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phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Thu Dec 14, 2017 10:26 am

Hello all,
I am having a frustrating issue with my trusty Pioneer PL-41 TT. I've used this deck for about 13 years, my uncle bought it new in the early 70s. It's a beautiful piece of equipment, but here are my problems;

Some records (especially newer stuff and hip hop records) are overly sibilant.

I get frequent tracking errors on all kinds of records. New, old, cleaned on a VPI, records without debris or scratches will just skip a groove randomly, then 10 minutes later, skip another groove. I can plan an old beat to shit Chess or Beatles LP that's 50 some years old with no problems. This has only started happening in the last year or two, but it seems to occur more often and can be maddening.

This leads me to tinker with the tracking weight, which seems to take it's toll on the stylus cantilever suspension, making the cartridge ride low. I replace the stylus every year or so.
I don't just mash the weight on, I keep an eye on things and only adjust by half a gram or so in either direction.

I have a Shure Hi Track cart in there now. I'm fairly sure that it's the original, which would put it at about 45 years old. I'm sure a replacement couldn't hurt, but I would just like a little insight as to whether or not these issues, especially the tracking/skips, could trace back to an old and worn cartridge. I have tried to dig into these issues on some of the well known TT forums, but that quickly dissolves into people just listing their gear and using as much jargon as possible.

Thank you in advance for the wisdom.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby elisha wiesner on Thu Dec 14, 2017 11:21 am

Short answer without seeing your setup: Yes, the issues could trace back to a worn/bad cart.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby endofanera on Thu Dec 14, 2017 11:25 am

TomWanderer wrote:Hello all,
I am having a frustrating issue with my trusty Pioneer PL-41 TT. I've used this deck for about 13 years, my uncle bought it new in the early 70s. It's a beautiful piece of equipment, but here are my problems;

Some records (especially newer stuff and hip hop records) are overly sibilant.

I get frequent tracking errors on all kinds of records. New, old, cleaned on a VPI, records without debris or scratches will just skip a groove randomly, then 10 minutes later, skip another groove. I can plan an old beat to shit Chess or Beatles LP that's 50 some years old with no problems. This has only started happening in the last year or two, but it seems to occur more often and can be maddening.

This leads me to tinker with the tracking weight, which seems to take it's toll on the stylus cantilever suspension, making the cartridge ride low. I replace the stylus every year or so.
I don't just mash the weight on, I keep an eye on things and only adjust by half a gram or so in either direction.

I have a Shure Hi Track cart in there now. I'm fairly sure that it's the original, which would put it at about 45 years old. I'm sure a replacement couldn't hurt, but I would just like a little insight as to whether or not these issues, especially the tracking/skips, could trace back to an old and worn cartridge. I have tried to dig into these issues on some of the well known TT forums, but that quickly dissolves into people just listing their gear and using as much jargon as possible.

Thank you in advance for the wisdom.

If the stylus is not worn and the cartridge is still able to hold it well, this is the kind of issue where I would immediately look to adjust the anti-skate mechanism. Googling this model seems to indicate it didn't come with an anti-skate adjustment. Some folks have replaced the tonearms with ones that have anti-skate weights and the like on them as a solution.

In my experience a worn cartridge could cause tracking problems, but it's never the first thing I look at. Yours is pretty old though, so maybe it isn't fitting the stylus as well as it once did and that is affecting the tracking. Even if it's not, it may be nice to have a new cartridge so in that respect you can think of it as not just throwing money at the problem as guesswork, but rather as time for an upgrade and who knows, it may fix things.

Others probably have more concrete first step advice to offer.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Thu Dec 14, 2017 1:05 pm

Thank you both for your replies. It is true that this model does not have an anti skate adjustment. Users on forums seem to be split on some seeing that as a necessary feature, while others say they have used the PL-41 for decades with no need for one.

I am looking at the Ortofon M2 Red as a possible replacement, especially this one you can get already mounted to a headshell.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B016CDCRVI/ref=sspa_dk_detail_1?psc=1&pd_rd_i=B016CDCRVI&pd_rd_wg=WpDg1&pd_rd_r=QW50CH2M7S9PWSWHJPJ1&pd_rd_w=78bco

I am missing a screw that mounts the cartridge holder to the headshell on my original shell. It's kind of an odd system where the 2 mounting screws don't go through the headshell, they mount to a little holder that uses a single screw in the middle to mount to the shell. I have a screw in there, but it's not OEM and if I'm getting a new cart why not fix that too. The Amazon reviews say the Ortofon setup ought to fit. I also hear that the PL-41 uses a high mass tone arm, so that can be an issue with the shell/cart. Sometimes this stuff gets so confusing, I'm not an audiophile, but I do listen to most of my music on vinyl and just want things to work like they should! But, I love the deck, it's been in the family forever, its a beauty, I should at least give the new cart a go, eh?
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby endofanera on Thu Dec 14, 2017 1:17 pm

TomWanderer wrote:I am missing a screw that mounts the cartridge holder to the headshell on my original shell. It's kind of an odd system where the 2 mounting screws don't go through the headshell, they mount to a little holder that uses a single screw in the middle to mount to the shell.

