How To Adjust A Turntable 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 setup of its tonearm.

But don’t worry, adjusting your tonearm doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In fact, it’s a simple process that can greatly improve your listening experience.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps to properly balance and adjust your turntable’s tonearm, so you can get the most out of your vinyl collection.

So, let’s dive in!

How To Adjust A Turntable Tonearm

The first step in adjusting your turntable’s tonearm is to ensure that the counterweight is properly installed on the end of the tonearm wand. Make sure that the anti-skating weight is removed at this point.

Next, move the tonearm off its rest and adjust the counterweight so that the tonearm balances horizontally. This means that the headshell won’t be moving up or down, but will naturally float above the rest position.

Once you’ve found the perfect balance spot, set the counterweight to zero. Now, it’s time to set the proper tracking force for your phono cartridge. The tracking force depends on the cartridge in use and can usually be found in your cartridge’s specifications. It’ll usually be between 1 and 2 grams.

To set the tracking force, turn your entire counterweight counterclockwise to adjust the weight in grams, and gently place the stylus and entire cartridge onto the stylus force gauge to measure. Once you’ve set your tracking force, you can now turn the anti-skate setting back on. Match it in grams to your tracking weight, so if your tracking weight is 1.5 grams, you’ll want anti-skate on 1.5 grams.

It’s important to note that using a turntable does require some setup knowledge, but the reward is definitely worth it. Making sure your tonearm is correctly balanced is just about the easiest way to improve sound quality without breaking out the wallet.

Understanding The Tonearm

The tonearm is a vital component of your turntable, and it’s important to understand how it works in order to properly adjust it. The tonearm is the long, thin arm that holds the cartridge and stylus, and moves across the record as it plays.

The counterweight on the end of the tonearm wand is used to balance the tonearm and apply the correct tracking force to the stylus. This is important because if the tracking force is too light, the stylus can skip across the record, causing damage to both the stylus and the record. If it’s too heavy, it can cause excessive wear on both components.

To properly adjust your tonearm, you need to find the perfect balance point where the tonearm is horizontal and not moving up or down. This ensures that the tracking force is evenly applied across the entire surface of the record.

It’s also important to note that different cartridges require different tracking forces, so make sure to check your cartridge’s specifications before adjusting your tonearm. Setting your tracking force in the middle of the recommended range is a good rule of thumb.

Once you’ve set your tracking force, you can turn on your anti-skate setting. Anti-skate helps to counteract the skating effect caused by the inner groove pressure on the stylus during playback. Matching your anti-skate setting in grams to your tracking weight ensures that your tonearm is properly calibrated for optimal sound quality and longevity of both your cartridge and records.

Checking The Tracking Force

Checking the tracking force is an essential step in adjusting your turntable’s tonearm. To do this, you need to refer to your cartridge’s instructions to find the recommended tracking force weight. Once you have this information, you can begin adjusting the counterweight on the tonearm.

To start, make sure that the anti-skate setting is set to zero. Then, reset the tonearm so that it balances horizontally in mid-air without touching the platter or record. This is done by adjusting the counterweight until the tonearm is perfectly balanced.

Next, set the counterweight to zero and adjust it to the recommended tracking force weight for your cartridge. You can do this by turning the counterweight until it reaches the appropriate number of grams. Once you’ve set the tracking force, you can turn on the anti-skate setting and adjust it to match your tracking weight.

It’s important to note that setting the tracking force too high can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your records, while setting it too low can result in poor sound quality. It’s best to find a middle ground that allows your cartridge to sit on the record with just enough weight to produce clear sound without causing damage.

Adjusting The Anti-Skate

The anti-skate feature is an important part of maintaining good channel balance, minimizing distortion, and reducing stylus and record wear. To adjust the anti-skate on a turntable that features a user-adjustable control, start by adjusting it to the same value as the vertical tracking force (VTF) used. This will get you in the ballpark, but you’ll need to listen carefully to the last few minutes of a record to determine if more or less anti-skate is needed.

Inner groove distortion can be particularly noticeable, so listen for distortion, especially in the form of sibilance. Determine if it appears to be louder on one channel, the left or the right. Adjust the anti-skate value until the distortion is minimized.

It’s important to note that the force exerted on the stylus is not linear, so the amount of anti-skating force required will be different depending on the relative location of the cartridge towards the record spindle. The curve is somewhat of a parabolic shape, with the skating force higher at the outer groove than at the inner groove and lowest in the middle.

