Friday, July 13, 2012

De-essing part 1: Easier Cartridge Alignment

I have a somewhat large vinyl collection at home, but for some years I had been having problems with sibilance, that is, harsh hissing sounds when the letter S appeared in vocals. One of the recommended diagnostics is to get a specialized protractor and use it to check if the cartridge and needle are properly aligned on the turntable. I am kind of cheap when it comes to buying equipment that might only get used once, so instead I downloaded a few printable ones online. Besides getting them perfectly punched, the main problem I found was parallax. I couldn't really say if the cartridge was aligned or not: it all depended on which eye I used!
It took me a great while, but I came up with a way to solve this and with readily available materials to boot. Best of all, it might also work for you. If you want to try it out, here's how:

You'll need:

  • graph paper
  • a digital camera
  • an optional camera stand or just a cardboard box
  • a computer with some basic photo editing program


  1. dismount the headshell with cartridge from the tonearm
  1. place the needle in the cartridge  if it doesn't have it already
  2. carefully place the headshell on the graph paper with the top side down
  3. align the cartridge body to the grid
  4. place yourself directly above the cartridge and take a photograph. Use the integrated crosshairs for alignment if your camera has them. If you happen to have a stand that allows the camera to be placed horizontally to the ground, use that instead. You can also try to use a turned up cardboard box as a stand with a hole cut out for the lens on the top side and an aperture on one side to shine light in.
  1. upload the photos
  1.  now, with the photo editing software draw some vertical and horizontal lines along and over the cartridge, headshell and needle. You should get right angles all round. If you don't, you'll know that the cartridge is not aligned properly with the headshell, and so you'll need to repeat the procedure until you get them right.
VoilĂ ! No more squinting.

More on de-essing: 


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