If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you know that setting up your turntable arm is crucial to getting the best sound quality out of your records.
But with so many different turntables and cartridges out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start.
Don’t worry, though – we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps to properly set up your turntable arm, whether you have a Music Hall MMF Series or a Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon series (or any other turntable, for that matter).
We’ll cover everything from balancing the tonearm to adjusting the tracking force, so you can get the most out of your vinyl collection.
So sit back, grab a record, and let’s get started!
How To Set Up Turntable Arm
The first step in setting up your turntable arm is to balance the tonearm. This is important because an unbalanced tonearm can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your records, as well as affect the sound quality.
To balance the tonearm, you’ll need a stylus pressure gauge or precision scales. If you don’t have these tools, you can still set the tracking force fairly accurately using the markings on the counterweight.
With the tonearm in its rest, take some masking tape and tape down the platter to the plinth to prevent it from rotating. This will help you use the protractor and prevent any accidents that could damage your stylus.
If you removed the stylus when fitting the cartridge, carefully put it back on now. If using the stylus guard, remove it to expose the stylus.
Place the stylus pressure gauge or scales somewhere centrally in the arc that the stylus follows across the record. Using the cue lever, raise the tonearm and slowly lower the stylus onto the center point of the gauge or scale.
Rotate or slide your tonearm counterweight backwards to add less weight and forwards to add more. Always use the arm lift to raise and lower the stylus.
Once you’ve balanced the tonearm, it’s time to adjust the tracking force. The tracking force depends on the cartridge in use, which you can find in your cartridge’s specifications. It will usually be between 1 and 2 grams.
To adjust the tracking force, put the counterweight on the end of the tonearm wand and ensure that the anti-skating weight is removed at this point. Move the tonearm off its rest and adjust the counterweight so that it balances horizontally. Now turn the counterweight scale to indicate zero.
Turn the counterweight (and scale) to match the correct tracking force for your cartridge. Adjust the anti-skating weight to correspond with this tracking force.
Finally, make sure your tonearm height is set so that it’s parallel to your record’s surface when your cartridge sits in its groove. This will help fine-tune performance by altering how your stylus tip meets with your record’s groove.
With these steps, you should now have a properly set up turntable arm that will provide you with optimal sound quality and protect your records from unnecessary wear and tear. Happy listening!
Gather Your Tools And Materials
Before you begin setting up your turntable arm, it’s important to have the right tools and materials on hand. Here’s what you’ll need:
– Stylus pressure gauge or precision scales: These tools will help you accurately measure the tracking force of your tonearm.
– Masking tape: Use this to tape down the platter to the plinth to prevent it from rotating during setup.
– Cartridge specifications: You’ll need to know the recommended tracking force for your specific cartridge.
– Anti-skating weight: This weight helps keep the tonearm centered on the record and prevents excessive wear on one side of the groove.
– Screwdriver (if necessary): Some tonearms may require a screwdriver to adjust the counterweight or anti-skating weight.
Having these tools and materials ready before you start will make the setup process smoother and more efficient.
Adjusting The Tracking Force
Once you’ve balanced the tonearm, it’s time to adjust the tracking force. This is done by adjusting the counterweight on the rear end of the tonearm.
First, you’ll need to find the recommended tracking force for your cartridge. This information can usually be found in the cartridge’s manual or online. The recommended tracking force will typically be between 1 and 3 grams.
To adjust the tracking force, start by setting the counterweight to zero. Then, turn the counterweight until the tonearm is balanced horizontally. This means that the cartridge and stylus are floating without touching the platter/record but also not falling upwards.
Next, turn the counterweight scale to indicate zero. Now, turn the counterweight to match the correct tracking force for your cartridge. Set the numbered dial on your counterweight to the required weight for your specific cartridge that you have already looked up.
Once you’ve set the tracking force, you’ll need to adjust the anti-skating weight to correspond with this tracking force. If your tonearm features an anti-skate control, adjust this to match the counterweight setting. So, if it is set at 2 grams, also set the anti-skate to 2 grams.
If you want to double-check that your tracking force is correct, you can use a digital gram scale. 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.
Setting The Anti-Skate
The anti-skate feature is an important aspect of setting up your turntable arm. It 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 it approaches the end. This helps to maintain good channel balance, minimize distortion, and reduce stylus and record wear.
To set the anti-skate on a turntable with a user-adjustable control, begin by setting it to the same value as the vertical tracking force (VTF) used. This will get you in the ballpark. Listen carefully to the last few minutes of a record to determine if more or less anti-skate is needed. If you notice distortion, adjust the anti-skate value until it’s minimized.
It’s important to note that not all turntables have a manual anti-skate adjustment. Some turntables may have this feature preset at a fixed value by the manufacturer, especially those that utilize an integrated cartridge. If adjusting the anti-skate does not clear up a particular problem, there may be another reason for it. In this case, seek advice from an audio solutions department.
Remember that setting up your turntable arm correctly is essential for optimal sound quality and longevity of your records. Take your time and follow these steps carefully for a great listening experience.
Aligning The Cartridge
Once you’ve balanced the tonearm and adjusted the tracking force, it’s time to align the cartridge. Proper alignment ensures that the stylus tracks the record groove accurately, which is crucial for optimal sound quality.
There are different alignment tools available, and the cost will depend on your turntable and how often you plan on setting up your cartridge. One basic tool is the Align It DS2 alignment gauge and a Measure It E digital scale, which should be sufficient for most setups.
To align the cartridge, start by loosening the screws with a flat head screwdriver. Rotate the cartridge until the lines are parallel. Once it’s parallel, move the stylus tip to point B. If the cartridge is properly aligned at point B, tighten the screws, re-check to make sure it’s aligned, and you’re done.
Another alignment tool is a two-point protractor. This tool 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. With the cartridge mounting hardware just loose enough to allow forward and backward movement of the cartridge in the headshell, position 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 both grids show parallel alignment.
Recheck the alignment on both grids a few times until you achieve consistent results. Once aligned, tighten the mounting hardware until snug.
By following these steps for aligning your cartridge, you’ll ensure that your turntable arm is set up correctly for optimal sound quality and performance. With proper maintenance and care, your turntable will provide you with years of enjoyment.
Fine-Tuning Your Turntable Arm
Once you’ve balanced and adjusted the tracking force of your turntable arm, you can fine-tune it even further to improve its performance. One way to do this is by adjusting the vertical tracking angle (VTA) of your tonearm.
The VTA refers to the angle at which your stylus sits in the record groove. If it’s too high or too low, it can affect the sound quality and cause unnecessary wear on your records. To adjust the VTA, you’ll need to adjust the height of your tonearm.
Most tonearms have a mechanism that allows you to adjust the height. Some have a simple screw that you can turn to raise or lower the arm, while others require you to remove screws and adjust washers or spacers.
To adjust the VTA, start by playing a record with a flat, unmodulated section, like an empty track or a locked groove. While it’s playing, use a mirror or a smartphone camera to look at the angle of the stylus in the groove. If it looks too high or too low, adjust the height of your tonearm accordingly.
Keep in mind that changing the VTA can also affect the tracking force and anti-skate settings, so you may need to readjust those as well. It’s also important to note that not all cartridges respond well to changes in VTA, so be sure to consult your cartridge manufacturer’s recommendations before making any adjustments.
By fine-tuning your turntable arm with these adjustments, you can ensure that you’re getting the best possible sound quality from your records and prolonging their lifespan.