Some tonearms designs have a mechanism which will increase anti-skating force gradually to counteract the non-linear nature of the centripetal force. Optimizing anti-skating adjustment at the outer grooves where the skating force is strongest will cause over-compensation across the inner grooves. This is why the anti-skating track is placed near the inner grooves.

Anti-skating affects crosstalk measurements, so it’s important to go back and forth between Anti-skating and Azimuth, as well as VTF and VTA to achieve an optimal set of numbers. No setup parameter can be optimized in isolation, so one must try to achieve optimal settings in as many setup parameters as possible.

When meaningful numbers cannot be achieved under the Anti-Skating test, it could be caused by an incorrect VTF, Azimuth or even alignment. You may have to go back and forth between different parameters to achieve meaningful results and optimal settings. With a little patience and practice, you’ll soon be able to adjust your turntable’s tonearm like a pro!

Balancing The Tonearm

Balancing the tonearm is a crucial step in adjusting your turntable. To do this, carefully remove the stylus guard and, if fitted, unclip the tonearm securing hook. Safely lift the tonearm by the headshell, then hold it securely above the platter.

Turn the counterweight clockwise so that it travels towards the front of the tonearm. Carefully see if the tonearm holds its own balance (like a seesaw), covering the headshell in case it wants to fall. Once you’ve found the perfect balance spot, return the tonearm to its rest.

Reset the counterweight’s outer dial to ‘0’. Observe the manufacturer’s recommended cartridge weight and turn the whole weight and dial to match that value. Match the same value on the anti-skate control for optimum calibration.

It’s important to remember that each model of cartridge and turntable may have a different recommended tracking force. Luckily, manufacturers include this information with each model, and you can also find it by searching online. Set your tracking force in the middle of the recommended range for best results.

By following these steps and taking care to properly balance your tonearm, you’ll be able to enjoy a higher quality sound from your turntable.

Fine-Tuning The Tonearm

After you’ve set the tracking force and anti-skate settings, it’s time to fine-tune the tonearm. This will require some adjustments by ear, as there is no other way to get the best out of your system.

Start by warming up your cartridge and system by cleaning your records. We recommend using a vacuum-type recording cleaning machine like the VPI Typhoon and our Prelude Recording Cleaning Kit, as well as our Talisman Magnetic Optimizer. Clean and treat your record, then play two sides of an LP to warm up your cartridge and system.

For testing, put on a well-recorded LP with complex music, such as classical or complex jazz. Do not start with piano, female voice or acoustic guitar. You can listen to that later. You need to hear bass, the extreme highs, and everything in between at the same settings. Listen to the same music after each adjustment so you will know what you did. It won’t hurt your LP under normal adjustments.

Once you have your music selected, listen carefully for any distortion or imbalance in the sound. If you hear any issues, it’s time to fine-tune the tonearm.

Start by adjusting the VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) of the tonearm. This is done by adjusting the height of the tonearm at its pivot point. A good starting point is to have the tonearm parallel to the record surface. However, this may not be ideal for all cartridges and records. Adjusting the VTA can help improve the soundstage and imaging of your music.

Next, adjust the azimuth of your cartridge. This means adjusting the angle of your cartridge so that it is perpendicular to the record surface. This will ensure that both channels are playing at equal volume levels.

Finally, adjust the lateral tracking angle of your tonearm. This means adjusting the angle at which your stylus sits in the groove of your record. This can help improve channel separation and reduce distortion.

Remember to make small adjustments and listen carefully after each one to determine if it has improved or worsened the sound quality. With a little patience and attention to detail, you can fine-tune your tonearm for optimal sound quality on your turntable.

Testing And Listening To The Results

After you’ve adjusted your turntable’s tonearm, it’s time to test and listen to the results. One of the best ways to do this is by playing a record you’re familiar with and listening for any changes in sound quality.

If you notice any distortion or skipping, it could be a sign that the tracking force is too low. In this case, you’ll need to adjust the counterweight to increase the tracking force. On the other hand, if you notice excessive wear on your records or stylus, it could be a sign that the tracking force is too high. In this case, you’ll need to decrease the tracking force by adjusting the counterweight.

It’s also a good idea to use a stylus tracking force scale to verify that your tracking force is accurate. These scales can be purchased for about $15 and can reveal any imperfections in your setup.

Overall, taking the time to properly adjust your turntable’s tonearm will greatly improve the sound quality of your vinyl playback. With a little patience and attention to detail, you can enjoy optimal and balanced vinyl playback for years to come.