A Great Tool For Cartridge Alignment

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by thegage, Dec 3, 2008.

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  1. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd Thread Starter

    I'm one of those LP fanatics who's never quite sure of his cartridge set-up skills. Over the years I've used a number of alignment devices: various paper/plastic gauges supplied with tonearms, the dB Systems protractor, the MFSL Geodisk, and most recently the Feickert universal protractor--which is what I used with my Hadcock arm to set up a Music Maker III and my current Benz L2.

    But even with care and time spent on alignment I have not always been satisfied with the sound, and have had my doubts about accuracy. In my search for cartridge perfection I had considered the Wally Tractor, but his record with regard to customer service is abysmal, to be kind. Additional research led me to this product: http://www.mintlp.com/best.htm. I had a bit of hesitation over ordering from Hong Kong, but other customer comments were positive so I took the plunge. From ordering to arrival was a little less than 10 days--not bad--and everything arrived in fine shape.

    I spent a little over an hour with the tractor yesterday evening. Compared to what the Feickert had indicated my effective length was too long by about 1.5 mm. After correcting that I then aligned the stylus/cantilever.

    After I was certain that I had the proper alignment I cued up the 45-rpm version of Louis Armstrong's "I Ain't Got Nobody" re-issued by Classic. My wife, who rarely pays attention to my system other than the fact that it plays music, said unprompted, "What did you do to your system? It sounds a lot better."--and she was sitting in the room next to my listening room! Smoothness, openness, ease of the sound, naturalness, separation and depth were all improved.

    I owned an ET-2 tonearm for many years, so I am very familiar with the character of sound when tracking errors are effectively eliminated. I would say that the Best Tractor is the only alignment device that for me has brought the sound of a pivoted tonearm closest to that of a linear tracker, especially at the inner grooves.

    Downsides: Not cheap compared to a paper protractor, but it is expensive because it is accurate. It is useable only on arms with the same pivot-to-spindle mounting distance and with the same spindle diameter. The lines on the Tractor that you are using for reference are very thin and small and you need good magnification and a lot of patience. If you like to change arms or 'tables a lot you will need to get a new one every time you change.

    Upsides: A lot less worrying about whether or not set-up is correct. It makes your vinyl sound better!

    John K.
  2. semidetached

    semidetached Monkees Mixographist

    Bucks County, PA
    Thanks for this post. I'll look into this - because I too feel like I'm never quite getting it right.
  3. E-Rock

    E-Rock I Got a Rock

    Madison, WI, USA
    Thanks so much for this, John! :righton:

    Just in time, too, as I actually have a new cart on the way and have been contemplating how best to align it. I was thinking of using a simple paper protractor, but after reading your review (and others on Audiogon), I decided to spend the money and order a Best Tractor! :winkgrin:

    Any specific tips (or caveats) you can offer for using this?
  4. Mike in OR

    Mike in OR Through Middle-earth...onto Heart of The Sunrise

    Portland, Oregon
    This may be my next purchase....thanks for the post. :righton:
  5. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd Thread Starter

    Yip talks a lot about taking your time to do the alignment--rest your eyes, your brain, your hands. The main reason is because the drawn lines are so small that you need to look at them through a magnifier, and it doesn't take much movement to get things out of alignment with the tiny lines. So, don't expect to get good results if your idea of relaxing is to have a couple of beers while you set up your turntable! :D

    For me the 10x magnifier Yip recommends was only OK for checking the outer effective length adjustment point and the outer null point, but too bulky and very frustrating when checking the inner points. It can be done, but it is very fiddly.

    Fortunately I had another 10x magnifier that worked great for me as it is more compact. The only problem is that it is more expensive. Here it is:

    Beyond that, just set aside the time with the knowledge that it may take you a while, but the results will be worth it.

    John K.
  6. Sam

    Sam Senior Member

    Rochester, NY
    This appears to be quite similar to my Wally Tracker Cartridge alignment tool. Looks the same and works under the same principle, i.e. it's designed for a specific arm length. The price is also similar. I imagine this product works just as well. As far as the comment on Wally is concerned, I can state that the only time I contacted him concerning a question I had, he emailed me back very quickly. Plus, he saved me money. I did not know that my Rega 300 arm and the new VPI signature 9 arm had the same effective length. I thought I needed to buy another Wally Tracker. Why did I think this??? Well, my local dealer wanted my Wally Tracker on a trade in. Now, why didn't he just tell me to keep it to utilize it with my new VPI 9 arm? Good question! Once Wally told me it would still be perfect to use with my new VPI arm, I was instantly turned off to my local VPI dealer for either attempting to screw me out of the tracker or of being stupid in not realizing I could use the tracker with the new arm. Either way, I contacted Music Direct and made a wonderful deal with them and made a ton of money selling my old VPI/Rega unit on ebay. The dealer lost a customer based on that info.
  7. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd Thread Starter

    I have never seen a Wally Tracker but my understanding is that it is similar.

