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Vinyl distortion issues: needle, cartridge, pre-amp or other?
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odub
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7th February 2010
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Vinyl distortion issues: needle, cartridge, pre-amp or other?

My current equipment chain:

ortofon nightclub e --> Technics 1200 --> Rane 56 --> Apogee Duet --> Macbook Pro

I've noticed that with certain records - especially "louder" ones such as 7" or DJ 12"s - I'm getting audible distortion on both 1) high trebles (like a fuzzy edged distortion on someone's singing) or 2) on kick bass hits (which is more like a straight buzz).

I've been trial-and-erroring my way through this and I know the problem is NOT with the Apogee or Macbook. I'm also fairly certain it's not a problem with the Rane (since I could replicate the problem when I bypass the Rane and plug directly into a separate pre-amp).

Moreover, if I swap carts to either a Shure Whitelabel or M44-7, the problem also goes away (or, at least, is lessened).

So that leaves me wondering if the issue here is:
1) The stylus
2) The cart

I don't have an extra stylus I can swap out to test but this current stylus isn't even a year old yet.

A friend who's far more pro-audio-oriented than I thought it could be that the distortion is something originating more with the cartridge I'm using, in which case, a new stylus wouldn't make a difference.

Any suggestions from folks here? I'm happy to buy a new stylus even if only as a way to compare/contrast but they're not cheap and if the problem is more likely to reside with the cart, then at least I don't have to waste unnecessary money.


Related problem: On some records, the bass hits would actually skip the Ortofon stylus forward but I adjusted the tonearm settings and that seemed to solve it (though I also have to max out my tonearm counter-weight and that doesn't seem right to me).

I noticed that I could feel the bass in the tonearm hub itself (I was tightening the top screw and realized, "wow, I feel the bass") but that swapping carts lessened the affect (and of course, the stylus stopped skating forward).

Not sure if this info is relevant to the problem I'm having above but thought it was worth mentioning.
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The Ortofon DJ carts distort easily. All the problems you describe have to do with the cartridge and setup of the turntable. Just play around with a bunch of stuff until you are happy. For tonearm weight start with the manufacturers recommendation.
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Making sure the cartridge is aligned properly can help a lot. A stylus pressure gauge, an alignment protractor, and a calibration record are worth picking up if you're wanting to get the best out of any cartridge.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cellotron View Post
Making sure the cartridge is aligned properly can help a lot. A stylus pressure gauge, an alignment protractor, and a calibration record are worth picking up if you're wanting to get the best out of any cartridge.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Thanks Steve.

I'm willing to invest in some extra calibration tools though it's worth noting that in the case of the Nightclub E, it's a integrated Concorde design so horizontal realignment is not possible (though you may have been referring to azimuth angle?)

As per the other suggestion, by Paul, I'll certainly try playing around with different settings but height and counterweight (so far) have not seemed to have any impact on the distortion issue. The skipping can be eliminated by increasing counterweight but that would also increase tracking weight beyond the recommended limits.

So far though, it sounds like a faulty needle is likely NOT a culprit though, I'm assuming?
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When one combination clearly has less distortion over another, i'd suspect the stylus matching better to the groove (cut or wear) makes the most difference.

I think the one in the Ortofon Nightclub is elliptical shaped while the other two are spherical (not from wear but by design).
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7th February 2010
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You are overloading the inputs. This comes from a signal being too strong for the inputs of the pre-amp. This is not a problem for those who use boards because all mixers offer a “Trim” knob to adjust the amount of voltage fed to the pre-amplifier's input.

On a fixed device, the inputs will overload and distort. A cartridge can offer an output at various ranges pending on the manufacture. DJ needles (by design) offer a stronger signal whereas, a consumer cartridge will deliver a lower output to prevent input overload to the pre-amp section.

Cheers!
odub
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8th February 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OMNIFEX View Post
You are overloading the inputs. This comes from a signal being too strong for the inputs of the pre-amp. This is not a problem for those who use boards because all mixers offer a “Trim” knob to adjust the amount of voltage fed to the pre-amplifier's input.

