How To Calibrate A Turntable – A Step-By-Step Guide

If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you know that the quality of your turntable can make or break your listening experience.

But did you know that proper calibration is just as important as having a high-quality device?

From levelling your turntable to calibrating the tonearm and anti-skating, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your turntable is performing at its best.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of calibrating your turntable, step by step. Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or just starting out with vinyl, this guide will help you get the most out of your turntable and your record collection.

So grab your favourite LP and let’s get started!

How To Calibrate A Turntable

Step 1: Level Your Turntable

The first step in calibrating your turntable is to ensure that it is level. This may seem like a simple task, but it is essential for the proper operation of your device and the preservation of your records.

Using a level, check the positioning of the turntable on the axis of the width and depth. Adjust the height of the legs of the furniture or add wood slats under it until the turntable is level. On some models, it is possible to adjust the feet to level the device.

Step 2: Calibrate The Tonearm

Calibrating the tonearm is an important step in ensuring that your turntable is performing at its best. This should be done before the first use, after moving the device, or after replacing the cartridge.

To calibrate the tonearm, you will need to displace a counterweight behind the pivot according to the specifications by the manufacturer of the phono cartridge. This adjustment leads to the application of the ideal tracking force of the stylus on the record.

Unlock and remove the tonearm from the armrest. Move the counterweight so that the arm gets horizontally balanced. Align the graduated dial near the counterweight at “zero” position without touching it. Position and lock the tonearm on the armrest. Move the graduated dial and counterweight to the mark specified by the phono cartridge manufacturer.

Step 3: Adjust The Anti-Skating

During use, pressure on the stylus can cause drifting, which is called “skating.” Adjusting anti-skating can help prevent this phenomenon.

Depending on your turntable model, anti-skating may involve adjusting a graduated dial that moves a spring, magnet or fixed counterweight or by moving a counterweight suspended by a nylon thread on a lever arm with graduated notches. The adjustment value of anti-skating in grams is similar to that used to adjust tonearm.

Step 4: Correct The Pitch

On some record players equipped with a direct-drive mechanism, it is possible to correct playback speed or “pitch.” By using a stroboscope calibrated at 60 hertz and a disc specially made for this purpose, move pitch control back or forth until bars drawn on disc are aligned under light of stroboscope.

Why Calibration Is Important

Calibration is an essential step in ensuring that your turntable is performing at its best. Proper calibration of key turntable components, namely the tonearm counterweight and anti-skating, has many benefits. It helps to obtain a good balanced sound across all frequency ranges, an accurate groove tracking, and minimal vinyl and stylus wear.

Calibration also ensures that your turntable is level, which is essential for smooth and precise operation and the preservation of your records. The calibration of the tonearm is important because it leads to the application of the ideal tracking force of the stylus on the record. This helps to prevent unnecessary wear and tear on your records and stylus.

Adjusting anti-skating can help prevent “skating,” which is a phenomenon where the inner face of the groove exerts pressure on the stylus, causing drifting. Properly adjusting anti-skating ensures that your turntable tracks properly and produces clear and accurate sound.

Correcting pitch is also important because it ensures that your turntable plays at the correct speed. This is especially important for DJs who need to match the beats of different songs.

Levelling Your Turntable

One of the most important steps in calibrating your turntable is to ensure that it is level. This may sound like a simple task, but it is essential for the proper operation of your device and the preservation of your records.

To level your turntable, start by using a level to check the positioning of the turntable on the axis of width and depth. This will help you determine if the turntable is tilted in any direction. If you find that the turntable is not level, you can adjust the height of the legs of the furniture or add wood slats under it until the turntable is level.

On some models, it is possible to adjust the feet to level the device. If your turntable has adjustable feet, you can loosen them and screw them back in place until they are balanced. If your turntable is still unbalanced after this step, you can easily adjust each of the four pegs till they align with themselves.

It’s important to note that even if you have a high-quality level, there may be some error. To ensure that your turntable is perfectly level, you can follow these steps:

1. Place the level about halfway in on the platter and note the error.

2. Without touching the level, rotate the platter 180 degrees and note the error again.

3. Adjust the table’s feet until the error is the same but opposite at both points.

4. Rotate the platter 90 degrees and repeat steps 1-3.

5. Move the level 90 degrees around the platter and repeat steps 1-3.

Ideally, even if there is some error in your level, you should be able to have that same error on both sides when you rotate the platter. Keep adjusting the feet until any remaining errors are equal but opposite.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your turntable is perfectly level and ready for calibration.

Balancing The Tonearm

Balancing the tonearm is a crucial step in calibrating your turntable. This process ensures that the stylus applies the correct tracking force onto the record, which is essential for optimal sound quality and the longevity of your vinyl collection.

To begin, power off your turntable and make sure that the counterweight is properly installed on the end of the tonearm with its numbers facing the front of the turntable. Also, ensure that the anti-skate is set to zero.

Next, use the cueing lever to lock the tonearm in its rest position on the armrest. While it’s resting, gently remove the protective cover from the stylus by sliding it straight forward off the front of the cartridge. Be very careful not to damage the stylus.

