Why Does My Turntable Sound Distorted? Experts Explain The Reasons

Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and for good reason.

The sound quality and listening experience they provide is unmatched. However, nothing is more frustrating than putting on your favorite album and hearing distorted sound.

There are several reasons why your turntable might be producing distorted sound, from a dirty stylus to a loose turntable belt.

In this article, we’ll explore the common causes of distortion and provide solutions to help you get the most out of your vinyl collection.

So, sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of turntable troubleshooting.

Why Does My Turntable Sound Distorted

There are several reasons why your turntable might be producing distorted sound. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Dirty Stylus

A dirty stylus is perhaps the most common reason for distorted sound on a turntable. The stylus, also known as the needle, is the tiny diamond tip that tracks the record groove. As it moves across the record, it can pick up dirt and dust from the surface, which gradually accumulates on the stylus tip and hinders its ability to accurately trace the groove. This build-up of grime can cause your records to sound distorted.

This problem is particularly troublesome if you play a lot of older, used records, but it can also affect new records. Keeping dust at bay is just part and parcel of the vinyl format. To reduce the amount of stylus cleaning required, it’s important to keep your records clean. Clean records are kinder to your stylus because dirt, dust, and grime can accelerate wear.

To solve this issue, you’ll need to invest in a stylus cleaning kit and use it regularly. This will help keep your stylus tip clean and prevent distortion in your music. It’s important to note that a worn or broken stylus will also cause distortion and will need to be replaced. You can visually inspect the stylus with a magnifying glass to determine if it’s worn down and needs replacing.

Worn Out Cartridge

A worn-out cartridge is another common reason for a distorted sound on your turntable. The cartridge is the part of the turntable that holds the stylus and converts the vibrations from the stylus into an electrical signal that can be amplified and played through speakers. Over time, the cartridge can become worn out and lose its ability to accurately track the grooves on the record.

One sign of a worn-out cartridge is a loss of high-frequency response or a muffled sound. Unequal channel balance, harshness, or softness can also be caused by a poorly functioning cartridge. If you notice any of these symptoms, it may be time to replace your cartridge.

Replacing a cartridge is a relatively simple process but requires attention to detail. Before replacing your cartridge, make sure to inspect the wiring and connections to the headshell pins. It’s also important to ensure that your new cartridge is properly aligned to avoid any further distortion.

Loose Turntable Belt

If your turntable uses a belt, it can become loose over time and cause the platter to spin at the wrong speed. This can result in wobbly or slow playback, which in turn can cause distortion in the sound. To check if your turntable has a belt, you can refer to the user manual or look underneath the platter where the belt drive is located.

If you find that your turntable belt has become loose, you will need to replace it. The easiest way to do this is to search for the turntable name and model number along with the keyword “belt” on Google. Once you have the replacement belt, you can follow the instructions in your user manual to install it properly.

It’s important to note that a loose turntable belt is not an uncommon issue and can be easily fixed. Regular maintenance of your turntable, including checking and replacing the belt when necessary, can prevent distortion in your sound and ensure that your records play smoothly and accurately.

Improper Tracking Force

If you have noticed that your turntable is producing distorted sound, one of the reasons could be improper tracking force. Tracking force refers to the amount of pressure that the stylus exerts on the record as it tracks the groove. If the tracking force is too low, the stylus may skip or jump, causing distortion. On the other hand, if the tracking force is too high, it can cause excessive wear on both the stylus and the record.

To check if your tracking force is properly set, you will need a stylus force gauge and a cartridge protractor. These tools will help you measure and adjust the tracking force to the correct specifications. First, you need to balance the tonearm so that it is at a neutral position. Then, attach the stylus force gauge to the end of the tonearm and adjust the counterweight until the gauge reads the recommended tracking force for your cartridge.

Next, you will need to use a cartridge protractor to align the cartridge so that it tracks correctly across the entire record. This involves positioning the tonearm so that it lines up with two null points on the protractor where there is no movement of the stylus when playing a test record. Once you have aligned your cartridge correctly, you should notice a significant improvement in sound quality and a reduction in distortion.

Poor Grounding

One common cause of humming or buzzing noises in your turntable is poor grounding. This occurs when your turntable is not properly grounded, which can lead to ground loops and interference. To fix this issue, you’ll need to attach a grounding wire to your turntable chassis and amplifier. This will help to prevent any unwanted noise or hum caused by ground loops. The process of grounding your turntable is relatively simple and can be done easily at home.

First, locate the grounding wire on your turntable. This is usually a thin wire with a spade connector at one end. Next, locate the grounding post on your amplifier or receiver. This is usually a screw terminal with a metal plate attached to it.

Attach one end of the grounding wire to the grounding post on your amplifier or receiver, and the other end to the grounding wire on your turntable. Make sure that both connections are secure and tight.

Once you have connected the grounding wire, turn on your turntable and listen for any humming or buzzing noises. If the issue persists, you may need to check the connections between the tonearm and cartridge for any loose connections.

Overloaded Amplifier

An overloaded amplifier is a common cause of distorted sound in turntables. This happens when the signal being sent to the amplifier is too strong for it to handle, causing it to clip or distort. This can occur when a phono stage is connected to multiple inputs, causing the signal boost to happen twice and resulting in an extremely loud and distorted sound.

To avoid this issue, it’s important to connect your turntable to the correct input on your amplifier. Line-level inputs such as AUX or CD inputs are ideal for turntables, as they can handle the boosted signal without distortion.

It’s also important to check the tracking force of your turntable to ensure that it’s set correctly. If the tracking force is too high, it can cause the stylus to dig into the grooves of the record and create distortion.

In addition, it’s worth checking the connections between your speakers and amplifier to ensure that there are no loose or damaged cables causing a short circuit.

By taking these steps, you can avoid overloading your amplifier and enjoy distortion-free sound from your turntable.