On a fixed device, the inputs will overload and distort. A cartridge can offer an output at various ranges pending on the manufacture. DJ needles (by design) offer a stronger signal whereas, a consumer cartridge will deliver a lower output to prevent input overload to the pre-amp section.

Cheers!
This was one early suspicion but a Rane 56 would have been designed for fairly loud output from both record and cartridge. And the 56 has a trim knob and that has no effect on the distortion. I need to do more trial-and-erroring but I seem to be able to duplicate the same issues in two different pre-amps.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by odub View Post
This was one early suspicion but a Rane 56 would have been designed for fairly loud output from both record and cartridge. And the 56 has a trim knob and that has no effect on the distortion. I need to do more trial-and-erroring but I seem to be able to duplicate the same issues in two different pre-amps.

You will need to find out if your Rane mixer's trim knob is between the RCA connection and the preamplifier's input. If it is after the pre-amplifiers output, it
will not be helpful under the given conditions.

Why not just try another cartridge if it is indeed the record? It would answer your question within 30 seconds.

Cheers!
odub
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8th February 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OMNIFEX View Post

Why not just try another cartridge if it is indeed the record?
In my original post, I made note that I did try this. I actually ruled out the pre-amp but what I'm trying to figure out is if the problem is the needle or the cartridge.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by odub View Post
In my original post, I made note that I did try this. I actually ruled out the pre-amp but what I'm trying to figure out is if the problem is the needle or the cartridge.
Needle & Cartridge are one in the same.

It seems you have only loud cartridges which slightly differ in volume hence, the reason the distortion was reduced when making the comparison.

Do you see where this is leading to?


Loud records + Loud needles = overloading the pre-amp section in your mixer.

You should compare the mV (millivolts) amongst both cartridges, and how much input voltage (millivolts) your DJ mixer can tolerate before overload. It may be time to refresh yourself with your manual.

Nevertheless, if you would like to enjoy the quality of your records, buy a cartridge that offers nothing higher than 5 mV (millivolts) on the output. This will give you enough headroom in the event you embark a recording that was pressed very loud.

Feel free to make the comparisons between a DJ cartridge and a home consumer cartridge in terms of output.


9.5 mV

Shure M44-7-H DJ Phono Cartridge. 800-229-0644 Shure M44-7-H Cartridge.

4.0 mV

Shure M78S Phono Cartridge. 800-229-0644 Shure M78S Phono Cartridge.


Cheers!
odub
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8th February 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OMNIFEX View Post
Needle & Cartridge are one in the same.

It seems you have only loud cartridges which slightly differ in volume hence, the reason the distortion was reduced when making the comparison.

Do you see where this is leading to?


Loud records + Loud needles = overloading the pre-amp section in your mixer.

You should compare the mV (millivolts) amongst both cartridges, and how much input voltage (millivolts) your DJ mixer can tolerate before overload. It may be time to refresh yourself with your manual.

Nevertheless, if you would like to enjoy the quality of your records, buy a cartridge that offers nothing higher than 5 mV (millivolts) on the output. This will give you enough headroom in the event you embark a recording that was pressed very loud.

Feel free to make the comparisons between a DJ cartridge and a home consumer cartridge in terms of output.


9.5 mV

Shure M44-7-H DJ Phono Cartridge. 800-229-0644 Shure M44-7-H Cartridge.

4.0 mV

Shure M78S Phono Cartridge. 800-229-0644 Shure M78S Phono Cartridge.


Cheers!
Thanks Omni: I was lead to believe that a worn needle could create distortion problems independent of the state of the cartridge, hence why I separated them into distinct, potential problem areas.

You raise a good point though - all three carts I've switched between (Nightclub, White Label and m44-7) are primarily made for DJ use vs. home listening so they may not be the best trio to compare between. I'll see if I can borrow a different cart to pursue a more proper point of comparison.

