How To Improve Turntable Sound Quality: A Comprehensive Guide

Are you tired of crackly, muddy sound coming from your turntable? Do you want to experience the full potential of your vinyl collection?

Look no further!

In this article, we’ll explore some simple yet effective ways to improve the sound quality of your turntable. From adjusting tracking force to upgrading your cartridge, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get the most out of your vinyl listening experience.

So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of turntable sound quality.

How To Improve Turntable Sound Quality

1. Adjust Tracking Force

Tracking force is the amount of pressure the phono cartridge puts on your records. Too little force will cause the cartridge to bounce and skip, while too much will wear out your stylus and records too quickly. Different cartridges are designed to apply different amounts of tracking force, and you want to make sure your turntable’s tonearm is set up to apply the correct amount for the cartridge you’re using.

To adjust tracking force, use a dedicated scale to measure the force accurately. This will ensure that you’re applying the correct amount of pressure to your records, which will result in better sound quality.

2. Deep Clean Your Records

If your playback sounds crackly or muddy even after using a cleaning brush, your records may need a deeper cleaning. A good record cleaning machine that uses specially-formulated cleaning fluid and vacuum suction to really clear out the grooves can make records sound like new, and add years of listening life by keeping them in good shape.

3. Use Isolating Feet

External vibrations can degrade the cartridge’s ability to track the groove accurately, resulting in a degradation of performance or even awful feedback that spoils everything. To prevent this, use “rubber-like” isolating feet that your turntable will sit on and they will absorb most vibrations before they reach the record.

4. Upgrade Your Cartridge

Cartridge improvements can have a huge impact on sound quality. Simply changing the cartridge and putting a better model on the arm can lead to a major improvement in sound quality. Even if you can’t afford a higher quality cartridge, consider upgrading only the stylus when it needs replacing.

There are two types of cartridges: moving coil or moving magnetic. Moving magnetic cartridges have a small magnet held by the cantilever, inside the cartridge housing in between two copper coils. The magnet vibrates as the stylus tracks your record, and this produces a current. Moving coil designs work differently – the coils sit on a cantilever and they move within a fixed magnet, which produces a current.

Generally, moving magnetic cartridges are more affordable and easier to procure than moving coil cartridges. However, moving coil cartridges are more expensive but produce better sound quality due to their delicate signal strength.

Adjusting Tracking Force

Adjusting tracking force is a crucial step in improving turntable sound quality. The tracking force is the amount of pressure that the cartridge applies to the record, and it needs to be set correctly to avoid damaging both the cartridge and the record. Each cartridge has a recommended tracking force weight, which can be found in the manual or online.

To adjust the tracking force, start by resetting the tonearm so that it can balance in mid-air on its own. If your turntable has an anti-skate setting, set it to ‘0’. Adjust the counterweight on the tonearm so that it balances in mid-air. This means that the cartridge and stylus are floating without touching the platter/record but also not falling upwards. The counterweight is now set to zero.

Next, find the correct tracking force for your cartridge by checking the manual or looking it up online. Set the counterweight to the appropriate setting for your cartridge by adjusting the numbered dial on your counterweight. This will make the cartridge move downwards towards the turntable platter or record, and sit at the correct weight when you play music.

If your tonearm also features an anti-skate control, adjust this to match the counterweight setting. This helps counteract the tendency of the tonearm to move inwards as the stylus gets closer to the center of the record, keeping the music sounding its best.

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.

Upgrading Your Cartridge

One of the most impactful upgrades you can make to your turntable is upgrading your cartridge. The cartridge is the heart of your turntable and is responsible for converting vibrational energy picked up from the stylus into the warm, analog sound you love. Upgrading your cartridge can improve overall sound quality, change the sound characteristics, and provide better tracking.

When upgrading your cartridge, it’s important to consider the different types available – moving coil or moving magnetic. Moving magnetic cartridges have a small magnet held by the cantilever, inside the cartridge housing in between two copper coils. The magnet vibrates as the stylus tracks your record, and this produces a current. Moving coil designs work differently – the coils sit on a cantilever and they move within a fixed magnet, which produces a current.

Moving magnetic cartridges are more affordable and easier to procure than moving coil cartridges. However, moving coil cartridges are more expensive but produce better sound quality due to their delicate signal strength.

Upgrading your cartridge can provide several benefits. Firstly, it can improve overall sound quality by getting you closer to the original sound intended by the artist. This can result in clearer, lively sound, improved dynamic performance, more precise sound stage, lower distortion, and better controlled channel separation.

Secondly, upgrading your cartridge can change the sound characteristics of your turntable. Depending on personal preference, you may want to consider upgrading to a cartridge with warm or analytical/bright sound characteristics. A cartridge with warm character is a preferred choice amongst vinyl collectors due to its naturalistic and mid frequency output. Whereas analytical/bright emphasizes higher frequencies.

Lastly, upgrading your cartridge can provide better tracking. You want a cartridge that isn’t susceptible to skipping, dancing, jumping, and so forth. Higher-priced cartridges are better trackers than entry-level ones. However, it’s important to check your manufacturer’s suggested upgrade path for your turntable model to ensure compatibility.

