vta-advice

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…)

Loggins and Messina / Sittin’ In – Hear that Boost at 10K?

More Loggins and Messina

Recordings that Are Good for Testing Sibilance

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Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance.

Sibilance is a bitch. The best pressings, with the most extension up top and the least amount of aggressive grit and grain mixed in with the music, played using the highest quality properly set up front ends, will keep sibilance to a minimum.

VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate adjustments are critical to reducing the spit in your records.

We discuss the sibilance problems of MoFi records all the time. Have you ever read Word One about this problem elsewhere? Of course not.

Audiophiles and the hacks that write for them just seem to put up with these problems, or ignore them, or — even worse — simply fail to recognize them at all.

Play around with your table setup for a few hours and you will no doubt be able to reduce the severity of the sibilance on your favorite test and demo discs. All your other records will thank you for it too.

Back to Sittin’ In (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.)


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

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More VTA Adjustment

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This commentary from way back when (2005!) describes how to go about adjusting your VTA for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping from the first album.

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty 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, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), 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. (more…)

VTA – A Few Moments of Experimentation Can Really Pay Off

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Specific advice on what to listen for as you critically Adjust Your VTA.

Experimenting with the VTA for this record we found a precise point where it all came together, far beyond whatever expectations we might have had at the time, which revealed a violin floating between the speakers, an effect that as audiophiles we appreciate for the magic trick that it is.

The sound of the wood of the instrument became so clear, the harmonic textures so natural, it was quite a shock to hear a good record somehow become an amazing one. All it took was a few moments of experimentation.

With the right VTA setting we immediately heard more harmonic detail, with no sacrifice in richness. That’s the clearest sign that your setup is right, or very close to it.
(more…)