How to set up a turntable in 4 steps

by Bruno Brozovic

Do you want to get your record player fit again and get the best sound out of it? But you have no idea how to set up a turntable? Don’t panic – we’ve got everything you need to know (and a little more) right here.

What many people don’t realize is that in order to get great sound from a turntable, the perfect settings are almost more important than the quality of the device.

If you want to improve the sound of your turntable, you should primarily focus on these four variables: tonearm/cartridge alignment, tracking force, and anti-skating.

This is how you make your turntable sound great again:

Make sure the turntable is turned off before you start tweaking.

1. Balance the tonearm

By adjusting the tonearm correctly, you ensure that the record can be optimally tracked. Many turntables have a lever or ring that helps with adjustment. Unfortunately, this process differs from turntable to turntable. You can find more detailed information in the operating instructions.

The best way to set the tonearm height correctly :

  • If the needle is in the groove, the tonearm should be exactly horizontal to the record
  • Depending on the turntable, the height can be adjusted using screws or a lever

Look at it from the side: the tonearm should be straight and parallel to the record. If in doubt, use a protractor!

2. Find the correct tracking force and adjust accordingly

The tracking force determines the force with which the needle is pressed into the groove of the record. Above all, you should stick to what is suggested in the operating instructions for the cartridge.

How to set up a turntable

How to set up a turntable

You don’t know which cartridge is installed on your turntable? No problem, a search on Google usually solves this problem very quickly. Normally, you will also find every operating manual here.

A step-by-step guide to setting tracking force:

  1. Remove the tonearm from the bracket and set the anti-skating force to 0.
  2. Now move the tonearm over the turntable. Rotate the counterweight back and forth until the tonearm is exactly parallel to the platter.
  3. To fix the tonearm, you can now hold the counterweight with one finger. Set the dial to zero. Thus, the weight of the tonearm is reset to zero.
  4. Now set the correct weight according to the pickup’s operating instructions.

Alternatively, you can also determine the bearing weight with a tonearm scale or, if in doubt, readjust it.

If the operating instructions only state one range, you should settle somewhere in the middle.

3. Align the cartridge correctly

At best, the tonearm should follow the record in a straight line from start to finish. The stylus (needle) would be perpendicular to the groove at all times, reducing distortion to a minimum.

Align the cartridge correctly

Align the cartridge correctly

However, because the tonearm is tight, it draws an arc across the record. At two points of this parabolic arc, the needle is exactly perpendicular to the groove. These two points are relevant for the pickup setting.

How do you find these points? Luckily, you don’t have to do any calculations yourself.

Online you will find various adjustment templates to print out that match your turntable model. Sometimes this is also included in the scope of delivery.

Many turntables have instructions on how to correctly assemble the pickup system in the instructions. Here you will often also find a recommended value for how far the housing should be from the stylus.

Adjust the cartridge in 3 steps:

  1. Make sure the distance between the headshell and the stylus tip is correct. You can find this information in the operating instructions.
  2. Now place your template on the record and carefully drop the tonearm with the needle onto the first point. If the case isn’t parallel, you can loosen the screws in the headshell a bit and move the system slightly. Magnifying glass and flashlights are very useful here!
  3. If the pickup is aligned with the first point, you can check the whole thing at the second point. Actually, both points should be aligned with each other – if not, it is necessary to find a middle ground.

4. Set up anti-skating

Avoiding record wear and tear and distortion should be important to any vinyl lover. Turntable anti-skating does just that! It also counteracts the force that pulls the stylus towards the inside of the groove as the record spins. What exactly does anti-skating mean? What exactly does anti-skating mean?

Said anti-skating mechanism moves the needle back to the center of the groove. This protects the record and improves the sound.

With most turntables, the anti-skating can be adjusted using a wheel.

How to set up the anti-skating

Set the anti-skate dial to the same number as the tracking force. We explained how to find the right tracking force in point 2.

Some vinyl experts prefer to set the anti-skate to a slightly smaller value than the tracking force (a quarter of a gram or less).

What else is important?

In addition to the correct setting of the turntable, tonearm, and cartridge, there are also a few other points that you should consider. Even a perfectly tuned turntable will not sound good if the basics are missing.

  • Make sure the turntable is on a solid, level surface. A professional hi-fi rack is the right shelf for your valuable equipment.
  • The easiest upgrade you can do to get more out of your turntable is to invest in a new cartridge. This part is largely responsible for the sound. You can get good pickups for less than $100.

Important terms you should know

What does tracking mean?

The tracking determines how precisely the groove of the record can be followed by the cartridge system (or the stylus). A good cartridge system is able to follow large deflections of the record groove without losing the stylus groove contact without distortion.

How distortion can occur?

Unfortunately, despite a good pickup system, complications can occur. When playing a record, the stylus lies between the V-shaped grooves and is set in motion by the deflections. Ideally, this movement should follow the groove modulation flawlessly.

If there are still problems, there can be various reasons.

  • For example, the groove modulation could impart too much acceleration.
  • The wrong needle or excessive wear could also be a cause.
  • In general, distortion increases towards the center of the disc. This is due to the fact that the modulation of the plate has a longer wavelength in the outer area than towards the center of the record.
  • The setting variation of the stylus could be a trigger: For example, the stylus could not be at the right angle to the record surface (azimuth), or to the direction of the groove (tangential tracking error angle) or it could be due to the incorrect setting of the tracking force

What is the counterweight?

The counterweight (also called balancing weight) is intended to ensure that different cartridge masses are balanced. The balance weight is usually part of the tonearm. It is also used on some tonearms to adjust the tracking force.

It is usually located at the end of the tonearm. The balance weight improves the tracking force of the cartridge and balances the downward force it takes to function properly. The strength of the downward force varies from cartridge to cartridge.

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