Are differences VTA/SRA settings audible? Absolutely yes, depending on the resolution of your system and the cartridge you’re using. Small changes in VTA/SRA can make big differences in the sound you get. You can only get the best sound quality by getting the VTA/SRA optimally set for the particular record you’re playing.
If you hear someone say “just find a good average setting and then leave it alone” then one of three things is going on: 1) this person uses a cartridge that simply is not very sensitive to changes in VTA/SAR (e.g., the plastic bodied Grado cartridges), 2) this person just doesn’t hear the differences or the system being used is not sufficiently resolving, or 3) this person just doesn’t really care about getting the best sound from his or her system.
What we are concerned about in this aspect of cartridge setup is getting the edges of the stylus to ride exactly vertical against the walls of the grooves of the record. Only when it is riding in perfect alignment of the groove walls can the stylus accurately trace the extremely fine variations that make up the high frequencies and correctly capture timbre and resolution of detail.
When setting up a cartridge, SRA (stylus rake angle) is what we’re really concerned about even though our shorthand language is to talk about adjusting VTA (vertical tracking angle). Ideally we want the stylus perfectly vertical in the groove.
While VTA is the term most commonly used to describe vertical stylus alignment, VTA more accurately is the angle of the cantilever from pivot point to stylus contact point. Here’s a diagram showing the difference:
So how do you set VTA/SRA?
Ultimately, the only way to do this is by listening. Your ears and a little practice will tell you when you get it right. The best summary of the process is the description from Lloyd Walker for fine tuning your turntable posted on the Walker Audio website.