Cleaning Your Records

One of the most important steps to improving turntable sound quality is to keep your records clean. Dust and dirt can accumulate on the surface of your records, leading to pops, clicks, and other surface noise that can degrade the listening experience. Here are some tips for cleaning your records:

1. Use an Anti-Static Record Brush

Before playing your records, it’s important to remove any dust or debris that may have accumulated on the surface. An anti-static record brush is a great tool for this task. Simply run the brush along the grooves of the record to remove any loose particles that may be present.

2. Deep Clean Your Records

If your records are particularly dirty or have not been cleaned in a while, you may need to give them a deeper cleaning. There are many different methods for cleaning records, including using a record cleaning machine or a manual cleaning solution. Whatever method you choose, be sure to use a cleaning solution that is specifically designed for vinyl records and follow the instructions carefully.

3. Store Your Records Properly

In addition to keeping your records clean, it’s important to store them properly to prevent damage and maintain sound quality over time. Always store your records upright like books on a shelf and avoid stacking them flat on top of each other, as this can cause warping. Keep your record collection in a climate-controlled indoor space and avoid exposing them to very high or low temperature or humidity levels.

By following these tips for cleaning your records, you can help ensure that your turntable produces the best possible sound quality and that your records last for years to come.

Proper Turntable Placement

Proper turntable placement is crucial for achieving optimal sound quality. Here are some tips to ensure your turntable is placed correctly:

1. Speaker Isolation

Place your turntable and speakers on separate surfaces to prevent speaker vibrations from reaching the turntable. This will help prevent any unwanted noise or distortion in your sound.

2. Level Surface

Make sure the surface under your turntable is level to prevent tracking issues and excess tonearm friction. Uneven surfaces can cause unwanted vibrations, which can degrade the sound quality.

3. Avoid Interference

Isolate your turntable from sources of electrical noise such as amps, high power electronics, and anything with a wireless transmitter. This will help prevent any interference that can negatively affect the sound quality.

4. Climate-Controlled Indoor Space

Keep your turntable in a climate-controlled indoor space to prevent environmental factors from affecting the sound quality. Extreme temperatures and humidity can cause warping or damage to your records, which can lead to poor sound quality.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your turntable is properly placed and optimized for the best possible sound quality.

Using High-Quality Cables

Using high-quality cables is another way to improve the sound quality of your turntable. While it may be tempting to go for cheaper cables, investing in higher quality cables can make a significant difference in the overall sound quality of your system.

Higher quality cables are made with better materials, resulting in better sound and greater longevity of the cable itself. However, it’s important to note that upgrading your cables may not be as noticeable as upgrading your speakers or turntable. Higher quality cables require higher quality devices all the way through, meaning your amplifier, turntable, and speakers should all be upgraded alongside your cables if you want to hear a significant improvement.

At the upper end of the price range, you may need a trained ear to notice the differences in sound. However, even at lower price points, investing in quality cables is vital in creating a realistic and all-encompassing sound experience that all music lovers aspire to.

When selecting cables, it’s important to consider the quality of the materials used and the engineering processes used during assembly. Look for dielectric shielding for insulation and noise rejection, precision metal stranding of cable wires for maximum strength and ductility, and oxygen-free copper for high dynamic range and pristine signal transfer.

Speaker and interconnect cables perform a very important role in your turntable setup, so it’s worth looking for quality from a name you trust. However, it’s also important to avoid overpaying for what could amount to minimal or nonexistent improvements in sound quality. Remember that while upgrading your cables can make a difference, it’s just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to achieving optimal turntable sound quality.

Investing In A Phono Preamp

Investing in a phono preamp is a crucial step in improving the sound quality of your turntable. A good preamp offers adjustable settings that help you get the most out of a top-notch cartridge. While most turntables ship with a good phono cartridge pre-installed, there are more advanced models available, and if you’re considering making an upgrade, a more sophisticated phono preamp makes that possible.

Not all phono preamps are created equal, so it’s important to choose the correct one for your turntable. The type of cartridge used by your turntable is an important factor in determining which preamp to purchase. Moving magnet (MM) cartridges create an electrical signal from the analog inputs of the stylus by a moving magnet set within two copper coils. Moving coil (MC) cartridges, on the other hand, move coils around a magnet to produce an electrical signal, rather than moving the magnet itself. Many consider this to offer better tonality and less distortion but are relatively more expensive.

When choosing a preamp, check whether it supports moving coil (MC) or moving magnet (MM) cartridges or both. Your turntable specification would mention the type of cartridge used by it. Once you have the type of cartridge, you could purchase the appropriate preamp.

A phono preamp with vacuum tubes is an excellent upgrade for an audiophile-grade turntable setup. Some audiophiles prefer the warm, inviting sound of a preamp that uses old-school vacuum tube technology, plus they look pretty cool. And some preamps offer a built-in subsonic filter that eliminates distracting low-frequency “rumble.”

Investing in a good quality phono preamp can make a significant difference in the sound quality of your turntable setup. It is important to choose one that is compatible with your cartridge and has adjustable settings to get the most out of your setup. With the right phono preamp, you can enjoy your vinyl collection like never before.