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Original Message

Setting up your FIRST Cartridge.....

Posted by Thorsten on April 15, 1999 at 12:20:12:

Hi all,

I think maybe it's time I put in some notes here. More so given that I had at least two different conversations with gentlemen who had a dealer do the set-up for them and ended up with totally incorrectly set Cartridges....

The Basics:

For a Cartridge to operate correctly, we require four of the most basic settings:


Vertical Tracking Force (VTF)

Antiskating/Bias (AS)

Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA)

A number of Tonearms also allow the Azimuth to be corrected. The following assumes a conventional pivoted Tonearm of the Type exemplified by Rega Arms. Unipivot Arms like the Graham also work based on this method but can be somewhat more fiddly.

The Set-up on linear-tracking Tonearms again is similar, but sufficiently different to suggest that you seek further assistance from someone who sets up Linear-tracking Arms every day (hence do not ask me).... :-)

To be successful in mounting, aligning and setting up your Cartridge you will need a few tools. I recommend the following:

Shure or Orthophon Tracking Force Gauge

The Orthophon is as accurate as the Shure (actually more so) but only costs a quarter of the Price of the Shure. But I have no link to anyone on the web for this....

HiFi News Test-Record

Steve "Dude" Rochlins free Cartridge Alignment Protractor

and please visit Steves Main-Page s well....

A small pair of tweezers or a very small pair of needle-nose pliers

A pair of steady Hands

ARMED (ouch) with these, we can progress to unpack the Cartridge and verify that where send the Allen-Key, little wrench and the screws/nuts with the Cartridge (or not). If all tools and bits are complete, proceed. Otherwise obtain the correct Allen-key and wrench.

DO NOT IMPROVISE USING A PAIR OF PLIERS OR SUCH. Cartridges are easily ruined....

Before going any farther, just make sure that Turntable is ABSOLUTELY LEVEL! I hope you levelled the Table during setting it up, if not do so now.

Please now secure the Tonearm on its arm-rest, if this cannot be done reliably with a clip, use a piece of solid wire to hold it temporarily in one Place.

If the Cartridge to be mounted is a Moving Magnet unit with user-replaceable Stylus (Goldring/Reson, Shure, Sumiko and AudioTechnica for example), please remove the Stylus Assembly and put it aside.

To remove the Stylus Assembly remove the Stylus protector and then CAREFULLY pull the Stylus assembly out, following approximately the axis of the stylus. Refit the Stylus Protector and put the Stylus aside.

Modern Moving-Coil Units and for example the wooden Grado’s do not allow the stylus to be removed. In this case I suggest taping the stylus guard in place, so that it cannot easily fall off during mounting the cartridge.

The next step is to connect the Arm-Wires to the Cartridges Output pins.
Usually these are all colour-coded. If not, please consult the Manual for your Cartridge about the connections. Now you use the tweezers (or needle-nose pliers) to slide the tags onto the pins. Please be gentle here. If the tags absolutely refuse to slide over the pins because the pins are too large in diameter you can try to VERY CAREFULLY open up the tags slightly.

I recommend treating the Cartridge Pins with XLO's "The Perfect Connection" before the Cartridge Tags are slipped on. I am not so sure about other Contact Treatments, best to check if the Cartridge Manufacturer has any recommendations.

Now we have a Cartridge (body) dangling from the wires from the Arm. Somehow we have to attach the Cartridge to the Arm. For this we usually have screws supplied with the Cartridge. Having mounted a considerable number of Cartridges in my time; any Cartridge having threaded Inserts is GOD-SEND...

I seriously HATE to fiddle with these tiny Nuts (and it drives me such).... Anyway, there are usually two slots in the Headshell, destined to take the screw. Simply place the screw, hold it down with one finger and slide the Eye of the Cartridge over it, or place the treaded Insert such that the screw can grab the thread.

