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Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

After selling off my record collection years ago and going digital-only¹  i've finally bought a record player again² for the sole purpose of digitizing records that never got released in any digital form.
¹The more time passes, the more i'm bugged by the vinyl snobbery that's spreading in recent years.
²That makes me a better person, i guess...


Cleaning up the recordings is becoming quite a challenge sometimes. Some factory-fresh pressings sound good enough to my ears that i don't wanna do anything to the audio. Some sound fine with a bit of semi-automatic declicking. Then there's a few old independent labels whose records seem to be made of sandpaper (Homestead Records is my "favorite" one of those...). It's these records i'm having the most trouble with. Declicking and denoising works fine, but i'm having a hard time reducing sibilance and tracking distortion by a satisfying amount.

What i'm doing at the moment: Since both types of distortion are usually worst in the side channels, i convert the audio to mid/side stereo and try to tame the offending frequencies in the sides with a steep eq or a de-esser without doing too much damage to the sound overall. Then i try to counter the loss of high end by boosting those frequencies in the mid channel to make up for what i've removed in the side channels. Finally i do a bit of stereo widening, just the right amount so it sounds closest to the unprocessed source. This works fine for some records, not so much for others.

I know there's some folks here dealing with audio restoration and vinyl ripping. Maybe anyone wants to share some knowledge and suggestions on how to deal with this kind of problem more effectively?

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #1
The better your transfer, the less work is necessary in restoration and the better your end result will be.  You should have an assortment of styli and even possibly cartridges.  I'm not sure of the current situation, but some years ago I ordered special diameter styli from an individual who made them on special order.  in the event of a damaged record, a slightly larger stylus will ride higher and a smaller one will ride lower.  One of them may miss the damaged part of the groove.  You may also have luck trying spherical styli instead of elliptical.

Also play with the stylus pressure and tracking adjustment.  Increasing the stylus pressure (to a degree) will often decrease tracking distortion.  And some styli will work with increased pressure while others will just "bottom out"

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #2
I use Izotope RX to clean things up. I have found that the only reasonable way to do this is to first declick, denoise, and then limit.

I've digitized ~1000 records, but never found a way to remove sibilance (a lot of people say a de-esser will work - it does not in my experience). If you have audible distortion I would suggest a change of needle or cart. I have a Audio Technica AT440mla, which completely removed all inner groove distortion.

Also, a RCM would make a vast difference

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #3
Thanks for the suggestions. I'm using an Ortofon OM series cartridge which you can easily up-/downgrade by simply switching the stylus. I'm using an elliptical stylus 5e at the moment. I'm gonna see what happens if i downgrade to spherical first (that would be ortofon stylus 5, without the "e"), as this is the cheapest option. When i've got some loose change, i might try the rather expensive styli 30 or 40 which have a much smaller tip. Not sure about the more affordable styli 10 and 20, which have roughly the same diameter as the 5e but should have a slightly higher tracking ability according to the datasheet...

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #4
Thanks for the suggestions. I'm using an Ortofon OM series cartridge which you can easily up-/downgrade by simply switching the stylus. I'm using an elliptical stylus 5e at the moment. I'm gonna see what happens if i downgrade to spherical first (that would be ortofon stylus 5, without the "e"), as this is the cheapest option. When i've got some loose change, i might try the rather expensive styli 30 or 40 which have a much smaller tip. Not sure about the more affordable styli 10 and 20, which have roughly the same diameter as the 5e but should have a slightly higher tracking ability according to the datasheet...

Just FYI, I had a Pro-Ject Debut turntable (actually, 3 of them) that all had horrible sibilance and distortion. If by chance that's what you're using I would not suggest you continue to experiment with it.

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #5
What characteristic(s) of a turntable would impart such sibilance and distortion?

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #6
What characteristic(s) of a turntable would impart such sibilance and distortion?
The brand and model, duh!
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #7
What characteristic(s) of a turntable would impart such sibilance and distortion?
The brand and model, duh!

Actually, the alignment is the most important. Since the ProJect Debut has ZERO adjustment, there is nothing you can do but replace it. However, hipsters seem to be championing the brand without using their ears.

But thank you for your useful and insightful contribution.

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #8
What characteristic(s) of a turntable would impart such sibilance and distortion?
The brand and model, duh!

Actually, the alignment is the most important. Since the ProJect Debut has ZERO adjustment, there is nothing you can do but replace it. However, hipsters seem to be championing the brand without using their ears.

But thank you for your useful and insightful contribution.


