J.R. Boisclair / WAM Engineering Cartridge Analysis Service

Ron Resnick

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Jan 24, 2015
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I feel strongly that without optimal cartridge alignment and proper turntable set-up and ideal speaker positioning audiophiles are not capitalizing upon the sound quality of which their components are capable. One of the well-known, but not often talked about, perils of this hobby is the construction quality and quality control and the sample-to-sample variation of phono cartridges. One could have what should be to one’s own ears the most amazing stereo system, but if the cartridge Is physically incapable of proper alignment due to a construction defect, then no amount of attempted alignment optimization will achieve the sonic promise of the cartridge or the sonic excellence of the audio system of which is a part.

As I begin to think about “hatching” in one go my future new stereo system there are a number of things to consider. It is prudent to minimize the number of variables and possible sources of problems. To this end I think it makes sense to assure myself that the cartridge is properly made so that David will have no trouble aligning it. (I don’t want to trouble David to have to make any more trips out to visit me than necessary.) Many of us will recall the trouble Tang had with his ZYX.

So I am sending my ZYX UNIverse Premium X-SB2 to J.R. for a friendly inspection and analysis. (I have stored it for several years exactly as I received it from David, without ever even opening the outer box.)

After all the years I’ve been waiting to put this system together . . . I’m aiming pretty damn high!

Contact:
J.R. Boisclair
WAM Engineering
(707) 210-6345
www.wallyanalog.com/stylus-cantilever-microscopic-analy

PS: A dear friend of mine in the San Francisco Bay area engaged J.R. to set up my friend’s new Helix One Dohmann Turntable and Schroder CB-1tonearm and Strain Gauge cartridge. My friend reported that he had a wonderful experience with J.R., and that J.R. is delightful personally, serious and professional, and extremely experienced and talented in cartridge and turntable set-up. My friend is enjoying his new turntable and tonearm immensely! And he doesn’t ever have to suffer any audiophilia nervosa wondering whether his cartridge is properly constructed and aligned!
 
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IME and IMO I have not seen a cartridge so misaligned where it was not capable of playing, and I am not saying they don't exist. Ortofon seems to be one that is recognized as having fewer of these issues.

The beauty of playing vinyl is also the challenge of playing vinyl because there is no digital high frequency, it sounds smooth to the ear, so the question becomes if there is more to be had, and I believe there generally is. Guys like JR, help the audiophile become aware that the cartridge may have deficiencies that have to be corrected in order to be capable of extracting even more from the groove.

Speaker placement is a whole other matter, and I agree, centric to overall performance - the challenge here is the footprint to work with despite the gear and power.

Both take experience and patience to extract as much as possible for system playback.

Good to hear your ZYX is heading to JR and also the read on the Dohmann/JR setup.
 
IME and IMO I have not seen a cartridge so misaligned where it was not capable of playing . . .

The beauty of playing vinyl is also the challenge of playing vinyl . . .

You’re talking at the beginning of your post about the other (really bad) end of the spectrum. I’m not talking about a cartridge so misaligned that it can’t be played. I want my cartridge to be analyzed and confirmed to be built properly, so it can be aligned and played approximately perfectly.

I, personally, consider any “challenge” of playing vinyl to be a bug, not a feature.
 
(Emphasis added )... One of the well-known, but not often talked about, perils of this hobby is the construction quality and quality control and the sample-to-sample variation of phono cartridges.
Very true. Additionally, and of a more subtle nature, is the same phenomena as applies to all audio gear. Sometimes a piece is serially traded on the second hand market because it sounds bad and no one has identified it, other than to decide 'it's not for me'.

At least with a transducer ( cartridge in this discussion ) a number of issues involve visible mechanical alignments and attachments which can be observed. I am sure some aspects of a carts 'success' are not visible and are manifest by playback quality...
 
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I’m also a big believer on getting the stylus aligned to the groove correctly regardless of cantilever or cart body position.

If cartridges were assembled by computer, then I would expect close to perfect alignment of cantilever to body and stylus to cantilever. However, cartridges that are hand made I would expect less than perfect alignment no matter how skilled the artisan. JR has examined many carts under high power microscope and imperfect alignments are fairly common.

Other set-up methods may yield a great sound, but the best set-up would come from extracting the most out of the grooves by getting the stylus alignment as perfect as possible which would result in the best sonics.