    My comments on Wally are not based on personal experience but on the following the comments at AA over the years. While Wally seems to respond quickly to some customers, to others it can take months if not years. All of the comments about Yip have been exemplary, and my experience as well.

    John K.
  8. Hypnotoad

    Hypnotoad Active Member

    Chicago, IL, USA
    Wow, that is a lot of money. It is probably worth it, but it is hard for me to justify, somehow. I am going to need to think on this for my next TT setup.
  9. erniebert

    erniebert Shoe-string audiophile

    Toronto area
    The thing costs as much as my cartridge did..
  10. OcdMan

    OcdMan Senior Member

    Looks good. I want one.
  11. Puma Cat

    Puma Cat Forum Resident

    East Bay, CA
    I just looked up the Music Maker III cartridge, and it sure looks a lot like a Grado Prestige 1 Gold, right down the stylus assembly, plastic molded body and rear metal "shield" (as if you can call any Grado shielded....sh-yeah right).

    Cartridge Man's Music Maker III

    Grado Prestige 1 Gold

    Both are moving iron cartridges, too...

    The Grado is $300 and the MMIII is $1200...

    hmmm.....curiouser and curiouser....
  12. Rolf Erickson

    Rolf Erickson New Member

    Los Angeles, CA

    I met "Wally" recently in Bel Air, Los Angeles. From Poland originally. A colorful guy, lots of gab and funny stories. I don't know anything about his product or service, great or poor. But he's a good salesman, I can say that. R.E.
  13. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd Thread Starter

    As yes, the old "Must be a scam" hypothesis based on apparently nothing more than looking at a picture.

    Len Gregory, the purveyor of the MM line of cartridges, makes no secret that he takes a Grado body and guts it before rebuilding it with his own parts. His argument is that the Grado body is a good base and it cuts down on costs.

    Having owned an MM III and Grados I can say that the stylus and cantilever are not standard Grado parts. As for the insides, I did not have disposable cartridges to disassemble and compare. I can say, however, that the MM III performance was way above that of the Grados I have owned, from an 8MZ Signature back in the early '80s to the more recent Gold.

    John K.
  14. P2CH

    P2CH Well-Known Member

    I honestly don't understand the extent that some put into cartridge alignment. Granted, I don't own a mega-priced table, but in all the years I've had them, I've mounted them, straightened them out, set the overhang, set the weight and never an issue.

    No fuss, no muss. Just get er done.
  15. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd Thread Starter

    Well, a lot does depend on the complexity of your stylus; for some exact alignment is more critical. But in any case, until you hear the change it does seem a stretch to think it will make that big a difference.

    John K.
  16. P2CH

    P2CH Well-Known Member

    I will say that the one setting that made a huge improvement for me was VTA. The arm on my Marantz was set too low in the rear and all my Lp's sounded muddy without definition.

    Getting that set correctly made a world of difference in how it sounded.
  17. Puma Cat

    Puma Cat Forum Resident

    East Bay, CA
    The "must be a scam" verbage is yours, not mine. It looked to me that he was OEMing cartridges from Grado, which, clearly, he is. The "moving iron" signal generation embodiment from Grado is likely retained as well.
  18. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd Thread Starter

    I hate to continue crapping my own thread, but I'll go one more round.

    I should have said 'the implication of the old "must be a scam".' That was my interpretatiuon of your verbiage, "hmmm.....curiouser and curiouser...." Should I interpret your verbiage some other way?

    John K.
  19. Puma Cat

    Puma Cat Forum Resident

    East Bay, CA
    Hee hee!....maybe we should let it go and get the thread back to your original topic, which is way cool protractors! :)

    John, I sincerely meant no disparagement of your cartridge; the tradition of getting cartridges and rebuilding them is a fine old tradition in the way of modding tube amps. I've, for example had a Frank Val Alstine modified Sonus Gold, and Zu rebuilds the classic Denon 103.

    I am sure the Music Man's cartridge is a very fine piece; I was just struck by how much it resembled a Grado Gold; I guess because it started life as one!

  20. darkmatter

    darkmatter Gort Astronomer Staff

    Thanks for the link, certainly worth a look.

  21. markshan

    markshan Forum Resident

    Pittsburgh, PA
    There is a link on that page that directs back to this page. Am I in a time - space continuum?
  22. thegage

    thegage Forum Currency Nerd Thread Starter

    I think Yip, the maker of the tractor, liked what I wrote.:)

    John K.
  23. Natt

    Natt Forum Resident

    Acton, Canada
    I've been emailing Yip about getting a tractor for my Gyrodec / FR-64fx, but it seems that my arm is perhaps not 100% correctly mounted as it's pivot to spindle distance seems about 3mm too short. Yip has been really helpful so far. As soon as I can get the arm mounting confirmed or fixed, I'll get a tractor and see how it works.
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