Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to set up your own turntable system?
Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or a newcomer to the world of vinyl, setting up a turntable system can be a daunting task. But fear not, we’ve got you covered!
In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of setting up your turntable system step-by-step. From finding the perfect spot for your turntable to hooking up your cables and choosing the right speed, we’ll cover it all.
So sit back, relax, and let’s get started on creating the ultimate vinyl listening experience.
How To Setup A Turntable System
Step 1: Find a Good Spot
The first step in setting up your turntable system is finding the perfect spot for it. You want to make sure that your turntable is placed on a sturdy surface that won’t produce any unwanted vibrations. If your furniture isn’t as solid as you’d like, consider investing in some cheap isolation feet that can be stuck to the bottom of your deck to dampen any unwanted vibration. It’s also worth considering a platter mat for extra noise dampening.
Step 2: Balance the Tonearm
Balancing the tonearm is the trickiest and most important part of setup. It’s essential to read the instructions carefully because 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
A lot of decks come with RCA or phono cables – with red and white plugs on each 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. Once again, dig into your instructions for guidance on what goes where, which can be especially useful if you’re hooking up a separate pre-amp for the first time. Don’t forget about 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 a dying 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: Components of a Turntable System
A turntable system is comprised of four primary components: The turntable, phono preamp, amplifier, and speakers. It can get a little complicated nowadays because many components are combined together, such as a turntable with a built-in phono preamp or a speaker with a built-in amplifier (which is any powered or active speaker), but it boils down to needing these four components to work.
The turntable is one of two essential components; specifically its stylus makes contact with your record and picks up signals that produce phono output signals.
The phono preamp takes those phono output signals and converts them into “line level” or “AUX” signals while equalizing them according to RIAA playback equalization curves so that they sound as true to their original recording as possible.
The amplifier takes those weak signals from your phono preamp and amplifies them so that they’re ready for your speakers. Without an amplifier, you wouldn’t be able to hear music.
Lastly, speakers are probably one of your most important components because they’re what you actually hear! They take that amplified signal and split it up using their crossover circuitry so that high-end frequencies get sent to tweeters while low-end frequencies get sent to mid-range and bass drivers.
Finding The Perfect Spot For Your Turntable
When it comes to finding the perfect spot for your turntable, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, you want to make sure that your turntable is placed on a stable, heavy, and flat surface. This is crucial to prevent any tracking issues when your records are spinning and also prevent tonearm friction. Placing your turntable on a flat and level surface will also help your records and record player components last much longer and benefit from improved sound.
It’s important to note that a stable and heavy surface is necessary to lessen the impact of vibrations and anything else that can affect the sound quality. Having a sturdy surface means your record player and tonearm will be less inclined to pick up unwanted vibrations from whatever the record player is on. A good example of a great surface is something like a Kallax unit from Ikea, which also doubles as the perfect piece of furniture to store your vinyl.
In addition to finding a stable surface, it’s important to consider the placement of your turntable to prevent electrical noise from creeping into playback. Interference presents 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. You will always hear some level of hum/buzz if you turn the volume up with no music playing (this is called the analog noise floor). But if you hear noise with music playing, then you should try to isolate your turntable from common sources of electrical noise.
To avoid interference, position the 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/near power cables or adapters. The transformers found in amps and powered speakers also emit noise – so there’s another good reason to keep your turntable away from your powered speakers.
The ideal support is perfectly level, low resonance and positioned as far away from sources of vibration as possible. And that includes your speakers. On a hard concrete floor, a floorstanding support will work fine – but the same support will emphasize footfall on a suspended wooden floor. If you have such a floor construction, we would recommend investing in a dedicated wall shelf. This kind of support avoids the footfall issue totally. Just make sure you use proper heavy-duty mounting screws and fixings, or the consequence could be expensive.
Choosing The Right Turntable And Cartridge
Choosing the right turntable and cartridge is crucial to ensuring that your system sounds great. There are many different turntables and cartridges available on the market, each with its own unique features and benefits.
When selecting a turntable, consider factors such as the type of motor it uses, the platter material, and the quality of the tonearm. Belt-driven turntables tend to have less motor noise than direct-drive turntables, while heavier platters can help reduce vibrations that can affect sound quality. A high-quality tonearm can also help reduce unwanted resonance and provide more accurate tracking.
When it comes to cartridges, there are two main types: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). MM cartridges tend to be more affordable and easier to set up, while MC cartridges offer better sound quality but can be more expensive and require more careful setup.
It’s also important to consider the tracking force of your cartridge when selecting a turntable. 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. This is usually specified in grams somewhere in the owner’s manual.
Setting Up Your Amplifier And Speakers
Now that you’ve set up your turntable and phono preamp, it’s time to connect your amplifier and speakers. To connect passive speakers to your amplifier, you will need speaker wires that route from each speaker to the connectors at the back of the amplifier. These speaker wires are usually made of conductive metals such as silver and copper. Don’t be fooled by quality comparisons – expensive branded cables do not necessarily offer better sound quality than cheaper alternatives.
Speaker wires come in different terminations such as alligator clips, spades, and banana plugs. Make sure you get the right termination for your speakers and amplifier. Check the back panels of both to see what speaker-wire terminals they have.
If you’re using powered or active speakers, you can connect your turntable or preamp directly to them without a separate amplifier or stereo system. Powered speakers have built-in amplification, so all you need to do is connect the turntable to the speakers.
