Do you know your zenith error? Correct it!
Years ago, we were instructed to align our cartridge body at the protractor null points to achieve ideal alignment. Later, Wally Malewicz gave us the original WallyTractor and a way to improve upon this by aligning the cantilever at the null points while also removing parallax error.
However, we haven't had a way to align that which REALLY matters when setting your stylus/cantilever assembly for ideal horizontal alignment: the contact facets of the stylus that read the groove walls.
Your cartridge is in perfect alignment on the horizontal plane when a line drawn between the two contact facets form a straight line pointing at the center of the record. This straight line SHOULD be perfectly perpendicular to the cantilever - which is MUCH easier for us to see and therefore align for optimum playback quality.
However, most all high-end cartridge manufacturers work with +/-5 degrees of tolerance with their stylus mount accuracy - though we have seen as much as 17.5 degrees off of perpendicularity with the cantilever. This means that even though you aligned your cantilever perfectly at the null points, your stylus could be badly out of alignment - completely nullifying your best efforts to achieve minimum tracing distortion.
This zenith error (which, as a function of visual alignment is alternatively referred to as angular error) can cause you to experience quite audible tracing distortions without being aware of it. You are not likely to notice that the soundstage isn't as wide and deep as it should be. Nor will you notice the imaging isn't as pinpoint as it could be. If your stylus isn't properly oriented in the groove, dynamics will be muted, high-frequency extension dulled and overall playback clarity and focus is just not what it could be if the zenith error were corrected for.
For now, the only way to measure your stylus zenith error is with very high quality microscopy like that which we use in our Cartridge Analysis Service. However, we are currently working on a method that would allow anyone to measure zenith error at home.
The WallyZenith is for use when you already know what your stylus/cantilever zenith error is and wish to make a corrective alignment, but it is possible to use the WallyZenith as a corrective tool for zenith error using trial-and-error by ear. Instructions for this process are in the downloadable instruction document.
Michael M., FL
It’s easy to hear the benefits of corrected zenith. The high frequencies become clearer. Soundstage is much better defined. It’s sound like everything is “in phase”. With WAM Engineering-corrected SRA, azimuth and zenith my analog setup has never sounded this clean, well-defined and three dimensional.
Allen E., TX
Here, I thought I was getting great sound from my system and new turntable. What did I know? Today, Karl Stewart from 3MAAUDIO suggested that we do a Zenith alignment of the cartridge using the WallyZenith tool. I agreed and could not believe the immediate improvement we achieved. What I did not realize until I heard the difference after the first adjustment was how muddy the music sounded before correcting my cartridge's zenith error. After a few adjustments I was convinced: I had never heard the music sound so good. For the record, pun intended, the album we used was the Deutsche Grammophon Beethoven IX. Symphonie conducted by Herbert Von Karajan with the Berliner Philharmoniker. I then auditioned a Billy Strings bluegrass album also much improved. The turntable was a VPI Prime Signature with the JMW Memorial Tonearm and an Ortofon Cadenza Black 100 cartridge. I may have to re-listen to all my albums.