One of the first tools I purchased when I began venturing into the realm of higher-end, hi-fi turntables was an electronic stylus balance. This little device, not dissimilar to a pocket scale or jeweller’s scale, allows one to accurately measure and set the the downward pressure of the turntable’s tonearm – more commonly referred too as the ‘stylus tracking force’. The principal is simple – once calibrated with a 5 Gram reference weight, the turntable stylus is placed upon the scale’s weighing platform and the resultant weight corresponds to the current tracking force. The arm can then be adjusted, with each adjustment being verified with the scale until the desired tracking force is reached.
The unit I purchased was nothing more than a cheap, no-name scale, bought from a shop in the US for the princely sum of $13 (around £8). Sure, I’d investigated the audiophile offerings – but my assumption was that while the technological principals remained the same, the cheap, generic unit should be just as good – and thence there is little point in spending upwards of ten times the price to obtain an Audiophile-approved unit.
And so the scale arrived – and, throughout my 2 years of ownership, was used to calibrate a number of turntable setups – both cheap and high end. And, for the most part, the scale would produce good results; when it worked, that is.
The problem had to do, as you would expect, with a rather cheap weighing platform. Digital scale use a device known as a ‘strain gauge load cell’ to convert the load pressure of the applied weight to an electrical signal. The components used within the £8 digital scale (hereafter referred too as the ‘cheap scale’ were of such low quality that after only a few uses, the scale would refuse to work at all. The weighing platform’s cell became unreliable, making it extremely difficult to calibrate the scale and resulting in unreliable readings. Often times the reading would change with no user intervention, and more often than not obtaining any reading by placing any object on the platform was impossible.
When setting up a turntable, it is important that the critical adjustments (such as the downward tracking force) are as accurate as possible. Failure to correctly adjust your tonearm can result in damage to the arm itself, not to mention your cartridge / stylus and vinyl. It was for that reason that I decided to retire the ‘cheap scale’ in favour of an audiophile-approved unit. The unit i chose was the Measure-It 2 from Pro-Ject Audio Systems; and, following an eMail to Pro-Ject’s UK distributor Henley Designs, A review sample arrived on my doorstep.
The Measure-It 2 (hereafter referred to as the ‘Measure-It’) ships in its foam-lined, protective hard case. The case is well made, appearing to be of thick cardboard construction with a faux-leather covering. It’s solid externally, and lined internally with soft foam and padding providing more than adequate protection for the unit.
The case snaps open to reveal the scale itself as well as a number of accessories including a screwdriver, manual, and a 5 gram calibration weight. Removing the scale and subsequently the lid protecting the weighting platform reveals a foam packing block. A strip of warning tape adhered to the cases inner foam block warns you to always insert the foam cushion between the weighing platform and the lid of the gauge during transportation to prevent damage to the loading cell.
The scale itself feels extremely robust and solid, especially when compared to the ‘cheap’ scale. It’s fashioned from a weighty block of aluminium, with a thick aluminium lid covering the weighing platform. The batteries are included – and are to be found in their respective slots beneath the 2 battery covers on the underside of the unit. Removing said covers requires the use of the included philips screwdriver. Once removed, the batteries are revealed – inserted up-side-down and wrapped in plastic covers which must be removed before the unit can operate. Doing so necessitates removal of the batteries – which, due to them being set down into the unit, can at times be a little difficult.
This is my first minor gripe with the unit. If you use the unit infrequently, it’s recommended to remove the batteries – which due to the design is a somewhat time-consuming process. ProJect could’ve implemented a single battery compartment on the underside of the scale, or at the very least provided some internal pull cords to aid in removal of the batteries from the depths of their compartments.
My second gripe has to do with the lid covering the weighing platform. The ‘cheap’ scale also had a lid covering its platform – which, once slid onto its guide tracks, would clip to the unit and remain firmly in place. This is not the case with the Measure-It – instead, the lid simply rests against the scale’s aluminium casing – sometimes slipping off the aluminium ledge on which it sits, knocking the loading platform in the process. Given the delicacy of this component and the weight of the lid in question, I’d expected there to be some form of mechanism to hold the lid in place – and the current design detracts a little from the over all fit and finish of the unit.
The Measure-It features a 4-digit backlit LCD display, aligned along the bottom of which are a selection of touch-sensitive controls. These include power, mode (used to change the weighing unit and calibrate the unit), and a control to enable and disable the LCD backlight. The display can also display a selection of characters to warn the user of weak batteries or if the loading cell has become damaged.
The scale features an automatic power-off time of 120 seconds (which cannot be disabled), a maximum load of 5G, and an accuracy (or variance) of 0.001G. It also features automatic calibration – achieved by holding down the mode button and placing the included calibration weight on the loading platform when prompted, at which point the Measure-It will calibrate itself (usually within 5 seconds) and return the display to 0, at which point the weight can be removed.
Use of the scale is simply a matter of placing the unit on your turntable platter, and lowering the tip of the stylus onto the black dot of the weighing platform – at which point the current downward force will be displayed. You can then raise your tonearm, and use whichever method your turntable offers for tracking force adjustment (usually either an arm dial or moving the rear counterweight) to optimise the tracking force, each time checking your progress by lowering the stylus onto the unit.
The results are excellent. The Measure-It is extremely accurate and response times are super fast. In fact, the Measure-It proved far more accurate than my previous unbranded scale – confirming that 1 particular tonearm which had recently been adjusted using that scale was, in fact, tracking at almost 0.5 Grams below the cartridges recommended tracking weight. The Measure-It also suffered none of the issues with inconsistent measurements, and calibration (which was an issue with my previous scale) works as expected.
In summary – the Measure-It 2 is an essential tool for any turntable owner. It enables you to fine-tune those critical adjustments which not only help fine-tune the sound, but aid in protecting your investment in both your turntable and record collection. It’s built like a miniature tank – and, though it is a little on the expensive side, you really do get what you pay for. I bought the review sample – so needless to say, highly recommended.