I’m sending WAM all my MC carts to evaluate - I’m targeting squeezing out the “best” performance out of a cartridge. After spending significant amounts for my carts, seems foolish not to.
 
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UPDATE:

I engaged J.R. to analyze my ZYX UNIverse Premium cartridge. Here is the report:


65E8C061-FF41-4D01-A855-3574C4E68C07.jpeg


I am very impressed with the level of detailed information and insights the report contains. The report also reflects the complexities that must be navigated when optimizing the set-up of any cartridge.

I purchased from J.R. the custom shims necessary to correct the irregularities discovered during the analysis.

I feel like I got a lot of value from J.R.’s unique custom service! Thank you, J.R.!
 
Good to hear your positive experience!

When I met and chatted with J.R. at the Pacific Audio Fest I kidded with him ' I don't know why you are doing this but I am glad you are'.

He looked at me a little surprised. I reassured him I meant that it's pretty cool for someone to bother to do so much fresh analysis of our 20th century playback technology ;)

Of course we have been dealing with these ( mostly inevitable but possibly improving in the future ) manufacturing tolerances of cantilever and styli for long, but now with more concrete numbers behind the sound and setup.
 
UPDATE:

I engaged J.R. to analyze my ZYX UNIverse Premium cartridge. Here is the report:


View attachment 96998


I am very impressed with the level of detailed information and insights the report contains. The report also reflects the complexities that must be navigated when optimizing the set-up of any cartridge.

I purchased from J.R. the custom shims necessary to correct the irregularities discovered during the analysis.

I feel like I got a lot of value from J.R.’s unique custom service! Thank you, J.R.!
You are most welcome, Ron! It has been a pleasure to connect with you. I'll let you know when I am planning a trip to L.A.
 
I purchased from J.R. the custom shims necessary to correct the irregularities discovered during the analysis.

curious which irregularities. If Azimuth is off by 1 degree can't you just rotate the arm tube 1 degree to compensate? If zenith is off by 1 degree can't you just rotate the cartridge to compensate?

I'm not going to argue against starting from as close to perfect as you can, but I'm thinking if you use some method to optimize azimuth by rotating the arm tube (like Analog Magik or other popular method) why would you need to be within 1 degree to begin with? Especially since with all of the other tolerances in any set up you may well be off more than that to begin with even if you do get the cartridge/headshell orientation perfect.
 
Ron, how do you know the angle of your head shell once the cartridge is mounted in it will be the same as the base angle J. R. used to establish the correction? Some of your head shells might be able to be rotated anyway.

I presume David or whoever sets up your cartridges is going to make final adjustments by listening anyway.

Maybe this has already been discussed, but is there any sonic impact from the shims? Perhaps there is a choice of different materials.
 
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curious which irregularities. If Azimuth is off by 1 degree can't you just rotate the arm tube 1 degree to compensate? If zenith is off by 1 degree can't you just rotate the cartridge to compensate?

I'm not going to argue against starting from as close to perfect as you can, but I'm thinking if you use some method to optimize azimuth by rotating the arm tube (like Analog Magik or other popular method) why would you need to be within 1 degree to begin with? Especially since with all of the other tolerances in any set up you may well be off more than that to begin with even if you do get the cartridge/headshell orientation perfect.
Hi Bruce,

I'm not sure I fully understand your question, but here it goes:

1 degree of azimuth change is BIG! This is the most sensitive (IMO) of the cartridge alignment parameters to angular change. I can easily measure the crosstalk differences with less than 1/8 degree angular change and just about anyone could hear the difference in 0.5 degree change with a cartridge that had crosstalk around 28-30dB

YES, you can simply change the armtube and twist the cartridge to affect improvements in azimuth and zenith correction, but the point of the analysis - and optional compensation shim - is that we have already done the hard work of knowing at what angles your cartridge needs to be at in order for it to perform optimally and the corrective shim just makes it so very easy to affect those angles. If you don't want to use the corrective shim, you can achieve those same angles using the WallyReference. Watch this for more info:

I hope that helps.
 
Ron, how do you know the angle of your head shell once the cartridge is mounted in it will be the same as the base angle J. R. used to establish the correction? Some of your head shells might be able to be rotated anyway.

