Who tweaks VTF too?

I can't say why it took many years for me to suddenly arrive at this point -- although I can identify the precipitating occurance as actually being mistake I made (as I suppose is often the case with many discoveries, large and small) -- but I've recently opened my ears to the practice of tweaking VTF for each record played, to very worthwhile effect. Generally within a range of up to about +.15 above the upper limit of the cartridge manufacturer's recommended setting of 1.35g-1.5g for my medium-compliance, line-contact MC cart -- i.e., up to 1.65g or anywhere in between, depending on the record being played, in about .025g increments.

Tracking a bit heavier accentuates the lower frequencies and tames the higher ones, for records that could use more weight or solidity and/or a reduction in gleam or glare or airy-fairyness, while tracking lighter does the opposite for records that sound overly thick or could use some opening-up (within the bounds of maintaining good groovewall contact, of course -- I never even run in the bottom half of the recommended range, much less below it). This minor revelation has helped significantly to increase my listening satisfaction with records I formerly would've just chalked-up as being slightly but irretrievably problematic, whether that problem might have been a subtly annoying touch of glassiness or peakiness or lightness in the loafers.

Each recording seems to have its own sweet spot balancing control, tonality, timbre and texture (within my system context), and after doing this individual fine-tuning procedure for a few weeks I've now started to intuit appropriate setting adjustments as needed, based on a record's initial sound and my growing experience with the outcomes. So I've definitely crossed over the proverbial Rubicon regarding tracking force and no longer regard the recommended range as inviolable, or VTF generally as a set-and-forget, one-size-fits-all proposition whose 'correct' value is predetermined, to be temporarily increased only in the event that dynamic-trackability difficulties are encountered. It's another thing to be tweaked! But also one of the easiest and quickest to do (at least with my tonearm -- I guess with some others maybe not so much). Anybody out there with me on this?
Of course. But it's too much work. Even the cartridge alignement can be tweaked for each particular record. Would you do it? I would not.
I'll be thinking of creating tonearm remote control to incre-decrement VTF automatically:-)

Design proposal:
An electro-magnet that displaces cylindrical container filled with liquid so that the liquid moves from forward position to back and reverse giving that kind of possibility. See model bellow that could be powered by watch battery:

up up
down | down
m1 p m2

if m1 EMF is larger than m2 VTF decreases and increases otherwise where m1, m2 are electro-magnets and p is pivot.
Hi, Zaikesman; by adjusting vertical tracking force you are also affecting stylus rake angle (SRA). The resulting change in sound you hear is being influenced by both the changes in position of the cantilever within the cartridge body and the angle that the stylus is tracing the groove.

To get a better sense of which parameter is (perhaps) more of an influence on the sound, you might try adjusting the tonearm height to accomodate the changes in VTF. That is, keep the SRA constant by moving the tonearm up or down with changes in VTF.

And then, keep VTF constant and change SRA by adjusting tonearm height. It takes a bit of time but it's a hobby after all. :-)

I'm surprised it took three responses to get to the SRA issue! :-) (Someone will probably take me to task shortly for running heavier than recommended.) However with only three responses total out of 90 views so far, and none of them saying yeah, I have also tried this and now do it routinely as well, the real takeway may be that I'm more of an outlier with this than I suspected.

I believe that it's the tracking force itself which affects the sound more than the SRA in this instance. The only way I have to determine this is comparing the changes in sound that I hear with adjusting the VTF against the changes I hear when adjusting only the VTA.

For now I'm leaving my VTA status-quo, although I know some audiophiles do adjust it for varying record thicknesses. In any event, I feel it's both simpler and more productive for me to play around with the tracking force by ear on a record-by-record basis and let the SRA fall where it may. (As with many audiophiles, I presume, SRA was never precisely determined in the first place and VTA was set by ear.) I humbly suggest trying doing this if you easily can, I would be interested in getting anybody's reaction.
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Wally would agree with you, Zaikesman. I have heard him say pretty much the same thing about how he believes it is VTF changes that we hear when we tweak VTA since the change in SRA is extremely small.

I don't adjust for each record, but if I detect something I will tweak VTA up or down. Most time this is less than one turn on the VTA adjustment. Is it that tiny change in SRA, or is it really that tiny change in VTF due to raising or lowering? I don't know. HOwever, it is far easier to change VTA on the fly than VTF on the fly. :-)
So I think Tketchum hit it. VTF effects others so which is it that you're really
hearing? I do adjust VTA for 120, 180, 200 gr records. I've arrived at 3
settings that are easy and simple to change on my triplanar.

