How To Start A Turntable – A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

Are you ready to experience the warm, rich sound of vinyl records?

Starting a turntable may seem daunting at first, but with a little bit of knowledge and practice, you’ll be enjoying your favorite albums in no time.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of turntable setup, including:

– Direct drive vs. belt driven

– Manual vs. automatic

– Preamplifiers

– Inputs

– Upgradeability

We’ll also dive into the importance of tracking force and how to properly adjust it for optimal performance.

So sit back, relax, and let’s get started on your journey to vinyl bliss.

How To Start A Turntable

Before we dive into the specifics of turntable setup, it’s important to note that every turntable is different. Be sure to consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to set up your particular model.

First, let’s talk about the two main types of turntables: direct drive and belt driven. Direct drive turntables feature a motor that sits directly underneath the platter, providing stronger torque and faster start-up times. Belt driven turntables, on the other hand, use a thin rubber belt to rotate the platter and cut down on unwanted vibrations. Unless you’re a DJ, it’s best to focus on the overall sound of the turntable rather than getting hung up on how the platter is powered.

Next, consider whether you want a manual or automatic turntable. Manual turntables require you to manually place the needle onto the record and move the tonearm over the grooves. Automatic turntables do this for you at the push of a button. While automatic turntables may seem convenient, most vinyl enthusiasts prefer manual control as there’s less machinery to go wrong.

If you’re using external speakers, you’ll need to consider whether your turntable has a built-in preamplifier (also known as a phono stage). This unit boosts the signal from the cartridge so that you can actually hear the music through your speakers. Cheaper turntables may have low-spec speakers built in, but it’s recommended to use external speakers for optimal sound quality.

When it comes to inputs, think about what type of speakers you’ll be using and what cables you’ll need to connect your turntable to your sound system. Most turntables still use wired connections, but there are now wireless options available as well as models with USB ports for digitizing your records.

Finally, consider whether your turntable is upgradeable. Cheaper models may have fixed cartridges that can’t be replaced, so it’s worth checking whether it’s removable if you think you might want to upgrade in the future.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of turntable setup, let’s talk about tracking force. This describes the amount of pressure the phono cartridge puts on your records. Too little force will cause skipping, while too much will wear out your stylus and records too quickly. Different cartridges are designed to apply different amounts of tracking force, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to properly balance the tonearm and adjust the tracking force.

While most turntables include instructions on how to balance the tonearm and adjust tracking force using a dial or hanging weight, the most accurate way to adjust tracking force is with a dedicated scale. The Riverstone Audio scale is a reliable option that includes calibration weights for accuracy.

Direct Drive Vs. Belt Driven Turntables: Which Is Right For You?

When it comes to choosing between a direct drive or belt driven turntable, it ultimately depends on your personal preferences and needs. Direct drive turntables are known for their strong torque and quick start-up times, making them a popular choice for DJs who need to manipulate vinyl quickly. However, the direct connection between the motor and platter can result in vibrations and distortion that can affect the sound quality.

On the other hand, belt driven turntables use a thin rubber belt to rotate the platter, which helps to reduce unwanted vibrations and motor noise. This can lead to a cleaner and more accurate sound, but it also means that the rotation speed may not be as consistent as a direct drive turntable. Belt driven turntables are often preferred by audiophiles who prioritize sound quality over speed and torque.

Ultimately, it’s important to consider your intended use for the turntable when deciding between direct drive and belt driven options. If you’re a DJ or prioritize quick manipulation of vinyl, a direct drive turntable may be the better choice. If you’re an audiophile or simply want the best possible sound quality, a belt driven turntable may be the way to go.

Manual Vs. Automatic Turntables: Pros And Cons

When it comes to choosing between a manual or automatic turntable, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and priorities. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Manual Turntables:


– Better sound quality due to less machinery and resonance

– More control over tracking force and anti-skate settings for optimal performance

– Longer lifespan due to fewer mechanical components


– Requires more manual handling and attention when playing records

– May require more delicate handling to avoid damaging the turntable or phono cartridge

Automatic Turntables:


– Convenient for those who don’t want to manually start and stop their record player

– Can help protect and prolong the life of your record collection

– Often more affordable than manual turntables


– Sacrifices quality and control for convenience

– Limited ability to adjust tracking force and anti-skate settings

– More mechanical components can lead to increased noise and resonance

It’s important to weigh these factors against your own needs and preferences when choosing between a manual or automatic turntable. If you prioritize sound quality and control, a manual turntable may be the way to go. If convenience is more important to you, an automatic turntable may be the better choice.