I presume David or whoever sets up your cartridges is going to make final adjustments by listening anyway.

Maybe this has already been discussed, but is there any sonic impact from the shims? Perhaps there is a choice of different materials.
Hi Peter,

We are now making the optional corrective shim from brass and soon from titanium. Those two options are an additional fee. The very rigid polymer that is heat and UV cured to a higher rigidity than most tonearms and headshells are made from is included in the analysis.

Your first question is an excellent one and is answered by watching the video I posted above.
 
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1 degree of azimuth change is BIG!

completely agree. My arm has a reference line etched in it. Rotating the arm less than the width of the line makes a huge difference in azimuth readings. So my point is, you are going to have to do fine tuning by rotating the arm anyway, why bother with correcting for that 1 degree before you start? Perhaps I got lucky and my cartridge is so close it doesn't need to be shimmed. One degree would certainly be a lot bigger adjustment than I show where I ended up in the picture

So we agree that 1 degree error in the stylus to groove interface is definitely huge when it comes to how it sounds, but the idea is get the needle precisely vertical in the groove, not get the cartridge perfectly horizontal in the headshell, so shimming it out of the headshell/cartridge interface and thinking you are starting from a perfect spot assumes that there are no other errors in the the arm, none in the way the arm is mounted to the arm board, none in the arm board to the base, and that everything about the plinth, platter, and platter bearing is perfect so no tilt in any of that. Tiny errors in those interfaces could easily add up to more than 1 degree and you may be shimming to make the cumulative error even worse.

I think PeterA has the same concerns, Unless you measure it on my table with my arm I don't have any confidence I will be starting any closer with or without a shim.


we have already done the hard work of knowing at what angles your cartridge needs to be at in order for it to perform optimally and the corrective shim just makes it so very easy to affect those angles.

My push back is, besides all of the other sources for error noted above, I don't really care what the angle needs to be before I start my alignment using Analog Magik because the software is going to get me there anyway. Now if it is way, way off to begin with, maybe you will never find it, but a well made cartridge and arm along with a good protractor to get it close has been all I need , at least so far.


Thanks for the feedback
 

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Good observations @BruceBW

May I ask if you feel using Analog Magik has yielded better sound than your previous efforts by ear?
 
May I ask if you feel using Analog Magik has yielded better sound than your previous efforts by ear?

yes

It is a bit of a challenge to use, but the results, at least in my case have been outstanding.... Example: using a SMARTractor to get a starting point for my initial readings, for VTA I was in the 8-10% range. Rotating the cartridge ever so slightly to change the Zenith, I got that to drop to around 2%. I don't see how you can possibly achieve what it does just by listening..

If nothing else it allows you to relax and quit sitting there guessing. What if I increase VTF a bit? What if I lower my VTA a bit?

I know that every record is different but I don't fret from album to album like some do. Knowing I have it so , so close is very comforting and allows me to relax and enjoy the music instead of worrying about it . That for me is well worth the price of admission.
 
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completely agree. My arm has a reference line etched in it. Rotating the arm less than the width of the line makes a huge difference in azimuth readings. So my point is, you are going to have to do fine tuning by rotating the arm anyway, why bother with correcting for that 1 degree before you start? Perhaps I got lucky and my cartridge is so close it doesn't need to be shimmed. One degree would certainly be a lot bigger adjustment than I show where I ended up in the picture

So we agree that 1 degree error in the stylus to groove interface is definitely huge when it comes to how it sounds, but the idea is get the needle precisely vertical in the groove, not get the cartridge perfectly horizontal in the headshell, so shimming it out of the headshell/cartridge interface and thinking you are starting from a perfect spot assumes that there are no other errors in the the arm, none in the way the arm is mounted to the arm board, none in the arm board to the base, and that everything about the plinth, platter, and platter bearing is perfect so no tilt in any of that. Tiny errors in those interfaces could easily add up to more than 1 degree and you may be shimming to make the cumulative error even worse.

I think PeterA has the same concerns, Unless you measure it on my table with my arm I don't have any confidence I will be starting any closer with or without a shim.




My push back is, besides all of the other sources for error noted above, I don't really care what the angle needs to be before I start my alignment using Analog Magik because the software is going to get me there anyway. Now if it is way, way off to begin with, maybe you will never find it, but a well made cartridge and arm along with a good protractor to get it close has been all I need , at least so far.


