you hear. They are like trying to juggle four balls at the same time. They all interact with each other in mysterious ways.

This is one of the reasons why I think everyone needs to know how to set up their own front end. Nobody you could ever pay is going to put the time and effort into getting it just right. I have at least 30 or 40 and probably closer to 50 hours of set up time in this arm. [It is in the many hundreds by now.]

This is, of course, over a period of two years. But as I have played around and experimented in different ways with the setup, I have managed to tailor the sound to my taste while maintaining what I consider to be the highest levels of accuracy.

Robert Brook has some advice for those who would like to learn more about analog setup, and you can find it here.

Nobody can know exactly what the “right” sound is, but when you play as many records as we do around here, hundreds per week, any imbalances will show up sooner or later, and when they do, we do our best to fix them.

Further Reading

Even shootouts won’t teach you what you can learn from variations in your table setup

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

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.