However, just to note: the Nightclub E supposedly outputs at 6mV compared with 9.5 for the M44-7 yet the latter actually has *less* distortion. The Shure White Label I also tried is similar to the Nightclub - 6mV - but it too has less distortion. So again, I'm left with trying to troubleshoot what might be going on with the Nightclub in this case.

Thanks again for the suggestions.
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"P" mount cartridges are GREAT for DJs since they don't have to be realigned when changing cartridge bodies. (Just take the old one out and put the new one in.) However tangential tracking is something that must be looked at and is impossible to change with a SL-1200 and a "P" mount cartridge and I would refer you to the Vinyl Engine for a good protractor to see how close you are with the cartridge and the tone arm. Cartridge Alignment Protractors | Free Turntable, Tonearm & Cartridge Tools | Vinyl Engine. Also the arm should be parallel to the surface of the record which is something that also should be checked and adjusted.

Vinyl engine also has a lot of good suggestions for setting up turntables plus you may want to look at this site Phono CARTRIDGE Mounting, TONEARM Alignment TOOL, TURNTABLE Set-Up, VTA, LTA, Adjustment of BIAS Compensation. which also has a lot of good suggestions for setting up a turntable and or cartridge/

Best of luck and good listening.
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8th February 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by odub View Post
Thanks Omni: I was lead to believe that a worn needle could create distortion problems independent of the state of the cartridge, hence why I separated them into distinct, potential problem areas.

You raise a good point though - all three carts I've switched between (Nightclub, White Label and m44-7) are primarily made for DJ use vs. home listening so they may not be the best trio to compare between. I'll see if I can borrow a different cart to pursue a more proper point of comparison.

However, just to note: the Nightclub E supposedly outputs at 6mV compared with 9.5 for the M44-7 yet the latter actually has *less* distortion. The Shure White Label I also tried is similar to the Nightclub - 6mV - but it too has less distortion. So again, I'm left with trying to troubleshoot what might be going on with the Nightclub in this case.

Thanks again for the suggestions.

There are a lot of things to take into consideration when we are discussing a device with moving parts. Needle wear will attribute to distortion although you may notice cleaning the stylus for every record played to prevent the tone arm from skating across the platter.

The last time my turntables entered a venue was 1998. Today, they are for listening to old records from time to time at home since, I don’t see the logics of toting an analogue turntable in a digital realm from place to place. I have no idea where the market stands in 2010 in terms of cartridges. A cartridge offering an output of 6mv was very loud in the 1990’s and anything beyond that was too loud (offered more distortion) on a majority of records.

Here is the cartridge I own/use which, are/were aimed for DJs at the time. As you can see it is 4.4 mV

http://www.pickeringuk.com/v15dj.html


I would imagine cartridges for DJs are not aimed for sound quality anymore but more to wards durability and loudness why 6 mV appears to be the standard these days.

Cheers!
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8th February 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by finetuner View Post
These very specs also show that both needles are spherical shaped,

while the E in Ortofon's Nightclub E stands for elliptic...

This will make a big difference


Of cause, gain staging is of equal importance and should be ruled out in any path.
I actually owned one Elliptical and it offered a sharp sound upon lifting the tonearm off the record. Needless to say, it is sitting in my box of replacement cartridges.

Ortofon's concord had a bad reputation of damaging the tone arm of the Turntable. I have no idea if they ever fix the problem.

Cheers!
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8th February 2010
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I do cutting everyday since years with a Neumann cutting system , ( sal74 and sx74 ) and I NEVER did this system distording . They have a lot of headroom .
I think this distortion is comming from your reading system , not from the records you are listenning too ...
A lot of DJ needles need a lot of weight to have a clear sound , usualy too much to have a good sound but ...
try with more weight ... you will loose some teeble but you will have less noise
or buy a good needle ... probably it is the best thing to do , Grado is making some nice one for 100$
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OMNIFEX View Post
A cartridge offering an output of 6mv was very loud in the 1990’s and anything beyond that was too loud (offered more distortion) on a majority of records.

Here is the cartridge I own/use which, are/were aimed for DJs at the time. As you can see it is 4.4 mV

http://www.pickeringuk.com/v15dj.html
Interesting; I had no idea Pickering made a disco needle but that makes sense given the long history of the company.

