How To Adjust Tonearm Weight: A Step-By-Step Guide

Are you tired of your vinyl records sounding less than perfect?

One of the most important factors in achieving optimal sound quality is properly adjusting the weight of your turntable’s tonearm. But don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it may seem.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the process step-by-step, so you can get the most out of your vinyl collection. From balancing the tonearm to setting the correct tracking force, we’ve got you covered.

So, let’s dive in and learn how to adjust tonearm weight like a pro!

How To Adjust Tonearm Weight

The first step in adjusting the weight of your tonearm is to put the counterweight on the end of the tonearm wand. Make sure that the anti-skating weight is removed at this point. Move the tonearm off its rest and adjust the counterweight so that the tonearm balances horizontally.

Once you have achieved a horizontal balance, turn the counterweight scale to indicate zero. This will allow you to set the correct tracking force for your phono cartridge. The tracking force depends on the cartridge in use, and you can find this information in your cartridge’s specifications. It will usually be between 1 and 2 grams.

To set the tracking force, turn the counterweight (and the scale) to the correct number of grams for your cartridge. This will ensure that the stylus applies the correct amount of pressure to the record, allowing for optimal sound quality.

Next, adjust the anti-skating weight to correspond with the tracking force. This will help counteract any tendency of the tonearm to move inwards as the stylus gets closer to the center of the record, keeping your music sounding its best.

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.

Why Adjusting Tonearm Weight Is Important

Adjusting the weight of your tonearm is important because it directly affects the quality of sound produced by your turntable. If the weight is too light, the stylus will not make proper contact with the grooves in the record, resulting in a weak and distorted sound. On the other hand, if the weight is too heavy, it can cause excessive wear on both the stylus and the record, leading to permanent damage.

By adjusting the tracking force to the recommended weight for your specific cartridge, you can ensure that your records are being played at their optimal level. This will result in a clearer and more detailed sound, with better bass response and overall balance.

In addition, adjusting the anti-skating weight will help prevent any unwanted movement of the tonearm towards the center of the record. This will help maintain consistent tracking force throughout the entire playing surface, resulting in a more accurate and enjoyable listening experience.

Balancing The Tonearm

Now that we have covered the basics of what a tonearm does and why the weight of it matters, let’s dive into the balancing process itself.

First, power off your turntable and make sure the counterweight is properly installed on the end of the tonearm so that the numbers face the front of the turntable. Also, ensure that the anti-skate is set to 0.

Use the cueing lever to lock the tonearm in the rest position (on the armrest). While it’s resting, gently remove the protective cover from the stylus. Be careful when doing this, as you don’t want to damage the stylus.

Gently hold the headshell to keep the tonearm stable while releasing the tonearm locking clamp. Now, the tonearm will swing freely since it’s unbalanced. You still want to hold the headshell so it doesn’t crash into the turntable platter.

Keep the cueing lever in the down position while you gently hold the headshell above the rest position. Carefully turn the counterweight on the rear of the tonearm until the tonearm is horizontally balanced. This means that the headshell won’t be moving up or down but will naturally float above the rest position.

Once you have found this balance spot, set the counterweight to zero. This will allow you to set the correct tracking force for your phono cartridge.

To set your tracking force, turn your entire counterweight counterclockwise to adjust the weight in grams, and gently place the stylus and entire cartridge onto a stylus force gauge. This gauge will clamp to your turntable platter and allow you to measure your tracking force accurately.

Once you have set your tracking force, you can now turn on your anti-skate setting. Match it in grams to your tracking weight so that if your tracking weight is 1.5 grams, you’ll want anti-skate on 1.5 grams.

By following these steps and taking care when handling your turntable components, you can ensure that your tonearm is correctly balanced and set up for optimal sound quality.

Setting The Tracking Force

Setting the tracking force is a crucial step in adjusting the weight of your tonearm. This step ensures that the stylus applies the correct amount of pressure to the record, allowing for optimal sound quality.

To begin, refer to your specific cartridge stylus’ instructions for the recommended weight. Every cartridge stylus model is different, hence the weight needed will be different. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the accurate weight range suitable for your cartridge stylus.

The first thing to do is focus on the tonearm counterweight. Notice the values on the stylus tracking force control and the marker line on the tonearm next to it. Make sure the tonearm is clipped to its rest.

