With the Feickert Adjust + software being discontinued, the plan has been to compare the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Adjust + and the AnalogMagik setup tools.
Those of you who have queried me about the AnalogMagik, know this is an involved project, and after long delays, I've finally carved out time to dedicate to it.
Up to this point, we couldn't give AudioMagik more than a tentative recommendation - try it at your own risk, as it’s the only game in town, unless you have an oscilloscope.
As we work through this process, we'll comment further in a follow-up, after we receive Version 2 (later this year). At that point, we'll attempt to address the following thee questions:
- I own the Feickert software, should I purchase the AnalogMagik as well?
- I own Version 1. Is the upgrade to Version 2 notable, and worth my while?
- Do a I need any of these tools?
In the meantime (after wading through the following), feel free to contact us about these products, and setup in general.
The Evaluation Process
Some key areas we need to cover when evaluating/recommending any setup tool include:
- What are the tool's limits and characteristics, and what (if any) techniques do we need to adopt to use them to our best advantage?
- Does the tool make the right assumptions - what to measure and how?
- Given the vagaries of the record production process (see below), what can we reasonably expect from any setup tool?
- Who is best suited for a particular tool? We all have different work styles and inclination for detailed work. What makes “sense” to me, might not work for you.
You might want to brew a cup, because this is going to be a long one.
My Current Protocol
Briefly stated, I begin by setting tracking force and geometry. After re-verifying these parameters, I follow up by setting VTA/SRA with a USB microscope. I then set a “baseline” anti-skate, and proceed to set azimuth with the Feickert Adjust +.
The remainder is fine-tuned during listening sessions. I normally find very little fine-tuning is required, with tracking force typically being the variable subject to the most experimentation (tune for dynamics).
Unlike the Adjust +, the AnalogMagik software has test tracks for measuring VTA/SRA as well as tracking force. In Version 2 (to be released in October, 2022), the VTA/SRA function is integrated with their azimuth function – this, in recognition of the tight interaction between these two parameters.
Version 2's integration of VTA/SRA and azimuth is of particular interest, but first things first.
You can read more about my method in the generalized setup procedure section of the report that subscribers to our mailing list can download.
You can subscribe to our list from the link in the footer section of all of our web pages. Subscribers qualify for discounts on products in our “Accessories” section (including AnalogMagik, Audiodesk record cleaners, the Feickert protractor, and more).
Record Pressing Standards – SRA
I want to start with this, because it’s the hand we’ve been dealt, and it’s out of our control. If you follow the analog forums, you’ve no doubt read of fastidious audiophiles who categorize their records by thickness and adjust their VTA/SRA accordingly.
Sorry to be so blunt, but this is a fool’s errand.
Surf over to Jonathan Carr’s comments in response to a review of the Lyra Etna cartridge, and take note of his following comment:
Even on the LP-cutting side of things, documentation regarding SRA is sparse and not particularly clear. Some documents suggest that the SRA cutting range for present LPs may be from 91° to 95°, but there doesn't seem to be any single document published by the LP-manufacturing industry that spells this out clearly.
Note that with a nominal 9” tonearm, a one degree SRA increase equates to raising the bearing tower by 4mm!
Let’s say you’re inclined to change your VTA/SRA on a record by record basis, based on record thickness.
- You record your tonearm height after setting for the “correct” SRA for a 140 gram record (about 1.4mm thick).
- You then adjust your SRA setting accordingly when playing your 200 gram records (about 2mm thick), raising your bearing tower by the 0.6mm difference.
The 0.6mm change equates to an SRA change of about 0.15 degrees on a 9” tonearm. While the height change may well be audible, it pales in comparison to the unknown angle the record was cut at.
The thicker record may actually require you to lower the bearing post by 3mm instead of raising it by 0.6mm.
See the problem? We have no clear idea of the target.
SRA – Set and Forget
OK, so you want to “set and forget” your VTA/SRA, but this still leaves you with uncertainty about what setting to use, and how to establish it.
Statistically, it appears that the mean SRA cutting angle is 92 degrees (the median would be the 93 degrees from Jonathan’s research). This is the basis for the common practice of setting up your cartridge with a USB microscope to this 92 degree angle.
In our downloadable setup reports, we coined the term "false null". Briefly stated, a false null is an adjustment point that while not correct, is “better” than its adjacent points.
A false null tends to be unstable in comparison with the true null, which is why audiophiles all too frequently feel the need to tweak VTA/SRA for various records (even ones of the same thickness).
We won’t go into more detail here, but suffice to say, that when you “split the difference" by establishing an SRA of 92 degrees, you have an excellent chance of playing your entire record collection.
SRA – What Tool?
Assuming the AnalogMagik test record is cut to target a 92 degree SRA, then the software should arrive at the same setting as the one we arrive at using a USB microscope - as long as we have good technique with our 'scope.
The ‘scope we use, magnifies at 240x, and it’s difficult to see the very tip of the stylus at this magnification level. With enough experience, we can get very close.
You can get an idea of the challenge involved in analyzing the stylus profile if you expand this image.
At the very bottom of the stylus, you'll see a "sub" facet. This is the mid-point we're trying to measure - not the larger section of the stylus.
In practice, these angles are very close, however.
Unfortunately, higher magnification reduces the working distance to the point where the cartridge body prevents the ‘scope from getting close enough to achieve focus. The experienced user can get very close with 240x magnification however, and in practice, we find that the ‘scope gets us within 0.5mm of our “final” setting.
If you’re interested in USB microscopes and associated hardware, note that we have a parts list for ‘scopes and appropriate positioning stands in the Appendix section of our downloadable setup report.
Know that a proper ‘scope, combined with a stable, stand that's Vernier adjustable in all three axes (X, Y, and Z) costs nearly as much as the AnalogMagik's Version 2.
As we work through these evaluations, cost will certainly factor into our analysis. We’ll dig into this in much greater detail in the near future.
Interaction Between Parameters
This is where it gets a bit sticky. We know that SRA and azimuth interact, since changes to SRA (with line contact styli) affect the phase. AnalogMagik recognizes this.
However, we don't know the SRA with which AnalogMagik's test record is cut, and it also remains to be seen whether the integrated VTA/SRA feature in Version 2 of AnalogMagik improves either our workflow or precision.
As noted above, we’re at the mercy of the vagaries of the cutting process, so knowing AnaloMagik's assumptions would be helpful.
When setting SRA with our 'scope, we use a 92 degree SRA as our baseline - for both fine-tuning SRA, as well as for setting azimuth.
In part 2 of this series, we're going to explore this relationship between these two parameters in detail.
The Best Tool – Maintaining your Sanity
On our Audiodesk record cleaner page , we discuss how a tool that’s too labor intensive or otherwise difficult to work with, never gets used.
We reference the camera user who purchases a full frame camera with the requisite “holy trinity” of zoom lenses. After an initial infatuation with this kit (weighing 20-25 Lbs.), its cumbersome nature relegates it to the gear closet.
The camera you don’t have with you is the picture you don’t take. Street photographers have a motto: “F8 and be there”. Keep it simple and get the shot.
So, a product that confuses or frustrates the user, or in other ways presents barriers to using it is all but useless.
In the next installment of this series, we'll run some tests, to quantify the relationship between VTA and Azimuth. Stated in practical terms, we'll address the question: do you really need to adjust azimuth after a small VTA change?
Following on, we'll explore the difference between Versions 1 and 2 of AnalogMagik, as well as putting this in context with the Feickert Adjust + and our current methodology.
Stay tuned …