Can Phono Cartridge Misalignment Cause Volume Fluctuation

Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, with many music enthusiasts rediscovering the warm and authentic sound that only analog can provide.

However, playing vinyl records requires a certain level of expertise and knowledge, especially when it comes to setting up your turntable and phono cartridge.

One common issue that vinyl lovers may encounter is volume fluctuation during playback. This can be frustrating and ruin the listening experience.

In this article, we will explore whether phono cartridge misalignment could be the culprit behind volume fluctuation and how to troubleshoot this problem.

So, sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of vinyl playback!

Can Phono Cartridge Misalignment Cause Volume Fluctuation

Phono cartridge misalignment is a common issue that can cause a variety of problems during vinyl playback. One of the most frustrating issues is volume fluctuation, where the volume level changes and/or instruments seem to wander from left to right.

While this problem may not last long before returning to normal, it can still be a major annoyance for vinyl enthusiasts. So, can phono cartridge misalignment cause volume fluctuation?

The short answer is yes. When your phono cartridge is misaligned, it can cause the stylus to track unevenly across the record, resulting in volume fluctuations. This is because the stylus is not properly tracking the grooves of the record, causing it to skip or jump.

Additionally, if your tracking force is too light or heavy, it can also cause volume fluctuations. This is because the stylus may not be making proper contact with the grooves of the record, resulting in a loss of sound or distortion.

Understanding The Basics Of Phono Cartridge Alignment

Proper alignment of a phono cartridge is crucial for achieving optimum sound quality and preventing issues such as volume fluctuations. The alignment process involves positioning the stylus in the correct orientation to the record grooves, so that it can accurately track the music and minimize distortion.

There are several methods for aligning a phono cartridge, but one of the most basic is the Baerwald alignment. This method involves using a protractor to position the cartridge so that it is aligned with the null points mentioned earlier in the raw text. The null points are where the stylus has zero tracking error, and are located approximately halfway through the second and second-to-last tracks on an album.

To perform a Baerwald alignment, you will need a protractor designed for your specific turntable and cartridge. These can be purchased online or at specialty audio stores. Once you have the protractor, place it on your turntable platter and carefully position the cartridge stylus on the designated points on the protractor. Adjust the cartridge position until it is aligned with both null points.

Another method of alignment is the Stevenson alignment, which involves using a different type of protractor that takes into account the angle of the tonearm pivot. This method can be more precise than Baerwald, but also requires more advanced knowledge and tools.

In addition to using a protractor, it is important to ensure that your tracking force is properly set. This can be done using a digital scale specifically designed for measuring tracking force. Adjusting your tracking force too high or too low can cause issues such as volume fluctuations and excessive wear on your records and stylus.

How Misalignment Can Affect Volume Fluctuation

When your phono cartridge is misaligned, the stylus may not be properly tracking the grooves of the record. This can cause the volume level to fluctuate as the stylus jumps or skips across the record. If the misalignment is severe, it can also cause instruments to wander from left to right, creating an uneven and distorted sound.

Furthermore, misalignment can cause the stylus to track unevenly at different points on the record, resulting in volume fluctuations that vary depending on the position of the stylus. This can make it difficult to listen to an entire album without constantly adjusting the volume.

To prevent volume fluctuations caused by misalignment, it’s important to check your cartridge alignment regularly. Use a protractor or alignment tool to ensure that your cartridge is properly aligned with your turntable’s tonearm. You should also make sure that your tracking force is set correctly, as too light or heavy a force can also cause volume fluctuations.

Identifying Signs Of Misalignment

Identifying signs of phono cartridge misalignment is crucial in ensuring optimal vinyl playback. Some common symptoms of poor alignment include poor bass and treble reproduction, changes in sound quality as the arm/cartridge tracks across the record, sibilance, muffled or muddy sound, and poor tracking.

Another sign to look out for is distortion, especially during test tracks. It’s important to remember that the left channel is on the left (inside) side groove wall, and the right channel is on the right (outside) groove wall. Anti-skate pulls the arm to the outside, so too much anti-skate can cause the arm to pull out too much, leaving too little tracking force on the inside, causing distortion in the left channel. On the other hand, too little anti-skate gives too much force on the inside, causing distortion in the outside right channel.

