Please help me upgrade (or fix?) a frustrating system

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by izgoblin, May 24, 2019.

  1. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I have a VPI Scout with a JMW9T tonearm and an Audio Technica AT33PTG/II dual moving coil cartridge. This is now my second AT33PTG/II on this table and I refuse to buy another one so soon. For some reason, I'm only getting about a year's worth of life out of the thing and I certainly don't put THAT many hours on my table. An average of 8-10 hours of playing time per week maybe.

    What I'm experiencing:

    When I first get my cart, I'm thrilled with it. No obvious mistracking, no IGD, no sibilence at all except in very rare cases (which I attribute to bad cuts/pressings). Serious audiophile grade sound. Over time, an issue arises. The first time, somehow my cantilever got slightly bent resulting in distortion and excessive surface noise. I can't really say for sure how, and I've begun to wonder if it did so under regular use. So I replaced the cart in March of 2018, and recently I've found a new problem. More and more mistracking, and now I'm getting excessive sibilence too. It used to be when I played a clean record, I wouldn't hear any of the problems that can be associated with vinyl. But recently, on my fairly decent system, my records are starting to sound like I have a lower end setup. I can easily tell I'm listening to vinyl, as I'm dealing with sibilence and other distortion.

    I clean my stylus with Last stylus cleaner after every side. I can only guess that I'm neither too gentle nor too rough about doing so.

    I clean every single one of my records and do not at all believe my current cleaning process is introducing these problems. I agonized over this and finally got it right after many failures.

    I checked my tracking force and it's at just under 2.1 grams which is ever so slightly over what is recommended.

    I DO mostly play used records, and I recognize that they can come with various degrees of wear, but it's starting to sound like most every used record I buy is worn a little, and that's just not feeling right to me.

    Because I seem to keep having problems with this cart, I'm ready to just toss it all and start over, at least as much as I can afford. One has to assume that doing that will fix my problem, right?

    So, I can dig up about $2500. Maybe $3000 if I starve myself for a while. Should I replace my TT, tonearm and cart? It doesn't look like I can upgrade the arm on the Scout past what I have now. And if I replace all three, can I get a setup that will CLEARLY improve on the AT33PTG/II so that I can at least hear what I'm paying for? I want what any picky audiophile would want on clean records - No sibilence, no distortion, and a clean sound as close to what's on the vinyl as I can afford (limited surface noise is a plus too). After hearing what this setup can do before it went to hell, I really do want the best that I can get.

    So, unless someone knows what is likely causing my problem, can you strongly recommend a $2500 replacement setup that will make me glad I made the change? I am NOT looking to pinch pennies here, as I do not want to upgrade again for a while.

    I appreciate your responses, but it helps me a bit if you can maybe give me a bit of detail behind what you upgraded from and what problems you solved with the items you'll recommend to me. Meaning, a bit of history may help me understand if you're as picky as I am.
  2. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    A few months ago there was a VPI owner dealing with frustrating sibilance problems and anti-skating turned out to be an issue. I don't know if they ever got it solved 100%, but IIRC it was a Soundsmith cartridge on a VPI. You might try finding that thread and seeing if you can get some advice from the people that posted there.
    izgoblin likes this.
  3. macster

    macster Forum Resident

    San Diego, Ca. USA
    I would suggest having your setting on the table checked by a trustworthy person. That will allow you to validate that the table is setup correctly. If it is the problem may be in the usage/handling of the cartridge or the cartridge itself. Be patient and very cautious about throwing money at it.

    Just MHO

  4. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for that suggestion. I suppose I should find somewhere reliable to take it first. The place I got it set up at doesn't tickle my fancy really because the guy did the setup in front of me in 5 minutes "by ear" using a dirty record. That said, it DID sound great at one point. I just need to find someone else local who is obsessive enough to really help me.
    Optimize and patient_ot like this.
  5. Thouston

    Thouston Forum Resident

    Mattoon, IL
    Ask Michael Fremer

  6. Optimize

    Optimize Forum Resident

    Second that. That you should go to a TT setup person.

    And the best is if you can get hold of different people. There are so many ways to do it even MF have sub optimal ways to do it. And Peter L do some things better in my opinion. So that way I am trying to say is even the top 2 vinyl guys (?) in the world is doing setup differently..

