Analog Corner #322: Another Angle on Vinyl Playback and Reference Recording Weight Massif Audio Design Prime

The stylus that cuts the grooves from your favorite records is best described, in layman’s terms, as “chisel-shaped”. The most accurate reading styluses – the “extreme” ones that extract the maximum information from the grooves – have a similar shape, with sharper and harsher contact edges than a standard elliptical stylus, itself an advancement by compared to spherical styli.

These extreme shapes, with names like Line Contact, Fine Line, Gyger, Replicant, Shibata and van den Hul, have complex geometries with long, narrow vertical contact plates that sit deep in the groove, can trace crevices better deepest side modulations, and beat the fastest and most efficient way up and down those modulation hills. I will refer to them collectively as line contact styli (lower case). Figures 1, 2 and 3 show different types of styli and how they sit in the groove, from two angles.

Fig.1 Tapered stylus tracing error with vertical groove modulation, showing the offset of the contact area (indentation) from the reference position.


Fig.2 Conical stylet, side view through the groove.


Fig.3 Conical stylus tracing error with lateral groove modulation, showing the inclination of the contact point relative to the cutting stylus. First published in Audio magazine; used with permission.

Spherical styli, in comparison, sit high in the groove valley and are unable to trace tight lateral modulations accurately. They respond slowly to vertical modulations. Consider sliding (not rolling) a bowling ball up a hill: it rides up a ball surface and, after a timeout at the top, descends scraping a dot on the opposite side of the ball . This short lag is a significant distortion and waste of response time.

The transfer of an elliptical stylus will be faster, but faster and more responsive still would be one of the extreme profiles with the narrowest contact areas. The figure on the right shows a conical (spherical) stylus tracing a groove vertically; the figure compares the tracing of the lateral grooves for the linear and spherical contact styli.

Yet despite all this microscopic evidence, spherical stylus fans, with their romantic, vaseline notions of how music really sounds, are showing up in force online, commenting on every post like this, even on AnalogPlanet, where I thought that serious vinyl fanaticism reigned supreme. That’s one of the virtues of this hobby: whatever you like.

Many simply don’t want the hassle of setting up an extreme profile stylus correctly, because when it’s done wrong, it’s really sounds Wrong.

Last month on AnalogPlanet I made available for download a Excel-based program created by JR Boisclair which simplifies the use of an oscilloscope to set the azimuth. The backlash on the complexity of the cartridge configuration was intense. Spherical stylus enthusiasts have come to play, claiming that their balls get it all without having to worry about azimuth or SRA. They don’t know what they’re missing, or they know it but don’t care.

Until very recently, nothing of us knew everything what we lacked. In Analog Corner #316, I described WAM Engineering’s cartridge inspection service (footnote 1) and how it makes perfect – and relatively easy – cartridge installation possible without a digital microscope, oscilloscope or Fozgometer. V2, and how WAM’s JR Boisclair discovered zenith-angle variations of up to 7° even on very expensive cartridges (though most errors are smaller). It’s similar to the situation with SRA: manufacturing discrepancies range from “a little off but salvageable” to “send it back and ask for another one”.


A modern profile stiletto mounted not quite straight on the overhang.

The Zenith error is a fact of life when using a line contact stylus and swing arm. Even with a perfectly mounted stylus, the stylus is tangent to the groove only at the two null points; that’s why we’ve traditionally used the cantilever to guide us to produce that tangent. But it turns out that the cantilever is not an accurate tangency guide (footnote 2).

In this column, after using the Wally-Zenith tool to fix the zenith error, I wrote: “How did the Haniwa CO Mk.II cartridge sound after being auto-configured with zenith compensation the zenith angle?as smooth and effortless as I remembered.I can’t say if the zenith correction made a noticeable difference, as I didn’t have time to reset it to normal and do a extended A/B comparison before deadline. Maybe next time. This comparison didn’t come “next time”, but it finally came, now. The experiment took place at the beginning of March, when I reinstalled the Haniwa CO Mk.II, this time on the Acoustic Signature TA-7000 arm on the Acoustic Signature Montana NEO turntable.

