How To Tune A Turntable: A Comprehensive Guide

Are you ready to take your vinyl listening experience to the next level?

Tuning your turntable is an essential step in achieving the best possible sound quality from your records.

From leveling your record player to calibrating the tonearm and adjusting the anti-skating, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your turntable is performing at its best.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of tuning your turntable, step by step.

So sit back, grab your favorite record, and let’s get started!

How To Tune A Turntable

Step 1: Level Your Record Player

The first step in tuning your turntable is to ensure that it is level. This may sound like a simple task, but it is often overlooked and can have a significant impact on the sound quality.

To level your record player, use a level to check the positioning of the turntable on the axis of the width and depth. Adjust the height of the legs of the furniture or add wood slats under it until the turntable is level.

On some models, it is possible to adjust the feet to level the device. Once your turntable is level, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2: Calibrate The Tonearm

Calibrating the tonearm is an important step in ensuring that your turntable is performing at its best. This should be done before the first use, after moving the device, or after replacing the cartridge.

To calibrate the tonearm, you will need to displace a counterweight behind the pivot according to the specifications by the manufacturer of the phono cartridge. This adjustment leads to the application of the ideal tracking force of the stylus on the record.

In general, the optimal calibration of the tonearm is set between 1.5 and 2 grams of tracking force. To proceed with the tonearm adjustment:

– Unlock and remove the tonearm from the armrest.

– Move the counterweight so that the arm gets horizontally balanced.

– Align the graduated dial near the counterweight at “zero” position without touching the counterweight.

– Position and lock the tonearm on the armrest.

– Move the graduated dial and counterweight to the mark specified by the phono cartridge manufacturer.

On several record players, the tonearm has a graduated dial for positioning the counterweight, but this is rarely found on high-end tonearms. In this case, a mechanical or electronic balance must be used to calibrate the tonearm.

Step 3: Adjust The Anti-Skating

During use, a record player’s inner groove exerts pressure on the stylus, causing drifting or “skating.” Adjusting anti-skating can help reduce this phenomenon.

Depending on your model of record player, anti-skating involves adjusting a graduated dial that moves a spring, magnet, or fixed counterweight or by moving a counterweight suspended by a nylon thread on a lever arm with graduated notches.

The adjustment value of anti-skating in grams is usually similar to that used to adjust tracking force. Set it according to your phono cartridge manufacturer’s specifications.

Step 4: Correct The Pitch

On some record players equipped with a direct-drive mechanism, it is possible to correct playback speed or “pitch.” Record players used by DJs are usually equipped with such pitch control.

By using a stroboscope calibrated at 60 hertz and a disc specially made for this purpose, move pitch control back or forth until bars drawn on disc align under light of stroboscope.

Step 5: Adjust The VTA

Adjusting Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) can help improve sound quality. Raising rear height of tracking arm will adjust VTA. Raising it will allow higher notes to sound more clearly. If you raise it too high, though, you risk losing bass. Lowering VTA will give you stronger lower end and bass sounds. Lowering it too much will overpower higher sounds.

Test out your preference by trial and error. Use an album that has a range of tones playing all at once, high tones with bass. When testing this out, avoid something like a piano album which would be primarily mid-tone because you will not be able to hear as many distinctions.

Adjusting VTA could change effect of tracking force so go back and make sure that your tracking pressure setting still gives you ideal sound. For instance, if you raised VTA, you might need to increase tracking pressure and vice versa.

Leveling Your Turntable

Leveling your turntable is the first step in tuning your device. It is important to ensure that your turntable is completely flat and level, as this allows the stylus on the cartridge to drag evenly across a record’s grooves without favoring the left or right channel in the stereo signal.

To level your record player, you will need a level to check the positioning of the turntable on the axis of width and depth. You can adjust the height of the legs of the furniture or add wood slats under it until the turntable is level. On some models, it is possible to adjust the feet to level the device.

Once your turntable is level, you can move on to calibrating the tonearm, adjusting anti-skating, correcting pitch, and adjusting VTA for optimal sound quality. Overall, leveling your turntable is a crucial first step in ensuring that your device performs at its best and provides you with high-quality sound.

