Steep Tonearm?

Mr. Fremer:

First off, I would like to thank you for making the "21st century vinyl DVD." It really helped me out when setting up my VPI classic 1. It really opened my eyes to some mistakes I had made. I was able to apply most of the setup you performed on the Scoutmaster to my table. My table is really sounding good now. The comedy standup at the end was a good laugh. I also want to thank you for making yourself available to the audio masses through the analog planet website. I have just discovered it a few weeks ago and I really enjoy your articles there. Keep up the good work.

The reason I a contacting you today is because of the recent article on using a USB microscope to set SRA. It seems as if this is a new practice in turntable setup that was not included in the 2006 DVD. I did order a Mint LP protractor for my table and it came with a 10x lupe. I am using a Soundsmith Boheme cartridge that has a contact line stylus. When using the lupe, I can get a clear view of my stylus. I have tried to adjust my arm to get the 92 degree angle but the rear of the tonearm is raised up quite a bit.

It seems like the angle of the arm is too steep, I mean really steep. I'm not sure if is possible to get the stylus to 92 degrees at this point. It could be the Soundsmith cantilever is set at an angle where it will not allow me to achieve this.

I am hoping to win the lyra Delos cartridge and maybe that would solve this problem. Would you mind to give me a few suggestions about how to keep the tonearm relatively level and still get the SRA correct?

Thanks in advance for your help. I know you are a busy guy and probably get several e-mails a day asking for help so, I understand if you don't get back to me. I just wanted to send you a message to say thanks for the good articles.

Andy P.

Andy, first of all thanks for the comments about the DVD. Yes, using a USB microscope came after the DVD was produced and while I've considered amending it, my feeling is that with this website, I can do it here to augment the DVD rather than shooting new footage and re-mastering it.

When I meticulously set up the VPI Traveler for the recent contest, the arm had to be raised up a considerable amount from parallel to the record surface to achieve 92 degrees. This is not a problem. It is more important to achieve 92 degrees than to worry about the esthetics of a steeply raised arm.

However, when you say "really steep" I don't know how steep you mean. If you mean REALLY steep then I wonder whether you are measuring from the wrong angle or whether the stylus/cantilever assembly Soundsmith used was way out of spec. It could be one or the other or both!

The image at the top of the story shows a line contact-type stylus at approximately 91 degrees. The measurement is the angle of the contact area (the thin line bisecting the side of the stylus) and the surface. When the tonearm is parallel to the record surface, generally speaking, the SRA of a line contact stylus, when properly manufactured should be at or close to 90 degrees.

In the case of the Dynavector cartridge installed in the Traveler, it required raising the back of the arm about 8mm to achieve 92 degrees. That raised the back considerably, but not "grotesquely."

So the questions are: did you measure correctly? And how "steep" is "steep"?

I have chosen to make this a "public" issue because I want everyone to be aware that raising the back of the arm may be esthetically unpleasing in some cases but it does not indicate anything 'wrong'.

Please compare the image above to what you are seeing and measuring and if possible send me a photo of how "steep" your arm has to be, to achieve above 90 degree SRA.


bhutton13's picture

Mr. Fremer,

  After reading the above post, i'd like to add that I have also recently bought a new cartridge.I installed the new VPI Zephyr on my Scout Turntable. I also have purchased both your DVD's and followed the procedures and tips.The Scout has never sounded this good. Bought the VPI Counter Intuitve fine adjustment counter weight adapter and it also seems to work well.

    The past few weeks I have been following the SRA setup articles, looking at my cartridge with a 10X loop and the snmall lighted microscope it appears to be a few degrees forward of 92 more like 95 to my eye, I have not purchased a USB microscope yet. The cartridge is set at the max tracking weight of 2.2, perhaps if i set it lower the angle will change, will give it a try. Right now the bass is more tight and clean than it's ever been on my modest system.

   Enjoy this website, your column in Stereophile and those DVD's.

Thank You

Bob Hutton

AndyPrice44's picture


           Thank you for the fast and detailed response. I did make a mistake in my first post. That is what I get for not proof reading. I need to change one word. I need to change rear to front. The front of the tonearm, where the cartridge is mounted is raised up. I have been trying to sort this out for the past few days. I have adjusted the VTA wheel to the point where it is all the way to the bottom. This still won't come close to the 92 degree mark. It is getting closer but, I can tell with the 10x lupe that it is still off. In your picture above, your stylus is leaning slightly to the left. My stylus leans to the left quite a bit more than that. I have lowered the back of the tonearm to try to get it in a more vertical position. It is all the way down and still won't get to that point where it is slightly leaning left. The front of the tonearm is about half an inch higher than the back. This has also caused a problem of the cartridge body being too close to the record surface. Like I said in my original post, I'm not sure if I can achieve 92 degrees with this soundsmith cartridge. I have contacted soundsmith to see what they have to say about this as well. I will report back later. Thanks again.