If your cartridge lacks the threaded inserts, try to place with the other hand the tiny nut in such a way that it contacts the screw. Use your third hand and the Allen-Key to rotate the screw until it grabs the thread.... What, you do not have a third hand? Try doing with two then.... ;-)

Anyway, after much frustration for those who have no threaded inserts on their Cartridge and a smooth and quick procedure for those who have, the Cartridge will be attached by one screw to the Headshell. Do not tighten this screw quite yet. First fit the second screw (always easier) and orient the Cartridge so that it is placed centrally to the Headshell and points approximately along the axis of the Headshell. Finger-tighten the screws and loosen the Arm from its rest.

Now it's time to set the tracking force approximately. If you can, try to fix the Platter in place so that it cannot rotate. How this is done best depends upon the turntable, but please make sure that you can reverse whatever you are doing. So do not pour superglue into the Bearing!!!!!

Many modern Tonearms feature a spring-based tracking weight adjustment contraptions. DO NOT USE THEM, but simply set them to the neutral position (normally the highest tracking weight). The Anti-skating Adjustment should be for the time being set to ZERO.

First leave the Arm-list up and try to zero the Weight for the Tonearm so that the Tonearm floats level. Now remove the Cartridges Stylus protector or refit the Stylus assembly and readjust the weight so that just a tiny bit of downforce is present. Now use the Stylus-force Gauge to set the tracking weight. There should be instructions with the Gauge.

Simply carefully lower the Arm so the Cartridges needle ends up on the stylus force gauge where it's supposed to be. See what the tracking-weight is. Depending upon the Arm, move the counterweight until the correct weight according to the Manufacturers recommendation is established. Moving the Weight forward (toward the Arm Pivot) increases the tracking force, moving it back reduces it....

Okay, now have the Cartridge mounted and the tracking force set approximately. Time to get our Protractor out. If you have bought the HiFi news Test-Record, you will have one, but I still recommend getting Steves free Protractor as I feel it's more intuitive to use....

Anyway, make sure that you can move the cartridge on the Headshell, but the screws should be tight enough that the cartridge will stay in the position it is adjusted to. Place the Protractor on your turntable with the hole on the protractor firmly into the spindle hole.

All protractors feature parallel lines to which you are supposed to superimpose your Cartridges Sides. I wish those having bought Cartridges with non-parallel sides good luck. You will need it. The best thing to do with such Cartridges is to use the Cantilever as guide, but quite frankly it a total pain in the neck (or lower) to do.

Verify your alignment with the second set of parallel lines. Move the Cartridge Forward or backwards but try to keep it pointing parallel to the main axis of the Headshell. Eventually you will have found a position for the Cartridge, where both sets of parallel lines are also parallel to your Cartridge sides or Cantilever. Now tighten the Bolts. Not to much though.

Now we set the initial VTA. As a rule, Armtube should be parallel to the records Surface when the Cartridge rests on the record. Adjust the Arm-height (see Arm-Manual) until you got it right. Before we start with the test-record, set the Anti-Skating to approximately the Value that the tracking force is set to. I have found the mechanical pointers to be widely inaccurate and the real setting requires a test-record.

Free up the previously fixed platter and put your test-record on the platter and turn the Table on. Play the first track to verify the workings of the lots and check that you get some sound. Most Test-Records feature some tracks to identify channels and phasing. Make sure all this is correct.

Then start with the Tracks intended to help setting Anti-skating/Bias. If you hear the sound in one channel distorted, change the Antiskating until there is no more mistracking (which is what causes the distorted/buzzing sound), then progress to the next track.

On the HiFi-News Test Record, every Cartridge should track all but the last track with perfection. If not, either the Cartridge is damaged or the Arm has a problem....

If you have got this far, simply put some of your favourite music on, open a Can/Bottle of your favourite beverage and sit back. Let the Cartridge play at least 20 - 50 hours before tweaking more. It should sound pretty darn good now anyway.

After having finally become a real VINYL-MAN (even if you are Girl - imagine - telling your Boyfriend that you mount and align your own Cartridge) by mounting and aligning your first Cartridge, a happy welcome to this Brotherhood and may the Tracking-Force be with you.

Now you can progress to some HARD-CORE Turntable tweaking. Here is some good reading (also in the FAQ):


Later Thorsten