Some setup step combinations are iterative in nature, and adjusting one parameter can have an influence on another. In this 50,000 foot overview, we lay out the basic process, but we’ll go into much more detail in the individual step documentation.
An excellent resource is Andre Jenning’s method as documented by Jonathan Valin in the Absolute Sound (opens in a new window).
The detailed steps may seem like excess, but you will hear overhang differences of .1mm (.003″) in even a modestly resolving system. Your attention to detail will be rewarded, and remember that you don’t have to complete the process in a single session.
- If your tonearm has azimuth adjustment, set it so the headshell is parallel to the platter when viewed from the front. With many tonearms, this can be most easily done before installing the cartridge by using some sort of flat, parallel sided block as a reference/jig. Even a stack of business cards will work.
- Install and position the cartridge in the center of the headshell mounting slot range, unless you have specific information which will help make your starting point closer to the final adjustment.
- Set the tracking force to the midrange of the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Set the tonearm height for a VTA/SRA that yields a headshell which is parallel to the platter when viewed from the side. The mounting surface of the cartridge (bottom surface of the headshell) is the best place to view this, as some tonearm tubes are tapered .
- Align the cartridge’s geometry with the protractor of your choosing (we highly recommend an arc protractor).
- Check and readjust tracking force.
- It’s time to start playing records.
- Adjust anti-skate.
- Adjust azimuth. This may take from minutes to weeks – don’t stress out over getting it right in the first session.
- Experiment with tracking force over the course of weeks/months (re-visit anti-skate if you change tracking force)
- Loading – do this over the course of weeks/months as well, and re-visit VTA/SRA when you make changes
- items 1-4 are preliminary settings to facilitate setting the geometry in step 5. They’re fine tuned later as explained in the detailed step descriptions.
- A heavy tracking force can compress (and therefore “lengthen”) the cantilever – increasing the effective length (the distance from the stylus to the bearing pivot). Of course, setting a reasonable tracking force at this point is good for the health of your cartridge.
- An excessively high VTA can shorten the effective length.
- Setting a baseline azimuth adjustment (level headshell) will make it easier to determine the cantilever’s offset angle when you adjust the geometry with your protractor.
- Realize that if you later find yourself moving the cartridge position (sliding it fore or aft), you are changing the tracking force and will need to readjust it.