Thanks for the feedback
Perhaps I am still missing one of your points, but the corrective shim has BOTH the azimuth and SRA/VTA correction built into it.

I would not recommend "fine tuning" azimuth after I've done my analysis to your cartridge. This is because I went through A LOT of work to analyze many test records to find the one that had the highest probability of being cut with the cutting stylus being symmetrical AND perfectly perpendicular to the lacquer. One day I will write about how bad test records are cut, but this is partially because the engineers don't know how well their cutting styli were cut and their limited ability to CONFIRM alignment conditions. I analyze cutting styli as well, so I can see the opportunity for improvement in the industry, generally speaking.

NO, the idea is NOT to get the needle perfectly perpendicular to the groove and I don't care (for purposes of optimizing azimuth) about lack of orthogonality in the table/tonearm. I have two videos that will soon come out to explain why this is so and talk generally about stylus and groove geometry but in the meantime, read this and note the animation in particular: https://www.wallyanalog.com/post/finally-a-video-explaining-azimuth

As for your last sentence, I would say: you don't know what you are missing until you've found it.
 
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NO, the idea is NOT to get the needle perfectly perpendicular to the groove

OK, poor choice of words. I should have said something like optimally aligned in the groove. but I will stand by my concerns. Using Analog Magik I can see and hear that EXTREMELY small changes it the geometry of my cartridge result in PROFOUND changes to how it measures and sounds. Like twisting it so slightly to adjust zenith I'm not even sure it moved changes it from 2% to 10% distortion. Rotating my arm a fraction of the width of the reference line (picture above) results in large changes in azimuth readings. Hard to believe that sending it to you to be shimmed and using your gizmos results in the same degree of precision.

Maybe it does and I do not doubt that your way of doing things ends up with very fine results, but it boils down to the fact that life is too short and $$ too few for me to invest in the gizmos to do it your way and the gizmos to do it the Analog Magik way , and then take the time to see which I prefer. I started with the AM way. To my ear it has resulted in a sublime listening experience, so I am done with that part of my journey.

The other side of this is also very simple. Using your method, I am locked into sending my cartridge to you whenever I make a change, If I want to use various cartridges I have to pay you to align each one. I also have to buy an expensive head shell for each one. That is a fine system for some, not for me.

thanks for the discourse... moving on
 
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OK, poor choice of words. I should have said something like optimally aligned in the groove. but I will stand by my concerns. Using Analog Magik I can see and hear that EXTREMELY small changes it the geometry of my cartridge result in PROFOUND changes to how it measures and sounds. Like twisting it so slightly to adjust zenith I'm not even sure it moved changes it from 2% to 10% distortion. Hard to believe that sending it to you to be shimmed and using your gizmos results in the same degree of precision.

Maybe it does and I do not doubt that your way of doing things ends up with very fine results, but it boils down to the fact that life is too short and $$ too few for me to invest in the gizmos to do it your way and the gizmos to do it the Analog Magik way , and then take the time to see which I prefer. I started with the AM way. To my ear it has resulted in a sublime listening experience, so I am done with that part of my journey.

The other side of this is also very simple. Using your method, I am locked into sending my cartridge to you whenever I make a change, If I want to use various cartridges I have to pay you to align each one. I also have to buy an expensive head shell for each one. That is a fine system for some, not for me.

thanks for the discourse... moving on
You'll have to ask yourself: attain precision against WHAT? If the test method is multivariate process, the answer is "against itself". If the method is univariate in nature, the answer is "against the known and measurable reference".

Once I have the tool out to measure zenith error there will be no need to send a cartridge to me for full analysis unless one wishes to avoid the work. As long as users follow the prescribed univariate testing methods to optimize their cartridge, they will be able to know their optimal angles by +/- 0.0625 degrees. If they NEED a shim to achieve those angles, they can tell me their specs and I'll make one for them. At the end of the day, I insist upon certainty against an absolute target within a very tight tolerance and without the influence of spurious data inputs and other variables. No multivariate testing method can offer that. You have found what you are happy with and you are rightly appreciative of that. You and I are aiming at the same thing. Our approaches vary. There's certainly nothing wrong with that and I'm sure you agree.
 

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