    VPI Scout 2 JMW-9T Setup And Instruction Manual Page 7

    So your tone arm has more or less NO (!) antiscating adjustment.
    No 1.
    Look in your manual (the picture above) how to set you antiscate by twisting your tone arm cable (in the right direction!) before you plug it in. So when your tonearm are floating 0 gram it should glide towards the arm rest.
    If you have not paid attention to that then you can have unintentional twisted it to in the opposite direction and added more force towards the spindle.. (so let your tone arm float and see what direction it is going. Before adjusting/touching the cable) If it is going towards the spindle then you have certainly found the issue.

    Now it is time to adjust the VTF after the floating above..

    Your cartridge have this data from the manufacturer web page:
    "Tracking Force Range 1.8 - 2.2g (2.0g standard)"
    The scating forces increase the more Tracing force you have. So you see that the more force you apply the more "problems" you get and the more antiscating you need.. but your arm have maybe none to give.. AT REKOMENDS 2.0 gram. There are hardly any reason to go higher than that.. I would set it somewhere between minimum (1.8g) and 2.0.

    The high amount of wrong antiscate force can and will on some cartridges "bend/twist" cantilever in its suspension. After a prolonged period of use.

    So IF you have had a force towards the spindle when you float. Then most certainly that you may have now a damage diamond that are more worn in one of the sides and maybe the cantaliver has also twisted in its suspension.

    If you determine that this is the issue then a new cartridge. May be in place to start with when the antiscating is sorted.

    The manual is also talking about a that they supply a mechanical antiscate. Maybe something to consider..

    Good luck with your investigation!
    izgoblin and The FRiNgE like this.
  7. The FRiNgE

    The FRiNgE Forum Resident

    First, I would look into the anti-skate on your VPI. The first stylus you describe as a bent or leaning cantilever? This occurs from side forces and eventual fatigue of the stylus suspension. The most common lean would be to the outside (pointing toward the outer rim of the record) This indicates no anti-skate, or not enough anti-skate. If pointing more to the record label, this indicates excessive anti-skate. As @Optimize mentions, cantilever lean will always have some twist, which causes azimuth error and accelerated stylus wear.

    My method of checking the anti-skate is simple, and extremely accurate. Lower the stylus on a spinning record, on the second band (not the outer rim) note that the cantilever remains centered, or if it makes a slight deflection left or right. Measurement isn't important. The idea is to see that the cantilever does not deflect. It's easy to see just as the stylus hits the groove, settles in.. visual perception is highly sensitive to any movement, or change of the cantilever angle.

    if the cantilever angles outward, insufficient anti-skate, apply MORE anti-skate
    if the cantilever angles inward, too much anti-skate, apply LESS anti-skate

    Also important, with increased stylus wear rate, I would reconsider my record cleaning regimen.
    Would you mind sharing with us how you're cleaning your records?

    Dust and dirt isn't the only factor, also common from improper cleaning is the deposited sediment from dissolved material in the fluid, not completely removed. This causes a concrete-like coating on the groove walls, and is highly abrasive.
    Last edited: May 24, 2019
    patient_ot, izgoblin and Optimize like this.
  8. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for the suggestions. I will look more into whether I'm dealing with a skating issue for sure. The frustrating thing is that anti-skate is not easy (for me anyway) to set on this arm/table. I will look into the mechanical anti-skate as I didn't recall that was an option.

    I think my cleaning regimen is FINALLY the one that actually works for me. I've tried several methods and fluids and dealt with a range of insufficient cleaning all the way to fluids that damaged my records (ugh).

    I now use TergiKleen in distilled water as directed. I have a Pro-Ject VC-S RCM. I apply a liberal amount of fluid to a MoFi cleaning brush and spread the fluid across the record as it spins on the RCM. I give it a gentle scrub in one direction as it spins for about 3-4 turns in each direction. I then vacuum off the fluid and rinse with distilled water (I use a separate MoFi brush to spread the water). I basically use the same process twice for the rinse process in order to insure all traces of the cleaning fluid are removed.
    The FRiNgE likes this.
  9. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Do you have any new records to test if theres lots of distortion on?
  10. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Yes, but the trick is that - assuming it's the same problem I had before, and now I believe it is - it's not consistent until I end up with a bent cantilever. For whatever reason, new records aren't as affected. That said, I became convinced I have a real issue when I played two copies purchased from different locations of a new record - one cleaned and one not - and I heard excessive surface noise on both, but ONLY in the right channel. That's exactly the issue I encountered when I ended up with the bent cantilever before, and it certainly makes sense that it's a skating issue.

