On the subject of VTA and SRA (Stylus Rake Angle), there is a bit of a raging debate about this on the web. Maybe it’s best to have a sane view about making fine adjustments as it gets easy for people to get lost in technical minutiae and tuning instead of listening to the music. It’s better to focus our attention on the areas that are most important first, and then, time permitting, to play with fine-tuning.
That being said, I would definitely side with the “changes in VTA are audible” camp…. but not to the extreme that some of its proponents claim. .
How much of a difference does VTA adjustment really make?
If I could quantify it, I’d say it’s more like going from a 91 or 92 point wine to a 94-95. It’s a perceptible difference, but it’s a small one. If you’ve got a good cartridge and proper tonearm/turntable it’s going to sound very good… and then carefully tweaking the VTA/SRA and Azimuth may be able to take it into the excellent level. Some listeners out there may disagree and say it’s more like going from 95 point wine to an 82 or even a bad wine… but I think that’s too extreme.
So call me a moderate. I think even in the majority of decent ‘tables and tonearms a good cartridge is going to sound pretty good without VTA adjustment. Yes, changing VTA may make it better by 1 or 3%, but it’s not as necessary as some would say.
However, the more the stylus goes from conical to elliptical to hyper-elliptical to shibata/stereohedron/SAS/fineline profile, the more audible the differences in VTA seem to become. BTW…the fine-line profiles can be incredibly fussy about VTA, whereas a simple elliptical may sound great at almost any tone-arm height. For some people the best solution is to just go with a great conical like the Denon 103… that stylus works with nearly any reasonable VTA… heheh
Also, there is a super easy “hidden workaround” for many of these VTA issues… This secret is called…. “make a change to the stylus tracking force!”
Increasing or decreasing the pressure by even a tenth or two tenths of a gram can greatly increase/decrease the angle of the cantilever (and thus VTA), by a much greater margin than adjusting the tonearm height!
And yes, of course, it’s important to stay within the cantilever/suspension linear range but you may be surprised how far it can go and still stay in that linear range. Having a good stylus pressure gauge becomes indispensable for this one. To be honest, this can work so well with so many tonearms that it often makes me forget the need for VTA adjustment … excepting for certain fussy fine-line type styli…
Another thing to remember, is… in some cases, due to poor QC, the stylus is mounted so far off from the “ideal” that it becomes nearly impossible to figure out the proper VTA… one can adjust it all day long and get nowhere.
So where does that leave us?
I would say, first get some of the other factors figured out. And the turntable/ platter/ mat/ LP interface may well be one of the most important.
With the Vibro-Stop Platter Mats, I found that it (generally) became less necessary to make VTA adjustments to get really good sound, or to worry so much about compensating for what is only small differences in height… the music became so much more enjoyable that after getting the tracking force dialed in, I often dispensed with any further VTA changes.
I most often use a Pickering XLZ 7500, low impedance, low output cartridge. It combines what I love most about moving coils with some of the great tonal qualities that the Stanton 881 offered and I’ve found some really great Shibata styli which are at least as good as the original Stanton Stereohedrons and MkIIs.
I love being able to swap out styli and compare! I often use an elliptical, usually of the 3×7 or even 4×7 profile, with the arm/head-shell parallel to the LP, and no VTA fine-tuning.
But every now and then, I find an album that is so pristine and beautiful that it begs for my most extreme fine-line styli. And for those, I have some VTA and tracking force pre-sets that I go for first. When set properly, I have found almost no advantage whatsoever to on the fly VTA fine tuning. (On the fly azimuth adjustment is a different topic and reserved for a different discussion.)
Also, remember that there are exceptions to any rule, so the adage of trusting what you hear becomes even more important: if you get it to where you really like it, it’s probably getting good!