How To Adjust A Tonearm – A Step-By-Step Guide

If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you know that the quality of your turntable’s sound is directly related to the precision of its components.

One of the most important parts of a turntable is the tonearm, which holds the cartridge and stylus that read the grooves on your records.

But did you know that the positioning of your tonearm can greatly affect the sound quality of your vinyl?

In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps to properly adjust your tonearm for optimal playback.

From leveling your turntable to calibrating the tracking force and anti-skating, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get the most out of your vinyl collection.

So grab your favorite record and let’s get started!

How To Adjust Tonearm

Step 1: Level Your Turntable

Before adjusting your tonearm, it’s important to make sure your turntable is level. This ensures smooth and precise operation and helps preserve your records.

Using a level, check the positioning of your turntable on the axis of width and depth. Adjust the height of the legs of your furniture or add wood slats under it until the turntable is level. Some models have adjustable feet to make this process easier.

Step 2: Calibrate the Tonearm

Calibrating your tonearm is essential for optimal playback. This should be done before first use, after moving your turntable, or after replacing the cartridge.

To calibrate your tonearm, start by unlocking and removing it from the armrest. Then, adjust the counterweight so that the tonearm balances horizontally. Next, align the graduated dial near the counterweight at “zero” position without touching the counterweight.

Position and lock the tonearm on the armrest, then move the graduated dial and counterweight to the mark specified by the phono cartridge manufacturer. The optimal calibration of the tonearm is usually set between 1.5 and 2 grams of tracking force.

Step 3: Adjust Anti-Skating

During use, pressure from the inner face of the groove can cause “skating,” which affects playback quality. Adjusting anti-skating helps prevent this issue.

Depending on your turntable model, anti-skating can be adjusted using a graduated dial that moves a spring, magnet, or fixed counterweight. Alternatively, you may need to move a counterweight suspended by a nylon thread on a lever arm with graduated notches.

The adjustment value of anti-skating should be in grams and match that used to adjust the tonearm.

Step 4: Correct Pitch (Optional)

If your turntable has a direct-drive mechanism, you may be able to correct playback speed or “pitch.” This is especially useful for DJs.

Using a stroboscope calibrated at 60 hertz and a disc made for this purpose, move the pitch control back or forth until bars drawn on the disc are aligned under the light of the stroboscope.

Leveling Your Turntable

Leveling your turntable is an important step in adjusting your tonearm. It’s a simple adjustment that can make a big difference in the performance of your turntable.

To level your turntable, start by using a level and checking the positioning of your turntable on the axis of width and depth. Adjust the height of the legs of your furniture or add wood slats under it until the turntable is level. Some models have adjustable feet to make this process easier.

Having a level turntable ensures that the tonearm can move smoothly and accurately across the record. This helps prevent any skips or jumps during playback, which can damage your records.

Additionally, a level turntable helps keep the stylus in proper contact with the record groove. This ensures that you get the best possible sound quality from your records.

Setting The Tracking Force

Setting the tracking force is a crucial step in adjusting your tonearm for optimal sound quality. The tracking force refers to the weight that the stylus applies to the record while playing. This weight needs to be set correctly to ensure that the stylus tracks the grooves of the record properly, without damaging it.

To set the tracking force, start by resetting the tonearm so that it can balance in mid-air on its own, much like a seesaw. If your turntable has an anti-skate setting, set this to ‘0’. Now, adjust the counterweight so that the tonearm balances in mid-air, without touching the platter or record but also not falling upwards. Your counterweight is now set to zero.

Each cartridge will have a recommended tracking force weight, which you can find in the manual or online. For example, if you are using the Ortofon 2m Red cartridge, then the recommended tracking force is about 1.8g.

To set the counterweight to the correct tracking force for your cartridge, turn or adjust it to the appropriate setting for your cartridge. Set the numbered dial on your counterweight to the required weight for your specific cartridge that you have already looked up. This should then make the cartridge move downwards towards the turntable platter or record and sit at the correct weight when you play music.

If your tonearm also features an anti-skate control, adjust this to match the counterweight setting. For example, if it is set at 2g, also set the anti-skate to 2g. The anti-skate function helps counteract the tendency of the tonearm to move inwards as the stylus gets closer to the center of the record, thus keeping the music sounding its best.

If you want to further check that the weight of your tracking force is correct, you can buy a digital gram scale. With one of these, you can lower the stylus onto its platform and a digital readout will tell you exactly how much force is being applied. You can then check this against the dial on your counterweight and adjust accordingly.

By following these steps and setting your tracking force correctly, you can ensure that your turntable provides optimal sound quality and prolongs the life of your records.

Calibrating Anti-Skating

Calibrating anti-skating is an important step in achieving optimal playback quality on your turntable. Anti-skating helps prevent skating, which occurs when the tonearm moves inward towards the center of the record due to pressure from the inner groove. This can cause distortion and uneven wear on your stylus and records.