First, I configured the cartridge using the WallyZenith device to correct the 4° zenith angle error of the cartridge. I recorded “Navarraise”, Massenet’s finale Le Cid – ballet music, from a 1973 Klavier Records reissue of an original EMI recording (Klavier KS 522), at 24/96. It is a certified “audiophile classic”, limited to 1000 copies per lacquer; it’s a “One-Step”, similar to current Mobile Fidelity offers. “Navarraise” is at the end of the disc face.

Then I reset the “old school” zenith angle, using the cantilever to line it up with the zero-point hash marks on the Wally-Tractor – like we’ve all been doing forever – and I recorded the same piece of music. The unidentified files and story were released on March 9, and AnalogPlanet listeners were invited to listen.

So far, reviews are mixed, with three reviewers choosing the corrected file, three preferring the uncorrected file, one reviewer ambivalent.

What is I listen? The zenith-corrected playback was soft in texture, colorful in timbre, and vivid in 3D. Uncorrected playback was harsh, grainy, and dull in timbre, and perspective was flat. The differences weren’t as big at the start of the record, but as it moved towards the center the differences were unmistakable – at least to me. By next month, we hope there will be many more responses to report, or you can check the website.

Perhaps the next should be a comparison of a complex musical passage played with a “severe” stylus versus a spherical stylus. It is certain that, zenith angle corrected or not, the spherical stylus will have a pleasant sound.

One last thing about this experience: to confirm what I wrote in the original review, the Haniwa CO Mk.II phono cartridge/HCVC01 current-to-voltage converter is a superb sounding combo, and the cartridge has tracked cleanly every record I’ve played. to 1.25g. It stayed in the grooves of each test strip during follow-up testing on the Ortofon test folder. It buzzed on the last two, the highest modulation ones, but at this point most cartridges give it up and slip. Such tracking ability is unique in my experience for a low yield moving coil cartridge.

Le Massif Audio Design Prime Reference Record Weight
Trevor Doyle, a classically trained Canadian carpenter/cabinetmaker, began his professional life building pool tables. He made 5000. Now he builds amp racks and stands and other products for the audio world (footnote 3). He recently sent me one of his beautiful Prime Reference Weights in mpingo wood, with a cocobolo top level, finished and polished with German hard wax 10 times at 4000 rpm. The Record Weight costs $895 (US) and weighs around 11.4 oz (325 g). Doyle believes these are “the best record-breaking vibration dampening devices on the market”. There is another less expensive version.


The sonic difference between an unsecured disc resting on a platter and one cushioned with weight should come as no surprise to anyone. I did not compare the main reference weight with other available weights; rather, I listened with and without on the Acoustic Signature Montana NEO. I played a side with, then a side without. It tightened but didn’t over-damp the bass, clarified but didn’t dry out the mids, and improved focus and clarity of high-frequency transients. These improvements were subtle, not mind-blowing, and they were best appreciated over time, on the side of a record.

This weight works, but in a subtle way. Screw-on clamps do a better job of flattening chains, but that’s a different job.

The combination of the Sublima Research Mat Chakra (see my May issue column) and the Massif Audio Design Prime Reference Weight brought the Montana NEO an extra level of sonic enjoyment. The weight also added a bit of aesthetic enhancement and visual enjoyment.

Footnote 1: WAM Engineering Ltd., Santa Rosa, California. Such. : (707) 210-6345 Web:

Footnote 2: Imagine owning a “tangential” tonearm and using the cantilever to set the tangent, only to find that due to lax manufacturing tolerances, your arm/cartridge combo produces a non – tangency at all points on the surface of the disc!

Footnote 3: Massif Audio Design, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Tel: (416) 420-4462. Email: [email protected] The Web:

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