Realistic Tonearm/Cartridge expectations?

Hi all,

Hopefully, some folk have trod this path before and can offer some advice based on their experience(s).

My vinyl rig is a Michell Orbe with SME V5 arm and Dynavector 17DX cart into a Dynavector P75Mk2 (PE setting).

I just acquired the Ortofon Test Record and yesterday spent the morning playing with it. The interesting tracks (for this discussion) are the tracking tests (9-14) which create increasingly taxing conditions for the rig.

Having checked the tonearm/cartridge alignment/VTA etc. and being satisfied with the set up I tried the first/easiest track. All seemed fine. However, on the next track some distortion crept in on the right channel and the cartridge couldn’t track the following track(s) at all.

Given the distortion was in the right channel, I increased the anti-skate a little from setting ‘2.0’ (representing my chosen 2g tracking force…the top end of Dynavector recommendations) and replayed the first two tracks. This time the distortion was much reduced but still there. By the time I had finished fettling the anti-skate I could track all of the first three tracks (9-11) without any distortion but the fourth (and remaining) tracks are still completely unplayable.

Playing a very familiar record (Born to Run), everything sounds great and I’m very happy with the sound but I’m concerned that I may have an underlying problem somewhere which could come back to bite me at some point in the future.

So the questions:

1: I now have a tracking force of 2g with anti-skate set to ‘2.6’ which seems well out of line with SME guidance. Might this indicate a problem with the tonearm?

2: Could I be damaging my vinyl with this level of disparity?

3: I get that the final arbiter of performance are the ears, but how does the enthusiast work out what s/he can expect from their rig with respect to such test tracks? That is, am I at the theoretical limit for my rig or is it possible to squeeze more performance from it (ie able to play more of the test tracks)?

Grateful for any thoughts on this conundrum…


When I previously used a test tracking record the tracks were not expected to all play equally. The tracks were set for cartridge tracking ability checking. Ie choose the track that equates to your cartridge spec.

Just my views -

  1. A higher tracking force will likely give better tracking - and less record wear.
  2. Unlikely.
  3. Test Records may not be as useful as you might think.

I cannot answer your specific questions, and it’s a while since I had a DV 20xL and P75.

But looking at the DV 17DX manual, in Fixing and Connections section (in point 5), DV say, 'Adjust bias to… the recommended tracking force equivalent. They warn against excessive bias (anti-skate). DV say, ‘excessive bias adjustment can lead to the cantilever being misaligned.’

The next bit I am less sure about: The cartridge manual also says that the loading should be >100Ω.

The loading for Phono Enhancement (from the P75 manual) is 0Ω.

Why not try the non PE setting for low output MCs where the loading appears to be variable including a 100Ω setting.

In a round-a-bout way, I’m asking if, never mind any test record, you are satisified your cartridge and phonostage are properly set up and matched? But there must have been a reason why you brought in the test record…

You should burn your test record. Then you will understand how much they really stink.

I have one test record. The one and only thing I use it for is the test signal I need to adjust cartridge azimuth using a Fozgometer. All the other tests are nonsense because they aren’t real world, and I ignore them completely

If you want to test tracking, get the Tone Poet mono reissue of Picture of Heath. If you have no issues tracking the 2nd and 3rd tunes on side two then you’re golden. You’ll also end up with a most excellent jazz album of the 50s. Another good one is the new DG Classics The Original Source series reissue of the Brahms Piano Concertos. Side one and side three are a tracking workout. Unfortunately, it seems it’s now sold out.


Don’t worry too much about tracking the upper level tracks on the test record. My ca 1976 Denon 103D was a superb tracker. Pretty much everything after (Linn, Lyra) that couldn’t track the upper level bands but rarely, if ever, mistracked on regular records. I’ve since move away from moving coils and back to moving magnets (AT VM760SLC) and they will track anything on any test record I’ve tried. You’ve set up the cartridge as best you can so play on and don’t worry.

(Oh, and it’s the cartridge that’s limiting trackability, not the arm or turntable)

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Thanks for the feedback everyone. A few comments if I may:

@bruss - Yes, I understand that the tracking tests are designed such that most (all?) cartridges will fail somewhere in the process with, presumably, the best cartridges with the best setup playing more tracks successfully than the lesser cartridges/setup can do.

