Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to set up your turntable but feeling overwhelmed by all the technical jargon?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of hooking up your turntable step-by-step, from finding the perfect spot to balancing the tonearm and choosing the correct speed.
Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or a newbie to the world of vinyl, our easy-to-follow instructions will have you enjoying your favorite records in no time.
So grab your turntable and let’s get started!
How To Hook Up A Turntable
Step 1: Find a Good Spot
Before you start setting up your turntable, it’s important to find a sturdy surface to place it on. Avoid wobbly or tilted tables, as they can produce unwanted vibrations that will affect the sound quality of your music. If your furniture isn’t as solid as you’d like, consider investing in cheap isolation feet that can be stuck to the bottom of your turntable to dampen any unwanted vibration. You may also want to consider using a platter mat for extra noise dampening.
Step 2: Balance the Tonearm
Balancing the tonearm is the trickiest and most important part of setting up your turntable. It’s essential to read the instructions carefully, as all turntables will vary slightly.
Start by attaching the belt (if there is one), placing the platter on the spindle, and attaching the headshell – the bit that holds the cartridge and stylus. Install the counterweight on the back end of the tonearm, usually by screwing it on. Set the anti-skate dial (the small numbered wheel next to the tonearm) to 0. This provides a small force to stop the tonearm naturally skating towards the center of the record.
While gently supporting the headshell, move the tonearm into position above the platter. Adjust the counterweight at the back of the tonearm, usually by rotating it, until the tonearm can float on its own, parallel to the surface of the platter. At this point, it has a tracking weight of 0g.
Tracking weight tells you how much force is being put on the stylus. Next, set the arm tracking weight dial to 0. You’ll probably find this on the counterweight. Now rotate the whole counterweight to the correct tracking force – this will be given in grams in the manufacturer instructions and varies according to the type of cartridge being used. Lastly, lock the tonearm back into its rest and adjust the anti-skate dial to match the tracking weight.
Step 3: Hook Up Your Cables
Most turntables come with RCA or phono cables – with red and white plugs on one end – for hooking up to stereo speakers. If you’re using a smaller all-in-one speaker, you might need to invest in a phono-to-3.5mm jack cable.
Refer to your instructions for a diagram that shows you where everything goes. There’s usually a diagram that tells you what goes where, which can be especially useful if you’re hooking up a separate pre-amp for the first time. Don’t forget to plug in your power cable.
Step 4: Choose Your Speed
Make sure you select the correct speed for your record – too slow and it’ll sound like it’s running out of battery; too fast and it’ll sound like Alvin and The Chipmunks! For most 12-inch records, you’ll need 33 RPM, while most 7-inch discs play at 45 RPM. Some older 10-inch records play at 78 RPM (usually referred to as 78s). Only three-speed turntables can play these.
Step 5: Start Playing Your Records
Now that everything is set up correctly, switch on your turntable and place your record onto the platter. Select the correct speed setting – there should be a button on your turntable that allows you to do this. If you’re playing a 12-inch record, select 33 RPM (revolutions per minute). For seven-inch vinyl, select 45 RPM.
Press play and raise your tonearm’s cueing lever – this should lift up your tonearm. Align your tonearm with your record and lower your cueing lever until your tonearm gently drops and your stylus settles into the microgrooves of your vinyl.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully hooked up your turntable and are now ready to enjoy all of your favorite records in their full analog glory.
Choosing The Right Location
Choosing the right location for your turntable is crucial to ensure the best possible sound quality. Electrical noise can creep into playback, presenting itself as excess noise during playback – typically a buzz, hum, or static sound. Analog sources like turntables will never be dead quiet like digital audio sources, so it’s important to isolate your turntable from common sources of electrical noise.
Position your turntable at least a few feet away from electronic devices, especially high power electronics and devices with wireless transmitters. TVs, routers, cordless phones, and even light dimmers are common culprits. It’s also important to make sure your RCA cables aren’t running across or near power cables or adapters.
