If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you know that the cartridge is a crucial component of your turntable setup. It’s responsible for converting the grooves on your records into the beautiful music that fills your room.
But what happens when it’s time to replace or upgrade your cartridge? Installing a new one may seem daunting, but fear not! In this article, we’ll guide you through the process step-by-step, so you can get back to enjoying your vinyl collection in no time.
Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or a newbie to the world of turntables, we’ve got you covered. So grab your tools and let’s get started!
How To Install A Cartridge On A Turntable
Before we dive into the installation process, it’s important to note that different turntables and cartridges may have slightly different instructions. However, the basic steps are generally the same.
First, you’ll need to remove the old cartridge from your turntable. To do this, use a flat-head screwdriver to loosen the headshell screws on your current cartridge. Next, gently unplug each of the four tonearm wires. Make sure you hold the wires by the plastic sleeve (do not pull on the wire itself, or else they will break).
Once you’ve removed the old cartridge, it’s time to install the new one. Begin by attaching the tonearm wires. Each colored tonearm wire has a corresponding colored pin on the cartridge (if your cartridge does not have colored pins, please consult the cartridge’s manual). Since the stylus is very fragile, it is best to leave the stylus guard on during installation.
Now, insert the headshell screws into the slots on the headshell and then through the slots on the cartridge housing. Using your finger, hold the headshell nut in place and turn the screw until the threads catch. Repeat with both screws. Make sure the screws are snug, but don’t tighten all the way just yet.
With the cartridge mounted, use a protractor or alignment tool to make sure that your cartridge is properly aligned. Adjust cartridge alignment by adjusting the positioning of the cartridge along the headshell slots. We recommend using a cartridge alignment tool for best results.
Next, it’s time to set your tracking force. Re-attach the counterweight and roughly set the tracking force as per your cartridge manufacturer’s stated optimal tracking force. You can do this by balancing the tonearm so it floats parallel to the platter surface; this means we now have zero tracking force and can adjust the dial (which spins independently to the counterweight) so that it shows the number zero. After this, twist the actual weight so the dial moves with it. In this case we want to achieve 1.8 grams, which we can get by turning the weight to 18.
Use a stylus force gauge to check that your vertical tracking force (VTF) is correct. For MM cartridges, the VTF range is usually 1.5-2 grams, but this varies. The manufacturer’s recommended VTF will be listed on your cartridge’s spec sheet. If you need to adjust VTF, loosen the thumbscrew on the counterweight and adjust the counterweight’s positioning on the back of the arm. Moving the counterweight backwards will decrease VTF and moving it forward will increase VTF. Once the counterweight is positioned correctly, tighten the thumbscrew.
Finally, make sure everything is tightened up and secure before you start playing records again. And that’s it! You’ve successfully installed a new cartridge on your turntable.
Gathering The Necessary Tools And Materials
Before you begin, make sure you have the necessary tools and materials to install your new cartridge. You will need a 2mm Allen key or a small, flat-bladed screwdriver (depending on the type of fixing used), as well as a small, long-nose plier to disconnect the four lead-out wires from the cartridge.
In addition to these basic tools, you may also need a proper tracking weight gauge and cartridge alignment tool. These tools are essential for achieving optimal sound quality and preventing damage to your turntable and cartridge. Fortunately, they don’t have to cost a fortune – a budget of £20 should cover the purchase of both if you stick with something basic.
If your turntable has a factory-installed cartridge attached to a lightweight headshell, you may want to consider buying multiple headshells with different cartridges for easy swapping. This can be especially useful if your record collection contains different types of recordings, such as 78s, mono recordings, and standard recordings.
Removing The Old Cartridge
Before you can install a new cartridge on your turntable, you’ll need to remove the old one. The process may vary slightly depending on your specific turntable and cartridge, but the basic steps are generally the same.
Start by loosening the headshell screws on your current cartridge with a flat-head screwdriver. Be sure to hold onto the screws so you don’t lose them. Next, gently unplug each of the four tonearm wires from the cartridge. It’s important to hold onto the wires by the plastic sleeve and not pull on the wire itself, as this could cause them to break.
Once you’ve removed the old cartridge, it’s a good idea to clean the tonearm contacts with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. This will help ensure a clean connection when you install the new cartridge.
If your old cartridge was particularly stubborn and won’t come out easily, there’s a trick you can try before resorting to more drastic measures. Douse the cartridge with white vinegar and let it sit for an hour or two. The vinegar safely dissolves mineral deposits that may be binding the cartridge in place.
If that doesn’t work, you can try using pliers to grip the cartridge stem and pull it out. However, be very careful not to force it out or damage it in any way, as this could cause damage to your turntable’s tonearm or other components.
