VTA (vertical tracking angle, a term often used interchangeably with SRA) is a topic of controversy amongst audiophiles. VTA (vertical tracking angle) is a term used to describe the relative angle of the cantilever to the record groove, and SRA (Stylus Rake Angle) is the relative angle of the stylus contact point to the record groove. Conical or spherical styli do not require SRA adjustment. The SRA vs VTA debate is beyond the scope of this article; it has been extensively covered, see This Vinyl Asylum post from Jon Rich. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the generic term VTA.
VTA adjustment is achieved by raising or lowering the back or bearing end of the tonearm. Neutral VTA is achieved when the arm is parallel to the record surface. Correct VTA is achieved when the angle of the playback stylus matches that of the cutting stylus used to cut the original master lacquer. In most instances, this angle is usually 20 degrees (plus or minus 5 degrees) hence the perceived need for VTA adjustment.
Some swear that VTA adjustment is critical to obtain the best sound, especially when advanced stylus shapes come into play. Some even go as far as to adjust VTA for each individual record, with a few high-end tonearms offering ‘on the fly’ VTA adjustment to allow the arm height to be tweaked while a record is playing.
Others, however, including Rega founder Roy Gandy, believe that VTA is of little to no importance. His fact sheet, available Here for your perusal, clearly outlines the math. In principle, the maximum degree of adjustment on a tonearm is about 12Mm, equalling 1 degree of VTA correction. VTA also differed between cartridges, and manufacturing tolerances will also result in VTA variations. The cutting angle of a record varies by at least 7 degrees. Taking all this into consideration, and discounting the differences in record thickness, to achieve ‘correct’ VTA, the back of the tonearm would need to be positioned well below the record, and the cartridge VTA would need to vary by at least 7 degrees during playback.
Naturally, Rega arms don’t offer any form of VTA adjustment as standard; and only when the physical height of the cartridge becomes a problem (I.E the rear of the cartridge body comes into contact with the record surface) should any VTA adjustment be necessary.
When adjustment is necessary, several devices exist to allow for VTA adjustment on any Rega arm. These devices are typically referred too as ‘spacers’. They are, as their name suggests, slim spacers which can be fitted beneath the bass of the tonearm to raise it up by a given height. Some of these spacers are of a threaded design, allowing for adjustment with the arm in place; others are fixed, requiring extra spacers be added to result in the required thickness and arm height; and others still are are all-in-1 devices, with multiple raised platforms of various heights on which the arm is situated.
Given their stance on VTA adjustment, many are surprised to learn that Rega do manufacture a couple of their own arm spacers. Their 3-point arm spacer falls into the latter category above. It’s made from a rigid glass-filled plastic, and offers 2, 4, 6 or 8 MM adjustment increments. And, while other manufacturers charge a premium for their spacers, Rega’s design is, as you would expect, sensibly priced; setting you back £12, shipping included.
Fitting the spacer is a breeze, and can be done in under 3 minutes. The cable retainer and tonearm must be removed from the plinth, at which point the arm cable can be pulled back through the hole in the plinth, threaded through the centre of the VTA adjuster, and dropped back into the plinth hole ready to be re-secured later.
Next, the spacer should be placed over the 3 mounting holes, with the correct height platforms lining up with the holes. At this point the arm can be placed atop the VTA adjuster and screwed into place. Rega provide 3 longer 30MM wood screws for use with 6MM and 8MM adjustment. It’s important to insure your arm is correctly aligned during reinstallation; though thanks to the 3-point arm mounting system this problem is virtually eliminated.
I noticed no sound quality difference with the spacer installed. It’s worth noting that if you use the dust cover on your turntable both when idle and during playback, there’s a strong possibility that the internal depth of the cover will not clear the counterweight with the VTA adjuster in place. In my case, I opted to use the 2MM setting; and so was able to raise the back of the cover by raising the hinge plates at the back of the turntable (using the play afforded by the holes in the hinge plates to save the need to drill new holes in the plinth). You could also opt for a low-profile counterweight which will set you back around £70.
In summary; Rega’s VTA adjuster is, by far, the best option for those Rega users who require VTA adjustment capabilities. You can purchase yours from any Rega dealer, and also via Amazon. We’ll close with a quote from Roy Gandy’s VTA fact sheet which, I think, accurately summarises the subject of VTA – and indeed, many things in the “audiophile” world. “VTA adjustment is actually a neurosis NOT a technical adjustment”…