Vinyl records are a beloved medium for music enthusiasts, but they require a bit of maintenance to ensure the best sound quality and longevity.
One important factor to consider is the weight of your tonearm, which can greatly impact the sound and even damage your records if set incorrectly.
In this article, we’ll explore how to tell if your tonearm is pressing too hard and what steps you can take to fix it.
Whether you’re a seasoned vinyl collector or just starting out, this guide will help you optimize your turntable setup for the best possible listening experience.
So let’s dive in and learn how to fine-tune your tonearm for optimal performance!
How To Tell If Your Tonearm Is Pressing Too Hard
The most obvious sign that your tonearm is pressing too hard on your vinyl is the sound. If you notice any distortion or unusual sound quality, it could be a sign that your tonearm is too heavy and pressing into the record too hard.
To test this, use an album that you know inside and out. Choose an album that you have listened to many times before, so you can easily detect any changes in sound quality. Play the album and listen closely for any distortion or unusual sounds.
If you notice any issues, try playing a few different records to ensure that it’s not just a problem with one specific album.
Another way to tell if your tonearm is pressing too hard is by observing its movement. If the tonearm bounces around or moves excessively when you touch it, it could be a sign that it’s too light. On the other hand, if the tonearm doesn’t move at all or feels stiff, it could be pressing too hard.
Understanding The Importance Of Tonearm Weight
The weight of the tonearm is crucial in ensuring the best sound quality and preventing damage to your vinyl. The tracking force, which is the weight at which the stylus sits on the record, needs to be adjusted correctly to create the best sound and prevent damage to the record.
Most entry-level audiophile turntables and upwards, such as Rega’s, Audio Technica’s and Pro-Jects, allow for tracking force adjustment. However, cheaper turntables like Crosley’s or sub $100 brands 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. This can cause distortion and potentially damage the record over time. On the other hand, if the tracking force is too light, there’s a chance that the force from the grooves will throw the cartridge up and cause the needle to skate across the record. This can lead to skipping and potentially scratching of the vinyl.
It’s important to optimize the tracking force for the best sound quality and to protect your vinyl. To do this, you should adjust the dial on the tonearm weight to zero when it’s balanced and then turn counterclockwise until it reads around 1.5 to 2 grams of downforce.
If you notice that your tonearm is lowering too fast, it could be a sign of an issue with the bridge. You can try adjusting the bridge adjustment screw as a first quick check. If this doesn’t work, then it’s likely due to a problem with the damping capability of the cueing lever. You’ll need to apply some fresh cueing lever mechanism damping oil to fix this issue.
The Risks Of Over-Tracking
Over-tracking, or having too much tracking force on your turntable, can lead to a number of risks. Firstly, it can cause distortion and bad sound quality. This is because the increased weight of the stylus can cause it to lose nuanced musical information, which can result in a poorer listening experience.
Furthermore, over-tracking can potentially damage your records. The increased weight of the stylus can cause it to dig more heavily into the groove of the record, which can lead to more wear and tear on both the stylus and the record itself. Over an extended period of time, this could cause irreversible damage to your vinyl collection.
It’s important to note that while some people argue that over-tracking is unlikely to cause damage to your records, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and optimize the tracking force for the best sound quality and to protect your vinyl.
To prevent over-tracking, make sure to calibrate your turntable correctly by adjusting the tracking force and anti-skating settings. Also, ensure that your turntable is perfectly level horizontally and that your speakers are not too close to the stylus. By taking these precautions, you can enjoy high-quality sound and protect your precious vinyl collection at the same time.
How To Adjust Tonearm Weight
Adjusting the weight of your tonearm is a crucial step in ensuring that it’s not pressing too hard on your vinyl. The first step is to properly install the counterweight on the end of the tonearm wand. Make sure that the anti-skating weight is removed at this point.
Next, move the tonearm off its rest and adjust the counterweight so that the tonearm balances horizontally. Turn the counterweight scale to indicate zero. Then, turn the counterweight to the correct tracking force, which depends on the cartridge in use. If you are unaware of it, you can find this in your cartridge’s specifications. It will usually be between 1 and 2 grams.
After setting the tracking force, adjust the anti-skating weight to correspond with it. This will help counteract the tendency of the tonearm to move inwards as the stylus gets closer to the center of the record.
If you want to further check that the weight of your tracking force is correct, you can buy a digital gram scale. With one of these, you can 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.
By following these steps, you can ensure that your tonearm is properly balanced and not pressing too hard on your vinyl, resulting in optimal sound quality.
Tips For Proper Turntable Maintenance
Proper turntable maintenance is essential for ensuring the longevity of your record player and the quality of your vinyl collection. Here are some tips to keep your turntable in top shape:
1. Keep your records clean: Dirty records can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your stylus and decrease the overall sound quality. Use a record cleaning brush or a record cleaning solution to keep your records free of dust and debris.
2. Adjust the tracking force: As mentioned earlier, tracking force is the amount of pressure that the stylus applies to the record. Adjusting the tracking force using the counterweight is crucial for ensuring that the tonearm is applying the correct amount of pressure against the record. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and adjust the tracking force accordingly.
3. Replace your stylus when necessary: A worn-down stylus can cause damage to your records and decrease sound quality. Keep an eye (or ear) out for any changes in sound quality and replace your stylus when necessary.
4. Properly align the needle: Correctly placing the needle in the groove will protect both the stylus and the disc from scratching. Take your time to get used to placing the needle, as this skill will come with practice.
5. Store your records properly: Keep your records in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight or heat sources. Avoid stacking them on top of each other, as this can cause warping or damage to the grooves.
By following these tips for proper turntable maintenance, you can ensure that your vinyl collection stays in great condition and that you get the most out of your record player for years to come.
Conclusion: Enjoying Your Vinyl Collection With Proper Tonearm Setup
In order to fully enjoy your vinyl collection, it’s important to have a properly set up tonearm. This means ensuring that the tracking force is set correctly and that the anti-skating dial is adjusted to match the stylus tracking force used.
To set up your tonearm, start by standing in front of your turntable and focusing on the tonearm area. Look closely at the tonearm assembly and its surroundings, paying attention to the anti-skating dial and the counterweight at the other end of the arm.
Calibrating the stylus force is essential for optimal vinyl playback. Applying too much tracking force will wear out your vinyl record faster, while insufficient weight causes the vinyl to sound thin and can result in irreversible damage to both the record and stylus.
Make sure your turntable is perfectly leveled horizontally before calibrating, using insulators or feet/legs to adjust the height if necessary. Use a level meter on the platter to reveal any tilt, checking from side to side and front to back.
Once you have properly calibrated your tonearm, you can enjoy your vinyl collection with optimal sound quality and without risking damage to your records. Remember to always use an album that you know well when testing for proper tonearm setup, and don’t hesitate to make adjustments if necessary.