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

Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to improve the sound quality of your turntable?

One of the easiest ways to do so is by properly balancing your tonearm.

This may seem like a daunting task, but with a little bit of knowledge and patience, you can achieve optimal sound performance without breaking the bank.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the step-by-step process of balancing your tonearm, including adjusting the counterweight and anti-skating weight.

So, power off your turntable and let’s get started!

How To Balance Tonearm

The first step in balancing your 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 have achieved this balance, turn the counterweight scale to indicate zero.

Now, it’s time to set the proper tracking force for your phono cartridge. The tracking force depends on the cartridge in use, which can be found in your cartridge’s specifications. It will usually be between 1 and 2 grams.

To adjust the tracking force, turn the counterweight (and the scale) to the correct weight in grams. Gently place the stylus and entire cartridge onto a stylus force gauge to measure.

After setting your tracking force, it’s important to adjust the anti-skating weight to correspond with it. 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.

Why Balancing Your Tonearm Is Important

Balancing your tonearm is crucial for several reasons. First and foremost, it ensures that the stylus is not pressing too hard on your records, which can cause unnecessary wear and tear. This can also lead to distortion and a decrease in sound quality.

Additionally, an unbalanced tonearm can cause the stylus to skip or jump, which can be frustrating and potentially damaging to your records. By properly balancing your tonearm, you can prevent these issues and prolong the life of both your needle and your records.

Furthermore, balancing your tonearm is one of the easiest ways to improve the sound quality of your turntable without spending a lot of money. A properly balanced tonearm will result in clearer, more accurate sound reproduction, allowing you to fully enjoy your vinyl collection.

Tools You’ll Need

To balance your tonearm, you’ll need a few essential tools. First, you’ll need a counterweight scale that’s designed for your specific turntable. This will help you set the correct tracking force for your phono cartridge.

You’ll also need an anti-skating weight, which is usually included with your turntable or tonearm. This weight helps to counteract the inward pull of the groove on the vinyl, which can cause distortion and wear on the stylus.

A stylus force gauge is also helpful to ensure that your tracking force is set accurately. This tool measures the downward force that the stylus exerts on the record, and can help you achieve optimal sound quality.

Finally, you may want to invest in a headshell if you’re changing out your cartridge. This will allow you to easily switch between cartridges without having to readjust your tonearm every time.

How To Adjust The Counterweight

The counterweight is the main component on the tonearm that allows you to adjust the tracking force. It is usually located at the rear end of the tonearm and has numbers detailed along it. To adjust the weight of the tonearm, turn the counterweight to a specific number. These numbers are represented in grams, so if the counterweight is set at 2, the weight of the stylus on the record would be 2 grams.

To adjust the counterweight, first reset the tonearm so 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. By this, we mean so that the cartridge and stylus are floating without touching the platter/record but also not falling upwards. Your counterweight is now set to zero.

Next, find the correct tracking force for your cartridge. Each cartridge will have a recommended tracking force weight, and to find this, check the manual for your cartridge which will tell you. If you don’t have the manual, check the appropriate weight online by searching for your cartridge and the specific weight needed. For example, if you are using the Ortofon 2m Red cartridge, then the force needed for this is about 1.8g.

Now we need to set the counterweight to the correct tracking force to be used on your records. To adjust this, all you have to do is turn or adjust your counterweight 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.

Once you have set your tracking force, it’s important to adjust the anti-skate weight to correspond with it. If your turntable features an anti-skate control, adjust this to match the counterweight setting. So 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 your 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 scales, you can just 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 adjusting your counterweight correctly, you’ll be able to ensure that your tonearm is properly balanced and that your records sound their best.

How To Set The Anti-Skating Weight

The anti-skating weight is an important component of balancing your tonearm. It helps to counteract the inward pull of the tonearm towards the center of the record, which can cause distortion and uneven wear on the stylus.

To set the anti-skating weight, first make sure that the counterweight is properly installed on the end of the tonearm wand and that the tonearm is horizontally balanced.

Next, turn the anti-skating weight to correspond with the tracking force. If your tracking force is 1.5 grams, set your anti-skating weight to 1.5 grams as well.

It’s important to note that some turntables may have a dial for adjusting anti-skating, while others may require a separate weight. Refer to your turntable’s manual for specific instructions on adjusting anti-skating.

Once you have set the anti-skating weight, you can enjoy an optimal and balanced vinyl playback with minimal distortion and wear on your stylus. Remember that if you purchase a new headshell or cartridge, you will need to readjust both the tracking force and anti-skating weight accordingly.

Additional Tips For Optimal Sound Performance

While balancing your tonearm is a crucial step in improving sound quality, there are additional tips that can help you achieve optimal performance.

Firstly, it’s important to choose a tonearm made of materials with low weight, high hardness, and low resonance effect. Materials like carbon graphite, glass fiber, wood, and stainless steel are great options. The more advanced aluminum-magnesium alloy and titanium alloy are also suitable but more expensive.

Another factor to consider is the length of the tonearm. The longer the length, the slower drawing of the curve arc, which results in smaller trajectory errors and higher music playback quality. However, it’s not recommended to use tonearms longer than 12 inches as they can cause heavy and inflexible machine operation.

When it comes to types of tonearms, Tangent Tonearms offer the highest quality error-free sound playback experience but require certain foundational technology to balance them. Crankarm Tonearms are easier to control but can have a few trajectory errors.

Choosing the right bearings is also crucial for optimal sound performance. Precision Ball Bearings and Four-point Needle Bearings are cost-effective options with low friction.

Lastly, it’s important to consider the resonance frequency when choosing a tonearm for your cartridge. The resonance frequency needs to be below 15 Hz and higher than 7Hz. The optimization of resonance frequency is around 10Hz. Choosing a suitable tonearm for your cartridge ensures that the sound quality meets the standard while avoiding damage to your vinyl records.

By following these additional tips and properly balancing your tonearm, you can achieve optimal sound performance and enjoy the full potential of your turntable setup.

Troubleshooting Common Issues.

Even with proper setup, tonearm issues can still arise. Here are some common issues and their potential solutions:

1. Tonearm won’t lower properly: This is a visibly obvious mechanical problem. Check to make sure there isn’t anything blocking the tonearm’s path, such as dust or debris. If that’s not the issue, it’s possible the lift mechanism needs lubrication or adjustment.

2. Skipping record: This is a less apparent issue that affects sound quality. It could be caused by a buildup of static or a problem with the earthing of your deck. Check the earthing around the spindle or on the underside of the platter. If you can’t identify a problem with earthing, consult a sound technician for assistance.

3. Tonearm drops too rapidly: This could be a sign of a faulty bridge. Tighten the bridge screw as needed and lubricate the cueing lever mechanism if necessary.

4. Anti-skating weight isn’t moving freely: This could be due to bumping during transit or other mechanical issues. Adding weight to force the needle to stay in the groove can cause groove damage and wear, so it’s best to avoid this solution. Consider contacting the manufacturer for advice or consulting a professional technician.

Remember, only perform basic troubleshooting procedures on your record player. Let professional technicians handle more complicated issues to avoid causing more serious harm to your player. By following these tips, you’ll be able to troubleshoot common tonearm issues and keep your record player in tip-top shape for years to come.