If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you know that the quality of your turntable’s sound is only as good as the cartridge you use.
But installing a phono cartridge can be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to the world of vinyl.
Fear not! In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of mounting a phono cartridge step-by-step, ensuring that your equipment stays safe and your sound quality is top-notch.
So grab your favorite record and let’s get started!
How To Mount A Phono Cartridge
Before we dive into the process of mounting a phono cartridge, it’s important to note that this is a delicate process that requires attention to detail. If done incorrectly, it can result in damage to your equipment or poor sound quality.
The first step in mounting a phono cartridge is to ensure that it is properly aligned with the tonearm. This means that the cartridge should be centered in the headshell, and the stylus should be pointing directly at the record. Improper alignment can cause the stylus to skip or produce poor sound quality.
Once you’ve ensured proper alignment, it’s time to secure the cartridge in place. Most cartridges come with two screws that attach the cartridge to the headshell. Be careful not to overtighten these screws, as this can damage the cartridge.
After securing the cartridge, it’s time to connect the leads. The leads should be connected to the phono preamp, and the ground wire should be connected to the turntable.
It’s important to note that cartridge posts do not have a specific size. If your previous cartridge posts were on the large side and your new ones are on the smaller side, your sleeves may not fit tightly. To avoid this, stick a small round toothpick in the sleeve to prevent it from compressing.
Some turntables and cartridges have three screws rather than two for self-alignment purposes. In this case, you can use tools such as MoFi GeoDiscs or Pro-Ject Align It DS2 cartridge alignment tools for added precision.
It’s important to take your time during this process and not rush it. Trial and error may be necessary for successful alignment, but it’s worth it for optimal sound quality.
Finally, it’s common for new phono cartridges to sound a little shrill after they’ve been in use for a while. This is normal and most break-ins take up to 100 hours to complete.
Understanding Phono Cartridges
Phono cartridges are electro-mechanical components that are mounted at the front of a tonearm on a turntable. They consist of two main sections: the cartridge body and the stylus assembly. The cartridge body houses the wire coils that generate the electrical signals, which are then transferred via the tonearm wires to the phono stage in the amplifier. The stylus assembly consists of a plastic molding with a cantilever (or tube) and stylus (or needle) which vibrates as it traces the record grooves. The stylus is the needle-shaped tip of diamond at the front end of the cantilever.
The performance potential of a record playing system is defined by the capabilities of the phono cartridge. Tonal balance, response range, clarity on musical peaks, stereo separation and imaging, and freedom from noise and distortion are all affected at the outset. The selection of this first component is critical to the full enjoyment of the rest of your system.
There are many different types of cartridges available on the market, but for simplicity purposes, we will focus on the operation of a moving magnet or MM-type cartridge (many of the principles remain the same for moving coil cartridges). The diamond stylus tip is the only part of the cartridge that makes direct contact with the record. As the stylus traces the movements of the grooves, it vibrates the cantilever. The cantilever is a rigid tube with a stylus mounted on one end and a magnet on the other. The rubber suspension allows the cantilever to pivot so that the stylus can accurately track the grooves.
Vibrations from the stylus tip travel along the cantilever to the magnet. As the magnet vibrates, its magnetic field varies. These variations in the magnetic field generate a small voltage in the coils, which corresponds to the movement of the magnet (thanks to Lenz’s Law). This signal is then passed through a phono preamp (for RIAA equalization) before reaching the amp/speakers, which convert the electrical signal into sound.
It’s important to note that mounting a phono cartridge requires attention to detail and can be a delicate process. Proper alignment is crucial for optimal sound quality, and overtightening screws can damage your equipment. Some turntables and cartridges have three screws for self-alignment purposes, and tools such as MoFi GeoDiscs or Pro-Ject Align It DS2 cartridge alignment tools can be used for added precision. Taking your time during this process and not rushing it is key to successful alignment.
Preparing Your Turntable
Before mounting a phono cartridge, it’s important to prepare your turntable. First, make sure that the turntable is level. Uneven surfaces can cause the stylus to skip or produce poor sound quality. You can use a bubble level to ensure that the turntable is level.
Next, check the condition of your turntable’s tonearm. The tonearm should be free of any debris or dust that could interfere with the cartridge’s alignment. You can use a soft-bristled brush to gently clean the tonearm.
It’s also important to check the tracking force of your turntable. Tracking force refers to the amount of weight applied to the stylus as it tracks along the record. Too much tracking force can damage the record, while too little force can cause the stylus to skip. Refer to your turntable’s manual for instructions on how to adjust the tracking force.