As for why you would make cartridges louder, my understanding is that the higher the output, the less gain you need to apply on the mixer to raise the volume of a particular record. Among other advantages, that would lessen the possibility of feedback, especially in a loud club/discotheque environment.

Of course, these days, with so many DJs using Serato or similar time-coded vinyl + DJ software systems, you can usually get away with using far more inferior cartridges.

I never bought the Ortofon for DJing purposes. I was told that it offered the best bang for the buck in terms of sound quality and cost. I know record labels who master their reissues from vinyl using a Nightclub E and producers who sample using them. That's why I'm perplexed as to why I'd be getting such obvious distortion using the one I have now. I'll keep playing around this week and seeing what I can figure out.

Thanks again.
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8th February 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by odub View Post
Interesting; I had no idea Pickering made a disco needle but that makes sense given the long history of the company.
That is a very old design that was around when Disco was in the limelight. It is too ancient in the eyes who are just discovering turntables. Stanton and Pickering are interchangeable even though Stanton is classed as the better brand of the two.

Quote:
As for why you would make cartridges louder, my understanding is that the higher the output, the less gain you need to apply on the mixer to raise the volume of a particular record. Among other advantages, that would lessen the possibility of feedback, especially in a loud club/discotheque environment.
All mixing boards offer enough gain to make up any loss in volume if a recording is too low. This is why mixers offer gain knobs in addition to a fader on each channel plus a master level whereas a home consumer amplifier/receiver offers a fixed level. Feedback is based on vibration, which would stem back to the turntable’s mechanical structure.



Quote:
I never bought the Ortofon for DJing purposes. I was told that it offered the best bang for the buck in terms of sound quality and cost. I know record labels who master their reissues from vinyl using a Nightclub E and producers who sample using them. That's why I'm perplexed as to why I'd be getting such obvious distortion using the one I have now. I'll keep playing around this week and seeing what I can figure out.


I am sorry to say, you fell into the “me too” scenario. Many buy items not based on research. They purchased the product because someone they admire owns it. There is nothing wrong with that. However, when that person (which the previous owner admired) purchased a product because someone they admired owns it and, that person (which the previous owner admired) purchased the item because someone they admired uses it, no one can tell you why they are using the product other than so and so uses it.

Ortofon’s Concord offered a unique look with a good marketing strategy. Those are the two things that will draw the average consumer’s attention. With a high price point, it was classed as a high line cartridge in the 1980’s in nightclubs despite having a reputation of damaging the tone arm on the Technics 1200.


Quote:
Of course, these days, with so many DJs using Serato or similar time-coded vinyl + DJ software systems, you can usually get away with using far more inferior cartridges.
Now you are catching on. I would imagine those time coded records are nothing more than a saw-tooth waves. Instead of listening to a bunch of manufactures marketing their work, research the product thoroughly (read the manual, service manual, schematic what have you) and ask questions before you buy.

Cheers!
odub
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OMNIFEX View Post
Many buy items not based on research. They purchased the product because someone they admire owns it. There is nothing wrong with that. However, when that person (which the previous owner admired) purchased a product because someone they admired owns it and, that person (which the previous owner admired) purchased the item because someone they admired uses it, no one can tell you why they are using the product other than so and so uses it.
I consider the opinion of people who I know personally and whose audio experience exceeds mine to be part of the research process. After all, I'm asking questions on a message board from people I consider to be in-the-know. That, to me, is an invaluable research aid. I certainly would never have thought about looking into the Pickering V15 line had you, for example, not mentioned it as your primary cartridge.