To calibrate anti-skating, start by adjusting the counterweight and tracking force of your tonearm as described in Step 2. Once you have set the tracking force, you can adjust the anti-skating using the graduated dial or lever arm on your turntable.

The adjustment value for anti-skating should match that of the tracking force, usually between 1.5 and 2 grams. If you are unsure of the correct value, consult the phono cartridge manufacturer’s instructions.

To test if your anti-skating is properly calibrated, use an anti-skate calibration record or play a record with a blank groove. If the tonearm remains in place as the record spins, your anti-skating is correctly set. If it drifts in either direction, adjust the anti-skate dial until it remains stationary.

It’s important to note that anti-skating may need to be adjusted during play, especially towards the center of the record where pressure is highest. Listen carefully for any distortion or sibilance and adjust the anti-skate accordingly.

Calibrating anti-skating may take some trial and error, but it’s worth taking the time to get it right for optimal playback quality and to protect your valuable records and stylus.

Adjusting The Vertical Tracking Angle

Adjusting the Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) is an important step in optimizing your turntable’s performance. The VTA refers to the angle of the tonearm when viewed from the side, which determines the Stylus Raking Angle (SRA) and ultimately affects the quality of sound reproduction.

To adjust the VTA, start by visually observing the horizontal leveling of the tonearm when viewed from the side. If you have a magnifier or USB microscope, you can observe the actual VTA angle of the cantilever or stylus raking angle. The generally accepted theory is that the optimal SRA angle is the angle at which LPs are cut, which is usually around 92 degrees.

However, without a microscope, it can be difficult to observe the SRA. In this case, an approximate starting point is to adjust the VTA or horizontal level of the tonearm to about 15 degrees. The Acoustical System SMARTstylus and Uni-Scope Magnifier are excellent tools that can help you visually gauge an initial SRA.

While visual methods provide a good starting point, it’s important to note that as soon as the platter starts spinning, the dragging force created by the stylus raking on the LP will produce a downward force and cause the raking angle to change. Only an actual measurement performed while the recording is spinning will produce accurate results.

To adjust the VTA while playing music, start with the arm parallel to the record surface when the stylus is in the playing position. Raise or lower the tonearm in small increments until you find the “sweet spot” where soundstage comes into best focus, providing maximum width and depth simultaneously. You should also listen for minimum surface noise and well-balanced harmonics.

It’s important to note that adjusting VTA is just one factor in achieving optimal sound quality. Other factors like Azimuth, Anti-skating, and Vertical Tracking Force (VTF) may also need to be adjusted to achieve optimal settings across all parameters. Ultimately, many listeners feel that determining the “correct” setting for VTA should be determined through listening tests.

Fine-Tuning The Tonearm Height And Weight

After calibrating your tonearm, you may need to fine-tune the height and weight for optimal playback. Start by adjusting the counterweight on the end of the tonearm wand. Make sure the anti-skating weight is removed at this point.

Move the tonearm off its rest and adjust the counterweight so that the tonearm floats just above the record. Hold the weight still and set the black numbers ring to “0.” Now turn the counterweight scale to indicate zero.

The tracking force depends on the cartridge in use, which can usually be found in your cartridge’s specifications. It will usually be between 1 and 2 grams. Turn the counterweight (and the scale) to the correct tracking force.

Finally, adjust the anti-skating weight to correspond with the tracking force. This will help prevent skating and ensure skip-free scratching.

Using a turntable does require some setup knowledge, but fine-tuning your tonearm height and weight is one of the easiest ways to improve sound quality without breaking out the wallet.

Testing And Listening To Your Adjustments

Now that you have calibrated your tonearm and adjusted the anti-skating, it’s time to test and listen to your adjustments. This is an important step to ensure that your turntable is functioning optimally and that your records are being played at their best quality.

To begin, choose a record with which you are familiar and play it. Listen closely for any distortion, skipping, or imbalance in the sound. If you notice any of these issues, it may indicate that your tracking force or anti-skating needs further adjustment.

If you have a digital gram scale, you can use it to check the tracking force of your stylus. Lower the stylus onto the scale and check the reading against the recommended tracking force for your cartridge. If the tracking force is too high or too low, adjust the counterweight accordingly.

Alternatively, you can use a test record to fine-tune your adjustments. Test records are specially designed to help you calibrate your turntable and detect any issues with playback quality. They typically include various test tones and signals that allow you to check for distortion, channel balance, and other issues.

After making any necessary adjustments, listen to your record again and compare the sound quality to before. If you notice a significant improvement in sound quality, then congratulations! You have successfully adjusted your tonearm and anti-skating.

Remember that adjusting your tonearm is a process that takes time and patience. It may take several attempts to get everything just right, but with practice, it will become easier. If you have any questions or concerns about adjusting your tonearm, don’t hesitate to consult with an expert or seek advice from online forums or communities.