    I ordered the anti-skate add-on for my table and will get it installed pronto. I haven't been home yet to do the test that The FRINgE suggested, but I will, and I now fully expect it to prove that I'm dealing with a skating issue. Reading VPI's description that all of their tests show that increasing tracking force resolves skating problems really frustrates me. Clearly they figured out they were wrong since then, but I've already blown through one expensive cart and damaged several records as a result of this problem the first time. I really, really hope I caught this before it got so bad that I've damaged even more!
    patient_ot and Leonthepro like this.
  11. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    How do you know your cantilever is bent? Post a pic to confirm that first.

    Why do you clean your stylus after every side? That is beyond overkill and exponentially increases the chances of damaging the cantilever. My system is quite revelatory and have never heard any degradation in the sound from not cleaning the stylus. I do it once a month when I think of it and there is no difference whatsoever playing the same re-cleaned record after the stylus is clean.

    I'd be curious to see a detailed clear video of your cleaning the stylus. My wild guess is your repeated constant cleaning is what eventually damages the suspension or cantilever. A wild shot in the dark but my assumption based on what you mentioned is there's no coincidence between constantly picking at the thing and experiencing the thing not performing as well as it did.
  12. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    I don't like the idea of cleaning the stylus every time, also if you are cleaning your records regularly and properly the stylus should rarely be cleaned. I hardly ever clean my records and yes from time to time the stylus get clogged or sounds distorted but only then I clean it. I also clean it when I am about to play a good record after playing a dubious one to avoid contaminating the good one with any debris that might have accumulated. I use a special brush very rarely as I think the potential for damage is huge and only from the back to the front. Side cleaning is something extremely dangerous but sometimes is necessary. Despite not cleaning my records generally noise is not a problem, there are some exceptions of course, nothing is perfect.

    As a safer method for cleaning the stylus I can recommend you try the Onzow cleaner, I've discovered that years ago and it's been very effective when the stylus is lightly dirty .

    Aside from the antiskate add on which you should explore, there might be a problem with your tonearm. Also have you checked your turntable is at perfect level?
    Ski Bum and Fishoutofwater like this.
  13. harby

    harby Forum Resident

    Portland, OR, USA
    TL;DR translation: "We have no antiskate on the turntable, a very real physical phenomenon that needs compensation by the turntable's tonearm. Maybe you can bend the wires (RF antennas) and they'll do something? If you're a real dummy, you'll add more tracking weight, which makes even more skate force..."
  14. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Why do I? Because I can't, uh, leave 'er alone apparently.

    Also, because I follow the directions.

    LAST Stylus Cleaner - The Last Factory

    And thanks for the lecture, Dad.
  15. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks. As for cleaning the stylus, maybe once per side can get a bit much, but I am pretty careful about this. To answer another poster, the cantilever was bent to the left and was very visible once we looked for it. I'll try to take these suggestions to heart, but I have a real reason to clean the stylus and of course, I usually see this as a recommended option. I can't play my records with the dust cover on, so that's approx. 40 minutes per album that the record and TT are exposed to the air, meaning that no matter how well I clean my records, dust and some pet hair will end up on the record. That's just a reality, and a frustrating one at that. So to make sure that any small piece of hair or something I can't see isn't on my stylus, I use the LAST cleaner as directed. I'll look into the Onzow cleaner though.

    Good question on checking that the turntable is level. I hadn't thought of that before, but I did certainly check that when I first set it up and was surprised that it was. There's no good reason for that to have changed, but I'll pull out the level anyway since it only takes a second.
  16. timind

    timind phorum rezident

    Westfield, IN USA
    Sometime dad's advice is best. If you're playing clean records, obsessive stylus cleaning isn't going to help anything.
  17. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Yeah, I have a 33PTG. It has a tiny stylus and a tiny cantilever. You must have better eyes and hands than I do be able to apply microns worth of cleaning fluid to the stylus only. Personally, I'd skip the liquid cleaner and just us a brush or a gel or something like that. Liquid on the cart every side is a lot, not to mention the likelihood of it getting up into the assembly. I'd certainly check setup -- level, VTF, VTA (that cart, with that small stylus and ML profile, takes some care in setting up and can sound pretty different with small changes of VTA), azimuth, anti-skate.
  18. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    You posted because you couldn't figure out a solution. I suggested possibilities you hadn't considered. Keeping the status quo is what (apparently) creates the issue to begin with so a change in how you do things needs to happen if you wish to avoid the problem in the future. No? A couple of other members thought my "lecture" had some merit.