That's really unusual. I would be worried about the cartridge going out of alignment with a setup like that. That would also affect tracking - I should probably have asked if the cartridge was properly aligned.

Is it? You should check if you're unsure. Alignment tools are not that expensive. In fact, these are free.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Thu Dec 14, 2017 1:30 pm

I do need to double check the alignment. Here are pictures I found online of the design;

Image

Image
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby endofanera on Thu Dec 14, 2017 2:07 pm

TomWanderer wrote:I do need to double check the alignment. Here are pictures I found online of the design

Those pics make me less uncertain of the headshell, but you should still check alignment.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Thu Dec 14, 2017 2:31 pm

I printed off the basic protractor that you linked and I'll check the alignment tonight. It turned out that I joined that forum 3 years ago and completely forgot! Thanks again for the link.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby Redline on Thu Dec 14, 2017 4:43 pm

Get rid of that dusty cartridge.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby Redline on Thu Dec 14, 2017 5:05 pm

With that arm, you'll want to track at least 2 grams, the Audio Technica AT95E would be a good fit.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby brephophagist on Thu Dec 14, 2017 8:07 pm

If you do replace the cartridge, and it doesn't help, or if you're sending the table in for service anyway, you might want to (ask whoever's doing it to) check out the bearing that allows the tonearm to turn/move, especially if it's never been serviced and that bearing isn't sealed.

Trying to avoid jargon: when the needle encounters Scary Shit in the grooves and needs to ride out the wave, one of two things is going to need to flex to make it happen: the cantilever or the whole tonearm. If the latter can't happen, the former will happen. Best way to see it is to find a record you know to be eccentric (i.e. off-center) and see if playing it makes the cantilever dance back and forth like a pendulum.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby Redline on Thu Dec 14, 2017 8:33 pm

I don't even know who works on turntables in Milwaukee anymore.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Fri Dec 15, 2017 9:21 am

Redline wrote:I don't even know who works on turntables in Milwaukee anymore.


Seriously. Especially if you want to get it back within a year. Well, the good news is that everything mechanically on the deck seems to work as it should. It was always well cared for everything moves like clockwork. the tonearm is very dexterous (for lack of a better word) and seems to handle problem record surfaces very well. I checked the alignment yesterday and everything was looking good. I also have a feeling that the screw I'm using to hold the cart mounting bracket into the headshell could be part of the problem. It sort of seems fine, but if i'm realizing that the headshell of a nice TT isn't the place for a home brew solution.

Redline, thank you for the recommendation. That's exactly what I needed. Amazon will sell me that cart with an AT headshell and a protractor for half of what that Ortofon was going for. You guys are the best.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby Redline on Fri Dec 15, 2017 9:51 am

The EA Forums - Tech Room = Helpful, gentle, sometimes money-saving advice.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:33 am

Update;
I received my new AT cartridge and headshell on Sunday and assembled them. When I put the new setup on my tonearm it was so much lighter than the previous that I couldn't balance the tone arm even with the weight all the way forward. The new headshell has a spot to thread in a weight, so I figured one of those little 4 gram weights would be just the trick. Turns out they are not so easy to find. Most sellers were located out of the country, the UK ones were mostly out of stock and the ones in Japan only offered free economy (slow) shipping. I finally purchased one in the states off Ebay for $15 with shipping, and that was as cheap as I could find. I hope it fits, all of the weights said they were Technics compatible, couldn't find any mention of an AT product unless you bought it in conjunction with a headshell. My $15 weight should come Thursday evening...I'll report back! I'm excited to try this out.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby motorbike guy on Tue Dec 19, 2017 1:10 pm

I would make every effort to fit the new cartridge to your old headshell, if at all possible. Try finding another screw that holds the cartridge & bracket into the headshell, or figure out a way to mount the cartridge directly to the headshell (drill two holes, use nuts and bolts) and bypass that bracket thingy.

If you are not willing to do that, and you simply must add mass to the new headshell - cartridge assembly, try taping a coin to the headshell. That will at least get you in the ballpark.

I would be reluctant to add mass to the headshell, though. More mass puts more stress on the cartridge's suspension.