Finally, make sure that your turntable is properly grounded. Grounding helps to reduce unwanted noise and interference in your audio signal. Check that the ground wire is securely attached to the turntable and that it is connected to a grounded outlet or power strip.
By preparing your turntable before mounting a phono cartridge, you can ensure optimal sound quality and prevent damage to your equipment.
Removing The Old Cartridge
Before you can mount a new phono cartridge, you need to remove the old one. This can be a delicate process, as it involves removing small screws and potentially prying out the old cartridge.
The first step is to turn off your turntable and remove the headshell from the tonearm. The headshell is the small piece that holds the cartridge in place.
Next, locate the screws that are holding the cartridge in place. These are typically located on either side of the cartridge. Use a small screwdriver to carefully unscrew these screws, being careful not to strip them or damage the cartridge.
Once the screws are removed, gently lift the old cartridge out of the headshell. Be careful not to touch the stylus or any other delicate parts of the cartridge.
If the old cartridge is stuck and won’t come out, do not force it. Instead, try soaking it in white vinegar for an hour or two to dissolve any mineral deposits that may be binding it.
Once the old cartridge is removed, you can proceed with mounting your new phono cartridge following the steps outlined above. Remember to take your time and be gentle with your equipment to ensure optimal sound quality.
Mounting The New Cartridge
Mounting a new phono cartridge can be an exciting experience, but it’s important to do it correctly for optimal sound quality. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to mount your new cartridge:
1. Start by removing the old cartridge from the headshell. This can be done by unscrewing the two screws that attach the cartridge to the headshell.
2. Once the old cartridge is removed, it’s time to prepare the new one for mounting. Make sure that the new cartridge has a 0.5 inch (1.27 cm) spacing between the mounting holes, which is standard for most turntables and headshells.
3. The next step is to align the new cartridge with the tonearm. This can be done by centering the cartridge in the headshell and ensuring that the stylus is pointing directly at the record.
4. Once you’ve aligned the cartridge, it’s time to secure it in place. Use the screws and nuts that came with the cartridge to loosely secure it into place.
5. After securing the cartridge, it’s time to connect the leads. The leads should be connected to the phono preamp, and the ground wire should be connected to the turntable.
6. It’s important to note that some turntables and cartridges have three screws rather than two for self-alignment purposes. In this case, you can use tools such as MoFi GeoDiscs or Pro-Ject Align It DS2 cartridge alignment tools for added precision.
7. Take your time during this process and don’t rush it. Trial and error may be necessary for successful alignment, but it’s worth it for optimal sound quality.
8. Finally, it’s common for new phono cartridges to sound a little shrill after they’ve been in use for a while. This is normal and most break-ins take up to 100 hours to complete.
By following these steps, you can successfully mount your new phono cartridge and enjoy high-quality sound from your turntable.
Adjusting Tracking Force And Anti-Skate
After mounting your phono cartridge, it’s important to adjust the tracking force and anti-skate settings. This will ensure that your cartridge tracks the record properly, minimizing wear and tear on both the stylus and the record, while also improving sound quality.
Tracking force is dependent on the specifications of your cartridge. Most cartridges will have a recommended range for tracking force, which can be found in the manual or by doing a quick Google search. As a starting point, set the tracking force to the middle of this range. If you don’t have access to this information, setting it to 2 grams is a safe bet.
To adjust tracking force, use a tracking force gauge, such as the Shure SFG-2 Stylus Tracking Force Gauge. Place the gauge on the platter and slowly lower the tonearm onto it. The gauge will display the tracking force, which can be adjusted by turning the counterweight on the back of the tonearm.
Anti-skate is another important setting that should be adjusted after mounting your phono cartridge. Anti-skate applies a small outward force to the tonearm, counteracting its tendency to move inward towards the center of the record as it approaches the end of a side.
Some turntables have an adjustable anti-skate control, while others have it preset internally by the manufacturer. If your turntable has an adjustable anti-skate control, set it to the same value as your tracking force as a starting point. Listen carefully for distortion during playback and adjust accordingly until distortion is minimized.
If your turntable does not have an adjustable anti-skate control, don’t worry – it’s likely preset internally by the manufacturer. However, if you experience any tracking issues during playback, contact your turntable manufacturer or an audio solutions department for further advice.
Remember to take your time when adjusting these settings and don’t rush through them. Trial and error may be necessary for optimal sound quality, but it’s worth it in the end.