It’s also important to note that skating forces are generated by the angle of the cartridge being dragged through the groove. Therefore, the higher the volume, the bigger the groove amplitude, and the greater the drag. This means that greater anti-skate is needed to counter it. However, this changes constantly depending on the music being played. So if you use a test LP and set anti-skate high enough to track really high amplitude test tracks, it may be too much anti-skate for a lot of your music.

Another issue that can arise from misaligned phono cartridges is high-frequency loss due to an elliptical stylus not being orthogonal with the groove. This can result in severe distortion and a loss of sound. It’s important to verify the orthogonality of the stylus main axis with the disc-surface to ensure that errors are not serious.

Steps To Correct Misalignment And Improve Sound Quality

If you’re experiencing volume fluctuations during vinyl playback, correcting phono cartridge misalignment is the first step to improve your sound quality. Here are the steps you can take:

1. Check for misalignment: Use a cartridge protractor to check if your cartridge is properly aligned. This will ensure that the stylus is properly tracking the grooves of the record and prevent volume fluctuations. You can download and print free protractors to match your turntable, or buy an alignment tool like the Mobile Fidelity Geo-Disc.

2. Adjust the tracking force: Make sure your tracking force is set within the recommended range specified by the manufacturer, typically between 1.5g – 2.2g. Too little or too much force can cause volume fluctuations and distortion.

3. Check anti-skate/bias: Anti-skate or bias is another important setting that affects tracking performance. Make sure it’s set according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

4. Repeat the setup process: Once you’ve made adjustments, repeat the setup process to fine tune your phono cartridge alignment and tracking force.

By taking these steps, you can correct phono cartridge misalignment and improve sound quality, preventing volume fluctuations and distortion during vinyl playback. Remember to check your alignment regularly and make adjustments as needed to ensure optimal performance from your turntable setup.

Other Factors That Can Cause Volume Fluctuation In Vinyl Playback

Aside from phono cartridge misalignment, there are other factors that can cause volume fluctuation during vinyl playback. One common issue is the condition of the record itself. If the record is warped or damaged, it can cause the stylus to skip or jump, resulting in volume fluctuations. Scratches and dust on the record can also cause similar issues.

Another factor to consider is the quality of your equipment. If your turntable or amplifier is not properly grounded, it can cause unwanted noise and volume fluctuations. Similarly, if your speakers are not properly positioned or wired, it can also cause issues with volume and sound quality.

In some cases, the issue may be related to the room itself. If there are echoes or other acoustic issues in the room, it can affect the sound quality and cause volume fluctuations. This is why many audiophiles invest in soundproofing and acoustic treatment for their listening rooms.

Tips For Maintaining Your Turntable And Cartridge To Avoid Misalignment Issues.

To avoid phono cartridge misalignment and volume fluctuations during vinyl playback, it’s important to properly maintain your turntable and cartridge. Here are some tips to help you do just that:

1. Check your cartridge alignment regularly: A misaligned cartridge can cause a variety of sound issues, including volume fluctuations. Be sure to check your cartridge alignment at multiple positions on the record, and use an alignment tool or protractor to ensure accuracy.

2. Keep your turntable level: A flat surface is essential for proper vinyl playback. Make sure your turntable is level with the floor, and use adjustable legs or a spirit level to ensure accuracy.

3. Check your tracking force: The tracking force is the amount of pressure the stylus exerts on the record. If it’s too light or heavy, it can cause volume fluctuations and other sound issues. Use a tracking force gauge to check your tracking force and adjust as necessary.

4. Keep your stylus clean: A dirty or worn stylus can cause skipping, distortion, and other sound issues. Use a stylus brush or cleaning solution to keep your stylus clean and in good condition.

By following these tips, you can help prevent phono cartridge misalignment and other sound issues during vinyl playback. Remember to always handle your turntable and cartridge with care, and seek professional help if you’re unsure about any maintenance tasks.