Good luck.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Tue Dec 19, 2017 1:58 pm

Right now I'm just trying to balance the tonearm with the new cartridge and shell. I don't really understand how adding enough weight to simply achieve balance would put stress on the cartridge suspension...I mean right now I can't even get the needle down onto the surface of the record. Can you please explain? I'll still be using the weight adjustment at the rear of the tone arm to set the actual tracking force once balance is achieved.

My aim here is to set this thing up properly for the first time in over a decade, so I'm looking to steer clear of modifying parts that typically require very careful alignment.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby motorbike guy on Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:12 pm

TomWanderer wrote:Right now I'm just trying to balance the tonearm with the new cartridge and shell. I don't really understand how adding enough weight to simply achieve balance would put stress on the cartridge suspension...I mean right now I can't even get the needle down onto the surface of the record. Can you please explain? I'll still be using the weight adjustment at the rear of the tone arm to set the actual tracking force once balance is achieved.

My aim here is to set this thing up properly for the first time in over a decade, so I'm looking to steer clear of modifying parts that typically require very careful alignment.


My comment about using the original headshell was based on the fact that the new headshell may just be too little mass for the tonearm, which is why you can't balance it properly. As to the coin, I was just suggesting that a coin taped to the headshell might work until you get your special $15 weight in the mail.

My comment about mass was based on looking at the pictures you posted, and looking at online pictures of the same turntable, it looks like a fairly high mass tonearm. That kind of tonearm is most often paired with a low compliance cartridge (shures and denons come to mind) with a suspension (the rubber bits and the thin wire filament that control how quickly the stylus moves) that is stiffer, provides more resistance and is meant to handle a higher-mass tonearm.

my concern is mass. even when the tonearm is properly balanced so as to provide the correct tracking weight for the cartridge, the amount of mass in the tonearm/headshell/cartridge combination means that whole assembly is harder to move. the stylus and the suspension of the cartridge are the bits that move the tonearm up and down - to compensate for warps in records, for example, and left and right - to track smoothly towards the middle of the record.

imagine an ideal empty seesaw perfectly balanced so as to be level, then with just enough weight added just behind the fulcrum to cause one end to press down with 2 grams of force. it would be fairly easy to grab the lower end of the seesaw (the end that is touching the ground with 2 grams of force) and move it up and down, or side to side (lets assume the seesaw also pivots horizontally)

then image the same seesaw with 400 lb weights bolted to each end, so it is perfectly balanced. then a small weight is placed just behind the fulcrum to cause one end to press down with 2 grams of force. It would be much harder to move the whole assembly up and down or side to side.

that extra effort of moving all that mass (even though it is statically balanced) can mean extra stress on the cartridge suspension, and if the cartridge is a high compliance cartridge, meaning it is more springy and the filament is soft, the whole thing can bottom out, and/or transmit unwanted movement through the cartridge and therefore affect the sound.

Don't mind me too much, I tend to get lost in the weeds sometimes when it comes to hifi, especially turntables. they are kind of a lifelong obsession of mine. don't even get me started on removable headshells.....

short answer: a coin taped to the headshell may allow you to statically balance the arm to the correct tracking weight until you get the extra weight. you will likely be fine, but if you get too much low frequency rumble or weird tracking errors, the cartridge you chose may not be a good match for that tonearm, and you may want to pick another cartridge based on its compliance rating.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby TomWanderer on Fri Jan 05, 2018 9:47 am

Update! I am very pleased to report that my new setup is working great. Since I added the 4g weight to the headshell and balancing the arm about 2 weeks ago I have probably listened to 50 or so records and things are working great. No weird skipping/tracking errors to report, which is a huge relief. My copy of The Bends (which looks perfect) would skip here and there every time and it drove me nuts. Lots of albums would do that, but no more!!

I have also noticed that albums with loud, crystal clear female vocals come through beautifully where they used to sound overly hot or fuzzy and sibilant enunciation would distort. I listened to Las Malas Amistades' album Maleza the other day, it is full of such vocal passages and there is no compression on it...it's a very loud record and I thought I had played my copy out or something because of the noise...now it's like a curtain has been lifted off of it. The detail was amazing. I still have to check my favorite Ghostface albums, as the repetitious 's' sounds on them used to distort and just sound shitty, but I have a feeling it's gonna sound good. So far everything from Solange to CCR to the lacquer of my band's upcoming album sound very nice and play with no tracking fuck ups.

Thank you all for your help and input.
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Re: phono cartridge failure?

Postby Redline on Thu Jan 11, 2018 5:21 pm

My $15 weight

Would see that band
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