HFN 001 Test LP
The prospect of spending £15 UKP on a test record that would get played for about 1/2 hour when half a dozen s/h LP's are available for the same price may seem insane (I did question my sanity), so was it worth it?
Having spent the last 20 years accidentally amassing a vinyl collection I've slowly increased the quality of my playback equipment from a Garrard SP25, Dual 505, Rega 3 etc to my current Technics SP10/Zeta tonearm. I've learnt the black art of turntable placement (not on top of my floorstanders), Cleaning (don't spill beer on them or wash with dishwater) and leveling (a spirit level is more accurate than rolling a marble on a felt mat). I have never enjoyed any of these things as none of them can be done while listening to records, but if it means I am getting the best out of them then who am I to grumble...
Along with the record I had ordered a £6 ortofon stylus balance, essential to set up my new Zeta arm which had neither the calibrated VTF or Anti-skate of my SME 309. Having setup my cartridge to 1.75g (my normal tracking weight for most cartridges), set the bias to the middle position and aligned the cartridge with the supplied gauge (another pet hate), I played a couple of records as a reward to myself on buying such a sweet sounding arm before removing HFN 001 from its sleeve. After getting over the first annoyance of the 'locked grooves' and having to keep running to the sweet spot between the speakers for each short track, I began to follow the instructions.
Band 1 + 2 channel identification and phasing
A pleasant surprise, my phono plugs are wired not only correctly for left and right but also for phase! This is something of a miracle as I paid no attention to this when rewiring the arm, so far so good.
Band 3 + 4 + 5 channel balance left and right
This is supposed to be a subjective evaluation of your system and a measurement of image placement. As pink noise goes it was very nice, but 'smooth and seamless' would surely be a description of any such signal? I think these are track fillers, I have the equivalent for my cd player and noticed no difference between a £75 player and a £1200, good for setting balance I suppose but my Shearne amp has no such control...
Band 6 + 7 + 8 L/R 300hz tone Bias setting
Now this is what I spent my £15 for, because Zeta didn't bother putting little markings on the bias dial! How wrong could I be....It played the first (+12db) track perfectly, just requiring a little reduction in volume to stop my ears popping (beeeeeep.....). Track 7 (+14db) was a different matter altogether - the right channel was buzzing, something it had not done playing music previously! I carefully adjusted the bias knob left to right until there was none on either channel. I repeated this for track 8 (+16db) and eventually got an even undistorted tone.
Band 9 Bias setting Torture track
Well this is the same as the previous 300hz tracks but +18db and on the inside edge of the record (the worst place for tracking). I'll come back to this later.
Band 1 + 4 + 7 300hz +15db tracking ability test
This is similar to the bias setting tracks on side one, but the tracks are spread evenly across the record enabling you to hear the tracking at different parts of the arm sweep. Even with the careful setting I did on side one, it took a little while to adjust bias until there was no distortion on any track. I flipped back and forth between these and the bias tracks on side one until all was well. It should be noted however that I had to increase tracking weight to 2.0g (1.5g - 2.5g on my goldring 1024) to get the end result. Len Gregory who produced the album suggested this may be the case in the sleeve notes, less wear and better sound at a higher tracking force, strange but true.
Band 2 + 3 Cartridge / Arm resonance test
Well two more definitive test tracks, one which makes your cartridge/arm wobble laterally, the other vertically. I now know that even though my arm and cartridge are not matched on paper, they have a resonance of 8hz in both tests, right on the edge of the recommended 8-15hz.
Band 5 Cartridge alignment
This is to help check cartridge azimuth alignment. You are supposed to use the mono switch on your amp to achieve this, but my amp hasn't got one so its usefulness remains a mystery.
Band 6 Residual System noise
These are unmodulated grooves which test your deck/plinth/stands ability to produce low noise levels in the background (known in the magazine world as 'inky black silence') and hence low frequency performance. Considering my less than perfect stand on a wooden floor, close to large Castle Harlech speakers and the unsprung homemade plinth my deck sits on, not bad at all. There was no rumble but I may use this track to improve my plinth design, turning up the volume loud does introduce some very low level noise and this will be the perfect tool to help eradicate this.
Well overall a huge success! This is the only setup tool I have ever enjoyed using and the instructions are straightforward and concise. The difference between correct and incorrect settings are laughably easy to hear and it pays back its initial cost as soon as you use it. Definitely recommended to beginners but also to those with expensive cartridges, stacks of vinyl and a little patience.
Note: Band 9 torture tracking test is as its title suggested, a torture track! If your cartridge tracks the other bands OK then it should play anything made, but this is very severe. Using this track to adjust VTF and Anti-skating will probably not give the best results with your average music record.