Cartridge position is not adjustable in this model?  Really?  How quaint.  




Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #11
I had a Pro-Ject Debut turntable (actually, 3 of them)
Actually, the alignment is the most important. Since the ProJect Debut has ZERO adjustment, there is nothing you can do but replace it.
3 times like you did?

But thank you for your useful and insightful contribution.
You're welcome.
Loudspeaker manufacturer


Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #13
It's not. They are all fixed.  Doesn't even have adjustable antiskate.

What you linked to was Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

Perhaps you meant to link http://www.project-audio.com/inhalt/en/manual/manual_debut.pdf

Which proves my points.

And that's the Pro-Ject Debut III

You didn't specify any particular model originally.

Aside from which, the manual indicates that the III offers adjustments for cartridge downforce, antiskating , azimuth, and alignment   (as with the Debut, Pro-Ject recommends using its own alignment tool for this job).  

So how does it prove your points?

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #14
It's not. They are all fixed.  Doesn't even have adjustable antiskate.

What you linked to was Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

Perhaps you meant to link http://www.project-audio.com/inhalt/en/manual/manual_debut.pdf

Which proves my points.
Page 4: Anti-skating force adjustment
Maybe his didn't come with a manual. All 3.
You know, sibilance/distortion and no adjustment first time. Buy again. Sibilance/distortion and no adjustment second time. Buy again...
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #15
Just to give a quick follow up:
Since the higher grade Ortofon styli are quite pricey, i did a little research and chose to order a good quality OM 30 replacement stylus from Jico in Japan. They seem to be one of the very few aftermarket stylus manufacturers with a good reputation among the audio community. Also i read some positive opinions abour Tonar styli - and a lot about a lack of quality control from most other suppliers.

Overall this one tracks much better. Even with the most problematic record (tracking wise) i own, distortion went down to a tolerable level so i don't feel the urge to fix it in the digital realm.

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #16
It's not. They are all fixed.  Doesn't even have adjustable antiskate.

What you linked to was Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

Perhaps you meant to link http://www.project-audio.com/inhalt/en/manual/manual_debut.pdf

Which proves my points.
Page 4: Anti-skating force adjustment
Maybe his didn't come with a manual. All 3.
You know, sibilance/distortion and no adjustment first time. Buy again. Sibilance/distortion and no adjustment second time. Buy again...

Or maybe you can't read and don't understand that the manual he posted was for a different model. We can all be passive aggressive, but I'd rather address you directly. You know, like a man.

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #17
It's not. They are all fixed.  Doesn't even have adjustable antiskate.

What you linked to was Pro-Ject Debut Carbon

Perhaps you meant to link http://www.project-audio.com/inhalt/en/manual/manual_debut.pdf

Which proves my points.
Page 4: Anti-skating force adjustment
Maybe his didn't come with a manual. All 3.
You know, sibilance/distortion and no adjustment first time. Buy again. Sibilance/distortion and no adjustment second time. Buy again...

Or maybe you can't read and don't understand that the manual he posted was for a different model. We can all be passive aggressive, but I'd rather address you directly. You know, like a man.

Are you very sure you owned this specific model? Sure, it's possible there was a first generation model the internet has totally forgotten about. But i just took a few minutes looking at manuals, pictures and datasheets of the debut line and i can't find any hint of a "debut" model without the antiskating weight.

There is, however, a different model with factory-adjusted antiskating. It's the Pro-Ject Primary, which coincidentally is the one i own. It's basically the platter and chassis of the debut line, the motor and tonearm of the elemental line, minus adjustable antiskating. No big deal i guess, unless you go for a wildly different tracking force. The counterweight might look like it's fixed, but it turns out you can simply loosen a screw and move it.

As for the "hipster factor": There's a reason these things sell. More to do with price than with hipster-ism. In the budget sector i'll always chose a bare-bones Pro-Ject (or maybe entry-level Rega) Model over some fully automatic feature monster. I think there's a better chance that most of the money went into the parts that count audio-wise instead of shoving in fancy and unnecessary bells and whistles. If your budget is tight and you still want a decent turntable, you don't have a lot of choice.

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #18
 :-[

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #19
If you are having sibilance problems, it could be caused by a high frequency resonance.

This is caused by the inductance of the cartridge and the capacitance of the tone arm cable.  Together the two form a high frequency tuned circuit which can be pesky if its just at or above the audio spectrum.  Using a low capacitance cable can help out, and its also a good idea to load the cartridge, since all high output moving magnet cartridges are directly affected by loading at audio frequencies.