Use your left hand to hold the back of the counterweight steady. For this step, the counterweight should not move from its balanced position. Keeping the back of the counterweight steady is important to maintain the tonearm balanced.

While holding the back of the counterweight steady with your left hand, rotate the front ring and set the stylus tracking force control to “0” with your right hand. Remember, only the front part of the counterweight should rotate. Now, the tonearm is balanced and shows a “zero” tracking force. By rotating only the front ring, we are keeping the tonearm balance and are simply adjusting the setting of the stylus tracking force control to zero. No weight is added or subtracted in this step.

To apply tracking force, hold the counterweight from the back and turn it counterclockwise to the desired value. The stylus tracking force control will indicate the weight applied to the vinyl groove. Remember, setting the tracking force too high will wear out your vinyl faster. If the cartridge stylus manufacturer recommends a tracking force range from 2 grams to 5 grams, try setting it around 2.5 or 3 grams and do a listening test with a record you know well.

A thinner overall sound may indicate there is not enough weight, increasing the stylus tracking force will improve sound quality. Louder lower frequencies and distorted sound may indicate there is too much weight, decreasing the stylus tracking force will improve sound quality.

Once you have set your tracking force correctly, your tonearm will be perfectly balanced and ready for use. Remember to always consult your cartridge’s instructions for accurate weight ranges and recommended tracking forces. With these steps, you can ensure optimal sound quality from your turntable without breaking out your wallet.

Using A Tracking Force Gauge

If you want to be absolutely precise in setting the tracking force for your phono cartridge, you can use a tracking force gauge. This device measures the weight of the stylus on the record and allows you to adjust it to the exact specification recommended by the cartridge manufacturer.

To use a tracking force gauge, first, reset the tonearm to balance in mid-air as described above. Then, place the gauge on the platter and lower the stylus onto it. The gauge will display the weight of the stylus in grams.

Compare this weight to the recommended tracking force for your cartridge and adjust the counterweight accordingly. If the weight is too high, turn the counterweight counterclockwise to reduce it. If it’s too low, turn it clockwise to increase it.

Once you’ve made your adjustments, recheck the tracking force with the gauge to ensure that it’s accurate. Using a tracking force gauge may seem like an extra step, but it can make a significant difference in sound quality and prolong the life of your records.

Fine-Tuning The Weight

After setting the initial weight of your tonearm, it’s important to fine-tune the weight to ensure optimal sound quality. To do this, start by playing a well-recorded LP with complex music, such as classical or complex jazz. Avoid starting with piano, female voice, or acoustic guitar as these won’t allow you to hear the full range of frequencies.

Listen to the same music after each adjustment so you can hear the difference. Use a magnifier and twist the cartridge to align the cantilever with the alignment marks. This will help make sure that the stylus is applying the correct amount of pressure to the record.

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.

Remember that these settings are just a starting point, and the VTA and tracking force setting must be adjusted by ear. There is no other way to get the best out of your system. It’s also important to clean your records before playing them. 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.

By following these steps and fine-tuning the weight of your tonearm, you can ensure optimal sound quality and get the most out of your turntable setup.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

If you encounter issues with your tonearm after adjusting the weight, there are a few common problems that you may need to troubleshoot.

If your tonearm drops too rapidly, it could be due to a faulty bridge. Tighten the bridge screw as needed and see if this raises enough of a barrier to the tonearm so it doesn’t drop too quickly. You may also need to lubricate the cueing lever mechanism, as the fluid on the lever may dry over time, requiring you to add some extra liquid to the tool in order for it not to descend too rapidly.

On the other hand, if your tonearm doesn’t seem to properly balance, the main issue encountered is often related to the weight distribution. The tonearm counterweight may be pushed to its limits either too far back or too close to the tonearm assembly. In this case, the culprit could be the cartridge stylus’ weight, which may be too light. To correct this issue, headshell manufacturers include a shell weight; a small piece of metal that either sits between the headshell and the cartridge or is attachable on top of the headshell. If the issue persists, the last option is to attach an auxiliary weight to the rear of the headshell: a small cylindrical shaped metal piece.

If you bought your turntable brand new and a headshell with a cartridge stylus is supplied with the product, then you shouldn’t have any issues as all the necessary parts come packed in the box. However if you purchased a used turntable or are planning to do so, make sure you have all the pieces, or be prepared to hunt them down!