Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to get the most out of your turntable?
One important aspect of achieving optimal sound quality is properly aligning your cartridge. But with so many technical terms and tools involved, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
Fear not, because we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll break down the steps and tools needed to align your turntable cartridge like a pro.
So grab your flat head screwdriver and let’s get started.
How To Align A Turntable Cartridge
Step 1: Loosen the screws
Using a flat head screwdriver, loosen the screws on your turntable cartridge. This will allow you to rotate the cartridge and adjust its alignment.
Step 2: Align the cartridge
Rotate the cartridge until the lines are parallel. Once it’s parallel, move the stylus tip to point B. If the cartridge is properly aligned at point B, tighten the screws, re-check to make sure it’s aligned, and you’re done.
Step 3: Check stylus overhang distance
At the very least, the stylus overhang distance specified for a given turntable or tonearm should be met. Specifically, overhang is the distance the stylus tip extends beyond the center spindle when the tonearm is positioned directly over the spindle.
Step 4: Use an overhang gauge
A simple way to set overhang is to use a dedicated overhang gauge that has markings in millimeters (mm). Some gauges are designed to be placed against the spindle, on the side opposite the tonearm pivot, while others are designed to be placed on the spindle (like a record disc).
Step 5: Use a headshell-type gauge if necessary
If your particular tonearm does not swing far enough inward to reach the spindle, a headshell-type gauge is a good alternative. This gauge holds a removable type headshell/cartidge assembly, and the measurement used is taken from the headshell post shoulder (aka flange) to the stylus tip.
Step 6: Invest in alignment tools
The cost of your turntable, and how often you plan on setting your cartridge up will probably determine how much you invest in alignment tools. Starting at ground level, an alignment gauge and digital scale will get the job done.
Step 7: Adjust tracking force
Your cartridge will have a tracking force value, in grams, that is usually somewhere between about 1.4 and 2.2 grams. Use your digital scale to adjust tracking force as needed.
By following these steps and using the proper tools, you can ensure that your turntable cartridge is properly aligned for optimal sound quality. Happy listening!
Understanding Cartridge Alignment
Cartridge alignment is a crucial step in setting up your turntable. Proper alignment ensures that the stylus tracks the record groove accurately, minimizing distortion and maximizing sound quality. There are several factors to consider when aligning your cartridge, including stylus overhang, VTA/SRA, and anti-skate.
Stylus overhang refers to the distance between the center of the tonearm pivot and the tip of the stylus when the tonearm is positioned directly over the spindle. This distance is specified by the manufacturer and should be set as accurately as possible. A dedicated overhang gauge or headshell-type gauge can be used to measure and adjust overhang.
VTA/SRA refers to the vertical tracking angle or stylus rake angle. This angle affects how well the stylus tracks the record groove and can be adjusted by visually aligning the bottom of the cartridge body parallel to the record surface. Small adjustments should be made until optimal sound quality is achieved.
Anti-skate is a mechanism that counteracts the centrifugal force pulling the stylus towards the center of the record groove. Proper anti-skate adjustment prevents premature wear of records, stylus, and channel imbalance.
Using a two-point protractor can help with cartridge alignment by providing a dot for the stylus tip to rest on and a grid with lines running parallel to the sides and front of the cartridge for alignment. It’s important to note that assuming the stylus cantilever is centered under the cartridge and parallel to its sides is necessary when using this type of protractor.
Tools Needed For Cartridge Alignment
To properly align a turntable cartridge, you will need a few tools:
1. Flat head screwdriver – to loosen the screws on the cartridge
2. Overhang gauge – to measure the distance between the stylus tip and center spindle
3. Headshell-type gauge – if your tonearm does not swing far enough inward to reach the spindle
4. Alignment tools – such as an alignment gauge and digital scale, to ensure precise alignment
5. Digital scale – to adjust tracking force as needed
Investing in these tools will make the process of cartridge alignment much easier and more accurate, leading to better sound quality from your turntable.
Setting Up Your Turntable For Alignment
Before you begin aligning your turntable cartridge, it’s important to make sure your turntable is set up correctly. First, make sure your turntable is level. Uneven surfaces can cause issues with the alignment of your cartridge, so it’s important to ensure your turntable is on a flat and stable surface.
Next, make sure your tonearm is properly balanced. This involves adjusting the counterweight on your tonearm so that it is set to the correct tracking force for your cartridge. This tracking force value will usually be between about 1.4 and 2.2 grams, but consult your cartridge’s manual for the specific value.
Once your turntable is level and your tonearm is balanced, you can begin the alignment process. Start by loosening the screws on your cartridge with a flat head screwdriver. This will allow you to rotate the cartridge and adjust its alignment.
Next, use an overhang gauge to check the distance between the stylus tip and the center spindle. Make sure this distance matches the manufacturer’s specified length for your turntable or tonearm.
If necessary, invest in alignment tools such as an alignment gauge and digital scale. These tools will help you achieve the most accurate alignment possible.
Adjust tracking force as needed using your digital scale, then tighten the screws on your cartridge once you have achieved proper alignment.