You can find out more about this at this link:
http://www.hagtech.com/loading.html

I already dropped your inductance value in the calculator on that page. If you are using low capacitance cable, the resonant frequency is under 30KHz. If your cartridge is the 600mh version, the peak is a bit lower. I assumed 70pf  for your phono cable, but if its more than that it would drive the resonance into the upper region of the audio band.


Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #20
If you are having sibilance problems, it could be caused by a high frequency resonance.

This is caused by the inductance of the cartridge and the capacitance of the tone arm cable.  Together the two form a high frequency tuned circuit which can be pesky if its just at or above the audio spectrum.  Using a low capacitance cable can help out, and its also a good idea to load the cartridge, since all high output moving magnet cartridges are directly affected by loading at audio frequencies.

You can find out more about this at this link:
http://www.hagtech.com/loading.html

I already dropped your inductance value in the calculator on that page. If you are using low capacitance cable, the resonant frequency is under 30KHz. If your cartridge is the 600mh version, the peak is a bit lower. I assumed 70pf  for your phono cable, but if its more than that it would drive the resonance into the upper region of the audio band.



Thanks.
I have to admit this stuff goes a bit over my head. It's the first time i hear about this and that it could be an issue. Is this a common thing?

However, as i already mentioned, a better quality replacement stylus took care of most problems. So capacitance doesn't seem to be an issue here. It's still vinyl after all, with all it's inherent flaws and for what it is, i'm quite pleased with the results. I'm sure it could still be improved a little with a higher-end turntable & cartridge, but for my purposes (of digitizing an LP every now and then), it's not really worth  such a huge Investment.

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #21
Or maybe you can't read and don't understand that the manual
Yes, that would clearly explain your reading comprehension of your manual and buying the same thing 3 times, expecting different results. Sure.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #22
Actually, the alignment is the most important.

This.

Before spending any money, may I suggest downloading a Baerwald and/or Stevenson alignment protractor and ensuring that cartridge is properly aligned for lowest overall distortion? Vinylengine.com has protractors available in the Tools area of the site.

Checking the factory-installed cartridge in my Audio Technica LP120 against the Baerwald protractor showed that alignment wasn't even close, and in fact, I'd need a longer headshell to achieve proper Baerwald geometry, and I wasn't in the mood to spend $60+ for a headshell.

I just installed an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge on this setup, and by pulling the cart forward as far as it would go, then tilting inwards a bit, I got a pretty good match to Stevenson geometry.

2M Red wasn't an arbitrary choice BTW: 2M series was one of the rare cases where I had some bench-test results to go by:
http://www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/index.php/vinyl-lp/70-tests/103-cartridge-tests.html

I figured that was excellent frequency response from a moving magnet phono cartridge.

Works great!

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #23
Checking the factory-installed cartridge in my Audio Technica LP120 against the Baerwald protractor showed that alignment wasn't even close, and in fact, I'd need a longer headshell to achieve proper Baerwald geometry, and I wasn't in the mood to spend $60+ for a headshell.
Hang on a minute...

It's not that surpising that the cartridge might have been misaligned - errors at the production stage can always happen.

But what you're telling us is that it is actually impossible to correctly align the device. So we're talking about a fundamental design flaw. I am staggered that a company like Audio Technica would get it so wrong. They have a fine reputation for knowing what they're doing re. vinyl playback.

 

Re: Cleaning up needle drops: How to deal with distortion and sibilance?

Reply #24
...what you're telling us is that it is actually impossible to correctly align the device. So we're talking about a fundamental design flaw. I am staggered that a company like Audio Technica would get it so wrong. They have a fine reputation for knowing what they're doing re. vinyl playback.

No, I'm only saying that Baerwald alignment didn't seem possible with the stock AT120, but Stevenson alignment worked OK. I no longer own a Technics SL1200, but I seem to recall the same being true of that unit also.

But yes, when buying a DJ-type turntable, one can't just assume that it's also ideal for hifi use. Take Stanton's STR8.150 turntable for example: They claim it's designed for "skip proof" scratching, and it's straight arm has no offset at all:

http://www.stantondj.com/stanton-turntables/str8-150.html

AT120 arm geometry isn't so extreme and specialized, but in order to achieve Stevenson geometry, I had to mount the cartridge slightly askew in the headshell. Suspect this isn't a design flaw so much as a tradeoff between the needs of hifi and DJ use, and it seemed a modest price to pay for what is otherwise a whopping value as far as new turntables go.

 
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