(from Hi-Fi World, September 2008 issue)
BUY THE MAGAZINE (back issues subject to availability)
The Adjust+ system comprises a special test LP cut in Germany, software CD, spirit level and long signal cable.
Modern technology comes to the aid of the LP with Dr. Feickert Analogue's Adjust+, a way of adjusting the vertical alignment of your cartridge for better sound. Noel Keywood whisks a sample out of Germany...
Here’s a pickup cartridge alignment gadget for vinylistas that’s both bold and extraordinary. It’s bold because it uses powerful computer processing to reveal some of the less seemly aspects of pickup cartridge behaviour, things you may not want to know. Extraordinary because no one has ever offered anything like it before, mainly because some arcane problems must be overcome.
We stumbled upon the system at this year’s (2008) Munich High-End show and I thought the scheme bordered on nuts. But since cartridge measurement is something of a speciality for me I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame and Dr. Feickert was gently relieved of a sample whilst we bombarded him with questions. If you love LP and want to fine tune your turntable to a degree previously impossible, this gadget, priced at Euros249 directly from Adjust+, is likely for you.
Conventional advice is to ensure a cartridge is upright. Adjust + shows this isn't necessarily ideal.
At heart, the Adjust+ alignment system enables owners to perfectly set the vertical alignment of their pickup cartridge. The easiest way to understand this is by looking at the diagram. When you install a cartridge the usual advice is to ensure it is upright, perpendicular to the record’s surface. If you own an SME arm the headshell can be rotated one way or the other to achieve this. If you own a Rega arm no such adjustment is possible, so Adjust+ can only be used to see whether the alignment set is ideal.
The basic proposition made by Dr. Feickert is that setting your cartridge to be perfectly vertical may not be ideal. The Adjust+ measurement method is able to show the ideal setting, using a novel measurement scheme. I am deliberately not explaining this in any technical detail because it can become complicated very quickly, with lots of arcane talk about modulation axes and such like, all of which will mean little to the average sane human being. It was an important and much-discussed issue in the hi-fi firmament a long time ago when LP reigned supreme - the late 1970s to be precise. It remains important today, perhaps more so as cartridges have been refined and are considerably more expensive, with more being expected of them. At heart though, the LP and pickup cartridge remain quite a simple electromechanical system within which there’s room for considerable variability that demands accurate adjustment if the system is to be optimised. Unfortunately, to do it properly requires specialised test equipment and that’s what you get, in effect, with Adjust+.
What I walked away with at the Munich Show was a test LP and software CD, as well as a 5 metre long stereo signal lead terminated in a 3.5mm stereo jack at one end and phono plugs at the other, plus a small spirit level. It was the test LP that surprised and intrigued me when I saw it. Accurate test LPs are difficult to produce and very rare beasts. Most were dreadfully inaccurate and completely misleading. However, Shure, CBS Labs, JVC and the German DIN (originally, Deutsche Industrie-Normen) Standards Organisation produced usable discs and we assessed the Adjust+ disc against them. The system is only as accurate as this LP, and if it is wrong then you will misalign your system, not align it. The CD carries software for PC (Mac using a virtual machine or Bootcamp), and the signal lead is for connection of the hi-fi to the computer. The basic methodology is to play test signals on the LP and analyse them on the computer, adjusting the pickup cartridge for best results.
The LP and the software between them possess a suite of tests, not just alignment of cartridge verticality, or Horizontal Tracking Angle (HTA, as Adjust+ terms it). However, HTA is the main test and the one that stands out as novel against what has gone before. I will look at the entire system in this review, its accuracy and its potential application. There is a Pro version that adds additional measurement functionality.
To run Adjust+ software you need a PC running Windows XP or Vista. It must have a sound card and Adjust+ recommend it runs “HD Audio with 24bit/96kHz sample rate”. See their website www.adjustplus.de, where you can also download a user manual to inspect System Requirements in detail. Beware that traditionally it has been common for sound cards to be rated by digital-to-analogue output conversion and the input analogue-to-digital convertor is often of lower resolution than the advertised spec. Adjust say a 24/96 input ADC is needed for best results. This will give very wide dynamic range and a bandwidth comfortably greater than the 20kHz limit of the analogue test LP. Specifically for this review I bought a budget Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE, costing £40 on London’s Tottenham Court Road. It was fitted to a test mule PC based on an Asus P5W Deluxe motherboard running Aero-free Vista Home Basic, on an Intel 6550 processor accompanied by 2GB of memory.
The Creative Soundblaster Audigy card we used. It has a 24/96 input ADC, works with XP and Vista and suited Adjust+.
The Audigy was problem-free with Vista, as claimed, and Adjust+ worked flawlessly with both, using the Blue 3.5mm jack line input and the supplied signal lead. Thin leads like the one supplied are capacitive though, this one measuring out at 800pF. As this equals 10kOhm reactance at 20kHz the cable will appreciably roll off treble if fed by a phono stage of output impedance higher than 2kOhm or so, something to be aware of when measuring frequency response. This factor does not affect HTA measurement though.
The signal cable’s phono plugs can be plugged into Record Out sockets of an amplifier fitted with a phono stage, into Preamp Out sockets if they exist, or directly into the output of an external phono stage. It would be possible to use loudspeaker outputs, but only with very low volume, being aware that grossly overloading the computer card by accident from this output may blow its input stages. Also, valve phono stages may have a high output impedance, in which case a short connecting lead of 200pF max. should be used to the computer if frequency response is to be unaffected. The Audigy overloaded at 2.2V in and the Trichord Diablo overloaded it on the test bench until set to lowest gain. The programme needs just 5MB of disc space and occupies 40MB of memory, so it is small.