The difficulty is there is nothing in the cartridge specs that I can equate to the specification given on the test record that I can use to set my expectations as to what’s possible. If the failure occurs on track 2 and this is the max that the cartridge is designed to achieve than so be it but I just don’t know! This may well be because I don’t understand which of the specs I should be comparing…not helped by the units of measurement not being the same (as far as I can tell!). If you (or anyone) can provide some insight on the relevant specs to compare that would be really helpful.

@IanRobertM - In the past, I’ve tended to prefer a minimum recommended VTF (more musically nimble to me) and I’ve never had the stylus jump out of any track on any normal record but that’s not to say something bad is not still happening within the groove. For the purposes of the testing I used the max recommended VTF of 2g.

The potential value of the test record for me in this case was that it seems to indicate that on my normal settings, contrary to SME/Dynavector’s recommendations, the anti-skate could be causing the tracking to be unequal between the left and right channels in the groove. Hence the distortion being largely in the one channel. Increasing the anti-skate seems to cure this but then potentially raises the cantilever misalignment threat as @Christopher_M identifies. I can’t see any misalignment but my eyes are old and almost worn out even with a torch and magnifying glass :frowning_face:

@Christopher_M - As you’ll know having owned a P75, the PE setting is Dynavector’s recommendation for it’s own cartridges. To be honest I’ve never experimented with anything else. I’m also not sure why the cartridge loading should affect tracking? However, my P75 version is much older than the 17DX and it could be that PE support for the 17DX only appears on a later (Mk3 or Mk4?) variant of the P75. I’ll try your suggestion and see if it makes a difference.

I bought the test record purely out of curiosity to see if I could better the, already great, sound I was getting. Blast this hobby :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

@JosquinDesPrez - I am beginning to wonder what I’ve unleashed with this exercise but now I’ve started…

@sktn77a - You’re right, ultimately I will have to choose a setup and live with it but I’d feel better if the new data points provided by the test record were accommodated into the setup successfully.

One nagging concern on the arm is whether there is something that has upset the calibration such that the VTF and anti-skate adjustment mechanisms are no longer properly aligned. I’m not sure if this is even possible but…

My thanks again. Any further thoughts are welcome…


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You cannot go back in time, but that was probably the worst thing you could do, for tracking and record wear. Poor tracking has nothing to do with jumping out of the groove … :thinking: The ‘best’ tracking will likely be with close to the max VTF.

Checking the numbers on my Dynavector, its VTF range is 1,5 to 1,9g. I run it at 1,8g in a Linn Ittok, with Bias set at about half way between 1.5 and 2.0. Problem Free… :slightly_smiling_face:

I tend to run VTF at about the middle of the range. On my DV XV-1s the range is 1.8-2.2 gr and I run it right about 2.0. My Lyra cartridges are 1.62-1.72 and I run right around 1.66 gr.

Hi. It’s a long time since I went down the rabbit hole of test records, probably over 35 years ago. I have since learn’t that my ears are best unless there is an obvious problem.
With your cart set to its published recommended tracking and bias, what is it that you are not liking?
Do you have to offset the balance when playing vinyl, but not when playing a cd or digital stream?
Do you have excessive sibilance or have a particular LP that sounds wrong in some way?

Re the different specs and units, I’d ask the cart supplier to see of they can help cross referencing the units.

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Slight detour here, but every time I see this thread title I am reminded of @RonToolsie and his posts about the Realistic LAB-500 turntable he had (I think it was a LAB-500, Ron??) and how it greatly exceeded all expectations…

I don’t know what expectations others have, but I couldn’t be happier with my rather lovely LP12/ARO/Dynavector TKR, and I can’t imagine ever wanting to change - other than when the stylus needs to be swapped.


I used a LAB400 Realistic Turntable with a Helikon SL into a custom built $15,000 tube phono stage.
In the purely stock form the Lab400 sounded very colored and muffled.
I found out that if you tapped on the platter, even with the supplied mat, it rang with a pure sine tone that lasted for over 15 seconds (and much longer without the mat).
So the first thing that was done was to stuff modeling clay/Blu-Tak under the platter, that almost completely removed the tendency to ring.

Next was to get rid of the microswitch that disconnected the output during automated cueing. Passing the very low output of the SL through some questionable 40+ year old contacts was not a good thing, as the microswitch exhibited some ‘scratchyness’.

Lastly the hard-wired armcable that ended with cheesy pressed steel RCA plugs was removed and replaced by a much better, yet under $30 wire (I think it was Acoustic Research).