The transformers found in amps and powered speakers also emit noise, so it’s best to keep your turntable away from your powered speakers. Most stereo receivers have the transformer on the left side, so putting the turntable on the right side of the receiver is recommended. It’s strongly recommended not to place your turntable on top of your receiver as this can cause buzz issues and may also prevent your receiver from getting proper air flow.
Connecting The Turntable To Your Amplifier
Now that you have your turntable set up, it’s time to connect it to your amplifier. The amplifier is an essential component that will boost the signal from your turntable and provide enough power to drive your speakers. There are a few different ways you can connect your turntable to your amplifier, depending on the type of amplifier you have.
If you have a separate preamp, you’ll need to connect the turntable’s RCA cables to the preamp’s input jacks. Then, connect the preamp’s output jacks to the amplifier’s input jacks using RCA cables. Make sure to match the colors of the cables to the corresponding jacks on both the preamp and amplifier.
If your turntable has a built-in preamp, you can connect it directly to your amplifier using RCA cables. Simply plug one end of the RCA cables into the turntable’s output jacks and the other end into the amplifier’s input jacks. Again, make sure to match the colors of the cables to the corresponding jacks on both devices.
Some amplifiers also have a dedicated phono input, which is designed specifically for turntables. If your amplifier has a phono input, you can connect your turntable directly to it using RCA cables. Simply plug one end of the RCA cables into the turntable’s output jacks and the other end into the phono input on your amplifier.
Once your turntable is connected to your amplifier, you’ll need to connect your speakers as well. Most amplifiers have speaker output jacks that are labeled “left” and “right.” Connect your speakers to these jacks using speaker wire. Make sure to match the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals on both the amplifier and speakers.
Finally, plug both your turntable and amplifier into power outlets and turn them on. You should now be able to play records through your speakers by selecting the appropriate input on your amplifier. Enjoy!
Balancing The Tonearm
Balancing the tonearm is a crucial step in setting up your turntable, as it ensures that the stylus is applying the correct amount of pressure to the grooves of your record. This will ultimately affect the sound quality of your music, so it’s important to get it right.
Start by making sure the counterweight is properly installed on the end of the tonearm, with the numbers facing the front of the turntable. Ensure that the anti-skate weight is removed at this point.
Next, move the tonearm off its rest and adjust the counterweight so that the tonearm balances horizontally. You can do this by gently holding 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.
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 the weight in grams, and gently place the stylus and entire cartridge onto a stylus force gauge (which will clamp to your turntable platter) to measure. The tracking force depends on the cartridge in use – if you are unaware of it, you can find this in your cartridge’s specifications. It will usually be between 1 and 2 grams.
Finally, adjust the anti-skating weight to correspond with your tracking force. This provides a small force to stop the tonearm naturally skating towards the center of the record.
Using a turntable does require some setup knowledge, but once you have mastered balancing your tonearm, you’ll be able to enjoy your vinyl collection with improved sound quality without breaking out your wallet.
Adjusting The Anti-Skate And Tracking Force
After you’ve balanced your tonearm, it’s time to adjust the anti-skate and tracking force. The anti-skate feature applies a small outward force to the tonearm, counteracting the tendency of the arm to move inward (skate) toward the center of the record as the tonearm approaches the end of the record. This feature is essential to maintain good channel balance, minimize distortion, and minimize stylus and record wear.
To set the anti-skate, start by adjusting it to the same value as the vertical tracking force (VTF) used. This will get you in the ballpark. Inner groove distortion in particular can be quite noticeable, so listen carefully to the last few minutes of a record to determine if more or less anti-skate is needed. Listen for distortion, perhaps most notably in the form of sibilance (that annoying hissing sound produced when pronouncing certain letters or combinations of letters such as “s” and “sh”), and 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.