Balancing The Tonearm

Balancing the tonearm is a crucial step in tuning your turntable. This process involves adjusting the counterweight on the end of the tonearm wand to ensure that the tonearm is horizontally balanced. This will prevent the stylus from pressing too hard or too lightly on the record, which can affect the sound quality.

To balance the tonearm, start by making sure that the counterweight is properly installed on the end of the tonearm with the numbers facing the front of the turntable. Make sure that the anti-skate is set to 0.

Next, use the cueing lever to lock the tonearm in the rest position on the armrest. Gently remove the protective cover from the stylus, being careful not to damage it.

While holding the headshell to keep the tonearm stable, release the tonearm locking clamp. The tonearm will swing freely since it is unbalanced, so be sure to hold onto the headshell to prevent it from crashing into the turntable platter.

With the cueing lever still in the down position, hold the headshell above the rest position and carefully turn the counterweight on the rear of the tonearm until it is horizontally balanced. The headshell should not be moving up or down but should float naturally above the rest position.

Once you have found this balance spot, set the counterweight to zero. Now you can set the proper tracking force for your phono cartridge by turning your entire counterweight counterclockwise to adjust its weight in grams. Gently place your stylus and entire cartridge onto a stylus force gauge to measure and adjust until you reach your desired tracking force.

Finally, turn on anti-skate and match it in grams to your tracking weight. This will help reduce drifting or “skating” that can occur when playing records with inner grooves.

By following these steps and taking care to balance your tonearm correctly, you can significantly improve your turntable’s sound quality without having to spend money on expensive upgrades or equipment.

Calibrating The Tracking Force

Calibrating the tracking force is a crucial step in tuning your turntable. This step requires you to set the stylus tracking force applied to the vinyl during playback.

Before proceeding, refer to your specific cartridge stylus’ instructions for the recommended weight, as you will need this value to accurately set the stylus tracking pressure. Every cartridge stylus model is different, and hence the weight needed will be different. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the accurate weight range suitable for your cartridge stylus.

To calibrate the tracking force, follow these steps:

1. Focus on the tonearm counterweight. Notice the values on the stylus tracking force control and the marker line on the tonearm next to it. Make sure the tonearm is clipped to its rest.

2. Use your left hand to hold the back of the counterweight steady. For this step, the counterweight should not move from its balanced position. Keeping the back of the counterweight steady is important to maintain the tonearm’s balance.

3. While holding the back of the counterweight steady with your left hand, rotate the front ring and set the stylus tracking force control to “0” with your right hand. Remember, only the front part of the counterweight should rotate. Now, the tonearm is balanced and shows a “zero” tracking force. By rotating only the front ring, we are keeping the tonearm balance and are simply adjusting the setting of the stylus tracking force control to zero. No weight is added or subtracted in this step.

4. To apply tracking force, hold the counterweight from behind and turn it counterclockwise to your desired value. The stylus tracking force control will indicate the weight applied to the vinyl groove.

Remember that setting tracking force too high will wear out your vinyl faster. If your cartridge stylus manufacturer recommends a tracking force range from 2 grams to 5 grams, try setting it around 2.5 or 3 grams and do a listening test.

Ideally, use a record you know very well when testing out your preference by trial and error. A thinner overall sound may indicate there is not enough weight, increasing stylus tracking force will improve sound quality. Louder lower frequencies and distorted sound may indicate there is too much weight, decreasing stylus tracking force will improve sound quality.

After completing this step, check that your tonearm is perfectly balanced and that you have correctly set your stylus tracking force.

Adjusting The Anti-Skating

Adjusting the anti-skating on your turntable is crucial to ensure that the stylus remains centered in the record groove as the tonearm travels across the record. This helps to maintain good channel balance, minimize distortion, and reduce stylus and record wear.

To adjust the anti-skating, start by setting the anti-skate control to zero. Next, turn the counterweight on the back of the arm so that the arm balances without falling either up or down. While holding the weight stationary, rotate the adjustment dial on the counterweight until it reads zero at the top.