Once you’ve successfully removed the old cartridge, you’re ready to install your new one following the steps outlined above.
Preparing The New Cartridge For Installation
Before installing the new cartridge, it’s important to prepare it properly. Start by removing the stylus guard, being careful not to touch the stylus with your fingers. Then, hold the cartridge gently in your hand and give it a few gentle shakes back and forth to ensure that the ink is evenly distributed.
Once you’ve shaken the cartridge, it’s time to install it onto the headshell. Make sure the headshell screws are loose enough to fit the cartridge housing into the slots on the headshell. Then, carefully insert the cartridge into the headshell slots, making sure that the pins on the cartridge line up with their corresponding colored tonearm wires.
Once you’ve inserted the cartridge into the headshell, use your finger to hold the headshell nut in place and tighten both screws until they are snug. Be careful not to overtighten, as this can damage the cartridge or headshell.
After tightening the screws, double-check that everything is securely in place. Give the cartridge a gentle wiggle to make sure it’s firmly attached to the headshell.
Now that your new cartridge is installed and secured, it’s time to align it properly. Use a protractor or alignment tool to ensure that your cartridge is properly aligned with your turntable’s tonearm. Adjust cartridge alignment by adjusting the positioning of the cartridge along the headshell slots.
Finally, set your tracking force and vertical tracking force (VTF) as per your cartridge manufacturer’s recommended settings. Use a stylus force gauge to ensure that your VTF is correct. Once you’ve set everything up correctly, you’re ready to start enjoying your turntable again!
Aligning The New Cartridge
Once you have mounted the new cartridge, it’s important to ensure that it’s properly aligned. This step is crucial in order to achieve optimal sound quality and prevent unnecessary wear and tear on your records.
To align the cartridge, you’ll need a protractor or alignment tool. One popular type of alignment tool is the two-point protractor, which has a dot for the stylus tip to rest on and a grid with lines running parallel to the sides and front of the cartridge to which it should be aligned.
Begin by positioning the cartridge within the headshell so that the stylus tip rests on the protractor’s outer dot (the dot farthest from the center spindle). Align the sides of the cartridge body to the lines on the grid which run parallel to its sides.
Next, carefully move the cartridge forward or backward (adjust overhang) within the headshell so that the sides remain parallel while the front of the cartridge becomes parallel to the lines on the grid that run across the cartridge’s front. Once you’ve aligned the cartridge to the outer dot/grid, move the tonearm to the inner dot/grid and check the alignment there.
If the alignment is off on the inner dot/grid, adjust the overhang by moving the cartridge forward or backward until the sides and front are parallel to their respective lines. Recheck the alignment on the outer dot/grid. You may have to go back and forth a few times to achieve the same alignment at both grids.
Once aligned, tighten the mounting hardware until snug. It’s important not to overtighten, as this can damage your cartridge or headshell.
Installing The New Cartridge
Now that you’ve removed the old cartridge and aligned the new one, it’s time to install the new cartridge onto your turntable.
Start by removing the stylus guard from your new cartridge. Next, gently lower the cartridge onto the headshell, making sure that the pins on the cartridge line up with the corresponding colored tonearm wires. Once you’ve made sure everything is aligned properly, use your finger to hold the headshell nut in place and tighten both screws until they’re snug.
Now that the cartridge is mounted, it’s time to adjust the tracking force. Use your stylus force gauge to check that your vertical tracking force (VTF) is correct. Adjust the counterweight as necessary until you achieve the manufacturer’s recommended VTF, which can usually be found on your cartridge’s spec sheet. Once you’ve achieved the correct VTF, tighten the thumbscrew on the counterweight.
Finally, double-check that everything is tightened securely and that the cartridge is properly aligned. Once you’re confident that everything is in place, you’re ready to start playing records with your newly installed cartridge!
Testing The New Cartridge
Once you’ve installed the new cartridge, it’s important to test it out to make sure it’s working properly. To do this, start by playing a record and listening for any distortion or skipping. If you notice any issues, you may need to adjust the tracking force or alignment.
You can also use a stylus force gauge to check that the vertical tracking force (VTF) is correct. Place the gauge on the platter and gently lower the stylus onto it. The gauge will display the amount of force being applied by the cartridge. Compare this to the manufacturer’s recommended VTF listed on your cartridge’s spec sheet. If it’s not within the recommended range, adjust the counterweight as described in the previous section.
Another way to test your new cartridge is to use a tracking ability test record. These records have specific tracks designed to test various aspects of your turntable’s performance, including tracking ability. By playing these tracks and listening carefully, you can identify any issues with your cartridge or turntable setup.
Overall, testing your new cartridge is an important step in ensuring optimal sound quality and performance from your turntable. Take your time and make any necessary adjustments to get the best possible sound from your new cartridge.