When connecting your amplifier to your speakers, make sure to match the impedance rating of your speakers with that of your amplifier. Impedance is measured in ohms and is usually indicated on the back of both components. Mismatched impedance can damage your equipment and affect sound quality.
Once everything is connected, turn on your system and adjust the volume on your amplifier. Start with a low volume and gradually increase it until you reach a comfortable listening level. Congratulations, you have successfully set up your turntable system!
Understanding Turntable Speeds And How To Adjust Them
Understanding Turntable Speeds And How To Adjust Them
Turntable speed is a critical component of any turntable system. If the speed is off, it can affect the sound quality and even damage your records. There are three primary speeds for records: 33 RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM. It’s essential to make sure that you select the correct speed for your record.
To check the speed of your turntable, you can use a strobe disc or a mobile app. Strobe discs can be downloaded for free from many sites on the internet, and you will need to purchase a strobe light for this method. Once you have the disc and strobe light, start the platter spinning and direct the strobe light at the revolving strobe disc. If the turntable hits the correct speed, the strobe lines/markings will appear stationary instead of moving.
Mobile apps have become a much easier, quicker, and cheaper method to check turntable speed. One recommended app is ‘RPM Speed & Wow,’ which uses your phone’s built-in gyroscope to measure the speed of your turntable. To use this app, open it 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.
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. Some turntables like the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB have speed controls that you can adjust until the speed is correct.
Properly Aligning Your Cartridge And Stylus
Properly aligning your cartridge and stylus is crucial for getting the best sound quality from your turntable system. The first step is to set the stylus overhang correctly. This is the distance from the center of the tonearm pivot to the tip of the stylus, as specified by the manufacturer. This distance ensures the least distortion and widest null points.
To set the overhang, begin by loosening your cartridge enough to allow it to slide back and forth with gentle resistance. Then, move the cartridge forward so that the tip of the stylus lowers into the corresponding dot in the alignment tool. Square up the cartridge body so that it is parallel to the grid lines on the alignment tool.
If your tonearm has a removable headshell, you can move the cartridge on the tonearm’s axis to ensure that it is at a perfect 90-degree angle to the groove. Once you have set the overhang properly, recheck the tracking force to ensure it hasn’t changed by more than a tenth of a gram or two. If needed, make slight adjustments to the counterweight to bring it back to where it was.
The next adjustment is VTA/SRA (Vertical Tracking Angle/Stylus Rake Angle). If you do not have access to a stylus microscope or sophisticated cartridge alignment tools, visually aligning the bottom of the cartridge body to be parallel to the surface of the record is an excellent way to “eyeball” this adjustment. Follow your instruction manual for specific details on how to set this for your turntable, and think in small increments when making adjustments.
After setting VTA/SRA, recheck tracking force one last time before moving on to anti-skate adjustment. Anti-skate force keeps the stylus where it belongs while playing through record grooves, preventing premature wear of records and stylus and channel imbalance from left to right. Setting anti-skate force properly is crucial; if you go too far in either direction, you risk causing issues with your system’s sound quality.
By following these steps and taking care when aligning your cartridge and stylus, you can ensure that your turntable system produces high-quality sound that does justice to your favorite records.
How To Clean And Maintain Your Turntable System
Now that your turntable system is all set up and ready to go, it’s important to keep it clean and well-maintained. Proper maintenance will not only help prolong the life of your turntable but also enhance the quality of your listening experience.
Step 1: Clean Your Turntable
Start by cleaning the outer surfaces of the turntable. Use a feather duster or a swiffer to remove any dust that has accumulated. For a deeper clean, use a lint-free cloth and wipe from the middle outwards. For stubborn stains like fingerprints, use alcohol and then wipe it again with a dry, antistatic cloth. Using an antistatic cloth is important as it prevents lint and dust particles from being magnetically attracted back to the surface.
For older records that have accumulated a lot of dust, you can use specially protected vinyl cleaning cloths or dusters to revive their joy. It’s important to avoid using bare fingers for cleaning, especially with the needle, as this can cause damage.
Step 2: Clean Your Vinyl Records
Keeping your vinyl records clean is just as important as maintaining your turntable. Dust off your records properly before and after each use using a vinyl brush in a circular motion. For deeper cleaning, use a vinyl cleaning solution or a combination of dish soap and water. Once cleaned, dry them thoroughly with a microfiber cloth and leave them out for at least half an hour to ensure they’re completely dry before returning them to their sleeves. It’s also recommended to store them in both an inner and outer record sleeve to protect them from dust and dirt particles.
Step 3: Prevent Accumulation of Dust
Prevent the accumulation of dust on your turntable by using the dust cover when not in use. If your turntable doesn’t come with one, use an antistatic cloth draped over it instead. Clean your vinyl records before and after each use to prevent dust accumulation on them as well.
Step 4: Avoid Common Mistakes
Avoid storing your turntable where it’s exposed to sunlight, hot temperatures or water. Don’t store it near heavy objects that could fall on it or remove the tonearm while cleaning the interior. Homemade cleaning solutions should also be avoided as they can cause damage.
Step 5: Clean Your Stylus
Cleaning your stylus is also important for maintaining your turntable system. Take one or two drops of cleaner and apply it to a stylus cleaning brush. Hold the stylus and tonearm securely while gently wiping from rear to front five to ten times. Avoid rubbing it side-to-side to prevent damage. If you don’t have a stylus cleaning brush, you can use a soft paintbrush instead.
By following these steps, you can keep your turntable system in great condition for years to come, ensuring that you get the most out of your listening experience.