Once you’ve set your anti-skate, it’s time to adjust your tracking force. Most modern systems will include a knob or slider that you can adjust using either an included screwdriver, one of your own screwdrivers, or likely even just with your fingers if it’s manual and not electronic. Match the adjustable anti-skate knob or slider to whatever tracking force number you’re using with your balanced tonearm. For example, if your tracking force is 2 grams, adjust the knob to 2 as well.
Now that you’ve adjusted both your anti-skate and tracking force, you’re ready to start playing your records! Remember to always handle your records with care and keep them clean for optimal sound quality.
Choosing The Correct Speed
Choosing the correct speed for your turntable is crucial for getting the best sound quality out of your vinyl records. Most turntables have two standard speeds: 33 RPM and 45 RPM. For larger 12-inch records, you will need to select 33 RPM, while smaller 7-inch records typically play at 45 RPM. If you have any older 10-inch records, they may play at 78 RPM, which can only be played on a three-speed turntable.
To ensure that your turntable is playing at the correct speed, you can use either a strobe disc or a mobile app. A strobe disc is a cardboard disc with equally spaced markings that you place directly onto the turntable. You can download a strobe disc for free from many sites on the internet. If your turntable is spinning at the correct speed, the markings will appear to stand completely still. If they appear to drift left or right, your adjustment is off.
Alternatively, you can use a mobile app such as ‘RPM Speed & Wow’. All you have to do is open the app and set it on the stationary platter while making sure the counter on the phone screen says zero. Then start spinning! When it’s up to full speed, check the phone display which will show the RPM of your record player.
It’s important to note that some turntables may have a built-in strobe light attached, such as on the Technics SL1200. This strobe is directed at the small dots surrounding the platter. Depending on whether the dots are moving or stationary is how you can determine the speed of the platter, just like on the strobe discs previously discussed.
By selecting the correct speed for your record and ensuring that your turntable is spinning at that speed, you’ll be able to enjoy your vinyl records with optimal sound quality and accuracy.
Testing And Fine-Tuning The Sound Quality
Now that your turntable is set up, it’s time to test and fine-tune the sound quality. Even slight issues with speed accuracy – when the platter spins too quickly or too slowly – can be audible. It’s essential to ensure that your turntable is highly accurate to get the best sound quality possible.
There are many factors that can affect the speed, from mechanical issues to a loose belt. To test the accuracy of your turntable’s speed, you can use an app like RPM (iOS), which uses the phone’s built-in gyroscope to measure the speed at both 33 RPM and 45 RPM. This app is simple and reliable and can help you identify any issues with speed accuracy.
Another option is to use a test record that plays tones you can measure with software like Audacity. Some people think this method is more accurate than a phone app since you’re also factoring in the additional drag of the stylus and don’t have the weight of a phone on the platter. However, both methods work equally well.
If these tests show that your platter speed is off, you can fine-tune the motor speed or replace a worn-out belt to make that adjustment. Turntables like the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB have speed controls that you can fiddle with until the speed is correct.
It’s also essential to ensure that everything on your turntable is level, as this will affect the sound quality. Use a small, light spirit level to check if everything is level. Start with the plinth, and if your support is already level – which it should be – there shouldn’t be much to do here. But if for some reason you need to make adjustments, many turntables have adjustable feet to help you get things spot-on.
Next, check that the platter is level. On most decks, the platter position is fixed relative to the plinth and should be parallel to start with, unless something’s gone seriously wrong in manufacture. Suspended designs will allow a degree of adjustment. Usually, levelling can be done in situ, but some decks require a specific jig – that means a trip to the dealer.
Sometimes, a crackling sound from your turntable means that the cables that connect it to the rest of your gear have frayed connections. Well-made RCA cables use high-quality materials to improve signal transfer, especially over slightly longer cable runs. Turntables also need to be well-grounded to eliminate a very annoying low-frequency hum that can creep in. If you’re experiencing this issue, a high-quality grounding cable can help.
By following these steps and testing and fine-tuning your turntable’s sound quality, you’ll be able to enjoy all of your favorite records with optimal sound quality.