    If you're unwilling to be open-minded about those possibilities and would rather reply in a dismissive sarcastic tone, it's no skin off my nose, dude. After all, I'm not the one experiencing the problem. But I *did* take the time to write a detailed post because I *was* trying to help a fellow member in need. It's a shame you could not take my advice in the spirit with which it was given but I'll nevertheless wish you luck with your problem and refrain from attempting to help you in the future.
    John Buchanan, chipcalzada and timind like this.
  19. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    You offered me a bunch of attitude besides dismissing the anti-skate issues that were being discussed around you. You asked for a picture of a bent cantilever because you apparently couldn't believe that could be caused by anything other than my apparent obsessiveness.

    I do appreciate help and, as you'll see above, I'll take the stylus cleaning suggestions seriously, but I don't much care for jerks. I see no reason why asking for help means I gotta put up with attitude.
    Last edited: May 30, 2019
  20. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    No attitude, no. I did not even mention anti-skate. My not mentioning it doesn't mean I'm dismissing anything.

    This was the paragraph.

    "How do you know your cantilever is bent? Post a pic to confirm that first."

    I'm not intimately familiar with your level of knowledge on cantilevers, hence my question. You took it as an accusation.

    Carts are expensive so it's natural for some to feel nervous when issues like that occur. I know I would be! That can lead some to occasionally jump to conclusions, usually worst-case scenarios. The request was merely to entertain the idea it may not be damaged. You took the request as an insult.

    The current case of your cleaning after each side is excessive. For some reason, you seem defensive about the idea of cleaning your stylus in a much more sporadic degree. All I did was merely suggest the concept of repeatedly and constantly interact with it might contribute to the problem. You took it as another accusation.

    I would never suggest you should but no one was giving you any.

    The pattern is you've somehow twisted my post in intensely negative ways. Injecting context, insinuations, and coupling those with assumptions has led you to believe I was doing anything else but genuinely try to help you (yes, really). This post is simply my last attempt at conveying this message. How you wish to interpret it is entirely up to you. I've written all I can on the matter and invite you to have the last word if you wish.
    Last edited: May 30, 2019
    izgoblin likes this.
  21. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I certainly don't want to derail this thread with an argument. I much would have rather derailed it with the cantilever pun I left above a few posts ago. ;-)

    Perhaps this is merely the problem with writing on the internet. Tone can be misinterpreted, and we don't know who the people are we are talking to and can end up making assumptions.

    Anyway, I appreciate your post and I apologize that some comments rubbed me the wrong way when you didn't intend for it to be the case.

    I suppose I didn't think for a moment that I was being "obsessive", because I was merely following the directions on the stylus cleaner as well as what I've read others on this forum do. But as is pointed out here, that may be a bad idea with the cart that I have.

    I'll definitely reconsider my method of stylus cleaning. As stated above, it does end up being necessary for me because dust and pet hair will make its way onto my clean records as they spin and then get transferred to the stylus. I certainly want to avoid this problem in the future though, so I'll address it based on all of the recommendations here.
    Strat-Mangler likes this.
  22. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker


  23. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Please don't take offense to this but I agree that liquid cleaning that often is asking for trouble. A stylus brush, a zerodust type cleaner, or blutak is probably a better way to go if you feel the need to clean your stylus after every side. Pretty much every cartridge company on the planet will tell you not to use liquid cleaners that often, and some don't recommend liquid cleaners whatsoever.

    At any rate, I hope your new anti-skate device solves your problems...this seems to be a recurring problem (among others) with TTs from a certain manufacturer that have unipivot arms with no anti-skate. Why the anti-skate device isn't included with the turntable is beyond me.

    My 2 cents...
    McLover and izgoblin like this.
  24. izgoblin

    izgoblin Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I appreciate your thoughts. And nah, I don't take offense to the idea that cleaning the stylus cleaning is doing me harm. Just in how ideas are presented to me, that's all. :)

    I only wish I had recognized the skating issue the first time it happened. Caused me to replace my cart, and that would have been the perfect time to get this all worked out.

    I'll stop with the liquid stylus cleaner and pick up an Onzow Zerodust instead.
    patient_ot likes this.
  25. schwaggy

    schwaggy Forum Resident

    Pacific Northwest
    That's what I use, and even then only when I see dust or a particle stuck to the stylus or every 3 or so weeks. There's just no need to clean with liquid often.
    patient_ot likes this.

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