Dec 052010
 

Recently I have been pursuing a Technics 1200/1210 related review project (1) and that has included trying a few arms, cartridges, mats and PSUs on the turntables and during the course of doing that the subject of this particular review came about.

After 23 years of success using a selection of alignment protractors and one universal one in particular I finally for the first time hit a snag with an arm cartridge combination which after a lot of fiddling around with I was pretty unhappy with the results of my set-up. No matter how I went about it, it was off….not by much but by enough to potentially throw the results of one aspect of this review project.

The problem arm was a 9inch Jelco 750D (2) and the cartridge a Van Den Hul Frog Gold. The solution to the problem came in the form of a special “made to Order” alignment protractor from a manufacturer I had not hear of before, Mint LP of Hong Kong.

The Mint LP Best Protractor

Yip of Mint LP makes quality turntable/arm and turntable/arm/cartridge specific alignment protractors. His view is that the Best item for the job is an alignment protractor made for a specific job rather than a universal protractor.

In Yips own words…

“When installing your phono cartridge to your tonearm, there are three major geometric parameters to be taken care of, namely, alignment, azimuth, and vertical tracking angle. Of these, alignment is fundamental. Failure to get alignment correct you definitely get inner groove distortion during LP playback.

Improper alignment may result damage in your cartridge and the LP itself.

There are just too many templates and tractors in the market. Yet the best approach is to have a tailor-made tractor for a particular turntable/tonearm setup.” Quote taken from the Mint LP website.

As mentioned earlier I had not previously heard of Mint LP or Yip until my particular set-up problem occurred (not the only problem I encountered while setting this arm up (3) ) so I was delighted when I was offered a loan of a specific protractor for the Jelco 750D tonearm and Technics 1200/1210 turntable (thank you Retief)

The Protractor comes with a full set of instructions, well written, with nice helpful photographs and a 3X magnifier. In fact the instructions are bar those supplied with SME arms as good as I have yet seen or used in all the years I have been involved in audio.

The Protractor itself is a beautifully made item with a double layer of information. On the top of the mirror surface the arc that the cartridge should follow and the null points for aligning the stylus cantilever. The second layer is a product of the reflection properties of the mirror and is visible at the two null points only. This second virtual/reflected layer creates secondary alignment lines which give you the ability to know when you are viewing the alignment lines straight on. The top actual lines line up with the reflected lines when viewed at the correct angle; this is called the Parallax Effect.

You will also need to avail of the Mint LP sites selling of a suitable magnifier (the Protractor comes with a 3X magnifier, which gets you so far but not far enough) as the alignment lines are very fine and frankly even an excellent set of eyes will need the aid of a suitable magnifier (4) to get the set up of your cartridge right and they offer just such a 10X magnifier.

Using the Best Tractor

I was right to be concerned with the accuracy of my set-up as it turned out it was totally wrong; all my work had been for nought. The Mint LP Best tractor is an arc protractor and the universal I had been using was a straight line protractor. It too has two null points but was for the first time wrong for the task at hand. I must ask the question “How many other protractors out there are also not up to the task at hand for particular cartridges and arm combinations? ” Quite a lot I suspect.

Using the Best Tractor one establishes the distance of error by placing the stylus diamond on the arc line at the edge of the plater and close to the centre spindle (take care doing this as your cart is magnetic and may be drawn to the spindle). In my case the stylus was way of the inner part of the arc so I had to move the cartridge body back in the headshell so that the stylus tip rested on the arc line. By doing this I obtained the correct “effective length and Overhang” for my VDH Frog Gold on the Jelco 750D arm/Technics 1200/1210 turntable.

Once this was done and Yip’s tips and guidance were very useful, I moved onto the alignment of the cartridge’s cantilever which required the use of the 10X loupe magnifier. At this stage one of the unique features of this alignment protractor came into its own and that was the “reflection lines” that allow you to know when you are viewing the null point straight on. The “parallex Effect” which this mirror design incorporates means that you can see when the main alignment lines are viewed wrongly. A second set of ghost lines below the main lines aid you and only when the top and bottom lines align do you know you are viewing the null point correctly. It is vital to do this so that you can align the cantilever.