With these mods in place-which took no longer than 45 minutes to do-the Lab400 was in a completely different league than it was initially. The bass became taught, agile and very extended, and the treble sounded pure without the pervasive grit and hash that the ringing platter/corroded microswitch injected.

I compared the Realistic 400/Helikon SL/tube phono stage with the LP12/Geddon/Aro/Prefix/Supercap, both into a 552/500/DBLs. The LP12 I KNOW was well set up by a NANA member.

The Lab400 had much higher rumble that could occasinonally be heard through the DBLs, but sounded sweeter and more musical-and totally seductive. The LP12 sounded a tad dry in comparison.

Playing Dave Brubeck’s Direct-to-disk ‘A Cut Above’ really showed how much swing the Lab400 had.

Looking at the Lab400, it had a very good arm, with no discernable bearing play and a monsterously good direct-drive motor. The weak point was the flimsy ‘fruit-box’ chassis. I contemplated having a solid chassis made out of marine ply or something and relocating the motor and arm to it-which I am certain would have further improved it. But I never got round to that, as during a move I decided to just keep digital playback and the NAT01.

I ripped some of my vinyl using a stand-alone Yamaha CD burner with some spendy Kimber Selekt interconnects from the tube phono-state to the CD-burner input, and the results were excellent. I still listen to those rips today, and there is a ‘je ne sais quoi’ something about them-if you can discard or ignore the rumble.

I also ripped identical tracks played on the LP12/Aro/Prefix/SC and can readily compare them back to back, without having to swap the Helikon back and forth each time.

Realistic/Radioshack had some extremely well made and competively priced products though the mid to late 70s.

But then again, I currently use a 40+ year old Pioneer C-21 preamp with some light mods, that is probably in the same ballpark as some of the other top=tier preamps I have used, and light years ahead of an old Chord preamp that I have at home to compare it to.


Thanks Ron, so it wasn’t just my imagination - although I got the model number wrong.

The Pioneer C21 is a lovely thing indeed! I just missed one along with the matching power amp in the early ebay days and kick myself now as it was so far under the radar back then.

Anti-skate will always be best-effort. The theoretical ideal setting will differ for each record as I don’t think groove spacing is standardised, yet I don’t hear of people adjusting it constantly. So I guess, like for me, being slightly off isn’t audible to most people. Choose a setting which works well and just leave it. Probably either the SME or the Ortofon one are fine, if unsure, go for 2.3.

The C-21 is something very special. Most of the parts are very high quality (silver-palladium contacts in the potentiometers), split rail power supply etc.

But of few of them (carbon resistors, dubious lytic caps in signal path, poor quality plug in harnesses between stages) can be readily improved.
My tech guy/audio engineer reworked my C21 for two days and with a few like-for-like replacements took it from a decent preamp to something very, very good. The $0.05 carbon resistors were replaced by $7.00 tantalum ones and the $0.25 electrolytic caps replaced by some decent oil filled ones with a film bypass, which alone were about $25 each.

I also had a chance to buy the C21-M22 pre/power for $1000, but decided not to, as the combination was not working. It probably was something simple as a fuse or a relay, which could have been quickly fixed. The owner did not accept my $750 offer for the pair, and eventually it did sell for the asking price.

But I would love to hear how the 25 wpc pure class A M22 matched with the C21.
Maybe one day I can find one and have it reworked, like I did with the C21.

I don’t put a lot of effort into getting AS spot on, for the simple reason there is no spot-on. It varies as the arm travels across the arc of tracking a record. I generally set it for something reasonable for the last third of the tracks, assuming that may be a better defense against IDG. I use a blank record side to set it; not a test record.

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Apologies all. I’ve been distracted the last couple of days with a car problem and not been able to swing by the forum as I’d hoped.

However, I have played a little since last posting and I think reached a working compromise (at least for now :rofl: ). I’ve kept the VTF at the top end of the recommendation, 2.0g, and reduced the AS to 2.3. This way I hope to minimize any potential for damage to the cantilever (or groove).

Normal records sound as good as with the AS 2.6 setting and I can’t detect any audible quality difference between the right and left channels. The test record complains more than with the higher AS setting but as already asserted by pretty much everyone this doesn’t seem to have translated into a worse sound with ‘proper’ records.

So thank you everyone. Your comments have been really helpful in trying to get my head around this issue and to separate the important from the less so.


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