I suffered initial registration difficulties, but these were overcome and Adjust+ are changing the system. I downloaded Version 1.02 to update the CD. Once validated, Adjust+ does not need an internet connection to run.
The spirit level has markings at 1 degree intervals - this item plays a crucial role...
The spirit level is placed on the headshell to enable precise angular adjustment.
To quantify Horizontal Tracking Angle the programme measures channel crosstalk and phase, as well as amplitude, and plots the values on a graph. To begin this process Adjust suggest the headshell should first be tilted +2.5degrees (i.e. anti-clockwise) away from vertical, measuring angle with a spirit level supplied, placed on the headshell. A set of measurements are made at this tilt, then it is progressively rotated through vertical, half a degree at a time, all the way to +2.5 degrees, a measurement being made at each half degree point. This gives eleven sets of measurements, sufficient for the programme to draw a neat set of graphs. One shows how crosstalk values change, another how phase changes. This should be sufficient to show the optimum headshell angle, where phase difference is close to zero and crosstalk balanced. I was impressed by the slick interaction of computer with LP, but manually it’s quite a procedure, one dedicated vinylistas will love but others may find daunting, especially when it comes to interpreting the results. The results can be saved, converted to PDF, or printed.
The spirit level supplied has lines on it, but no values and setting to half a degree resolution had me peering at it intently through a magnifying glass (an improved alternative is now available for Euro25). The handbook says the second line represents 2 degrees, so each line is one degree. Getting angle set accurately was difficult but it became easier with practice. All the same, on an SME312 and M2-10 tight fitting headshell collars made setting 0.5 degrees difficult and time consuming. I defaulted to 1 degree for most measurements. Limits of 3 degrees or more are needed within Adjust+ as 2.5 degrees is too little.
I ran five cartridges through the HTA test, a Nagaoka MP-500, Goldring 1012GX and 1042, a Denon DL-103 and an Ortofon 2M Black. The picture of a cartridge popped up to prompt me to enter the headshell angle, as set with the spirit level, and the light/dark blue boxes down the right of the screen show this value and the results obtained for it. You can see both phase and crosstalk, the latter being crosstalk from Left to Right channel and Right to Left channel, made by putting a signal in one channel and measuring the other. You don’t have to peruse and understand all this, however, because by selecting a graphing function you can get two graphs that tell you at what angle the headshell should be set for best sound quality.
Well, that's the general idea but after two days of test work it became apparent that results were being complicated by cartridge characteristics and that the Ortofon was a precision device best used as a demonstrator of what Adjust+ can do. Look at the screen results and graphs for the 2M Black above and you can see the red and green phase plots intersect at -0.8 degrees (i.e. 0.8 degrees away from vertical, clockwise). The crosstalk graphs correlate. Shure's TTR-109 crosstalk test disc confirmed this assessment as correct, so the Adjust+ test LP is accurately cut. Note also that the phase graphs intersect at 90 degrees, as they should if Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) is correct, Adjust+ say. After setting headshell angle to -0.8 degrees I spent time adjusting the SME's arm pillar height to get this figure to 90 degrees. Simple visual alignment gave me 140 degrees, so Adjust fine tunes VTA with enormous resolution. Note, however, that the Ortofon 2M Black is rare amongst MMs for possessing correct basic VTA of 22 degrees. As the 2M Black is our favourite MM by quite a large margin it was optimised and used for listening tests.
Results from Goldring and Nagaoka cartridges lacked clear phase information, so they would have to be set using crosstalk graphs only. Adjust+ acknowledged this problem but the reason isn't clear at present, we were told.
At top is the results screen showing crosstalk and phase values, as well as headshell angle data entry. Below it are results for Ortofon 2M Black with optimised VTA.
The Goldring 1012GX produced no phase information (top), but the crosstalk graph (below) identifies ideal headshell angle as -1.5 degrees.
Phase and crosstalk for a Denon DL-103, identifying +1.5 degrees as ideal.
Getting the 2M Black perfectly aligned for HTA and VTA had an extraordinary impact on sound quality. It brought images into a very hard focus, and gave them considerably more body and presence on the sound stage. Singing 'Did I Hurt You?', from the album Yola, Eleanor McEvoy's voice moved toward me, coming very close. The 2M's stylus seemed to be pulling out much more information and assembling it into a tightly ordered, coherent image that teemed with life and detail. Guitar strings also become focused and taut, taking on an almost lacerative quality, they were so close and vivid in presentation. It was very dramatic to hear and made me gasp, quite frankly.
I doubt that I've ever heard a top quality cartridge so accurately aligned and the result moved LP up yet another notch in what it can do. I went through a wide selection of LPs, because cutting angles and modulation axes vary, but the improvements held to a greater or lesser extent. The sound stage became focused and tidied, images took on firmness and body, and drums and percussion became sharper edged in the time domain and harder hitting. A wealth of fine detail was revealed too.
In all, I spent over a week setting up and assessing Adjust+. I started out sceptical but ended up convinced by it. The software is very well written, making sophisticated and accurate measurements; the test LP is a masterpiece of accurate cutting that improves upon most from the past, the measurement methodology is unique and eye opening, and the final result is a stunning improvement in sound quality. This is a dream come true for vinylistas, but be prepared for a lot of work to get the best from it! At present also, we found Goldring 1012GX and 1042 cartridges didn't respond ideally, nor did a Nagaoka MP-500. Adjust+ suggested results were more consistent with moving coil cartridges, so it looks as if Adjust+ is best for more serious setups.
Sophisticated and highly accurate cartridge alignment system that provides stunning results.
ADJUST+ Euros 249
Dr. Feickert Analogue
+49 (0)7 61-4 59 85 5
- aligns HTA and VTA
- adds focus and body
- many measurements
- time consuming
- some cartridges unsuitable