vTrace Bakeoff – Part II

The rubber meets the road

Cartridges, like cars, have suspensions that dramatically affect performance.  Like car tires, cartridge styli need to maintain tight surface contact to deliver the best performance – even when the surface is uneven.

In the case of cars, the surface (road) varies with potholes, speed bumps and road dips. It’s the same with cylinders: there are media eccentricities, surface bumps, axial distortion, and more.  Car suspensions are tuned to absorb road surface variations.  But, conventional LP cartridges are not engineered for cylinder issues.

vTrace series cartridges have suspensions tuned for their specific cylinder format.  The following sound clips demonstrate.

We used a typical out-of-round celluloid record (Edison 28151), transferred dry (no filters or EQ).  The only adjustment is overall gain to facilitate comparison.

  • First we played the cylinder with a Shure M44 cartridge at 4.00 grams – the minimum force required to track it. The thumps you hear are the cartridge hopping over the out-of-round surface.  Its suspension can’t absorb the eccentricity so it gets transduced into a low-frequency sound.  In fact, the stylus actually leaves the groove for a fractional second every time it hits this spot.


  • Now listen to the same segment with vTrace, tracking at 2.15 grams. The audio is a bit “watery” as the eccentricity affects pitch.  But the improved tracking of our custom suspension is obvious.


  • Now compare the sonic quality of this clip with the Shure. Notice how the contralto’s voice and the instruments sound natural with vTrace and the Shure cartridge clip sounds grainy.

Bottom line: putting a different stylus on an LP cartridge to play cylinders is like putting high performance tires on a truck.  There are many differences between the two formats and vTrace is designed to address them.