What are the important adjustments to make when setting up a cartridge?

A number of critical adjustments must be made each time a cartridge is fitted to a tonearm.

These adjustments are vitally important in getting the most out of your records and stylus. Let’s look at them in the order I normally set them, this is a sequence I apply to all turntables that visit the workshop.

Note: most end users and many retailers don’t have the necessary alignment tools or knowledge to correctly set up cartridges. This is not a judgment, merely an observation and something to be considered if you wish to extract the highest possible performance.

Cartridge alignment can be thought of as optimising two sets of parameters: geometry and forces at the stylus tip.


The first adjustment is called overhang, which describes the location of the stylus tip with respect to the tonearm mounting point and the spindle. This specification is provided by the tonearm manufacturer and measured, on deck, with either a headshell gauge or an on-platter overhang gauge.

Next is the cartridge offset angle when viewed from above. This is usually specified as correct when the cartridge body, and/or cantilever, are parallel with the headshell’s long axis when the correct overhang has been set.

Azimuth describes the parallel alignment of the cartridge with respect to the record surface when viewed from the front. This is typically measured with a mirror under the stylus, viewed from the front.

Vertical tracking angle or VTA affects the angle of the stylus contact point with respect to the record surface. It can be thought of as approximating the angle between the cantilever and the record surface. It’s usually measured with a VTA gauge and set initially so that the headshell top surface is parallel with the record surface when viewed from the side. This is the starting point and adjustment from there is by ear.


Lateral balance is a feature offered on some tonearms and should be set at or around this point in the process.

Tracking force, which describes the downforce at the stylus tip. This is typically measured with a digital stylus ‘pressure’ gauge. Note that this isn’t technically a pressure measurement, the common name is incorrect, strictly speaking!

Lastly, anti-skate is a counterforce to the asymmetrical forces that pull the stylus tip toward the centre of the record and place added force on the inner groove wall. It is set to counteract that force as closely as possible.

There is some iteration in the set-up process and I generally go back and check everything again as some adjustments will slightly affect others.

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