If you’re new to the world of vinyl, you may have heard the term “tracking force” thrown around.
But what exactly does it mean?
In simple terms, tracking force is the amount of weight that your turntable’s cartridge places on the record as it spins.
It may seem like a small detail, but getting your tracking force just right can make all the difference in the sound quality of your vinyl and the longevity of your records.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what tracking force is, why it’s important, and how to adjust it for optimal performance.
So, sit back, relax, and let’s get into the nitty-gritty of tracking force on a turntable.
What Is Tracking Force On A Turntable
As mentioned earlier, tracking force is the weight that your turntable’s cartridge places on the record as it spins.
The stylus, or needle, needs to follow the grooves on the record in order to play music smoothly. The tracking force helps keep the stylus in contact with the grooves, even amidst temperature and pressure changes.
If the tracking force is too heavy, it can cause distortion and even damage to your records. On the other hand, if it’s too light, the stylus may skip across the grooves and potentially scratch your vinyl.
The ideal tracking force will vary depending on the type of cartridge and turntable you have. It’s important to pay attention to this detail in order to avoid unnecessary damage or compromised sound quality.
What Is Tracking Force?
Tracking force is the amount of weight that your turntable’s cartridge places on the record as it spins. The stylus needs to follow the grooves on the record in order to play music smoothly.
The tracking force helps the stylus consistently trace the impressions amidst temperature and pressure shifts. It’s important to note that complex grooves force turntable styli to vibrate as fast as 10,000 times per second, making it essential to keep your tracking force on point.
The amount of weight pushing down on the stylus (and thus on the records) will affect both the sound quality and the amount of record wear you see from the stylus tip.
It’s crucial to optimize your tracking force for the best sound quality and to protect your vinyl. Your tracking force will need to be different depending on the type of cartridge and turntable you have, so it’s important to pay attention to it.
While most entry-level audiophile turntables allow you to adjust tracking force, cheaper turntables may not offer this option. It’s best to check your turntable’s manual or do some research online to determine whether you can adjust tracking force on your specific model.
Why Is Tracking Force Important?
Tracking force is an essential aspect of maximizing the performance of your turntable. It directly impacts the sound quality and longevity of your records. If the tracking force is not set correctly, it can cause significant damage to your vinyl collection.
When the tracking force is too heavy, it causes the stylus to push down too hard on the record, resulting in distortion and potential damage to the record. On the other hand, if it’s too light, the stylus may not make proper contact with the grooves, causing it to skip across the record and potentially scratch the vinyl.
Correctly setting the tracking force ensures that your cartridge sits with the ideal weight on the record, allowing for optimal sound quality and protection of your records. It’s important to note that each cartridge has an ideal tracking force, which varies depending on the type of cartridge and turntable you have.
How To Measure Tracking Force?
Measuring tracking force accurately can be a bit tricky, but it’s an essential step in maintaining the quality of your turntable and records.
One way to measure tracking force is to use a specialized scale, such as the Ortofon Stylus Pressure Gauge or the Shure beam-style scale. These scales are designed to provide accurate readings and take into account the height of the record surface.
If you don’t have access to a specialized scale, you can still measure tracking force using a standard gram scale. However, keep in mind that the height of the scale surface may be higher than that of the record, which can result in an inaccurate reading. To mitigate this issue, you can remove the platter and place the scale on something that approximates the proper height of a record on the platter, such as a CD case or DVD box.
Once you have your measuring tool ready, follow these steps to measure tracking force:
1. Zero out your scale so it reads 0 grams.
2. Place your tonearm on the scale with the stylus facing down.
3. Adjust the counterweight until the desired tracking force is achieved. This will usually fall between 1 and 3 grams, depending on your cartridge and turntable.
4. Once you’ve achieved your desired tracking force, lock in the counterweight.
It’s important to note that some cartridges may have specific recommendations for counterweight range and ideal tracking force. Be sure to follow these recommendations to avoid damaging your records or compromising sound quality.
How To Adjust Tracking Force?
Adjusting the tracking force on your turntable is a crucial step in ensuring that your records sound their best. To do this, you’ll need to adjust the counterweight on the tonearm.
First, you’ll need to reset the tonearm so it can balance in mid-air on its own. Set your anti-skate setting to ‘0’ if your turntable has one. Adjust the counterweight until the tonearm and cartridge are floating without touching the platter/record, but also not falling upwards. This sets your counterweight to zero.
Next, you’ll need to find the recommended tracking force weight for your specific cartridge. Check the manual for your cartridge, or search online for the appropriate weight. For example, if you’re using the Ortofon 2m Red cartridge, the recommended tracking force is about 1.8g.
Once you have this information, adjust the counterweight by turning it to the appropriate setting for your cartridge. Set the numbered dial on your counterweight to the required weight for your specific cartridge. This will make the cartridge move downwards towards the turntable platter or record and sit at the correct weight when you play music.
If your tonearm also features an anti-skate control, adjust it to match the counterweight setting. This helps 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. This will allow you to lower the stylus onto its platform and get a digital readout of exactly how much force is being applied. You can then check this against the dial on your counterweight and adjust accordingly.
It’s important to note that determining the optimal range for your tracking force will depend on your specific cartridge. Follow any specific recommendations provided by the manufacturer and set your tracking force to a mid-range setting between 1 and 3 grams. Avoid setting it too high or too low, as this can cause damage to your records or compromise sound quality.
By taking these steps to adjust your tracking force, you can ensure that your records sound their best and avoid unnecessary damage.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Adjusting Tracking Force
Adjusting tracking force might seem like a simple task, but there are some common mistakes that can be made. Here are a few things to avoid:
1. Not checking the recommended tracking force: It’s important to refer to the specs of your turntable to find out the recommended tracking force range. Adjusting the tracking force without this information can lead to poor sound quality and damaged records.
2. Forgetting to zero out anti-skate: If your turntable has an anti-skate mechanism, make sure it’s set to zero before adjusting the tracking force. Otherwise, you may end up with inaccurate results.
3. Not balancing the tonearm: When adjusting the tracking force, it’s important to make sure the tonearm is balanced before securing the counterweight. The tonearm should remain in the same position without rising or sinking.
4. Using too much force: Applying too much tracking force can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your records, leading to a shorter lifespan for your vinyl collection.
5. Not leveling the turntable: Before adjusting tracking force, make sure your turntable is level using a level meter. Any tilt can affect the accuracy of your adjustments.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your turntable is properly calibrated for optimal sound quality and longevity of your vinyl collection.
Conclusion: The Importance Of Proper Tracking Force
In conclusion, proper tracking force is essential for maximizing the sound quality of your turntable and protecting your valuable record collection. It is important to adjust the tracking force according to the manufacturer’s recommended settings and to ensure that the counterweight is adjusted to get the tonearm in balance.
Additionally, anti-skate force should be set to the same value as the tracking force to keep the needle centered and ensure optimal sound quality. It is also important to note that cheaper turntables may not have adjustable tracking force, so it’s crucial to invest in a quality turntable that allows for this adjustment.
By taking the time to optimize your tracking force settings, you can ensure that your record player works to the best of its ability and produces high-quality sound without damaging your vinyl. Remember to pay attention to cartridge alignment, null point, null radii, overhang, phono stage, pickup, protractor, vertical tracking force, vinyl, and zenith angle as well for the best possible results.