The Role Of Preamplifiers In Turntable Setup

When setting up a turntable, it’s important to consider the role of preamplifiers. A preamp is an audio component that amplifies the signal from a turntable to a higher level, so that it can be received by an audio system, the same way it receives any other type of audio source, like a CD player, etc. In addition to boosting the signal, a preamp also applies the RIAA equalization curve to the signal. This ensures that the equalization curve has the same shape after amplification as it did before, meaning that the sound does not change at all, apart from being amplified.

It’s worth noting that not all turntables come with built-in preamps. If your turntable doesn’t have one, you’ll need to purchase an external preamp separately. Some amplifiers also have built-in preamps, so it’s important to check whether your amplifier has one before purchasing an external preamp.

When connecting your turntable to your audio system, you’ll need to plug the RCA cables attached to your turntable into the preamp’s input audio jacks. If your turntable has a grounding wire, connect that to your preamp as well. Then, with another set of cables, connect the preamp’s output to one of the amplifier’s inputs.

It’s worth noting that while built-in preamps may be more convenient for those who aren’t as concerned with audio quality, standalone turntable preamps typically offer better sound quality than built-in options. If you’re serious about getting the best sound possible from your turntable setup, investing in a standalone preamp may be worth considering.

Understanding Inputs: Phono Vs. Line Level

One of the most confusing aspects of setting up a turntable is understanding the difference between phono and line level inputs. Some turntables only output a phono signal, while others have a switch that allows you to switch between phono and line level. Turntables with a phono/line switch have a built-in phono preamp, which amplifies the weak phono signal so that it can be heard through your speakers.

Phono signals are tiny signals that come directly from the turntable cartridge, while line signals are amplified versions of the phono signal. Line signals have the same size and strength as signals from other audio sources like CD players, while phono signals are much weaker. A phono signal is typically 0.005 volts, while a line signal is typically 0.3 volts, which is 60 times bigger.

Additionally, the bass frequencies of a phono signal are significantly reduced (RIAA equalized), while this is not the case for a line signal. Phono signals become line signals with a phono preamp, which can be inside the turntable, a standalone unit, or inside the stereo receiver or powered speakers.

It’s important to note that if you connect a phono signal to a line input on a stereo receiver, the music will have almost no volume and sound very strange with no bass at all. This is due to the low signal level and reduced bass of the phono signal.

When setting up your turntable, it’s essential to understand whether your turntable has a built-in preamp or not. If it does, you should use the line input on your stereo receiver or powered speakers. If it doesn’t, you should use the phono input on your stereo receiver or powered speakers.

Upgradeability: How To Future-Proof Your Turntable Investment

Now that you have a basic understanding of turntable setup, it’s important to consider the future of your investment. You don’t want to be stuck with a turntable that can’t be upgraded or improved upon as your vinyl collection and listening preferences evolve.

One key aspect of upgradeability is the ability to replace the cartridge. Cheaper turntables may have fixed cartridges that can’t be replaced, limiting your options for improving sound quality. Look for turntables with removable cartridges, which will allow you to upgrade to a higher-quality cartridge down the line.

Another important factor to consider is the availability of upgradeable parts. Look for turntables with easily replaceable parts such as belts, motors, and tonearms. This will allow you to improve the performance and longevity of your turntable without having to purchase a whole new unit.

Finally, consider the brand and reputation of the turntable manufacturer. Some brands have a long history of producing high-quality turntables with a range of upgrade options available. Research the manufacturer’s website and online forums to see what kind of upgrades are available for their turntables and how easy they are to install.

By investing in a turntable with upgrade options, you’ll be able to improve and customize your listening experience over time without having to start from scratch with a new unit.

The Importance Of Tracking Force And How To Adjust It Properly

Tracking force is a critical aspect of turntable setup that should not be overlooked. It refers to the amount of weight at which your record player’s stylus sits on the record. This weight needs to be set correctly to ensure the best possible sound quality and prevent damage to your records. Adjusting tracking force is relatively easy, and most turntables allow you to do so. However, it’s important to note that cheaper turntables may not have this feature.

If the tracking force is too heavy, it means that the stylus is pushing down too hard on the record, causing distortion and potentially damaging the vinyl. On the other hand, if the weight of the stylus on the record is too light, there’s a chance that the force from the grooves will throw the cartridge up, causing the needle to skip across the record and potentially scratch it. Therefore, it’s essential to optimize tracking force for the best sound quality and to protect your vinyl.

To adjust tracking force, you need to balance the tonearm correctly and adjust the counterweight or dial until you achieve the ideal weight setting. While most turntables come with instructions on how to do this, using a dedicated scale is the most accurate way to adjust tracking force. The Riverstone Audio scale is a reliable option that includes calibration weights for accuracy.

In conclusion, tracking force is a crucial aspect of turntable setup that should not be overlooked. Setting it correctly will ensure optimal sound quality and protect your vinyl collection from damage. By following these steps, you can adjust tracking force properly and enjoy your music collection to its fullest potential.