vTrace Bakeoff – Part I

Hearing IS Believing

vTrace is the only cartridge specifically engineered for cylinder playback.  All cartridges used by others to play cylinders were designed to play LPs.

The question is: does it matter?  Does vTrace sound better?

This video/spectrograph answers these questions.  It’s a short clip from a 1910 4M wax cylinder (Ed 17077) played first with a conventional LP cartridge (Shure M44).  Then the same clip is played by vTrace.  Both are dry, unfiltered, unequalized transfers.  The only adjustment is overall gain to facilitate comparison.  The spectrograph uses orange to show sonic energy across the frequency spectrum.  The louder the sound, the brighter the orange at its frequency(ies).


To evaluate this clip, you need to use good speakers or headphones.  Careful listening will reveal important differences:

  • Compare the horn passages at :07 and :41. The Shure cartridge adds audible distortion: they sound grainy and the trumpet peaks are clipped. The vTrace clip has better instrument definition.  The horns sound like horns; the reeds sound like reeds.   You can see on the spectrograph that the audio is less distorted.
  • Compare the portion of the spectrograph to the left of both these passages. Notice that the image at :07 is more orange than the one at :41.  This is noise added by the imperfect extraction (L-R) of the cartridge.  vTrace doesn’t extract; it plays the groove directly.  (For techies, the overall noise improvement is about 3db.)
  • Look at the bottom of the spectrograph (under 150 Hz) of each clip. The two orange bars are the low frequency hum of the recording machine motor.  The space between the bars looks like groove noise and, clearly, vTrace is less noisy.  The difference is not groove noise.  It’s the noise generated by the cartridge –  again, the product of imperfect extraction and mismatches between cartridge and record.

No one is saying that cylinders are a full fidelity medium but sonically accurate transfer is always the goal regardless of the source.