Past this i just dig the tunes vs worrying (well for the most part :)

What arm (cart and table to pls) are you using?
Dan_ed: I'm no expert, but I would differ with that take. My own (completely unscientific) opinion would be that a change in VTA, however small or large (within real-world limits), is virtually only a change in SRA, and for all practical purposes not a meaningful change in VTF. A change in VTF, however, could certainly produce a meaningful change in SRA, epecially with line-contact stylus profiles, as posters have pointed out. Still, as I said, I believe the changes I'm hearing when I make small changes in VTF are primarily the result of tracking force rather than rake angle, but both must be involved.

I don't change VTA on-the-fly, but I can change both VTA and VTF quickly and precisely with the tonearm secured. But as I mentioned, I tend to set and forget VTA (for any one cartridge). Then again, my collection is pretty much all standard-thickness original vinyl, not 180/200g audiophile reissues.

Jfrech: My table/arm is a Technics SL-1200 (modified, including with a fluid arm damper, but I don't believe that affects this parameter). The arm has calibration scales for both VTA and VTF so settings are repeatable, and neither requires tools to adjust. The VTF setting is quite accurate, even when adjusted multiple times, as I confirmed recently when I got a digital VTF guage in order to double-check my newfound preference for slightly heavier than recommended tracking forces with the vdH Condor XGM-MO cartridge. The fact that I upgraded my phonostage last winter (to an EAR 324) probably has something to do with this newfound fetish however; I doubt I would have noticed or at least cared about these small changes through my previous phonostages.
Funny about new equipment :), I've noticed that to. I tweek settings, speaker positioning etc....I totally see your point here !
Well, just shy of 300 views and no concurrences, I guess I'm alone here, and kind of surprised about it! Bet if I'd asked about VTA, instead of VTF, many would have said they tweak it record-by-record, at least sometimes...
Dear Zaikesman, the correct VTF for a given cartridge can't be "tweaked", as it co-determines the correct - i.e. symmetrical - position of the coils/magnets in the magnetic field.
In other words: - there is only ONE correct value for a given cartridge's (individual sample that is) VTF under given climate conditions (temperature, humidity).
As long as the VTF can be "tweaked" in the sense that the sound improves, one just hasn't reached the correct VTF yet.
With change of conditions and/or advanced age of a cartridge ( resulting often in change of velocity of rubber/damper) there might be need for adjusting VTF to the changing parameters.
Hi D, I suspected that this factor might be brought up. It does seem obvious that it should be true in theory. However, I can't help but noting that virtually all cartridge manufacturers specify a recommended range for VTF that's wider -- oftentimes very much wider -- than the relatively narrow range I'm playing around within.

My takeaway is this: Even if the coil may not be perfectly centered in the magnetic gap, this fact in itself would pose no physical threat to record replay (as all manufacturers' specified ranges implicitly acknowledge). Since the 'perfect' setting is something I lack the tools to determine, and as you say is likely to change somewhat with conditions anyway, I can see no reason not to just go with the best or 'correct' setting being the one that sounds the best for any given record under the prevailing conditions (to me, in my system).
Hi Z, no argument from me here. However - the range given for recommended VTF by the cartridge manufacturers is given because of individual variations between samples of the same cartridge as well as variations in climate conditions.
You may "fine tune" VTF to your personal liking, but I would rather look to fine-adjust VTA/SRA to get the best sound from a given record.
I would fully agree with Dertonarm on this topic. The correct VTF is the point where the cart internals align and produce the best signal and performance. This varies from cart sample to cart sample so a range is given.

Yes, changing VTF changes the sound and if that floats your boat, then more power to you. I find running at the upper limits of the range kills the sound (and you say you are above that, even) so I doubt we would agree on what the best sound is anyway. :)
I was looking at one cartridge manufacturer's website specs the other day where the allowable VTF range equalled 2.5g (obviously this was for a low-compliance design).

As I stipulated, there can be no debate about whether there exists some precise VTF at which a cart's internals will be best aligned. It is certainly open to question however, given the necessarily micro-variable nature of the beast, whether that force will also equal the best match to the compliance of the suspension, which I suspect is more consequential for the sound.

Onetwothreego: I wouldn't assume that just because your cart sounds best in the lower region of its range, that mine (or any other) would too, or that because yours sounds dead in its upper region, that me running mine in its upper region (and above) means I prefer dead sound that you wouldn't like.
I didn't say I run my cart in the lower region of VTF. More often than not, when the arm is performing up to spec, the sweet spot is pretty much in the middle of the suggested range, as one might expect.

