Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with that comes a renewed interest in turntables and their components.
One such component is the VTA, or Vertical Tracking Angle. But what exactly is VTA and why does it matter?
In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of VTA turntable, including its purpose, how to adjust it, and its impact on sound quality.
Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or just starting out with vinyl, understanding VTA is crucial for getting the most out of your turntable setup.
So let’s dive in!
What Is VTA Turntable
VTA, or Vertical Tracking Angle, is the angle at which the tonearm and stylus meet the record being played. This angle is important for two reasons.
Firstly, it helps to reduce wear on the stylus by taking off direct pressure that would occur if the VTA was incorrectly set. Secondly, the record was cut at an angle with the intent of being played back with a stylus set at a certain angle. This means that the stylus can better read and reproduce the sounds as they were originally cut into the vinyl.
What Is VTA And Why Does It Matter?
VTA refers to the angle of the tonearm when viewed from the side. This angle determines the Stylus Raking Angle (SRA), which is the angle at which the stylus is raking the record grooves. The optimal SRA angle is generally accepted to be the angle at which LPs are cut, which is usually around 92 degrees, but there can be some variability.
Adjusting VTA is important because it alters where the needle sits within the grooves and changes the sound produced. However, not all turntables have the capacity to adjust VTA. It’s crucial for stereo records because VTA changes constantly as the record rolls by the stylus, and the tonearm has to keep the stylus at the same angle constantly. This can be difficult to accomplish, especially when there needs to be a 2 or 3 degree difference where the stylus actually drops deepest into the track.
It’s important to note that VTA is not the only parameter that affects sound quality. Azimuth, anti-skating, and vertical tracking force (VTF) also play a role in achieving optimal sound quality.
Visual methods provide a good starting point for adjusting VTA, but actual measurement performed while the recording is spinning will produce the most accurate results. The AnalogMagik software has a VTA function that allows you to determine the actual intermodulation distortion number and fine-tune adjust the VTA angle until you reach a level that produces the lowest intermodulation distortion percentage (IMD%).
The Purpose Of VTA In Turntables
The purpose of VTA in turntables is to ensure that the stylus is correctly aligned with the record grooves. This alignment is important because it affects the sound quality produced by the turntable. The VTA angle is pre-set by the company that made the cartridge, and in most cases, it is 20 degrees. However, modifying the VTA angle by raising or lowering the tonearm can alter where the needle sits within the grooves, which in turn changes the sound produced.
The optimal VTA angle is based on the assumption that it will produce the lowest intermodulation distortion (IMD%). The general theory is that the optimal Stylus Raking Angle (SRA) is the angle at which the LPs are cut at, which is usually around 92 degrees. However, without a microscope, it can be difficult to observe the SRA. Therefore, an approximate starting point for adjusting VTA is around 15 degrees.
To achieve an optimal VTA setting, it is important to consider other parameters such as Azimuth, Anti-skating, and Vertical Tracking Force (VTF). Only an actual measurement performed while the recording is spinning will produce the most accurate results. This measurement can be performed using software such as AnalogMagik, which has a VTA function that allows you to determine the actual intermodulation distortion number and display it on your laptop screen. Fine-tuning adjustments can then be made until you reach a level that produces the lowest IMD%.
It is important to note that not all turntables have the capacity to adjust VTA. If your turntable does not have this capacity, it may not be possible to achieve an optimal setting for all parameters. However, for those turntables that do have this capacity, adjusting VTA can significantly improve sound quality and ensure that your vinyl records are played back as they were originally intended.
How To Adjust VTA For Optimal Sound Quality
Adjusting VTA on your turntable is an important step towards achieving optimal sound quality. Here’s how you can do it:
1. Warm up everything: Before you start adjusting VTA, make sure that everything is warmed up. This includes the turntable, amplifier, and speakers.
2. Choose a medium thickness record: Select a record that is average for your collection. If your collection has both thick and thin vinyl, then try to find a medium thickness record. If your collection is primarily one or the other, then select that type of record to set VTA with.