In regards to feedback: Certainly, turntable and console design factor in.In an ideal club setting, a well-designed, vibration-dampened console and/or strategic speaker placement would help avoid feedback issues. However, if you're in the middle of set, the amount of gain you apply can and will immediately exacerbate or ameliorate feedback in ways that at least a DJ can fix on the fly. From my experience, the less gain you need to apply on the front end means less concerns about feedback. Having to crank up the gain to compensate for a quieter record OR cartridge often means worse sound quality and higher likelihood of feedback (this is especially true for playing LP tracks). I can see the logic in making DJ-specific carts louder during the years leading up to the expansion of Serato and similar digital DJing systems. At this point, it makes naught a difference since you can apply gain in the laptop and bypass the mixer's own gain control.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by odub View Post
I consider the opinion of people who I know personally and whose audio experience exceeds mine to be part of the research process. After all, I'm asking questions on a message board from people I consider to be in-the-know. That, to me, is an invaluable research aid. I certainly would never have thought about looking into the Pickering V15 line had you, for example, not mentioned it as your primary cartridge.
I am not recommending the Pickering V 15. I recommend buying a few cartridges and pick the one that meets your requirements from a sound quality perspective. Sound is subjective and, what works one person may not for the other. No one can tell you what sounds pleasing to your ears on the Internet. That is something you will need to find out on your own.

A good example is a pretty girl. Not every pretty girl will meet your needs so you need to try as many as possible until you find the right one.

Quote:
From my experience, the less gain you need to apply on the front end means less concerns about feedback. Having to crank up the gain to compensate for a quieter record OR cartridge often means worse sound quality and higher likelihood of feedback (this is especially true for playing LP tracks).
Feedback comes from vibration. Bear in mind, (assuming you are talking home) your environment will cause the feedback. You will not gain feedback listening through headphones no matter what level you have the volume setting. However, if you are playing through your loudspeakers, which are too close to the turntable, you will embark feedback.

I did not reply to the other stuff since this is the Mastering forum. My frame of mind is not about long conversations of DJ equipment when I participate in this section.


Cheers!
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The carts like the Concorde are not good. You can't adjust the tracking angle. If you like that one I would use one that doesn't have an integrated head shell.

It's possible it's distorting the preamp but that wouldn't be my first guess. The front end of a preamp usually has fixed gain. The output usually has variable gain. If it's distorting the preamp it's likely either turning it down will fix it or nothing will.

Rane usually does things right. If it's a fairly modern box I wouldn't suspect the Rane first. It never hurts to check though.
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The gain stage in any DJ mixer with a switchable phono/line channel comes after the phono pre else it would not effect the line i/p gain.

If you increase the gain digitally in serato, you're simply increasing the level returning to the line i/p of the dj mixer where the gain stage is still fully operational

I suspect a previous poster nailed it as a combo of loud records (can you measure the level? Do they distort on other systems? Many dance music 12's are cut to within a degree of the heads life these days!) and high output cartridge.

A year of stylus wear could mean anything depending on usage/abusage so an evaluation of a worn needle with unkown stylus hours could be tricky...
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Those Concord Cartrige and styli

They do not translate loud cuts very well and as Paul said they are easy to distort. Buy the Sure 447's that's what i use for test cuts.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fat larry View Post
Buy the Sure 447's that's what i use for test cuts.
I used to use the Ortofon blue "DJ" cart. I loved it because it sounded terrible. If the cut sounded clean on that it would sound good on anything. I had to stop using it because when clients were around and I switched from input to playback they freaked out. I playback as I cut when I'm cutting dubs.
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9th February 2010
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Thanks guys. I'll continue to play around and see what I work out.

In the short run, I think I'll save the Ortofon for LPs only and switch to a different, lower output cartridge for 7"s and 12"s.
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We just put in a new cartridge into our playback system. While we were at it we also did a lot of general maintenance and found a couple of problems.

I am using a Micro Seiki turntable and arm and was using a Ortofon Concorde Cartridge. We changed over to a Ortofon 2M Cartridge.

We also have a PS Audio RIAA pre amp

As part of the upgrade and check out we had to adjust the tone arm height and the tracking for the new cartridge. Just by changing a few of the adjustments I could make the cartridge sound distorted, bass shy and/or harsh. When it was all set up it sounded GREAT!

Maybe you should start at the beginning and check everything including tone arm height, tracking force and antiskate.

Best of luck!
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