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Setting Tracking Force

General Principles

  • Increasing tracking force can help you to track dynamic passages, but so can damping, if your tonearm has this capability.
  • Stay within your manufacturers’ recommended range.  We’ve heard of one prominent reviewer who advocated a tracking force well above the manufacturer’s recommended range.  If you do this, realize that you are effectively misaligning the cartridge’s motor circuit (moving it out of its linear range), while potentially shortening the life of its suspension.  Don’t second guess the design engineers.
  • Follow the “just enough, but no more” rule.  Set the force high enough to track (or almost track) your most difficult passages.  Too high a tracking force (even within the manufacturer’s range) will overdamp the presentation – the music will lose its sense of “drive” and timing.  Your turntable will sound as if it’s running slow.

Note:

  • When installing a new cartridge, locate your cartridge in the mid-range of the headshell slots and set the tracking force to the mid-range of your manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Do this before setting the geometry with your protractor.  Depending on the tracking force, your cantilever flexes and this changes the effective length.  Setting the tracking force to the middle of the cartridge’s expected tracking force minimizes this effect.
  • Also, realize that as you adjust the cartridge’s position in the headshell (while setting up the geometry), you are changing the tracking force, so re-set the tracking force after setting the effective length (position in the headshell).
  • Fine tune the tracking force during listening as noted above.

Interaction With Other Settings

Anti-skate:  there is a frictional component in the skating force, and when you change your tracking force (either lighter or heavier), revisit your anti-skate setting, to which the “just enough, but no more” rule also applies.

Effective Mass:  If your tonearm has multiple counterweights and you change the combination, while maintaining the same tracking force (i.e. changing to a heavier combination that’s closer to the bearing pivot), you are changing the effective mass.  Revisit your tracking force and follow the “just enough, but no more” rule.