If your turntable has a user-adjustable anti-skate control, begin by adjusting 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. Listen for distortion, particularly in the form of sibilance, and determine if it appears to be louder on one channel, left or right. Adjust the anti-skate value until the distortion is minimized.

Now listen carefully at two or three different points across the record. If you used an alignment protractor to align your cartridge, listen at the alignment points. Listen for any differences in tone, dynamics, and soundstage at these points. If there are differences, some tweaking of the anti-skate adjustment may be needed.

It’s important to note that not all turntables have a manual anti-skate adjustment. Some models may have this feature preset at a fixed value by the manufacturer. In such cases, there may be no need for adjustment.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that there are several methods for adjusting anti-skating force, but it’s recommended to measure it while the stylus is sitting in the grooves with the LP playing. Using a blank record groove or a mirror introduces different friction coefficients experienced by the stylus and can lead to inaccurate results. So always keep this in mind while adjusting your anti-skating force.

Fine-Tuning Your Turntable’s Sound Quality

Now that you have calibrated your turntable, you can fine-tune the sound quality to achieve the best possible listening experience. Here are some tips to help you get there:

1. Test Your Sound Quality

To test your sound quality, set the anti-skipping measure 1/4 of a gram (.25 g) less than the tracking pressure. This will help with alignment and ensure that your stylus is putting the right amount of pressure on the record at all times.

If you suspect that your tracking pressure setting is compromised, you can purchase an add-on gauge to help you ensure that your tone-arm and stylus are always tracking at the right pressure. The Shure SFG-2 Stylus Tracking Force Gauge is a simple and accurate tool that can help you achieve this.

2. Check Platter Speed

Even slight issues with speed accuracy can be audible, so it’s important to check your platter speed. Direct-drive turntables are often believed to be more speed-accurate than belt-drive turntables, but either type can be highly accurate or inaccurate.

You can use an app like RPM (iOS) or a test record that plays tones you can measure with software like Audacity to measure your platter speed. 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.

3. Invest in a Turntable Support

Vibration can degrade the cartridge’s ability to track the groove accurately, so investing in a decent turntable support is essential if you want to hear how good your records can sound. This will help reduce unwanted energy being fed into the structure of your deck and improve overall sound quality.

4. Deep Clean Your Records

If your playback sounds crackly or muddy even after using a cleaning brush, your records may need a deeper cleaning. A good record cleaning machine that uses specially-formulated cleaning fluid and vacuum suction to really clear out the grooves can make records sound like new and add years of listening life by keeping them in good shape.

By following these tips and fine-tuning your turntable’s sound quality, you can achieve an optimal listening experience and enjoy your vinyl collection to the fullest.

Troubleshooting Common Turntable Issues.

Even with proper maintenance and tuning, turntables can still encounter issues. Here are some common issues and how to troubleshoot them:

1. Distorted Sound: The most common cause of distorted sound is a dirty stylus. Clean the stylus regularly with a stylus cleaning kit. Also, keep your records clean to reduce the amount of dirt and grime that accumulates on the stylus.

2. Tonearm not lowering: If the tonearm is not lowering far enough to bring the stylus into proper contact with the record on the platter, it could be because the tonearm bridge is not lowering enough when the cueing lever is used. Check for an adjustment screw that can tweak the bridge’s height.

3. Pitch control issues: If you’re experiencing problems with pitch control, it could be due to a loose or worn belt that connects the motor to the platter. Replace the belt with a new one that’s the correct size and tightness to restore the correct speed and stability to the turntable.

4. Scratchy operation: Dirt and grime can accumulate on the potentiometer (fader), causing scratchy and unreliable operation. Use a contact cleaner to clean it.

5. Loose or frayed wiring: Over time, the wiring that connects the pitch control to the turntable can become loose or fray, causing problems with pitch control. Check for loose connections or frayed wiring and repair as necessary.

6. Calibration issues: If pitch control is not calibrated correctly, it can cause problems with the speed of the turntable. Check for calibration issues and adjust as necessary.

Remember, while some basic troubleshooting procedures can be done at home, more complicated issues should be handled by professional technicians to avoid causing more serious harm to your player.