By taking these steps and using the right tools, you can ensure that your turntable cartridge is properly aligned for optimal sound quality.
Aligning Your Cartridge Using Baerwald Method
The Baerwald alignment method is one of the most commonly used methods for aligning turntable cartridges. This method is a derivative of the Löfgren alignment method, which was developed by Löfgren in 1938 to minimize average distortion over the playing surface of the record. The Baerwald method was later disseminated in the English-speaking world by Baerwald himself in 1941.
To align your cartridge using the Baerwald method, you should first fix the cartridge in the tonearm headshell with the fixing bolts loosened. It is most convenient to place the cartridge so that its fixing bolts are in the middle of the travel permitted by the slots in the headshell.
Next, position the stylus so that it sits at the target of the inner Löfgren/Baerwald grid-box. By twisting the cartridge, it should be aligned so that the sides (and front) of the cartridge best align with the lines of the grid-box. Here you are adjusting the offset angle of the stylus (β) relative to the tonearm axis.
The tonearm should then be positioned so that the stylus sits in the target of the outer grid-box. By shuffling the cartridge forward or backwards (trying not to change its angle) alignment should be adjusted to give the best parallelism with the tangential lines in the outer box. Here you are adjusting the effective length of the tonearm (L) or its “overhang” (D).
By iterative adjustment, alternating between the inner and outer grid-boxes, and using gradually smaller and smaller refinements of angle and overhang, it should be possible to accomplish good parallelism between the cartridge body and the grid-box lines at both positions. If it isn’t, it may be that the tonearm has been incorrectly installed.
Once you have found the best alignment, tighten the cartridge fixing bolts carefully, taking care not to move the cartridge relative to the headshell in the process. The alignment gauge will need to be rotated back and forth as you make iterative adjustments. DO NOT rotate your turntable with your stylus resting on a protractor (especially anticlockwise).
An accurately aligned cartridge will keep your needle in the groove, minimize tracking errors, and achieve optimal sound quality from your turntable. By using these steps and taking your time, you will be able to properly align your turntable cartridge using Baerwald method for optimal sound quality.
Aligning Your Cartridge Using Stevenson Method
If you’re looking for a more precise method for aligning your turntable cartridge, you may want to consider using the Stevenson method. This method is a bit more involved than the previous steps, but it can result in even better sound quality.
Step 1: Determine the Stevenson alignment point
The Stevenson alignment point is typically 66.04 mm from the center spindle of your turntable. You can find this measurement in your turntable’s manual or by doing a quick online search.
Step 2: Use an alignment protractor
To use the Stevenson method, you’ll need an alignment protractor that is designed for this method. The Stevenson protractor focuses on aligning the inner grooves of your records, which can be particularly important if you’re experiencing issues with inner groove distortion.
Step 3: Set your cartridge position
Place your cartridge at the Stevenson alignment point on the protractor. Make sure it’s straight in the inner grid and then move it to the outer grid. If it’s angled outward, it means that the radius is too short, so you’ll need to move your cartridge forward. If it’s angled inward, you’ll need to move the cartridge back in the headshell.
Step 4: Check stylus azimuth
Once you’ve adjusted the cartridge position, you’ll need to check the stylus azimuth in the vertical plane. This ensures that your stylus is perpendicular to the record surface. You can use a variety of methods to adjust azimuth, such as using a mirror or an alignment gauge.
Step 5: Dial in stylus zenith
Finally, you’ll need to dial in the stylus zenith in the horizontal plane. This affects the phase of the channels and ensures that they are in phase with each other. You can use an overhang alignment gauge or a test record and oscilloscope to adjust zenith.
By following these steps and using an alignment protractor designed for the Stevenson method, you can achieve even better sound quality from your turntable setup.
Fine-Tuning Your Cartridge Alignment
Now that you have aligned your cartridge, it’s time to fine-tune the alignment to achieve the best possible sound quality. Start by adjusting the vertical tracking angle (VTA) to ensure that the stylus is perpendicular to the record surface. This can be done by adjusting the height of the tonearm.
To fine-tune the VTA, listen to a well-recorded LP with complex music, such as classical or complex jazz. Start with the VTA set at a neutral position and listen to the music. Then, make small adjustments to the VTA and listen again. Keep making adjustments until you find the position that sounds best.
Next, adjust the anti-skating force to prevent the tonearm from being pulled towards the center of the record. This can be done by adjusting a dial or weight on your turntable. Start with a neutral setting and listen to the same music you used for VTA adjustments. Then, make small adjustments to the anti-skating force and listen again until you find the setting that sounds best.
Finally, adjust the counter-weight balance to ensure that your cartridge is properly balanced on your tonearm. This can be done by adjusting a weight at the back of your tonearm. Start with a neutral setting and listen to the same music you used for VTA and anti-skating adjustments. Then, make small adjustments to the counter-weight balance and listen again until you find the setting that sounds best.
By fine-tuning these elements of your cartridge alignment, you can achieve optimal sound quality and enjoy your vinyl collection to its fullest potential. Remember to make small adjustments and listen carefully to each change you make. Happy listening!