With all the carts and arms I have used over the years, increasing the VTF to the upper range squashes the music, as far as my ears hear it. Bass loses its bounce and become a thud. The highs become almost forced down into themselves instead of breaking away free. All the musicians lose their timing finesse.

The biggest factor in the equation of all this VTF stuff is not the cart but rather the arm and how well it is doing it's job.
Possibly. In any case, whether the preferred VTF region happens to fall in middle of the recommended range, or above, my point is that it may be considered as a range, rather than a specific value, with room to tweak as desired. Clearly however I remain in a minority of one with this view.
By adjusting VTA on the fly for each record I play, I am in effect also changing the VTF
Again, largely disagree with this contention. Maybe I will try measuring any such change with my digital VTF meter, since some of you are positing not only that it exists but that it is significant. (Maybe some of you will do the same?) However right now I'm guessing that the small angular change effected by adjusting VTA even by several millimeters could only result in the most miniscule of VTF differences, perhaps on the order of one or two hundredths of a gram at most (the limit of most guages' resolution in any event).

But even if changing the tonearm height did more substantially affect the VTF, should you always necessarily want to change the VTA and the VTF in lockstep? Again I would submit that the fact that increasing VTF also has the side-effect of decreasing SRA (or vice versa) must be of more significance than whatever effect changing VTA has on VTF, but probably still not as sonically significant as the effect on the suspension loading and groovewall contact that a heavier (or lighter) tracking force has in and of itself.
Ideally the bearing of the tonearm should be at the same height as the LP surface, otherwise there will be changes to VTF as the cartridge goes up or down with record warps. The greater the vertical distance between tonearm pivot and LP surface, the greater the magnitude of the VTF modulation. The same thing is true for the tonearm's center of gravity, which, if changes to VTF as a function of height are to be minimized, should properly be at the same height as the LP surface.

VTF modulations as a function of cartridge playing height will then cause the angle of the signal coils to change within the field of the magnetic gap, and the SRA to change. Both can be a source of non-linearities or IMD.

Whether the changes in SRA will be audible or not are partly down to the stylus profile - usually a long-footprint line-contact stylus with a narrow side radius will be most sensitive, while a conical may not be sensitive at all.

The change in coil angle with VTF may or may not be so clearly audible - it depends on the cartridge. The reason is that with most cartridges, there are two different VTF "sweet spots", one higher, the other lower in value. The lower value VTF sweet spot will align the signal coils so that they are parallel to the magnetic gap, which gives best linearity (which may or may not be the same thing as maximum output), and the most equal values for horizontal and vertical compliance. However, the lower value VTF will usually not be sufficient for optimal tracking of the LP groove.

The higher value VTF sweet spot will allow optimal tracking of the LP groove, but will push the coils out of alignment with the magnetic gap.

This is why you typically see a quite large recommended range for VTF from the cartridge manufacturer - the wide range signifies that a compromise between two different requirements is occurring.

OTOH, a cartridge that has been designed so that the VTF value which aligns the signal coils to the magnetic gap coincides with the value required for optimal tracking, will have a quite narrow recommended VTF range from the manufacturer.

hth, jonathan carr
Hi Jonathan, thanks for injecting some authoritative input into the meanderings on this thread. What you say all makes sense to me, however I would still expect some session-to-session variation in optimal (or preferred) geometry to be probable with any cartridge, based on differences in prevailing environmental conditions affecting the suspension, as well as differences among the way records are cut (or from my perspective and ability to tell, simply in the way they sound). Do you disagree with my take that in all likelihood, there's no reason one should go really wrong as a listener by using the best tool we have available, namely our ears, to tweak these parameters, including VTF within reasonable limits, on a record-by-record basis?

BTW, I do realize (even though you chose for whatever reason not to say so as a disclaimer) that you are involved in the design and marketing of a cartridge line that is claimed to take into account the effect of tracking force on optimal coil alignment within the magnetic gap. This would of course seem to make obviously good sense -- in fact, so much so, that I actually have a bit of a hard time believing either that other manufacturers have never taken this factor into account themselves (whether they said so or not), or else that they didn't determine that it's in reality a relatively unimportant consideration as regards sonic performance. (One can't help but note that by implication, your cartridges too did not previously take this factor into account, or else that you knew about it but considered it to be fairly trivial.) Still, even if it's as much marketing as science, the concept does strike me as being a really good idea for a cartridge maker to tout, so bravo. Please feel free to comment!

