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Phono Cartridge Alignment – part 1


Why not have a turntable next to your CD Player in your set up?

The sound of records can be enlightening, records are authentic, and records can be fun.

Compared to the modern digital formats, the analogue LP record, with its signal engraved in a vinyl disc, may look poor at first glance.

However, do never forget that it is still the only medium (apart from the reel to reel tape recorder) that can contain the most complete and most structured signal providing great dynamics, having the widest frequency band attainable, and having the most refined detail over the entire audio spectrum and far beyond, which no other format can deliver.

The analog LP is not restricted to 16 bits and a limited frequency band, but has 700 bits – so to speak – and the minute upper harmonics which digital formats are missing. The simple reason is that the original LP is analogous in nature.

Or, to be more precise: analogous to nature.


leveling-the-turntable-2 leveling-the-turntable

It is of the utmost importance to adjust the turntable with arm and phono cartridge correctly. Place the turntable on a strong cabinet, in an audio rack or on a special construction that is bolted to the stone wall of the listening room. These supports should be level.

See to it that the turntable is perfectly level also. This is essential to minimize wow and flutter.

It is also a prerogative for the proper functioning of the phono cartridge and the arm. Only if the turntable is level the down force and bias (side thrust) can be adjusted correctly.




Check whether the arm and the head shell are parallel to the record. Most manufacturers of cartridges take care to mount the tip and cantilever in such a way that a Vertical Tracking Angle of round and about 20 degrees is achieved when the arm is parallel to the record. The standard today is 20º. Vintage cartridges from the nineteen sixties for instance have a tracking angle of 15º.

The final VTA adjustment will be done later after you have adjusted the azimuth and down force and bias have been precisely set.



Now check the cartridge seen from the front. It should be perpendicular to the record. This is easily checked using a small mirror (as Thorens used to supply with their turntables). A precise way of measuring the azimuth is by using a test record and a voltmeter. But this can only be done after the correct down force and bias have been adjusted.



If you have bought a replacement needle, check if the tip is really well mounted. Check the cantilever from the front with a magnifying glass. The cantilever should be perpendicular to the cartridge body. The tip should be in line with the cantilever. It is a good practice to take the small art director’s magnifying glass with you to the shop and insist that you check before you pay. A needle tip which is out of line can not read the stereo groove. If you buy on-line from a renown seller like Elex Atelier in the USA for example, there is of course no need to worry. But going directly to a shop, checking can do no harm. Just to be sure.