Gently hold the headshell to keep the tonearm stable while releasing the tonearm locking clamp. The tonearm will swing freely since it’s unbalanced, so you still want to hold the headshell so that 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’ve found this balance spot, set the counterweight to zero. Now, you’ll want to set the proper tracking force for your phono cartridge. Turn your entire counterweight counterclockwise to adjust its weight in grams and gently place the stylus and entire cartridge onto a stylus force gauge.

The stylus force gauge will clamp to your turntable platter and allow you to measure and set your tracking force accurately. Once you’ve set your tracking force, you can now turn on the anti-skate setting and match it in grams to your tracking weight.

Balancing your tonearm may seem daunting at first, but with patience and care, it’s a simple process that can significantly improve your listening experience. By ensuring that your turntable is calibrated correctly, you’ll be able to enjoy your vinyl collection for years to come.

Setting The Tracking Force

Setting the tracking force for your turntable is an important step in ensuring that your vinyl records are played at their best. The tracking force is the amount of pressure that the stylus applies to the record, and it is essential to get this right to avoid damage to your records and to ensure optimal sound quality.

The first step in setting the tracking force is to refer to the instructions for your specific cartridge stylus to determine the recommended weight. This weight will be different for every cartridge stylus model, so it is important to get this information before proceeding.

Once you have this information, focus on the tonearm counterweight. Take note of the values on the stylus tracking force control and the marker line on the tonearm next to it. Make sure that 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 essential to maintain tonearm balance.

While holding the back of the counterweight steady with your left hand, use your right hand to rotate the front ring and set the stylus tracking force control to “0”. Remember, only the front part of the counterweight should rotate. By rotating only the front ring, you are keeping the tonearm balanced and 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. It is important not to set the tracking force too high as this can wear out your vinyl faster. If your 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.

Ideally, use a record that you know very well. A thinner overall sound may indicate that there is not enough weight, increasing the stylus tracking force will improve sound quality. Louder lower frequencies and distorted sound may indicate that there is too much weight, decreasing the stylus tracking force will improve sound quality.

Once you have set your desired tracking force, your tonearm is perfectly balanced, and you can enjoy optimal sound quality from your vinyl records.

Adjusting Anti-Skating

Adjusting anti-skating is an important step to ensure that your turntable is properly calibrated. Anti-skating is necessary to maintain good channel balance, minimize distortion, and reduce stylus and record wear. It counteracts the tendency of the tonearm to move inward towards the center of the record as it approaches the end of the record.

To adjust the anti-skating on your turntable, start by making sure that your tonearm is properly balanced. Most turntables come with an adjustable weight at the end of the arm called a counterweight. Adjust this weight until the tonearm floats freely. Once you have achieved proper balance, adjust the tracking force by rotating the knob on your counterweight until it reaches your cartridge manufacturer’s recommended weight.

Next, place an anti-skating calibration record on your turntable and drop your needle in the center of the record. If your anti-skating setting is correct, your tonearm will remain in the same place on the record as it spins. If it drifts in either direction, your anti-skate dial needs an adjustment.

When adjusting anti-skating, it is important to listen carefully to the last few minutes of a record to determine if more or less anti-skate is needed. Listen for distortion, particularly in sibilance, and determine if it appears to be louder on one channel, either left or right. Adjust the anti-skate value until distortion is minimized.

It is also important to listen carefully at two or three different points across the record. If there are differences in tone, dynamics, or soundstage at these points, some tweaking of the anti-skate adjustment may be needed.

Finally, remember that not all tonearms provide for an anti-skating adjustment. Some turntables may have this feature handled internally and preset at a fixed value by the manufacturer. If you are having trouble adjusting anti-skating or any other aspect of your turntable calibration, contact our Audio Solutions Department for further advice.

Fine-Tuning Your Turntable

Once you have completed the basic calibration steps, you can fine-tune your turntable to ensure optimal performance. Here are some additional steps you can take:

1. Tracking Pressure

The weight on the back of your tonearm controls how much pressure is put on the stylus as it tracks the record’s grooves. This should be set according to what’s suggested in your cartridge’s manual. You can Google around for your cartridge make and model to find the manual, or your turntable manual may suggest a baseline range. Vinyl Engine is a great resource for manuals.

2. Cartridge Installation

If you’re installing a new cartridge, connect the red, blue, green and white wires to the corresponding marked terminals on the back of the cartridge. If they’re too loose and fall off the pins, put a toothpick inside wire clips and tighten it with pliers. Once it’s hooked up, loosely screw the cartridge into the headshell (you’ll be adjusting its alignment later) with your hex screwdriver.

3. Adjusting Playback Speed

Play your record at 33 RPM and watch the edge of your platter with raised bumps. The bumps are spread out in such a way that they will appear to be in line when your platter is spinning at exactly 33 1/3 RPM. As the record spins, slowly move your slider or knob and watch the lights hitting the raised bumps on the edge of the platter. Watch for the lights to create straight lines. The lines should not move left or right; they should be completely still. If you notice the lines moving to the right, your platter is spinning too fast. If the lines are moving to the left, your platter is moving too slow, and the speed needs to increase.

By following these additional steps, you can fine-tune your turntable for optimal performance and better sound quality. Remember to always refer to your manufacturer’s instructions and use caution when making adjustments to your device.