FWIW: Yesterday I went ahead and made a bunch of VTF measurements using my digital gauge (the kind commonly selling for $80 from many outlets), for both the lowest and highest VTA adjustment settings possible with my tonearm, which amounts about an 8mm differential in height of the pivot point -- quite a bit broader an angular range than anybody would actually utilize for setup or tweaking of any individual cartridge.

First I confirmed the precision of the gauge (to within whatever limits are imposed by the quality of my tonearm bearings) by making many measurements without changing anything. As I have found before, despite the fact that these gauges have a readout to three decimal places, it's only to the second decimal place that readings are close to repeatable, to within an accuracy of about plus or minus two (i.e., a margin of error of about 4 hundreths).

I was pleasantly surprised but hardly shocked to find that, as I predicted, the variation in VTF (from a baseline setting of 1.5g) which accompanied the widest possible change in VTA, only amounted (on average, over about 30 or so repetitions of the readings for each VTA extreme) to approximately .02g (i.e., about plus or minus one hundredth from the force reading that could be expected at the middle of the arm's VTA range), which is of course within the gauge's margin of error. Despite there being some overlap in the force readings at each arm-height extreme, I do think this small average force differential is nonetheless real, due to the overall trends I observed over the course of the measurements, but that it is probably too small to account for any sonic differences, especially given that in practical use the actual VTA range will be quite a bit less than what I was experimenting with.

So my conclusion is that it's unlikely that adjusting VTA represents, consequentially speaking, a secondary adjustment of VTF as well. But I would welcome what any other posters' findings might be on this issue, if anyone cares to make the kind of measurements I did, perhaps using better tools and a more premium tonearm. Still, at the end of the day I didn't start this thread to get into such technical considerations -- I started it because of what I heard, and to see if anyone else had also heard and was doing the same thing in tweaking VTF to suit their listening of the moment. Continues to seem like not so much...

PS - All the adjusting and measuring I performed yesterday, along with subsequent listening, did have the beneficial effect of prompting to me to slightly raise my tonearm's baseline VTA setting in order to increase the SRA a bit, so as to offset the effect on the rake-angle of the somewhat heavier (on average) VTF I'm commonly running these days. My thanks to those posters who pushed me not to forget such interrelated considerations!
There are a lot of us who hear what small VTF changes do. But as you say, it is only one parameter of several in a dynamic situation. I don't think making absolute statements as to whether it is this or that is helpful because these parameters must be taken in consideration together at all times. Maybe Wally would be interested in that debate. Yes, a few tenths of a gram can make a difference in some circumstances, IME, YMMV.
Update: 800 page views now, but still no affirmative responses that anyone else tweaks VTF to suit individual records.
Hello Zaikesman,
After following this post I will give it a try. If it can make an improvement I'm all for it.
Do you find that it is by individual albums or by the lable, such as all EMI's are set one way and RCA's another?
I assume you keep a list of the settings. Sorry I have not read all the post's yet, so if you have already answered the question I apologize.
I'm glad that you have taken the time to get the most out of your record play back system. Thanks for sharing this tweak, it never occured to me.
I usally set the VTF on the HI side of the recommended setting and I will adjust the VTA as required.
I'm trying to listen to nothing but albums lately, so this would be the time to do some tweaking.
Joe Nies
Gosh no Joe, I'm nowhere near organized enough for that, I just go by ear for any particular record on any particular day. But since I assume some of this has to do with room temperature, which varies (and presumably little to do with such potentially label-specific attributes as vinyl thickness), I think that's the way it's probably gotta be. Please let us know what you find...
Some of us have been doing this for a long time, and I know some who record this information for each LP. I thought you understood that. I keep o-rings to add to the arm stub of my Triplanar and my Talea has finite tracking force adjustment. However, it has not been my experience that focusing on only one parameter solves every situation.

Temp and relative humidity do play a role in how much gross VTF is needed.
I do not adjust for each album, however I have found that the manufacturers recommended VTF range may not be appropriate depending on individual table/arm. My cartridge was mistracking, on older albums especially, but an increase in VTF to 0.5 higher than recommended resulted in much improved tracking, imaging and overall tonal balance. Surface noise improved as well. No problem at all with muted high frequencies or dynamics either.

Since doing this I have also found I do not have the urge to adjust for individual albums anymore.