It took quite awhile to get the alignment right as the “fine line” + arc cross point are so fine (I have never seen lines on an alignment protractor as fine as this before) that you must use the 10X magnifier to see if you are spot on or not. When correct the cantilever sits in the middle (equally distances to either side) of the two main reflection lines and the length of the cartridge cantilever runs front to back along the centre “fine line”; you can see the back of the cantilever in the mirror surface of the Best Tractor.

Time and patience will allow you to achieve this with a resulting alignment which seems to me is as good as can be got. I should point out that Yip does not state which of the alignment specifications that are out there i.e Baerwald, Loefgren or Stevenson he is using in his design. However for me the end result is what counts rather than how we got there.

Conclusions

As Mint LP’s approach is to custom make protractors to suit your analogue rig rather than a universal design, you will be into a fair bit of expense if you have a large collection of turntables arms and cartridges but if you want the best set up possible I would strongly recommend that you consider investing in the Mint LP Best Tractor for each arm/turntable you have. After all there can’t in my opinion be anything better than a specific protractor for your turntable and arm.

If you own one set up then to be honest this is a really a no-brainer and for a very reasonable cost, considering this is a custom made item by an obvious craftsman.

This care and attention to detail is very obvious in the quality of the protractor itself and Yip’s written guidance is excellent. The instruction book is of the same quality as the type SME produce, with step by step guidance and the inclusion of detailed diagrams and high quality photographs, which make the Best Tractor fairly easy to use.  If the instructions contents including the hints and tips are followed to the letter, then any analogue enthusiast with patience and some skill will be able to achieve the very best sound quality from their particular arm/turntable combination.

I am very glad I came across the Mint LP Best Tractor.

Highly Recommended.

Neil

Source of Loan: End owner User

Current Price: $110 + $10 for Peak Lupe 10x magnifier (price includes carriage but not local VAT or Customs Duties if applicable)

Mint LP http://www.mintlp.com/best.htm

Hints and tips for set up http://mintlp.com/best/bestips.htm

Contact Mint LP Email Us

(1) Having read a lot on the net about the potential quality of the Technics 1200/1210 turntable I have over the last few months set about exploring as many options as I can to discover the degree of truth behind the many claims made for this ‘DJ deck’ and to that end have obtained/bought two Technics decks, several tonearms, cartridges and platter mats. This review is quite a complex one, so I will be presenting it in several parts over the coming months; as review schedules permit.

(2) While the Jelco 750D (9inch arm) comes with mounting template my example came with no extra instructions (not sure if they do). This has made some aspects of setting up the tonearm quite awkward.

(3) While gathering up the elements for this review project I came across another issue with the Jelco tonearm (all Jelco arms use the same collar) mounting collar (not one I hasten to add I was aware of) and an equally excellent solution in the form of the Hugo Cass Collar.

The Hugo Cass mounting collar has a more substantial mounting base than the supplied Jelco one, which due to the position of the grub screw (and size of the screw) hole leads to inaccuracies in the position/alignment of the arm in the vertical, side to side and front to back.

The Hugo Cass collar has its grub screw hole in the middle of the collars side and thus when the grub screw is tightened the pressure put on the side of the arm is even. This means that the arm sits straight in the collar, unlike the Jelco collar where the arm is pushed slightly to the side. This occurs as the hole in the collar is slightly too big and this allows the arm to be pushed over slightly; enough to mess up the arm’s azimuth set-up.

This end user item is of excellent quality but sadly is a limited edition as Hugo may not make any more. In his own words “he made it to solve a problem for himself not to go into manufacturing a tonearm accessory”

You can read more about it here……

http://theartofsound.net/forum/showthread.php?t=7359

(4) Mint LP recommend and sell a Peak Lupe 10x magnifier (http://www.mintlp.com/best/peaklupe.htm) which is essential for getting the set-up 100% right.

© Text and Photos Copyright 2010 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio…..except for Mint LP product and related photos. Copyright belongs with them.

NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.


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