Michael Fremer's picture

I would guess the stylus/cantilever assemby Soundsmith used is well out of spec. I have no doubt cartridge manufacturers consider me a "trouble maker" but really, they need to be more selective when choosing from among their selection of stylus/cantilever assemblies before building a cartridge, particularly one with a line contact stylus that really does require 92 degree SRA to sound best.<p>

The less expensive the cartridge, the less likely manufacturers will be in paying careful attention to this, but I think less expensive cartridges should use less severe stylus profiles to avoid the problem.<p>

If you are going to pay more for a higher performance stylus profile you are entitled to be delivered a cartridge that will let you maximize performance should you so choose.<p>

That's my position on this. Your other alternative is to insert a spacer in the headshell. That will further raise the front end, but at some point it might compromise overall performance.<p>



Jody's picture

Andy, I have a similar problem, I posted about it in hte usb microscope thread. I have lowered the tonearm quite a bit, the cartridge body is almost touching the record, but cant get close to 92degrees. It's still too forward. It's a Goldring 1042. I guess some cartridges were not designed to get a 92degrees SRA.

Michael Fremer's picture

My position is that when a cartridge is installed in a tonearm that's positioned parallel to the record surface, the SRA should be at or close to ± 90 degrees—particularly if it's a line contact or other severe stylus profile.<p>

That would mean raising or lowering the (9") arm approximately 8mm to achieve 92 degrees. That is not a "grotesque" amount and should not be esthetically repellant.<p>

If the stylus/cantilever assembly is so "off" that you can't achieve or come close to 92 degrees unless the adjustment goes beyond what the tonearm can achieve, or reaches a grotesque angle relative to parallel to the record surface—especially if the stylus profile is severe and if the cartridge is premium-priced—I'd consider such a cartridge defective. <p>

Again, that's not going to win me friends among cartridge manufacturers, but it's what I believe.

AndyPrice44's picture

I also think this soundsmith cartridge in particular was not designed with 92 degree SRA in mind. When you look at the picture of mikey's cantilever in the picture above, you notice the slight bend where the stylus is attached. My stylus is ruby and does not have this bend. It is just straigt. Then the stylus looks to be attached at an angle where it is not possible to get 92 degree SRA. I'm not sure why they designed it this way. I did talk to peter at soundsmith today. I sent him a picture of my cartridge and he said it appeared to not be seated correctly in the adapter body. This could be part of the problem. I suspect it is. He did offer to fix it so I am sending it in. I am also going to make sure the stylus is joined to the cantilever at the correct angle while it is there. Looks like I will be without my cartridge for a couple of weeks. I am also going to ask Peter if they were designed to have a 92 degree SRA.

The funny thing is, My table sounds great to me and all that have listened to it. I read articles like these and it just makes me wonder what I'm missing or, could it sound even better. It's the never ending pursuit of audio perfection.



Thanks for taking the time to address this question. I appreciate it.



AndyPrice44's picture


 I didn't write that last statement to contradict what you were saying. I think we were both typing responses at the same time. You just posted yours a few seconds before me. I was responding to jody.

Is it pretty common in the industry for all manufacturers to use a 90 degree stylus when the arm is parallel to the record surface? Would there be any reason that you could think of why soundsmith would design a cartridge that the stylus is not at this angle? I would like to post a photo to help add to this conversation. How do I upload it here?

Young Skywalker's picture

I was lead to believe that replicating the angle of the cutting head was our aim in setting the SRA of our playback system. Is this not correct? Does the cutting head angle show some degree of variability between LPs or even between individual tracks or LP sides? How can one single SRA, in this case 92 degrees, be correct for all LPs or are we simply trying to find the best compromise here? If so, would this compromise SRA value be suitable for an original Decca pressing as well as a modern reissue from Speakers Corner?

audiof001's picture

My Benz Glider was rebuilt with the best cantilever and stylus Soundsnith provides. Unfortunately, I bought it used and was unfamiliar with the Glider's original cantilever and stylus. I bought the inexpensive 45X microscope mentioned in (under $7.49 plus shipping) and my SRA also shows nothing close to 92 degrees. I have a Well Tempered Turntable with quite a few mods - I've lowered the back of the arm as low as I can. If viewed from the side, the stylus still needs to rotate clockwise 16.75 degrees. Short of shimming the back of the cartridge, I don't thing there is anything else I can do to achieve the optimal 92 degree SRA. The stylus was built directly off the cantilever without a bend in the cantilever tip tha would be parallel with the record surface to achieve a true 90 degree stylus placement. I would love to hear Peter Ledermann's response to this new 92 degree SRA practice. 

jgossman's picture

On every table I've tilted my cartridge a nudge past 90, focus and clarity have improved. On my Rega this has always meant putting a paper shim at the front of the cartridge. I have never heard any difference to the negative.

Keep up the great advice.


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