3. Listen carefully: Put on the record and listen to the sound quality. This will be your baseline.
4. Lower VTA: Lower the back of the tonearm down a bit, but only a little at a time (1mm or even 0.1mm). Listen to the sound quality after each adjustment.
5. Fine tune: Keep adjusting the VTA until you hear an improvement in sound quality. The sound will be fuller and warmer, with a less aggressive attack on notes.
6. Keep adjusting: Once you have found an improvement in sound quality, keep adjusting the VTA in very small increments until you find the perfect setting.
7. Write down the setting: If possible, write down the VTA setting on the record sleeve so that next time you can play it with perfect VTA.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to adjust VTA. The stylus is always bouncing around in the groove anyway, so being off by a bit isn’t doing any harm. It’s all about how much you enjoy the results of perfect VTA versus how much you enjoy the process of getting it there. With practice and patience, you can achieve optimal sound quality on your turntable by adjusting VTA.
The Impact Of VTA On Sound Quality
The impact of VTA on sound quality is a highly debated topic among audiophiles. While some argue that the effect is not significant, others swear by VTA for overall sound improvement.
When the VTA is correctly set, it can lift some stereo image into any cartridge, resulting in a more accurate and natural sound reproduction. This is especially noticeable when using high-quality headphones and monitoring in a way that avoids low bandwidth and phase distortion.
However, it is important to note that not all tonearms are created equal. Some tonearms, such as those made by Rega, have a shortcoming in stereo imaging. In such cases, adjusting the VTA may help to mitigate this issue.
While some enthusiasts may take the time to adjust the VTA for each individual record, this can be a time-consuming process with little benefit. It is generally recommended to find a suitable VTA setting and stick with it for most records.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Adjusting VTA
When adjusting VTA, there are some common mistakes that you should avoid to ensure optimal sound quality. One of the most common mistakes is using VTA as a tone control. Lowering the arm to reduce the upper octaves may seem like a good idea, but it can actually have a negative impact on the overall sound quality.
Another mistake to avoid is relying solely on visual cues when setting VTA. While using an USB scope can help you get into the ballpark, the final determination still needs to be made by ear. It’s important to listen for the focus of the instrument and the crispness of the transient attack and decay. Pay attention to whether or not you hear any blurring in the whistle.
It’s also important to avoid making large adjustments when fine-tuning VTA. Small adjustments of even 0.1mm can make a significant difference, so it’s best to make small changes and listen for the impact on sound quality before making further adjustments.
Finally, it’s important to remember that records vary in thickness and there was no uniform cutting angle used in early stereo LPs. This means that you may need to adjust VTA differently for different records. Keeping track of each label and what the height of the arm should be can help ensure optimal sound quality.
By avoiding these common mistakes and making small, careful adjustments while listening for their impact on sound quality, you can achieve optimal VTA and enjoy the best possible sound from your turntable.
Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Turntable Setup
If you want to get the most out of your turntable setup, there are a few tips that can help you achieve optimal VTA:
1. Read up on the basics: Before you start adjusting your VTA, it’s important to have a good understanding of the basics of turntable setup. This includes things like cartridge alignment, tracking force, and anti-skate settings. Make sure you’ve read up on these topics before attempting to adjust your VTA.
2. Use a protractor: A protractor is an essential tool for setting up your turntable correctly. It allows you to accurately align your cartridge and set the correct VTA. Make sure you use a high-quality protractor that is specifically designed for your turntable.
3. Mark your tonearm position: As mentioned in the raw text above, it’s important to mark the position of your tonearm assembly before loosening any mounting screws. This will ensure that you can return it to its original position if it rotates during the adjustment process.
4. Adjust in small increments: When adjusting your VTA, make sure you do so in small increments. This will allow you to fine-tune the angle and achieve optimal sound quality without overcompensating.
5. Listen carefully: Finally, make sure you listen carefully as you make adjustments to your VTA. Take note of any changes in sound quality and adjust accordingly until you achieve the best possible sound from your turntable setup.
By following these tips, you can ensure that your turntable is set up correctly and that you’re getting the most out of your vinyl collection. Remember, a well-set-up turntable can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying your favorite records!