LP12MF: Installing the Dynavector XX-2 mkII Cartridge

This is an upgrade I’ve really been looking forward to. It shouldn’t be a subtle change. The move from a decent moving magnet cartridge to a pretty fancy moving coil should make a big difference. And I’ve always wanted to try a Dynavector cart in particular, especially since I have a Dynavector phono preamp with a magical “current enhancer” mode that’s supposed to work particularly well with Dyna carts.

I’ve also been dreading it a bit. Cartridge alignment seems like a bit of a dark art. I’ve never really understood it, and I’ve never been confident in any previous alignment job (always done with cheap home-brew alignment protractors printed at home). So I’ve been planning ahead. A few months ago, I ordered a Mint “Best Tractor” custom made for my cartridge and turntable. Since receiving it, I’ve read and reread the instructions obsessively. After reading various tips on cartridge alignment, I bought an extra 20x loupe and an LED headlamp. With all this studying (and purchasing), I was ready to roll.

Step one was finding a nice bright place to work. I waited until I knew I’d have several hours of uninterrupted sunlight — it was, conveniently, the first day of spring-like temperatures today in Toronto, and it was bright — and set up the LP12 jig in the brightest spot in my house: the kitchen. The photos are all pretty backlit, but that’s sort of the point. All the key players are visible in the above photo: my Peter Swain setup manual, the Mint Best Tractor setup manual, the XX2 package… and a Mickey Mouse soap dispenser.

Thank you for your service, Linn Adikt. I never particularly wanted you, and you were really expensive. But you made truly beautiful music. I will probably use you again some day…

There’s my custom-made Best Tractor — “Roksan Nima on Linn LP12, for hi-fi AF” — yep, that’s me. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that there was something wrong with it. Step one was setting the overhang, but it was clearly going to be impossible to get it to sit on the arc: after placing the tip on the outermost point of the arc, moving to the innermost point it sat so far ahead of the arc that no amount of adjustment would make it right. I contacted Yip from Mint LP, he reviewed our correspondence, and he said he’d missed some key information in my order and made a mistake. A new one is on the way.

Still, all was not lost. With some careful analysis of the product manuals for the Nima and the XX2, I was able to do a pretty good protractor-less alignment. Here’s what I did.

The first instruction in the Nima manual specifies that correct alignment is achieved when the stylus tip is directly in line with the angled edge of the head shell.

This helpful diagram from the XX-2 manual reveals that the tip of the cartridge sits 1.5mm from the front edge of the cartridge body (that’s 10mm – 8.5mm: advanced math).

Put this together and you’ve got a recipe for an aligned cartridge. Get the Dynavector cartridge body parallel to the angled headshell cutout, and have the body stick out 1.5mm from the headshell, and everything should be good. With some help from my trusty calipers (and my eyes), I was pretty confident that things were where they were supposed to be.

That’s the 1.5mm protrusion from the front of the headshell. (Sorry to make you drag lint, new cartridge.)

There you can see the 1.5mm overlap, parallel with the little cutout. (Pretty nice light coming in through all those windows, huh?)

It didn’t go exactly like I hoped it would, but I think it all worked out. (When my fixed Best Tractor arrives, I’ll be able to verify the alignment.)

After that, it was time to set the azimuth, which requires quite a bit of time, effort, and patience with the Nima.

Eventually, everything was set. Here it is installed and looking lovely:

And here it is playing a record:

Initial notes: It’s tracking okay, and I don’t notice any new sibilance issues yet, including on the inner grooves. So alignment seems okay.

The music sounds good. Maybe a little harsh and trebly, maybe not totally blowing me away… But it probably needs breaking in, so I’m not going to rush to any conclusions…

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