Turntable Set up is something many consider to be a black art; here you’ll find some help making sense of it.
Not everyone is lucky enough to own a high-end turntable like the Rega RP8 pictured above but the principles of set up are the same for most turntables. Here is a guide to things you can do to maintain your record player and get the best from it.
The most common problems with all record players not sounding at their best are as follows;
- Badly worn stylus
- Badly aligned cartridge
- Incorrect tracking weight (downforce)
- Incorrect VTA
- No lubrication in the bearing
- Worn belt
- Poor location of the turntable
- Damaged arm-bearings
Getting your stylus checked is something you should do every now and again. If the diamond is in bad shape you will find that the sound quality will worsen considerably. Even worse news is that when a stylus is damaged it will actually gauge and scrape the walls of your records and damage them irreparably.
You can see above that the worn stylus is riding the groove in the wrong position to extract the most information. But as the profile of the diamond worsens it ends up looking something like Mnt Everest and can seriously chew up your precious vinyl.
A stylus should last 4-5 years with regular use. By regular I mean a few hours every day. If you listen a great deal more then you should replace it more often and if in doubt bring your stylus in and we can examine it and report on how it is holding up.
Bear in mind that styli don’t break but instead they deteriorate. This means you might have been listening to a badly worn stylus damaging your vinyl for a long time without realising.
A badly aligned cartridge is the same thing. If you look at the head-shell of a tone-arm there are slots. These allow the cartridge to be moved backwards and forwards in order for the stylus to be presented to the groove with precisely the right geometry. Accuracy is critical to performance.
A protractor or gauge is used to get it right and that device may be particular for the tone-arm on your deck. A Rega one for example is very different from that used by Linn. If you did not get the cartridge fitted by a retailer or the manufacturer it is well worth checking this. If you just fitted it yourself and hoped for the best it is critical you do. If you don’t have the gauge we’d be happy to do it for you. If you want to do it, get the proper gauge for the turntable you own. There is normally a grid and a place to put the stylus. When the stylus is in the X; the body of the cartridge should be parallel to the lines on the grid. If it isn’t, loosen the bolts that secure the cartridge, move it back or forwards until it is and then tighten it up.
A badly aligned cartridge will present the stylus to the groove at the incorrect angle. This will damage the groove and sound worse. Typically this is sibilance (that horrid “ssssss” sort of sound), distortion or mistracking (when the stylus jumps or leaves the groove – in the worse case scenario).
Bear in mind if you do check or change the alignment you will need to reset the arm balance.
This is another common problem. Your cartridge will have a recommended tracking weight. Typically this is around 2 grams +/- 10%. If it is under the stylus will simple bounce around in the groove and the sound quality will be worsened at best and the stylus become damaged at worst. If the down-force is too high the stylus will wear very quickly and the sound will be heavy-laden and lack life or sparkle.
This short video explains how to do it.
Vertical tracking angle is easy to check. Put the stylus in the groove of a record. Squat down until you are parallel to the record player and check that the tone-arm is approximately parallel to the record. If it is high OR low at the back then this needs to be adjusted. Don’t be concerned about a very small amount but anything great is likely to have an impact on both performance and stylus wear. Adjusting this is one job I would recommend leaving to a specialist. It is normally done by loosening an allen key socket and then sliding the pillar of the arm up or down before re-tightening. The problem is over-tightening can damage the bearings significantly.
If you want to be sure; cut a piece of white card and make perfectly parallel lines on it. Place it on the record and see if the tonearm aligns to the lines. If it’s substantially up or down at the back then it will need adjusting. This is something you CAN do yourself with the correct tools but be extremely careful as it is extremely easy to damage the bearings on a tonearm. A good rule of thumb when retightening is to nip it up and then give it one quarter turn.
No lubricant in the bearing
Bearings need lubrication and they not only run dry but the oil in them is often contaminated with fluff and dust. Remove the inner platter from the bearing sleeve and ensure there is enough oil. If the bearing and spindle are dry then you need to add four or five drops of a good machine oil. Sewing machine oil is ideal. NB: if you use a high-end turntable it is worth speaking to your dealer before doing this as some turntables require a very specific oil and will normally supply it at a small cost.
If the bearing looks a little clogged up mop it out with some cotton buds or some kitchen roll screwed into a thin spiral. Take your time and remove the old stuff and then add some fine machine oil. Don’t add too much as it will simply squirt out when you fit the inner platter back in.
Belts wear and stretch. When they do the turntable will run slow and may take longer to get up to speed. Turntables sound dreadful when they are running slow. Fit a new belt from the correct manufacturer and you will be pleased that things simply sound “more right”. Expect to fit a new belt every 5 years or so and more often if the turntable sees a great deal of use.
These can require more care than the end-user can provide. The LINN LP12 is an example of this. It has a floating suspension and this requires some maintenance. Maintenance requires a special jig that enables the turntable to be worked on safely. Without the jig it is close to impossible to set the deck up. In these instances we would suggest that the turntable is services by a specialist like ourselves.
We do a routine service on most turntables for £15 and £75 for the Sondek.
Poor location of the turntable
Turntables can be effected by what they are sat on. A light and rigid surface is the best thing for most turntables. A wall shelf is also ideal. You can use just about anything else but generally a high mass resonant surface (like a piece of furniture) will impact on the sound adversely. If there is no other option consider specialist products to isolate the turntable. A slab of granite can be the simplest and most affordable solution.
Avoid placing the turntable too close to the speakers also. Airborne vibration can destabilise the record player.
- Look after your records as cleaning your vinyl will preserve the life of your stylus
- Use inner sleeves to protect your records
- Site the turntable away from vibration. A light support is always best than a heavy one. Feel if there is any vibration on the surface that the record player is sat on – this is extremely important if your turntable does not have a suspension – vibration will be transferred straight into your amplifier. If there is any vibration take measures to reduce it. Wall shelves are of course ideal because they are rigid and de-couple the turntable from the room.
- Avoid “stacking” your turntable and don’t sit it on top of other electronics
- If you are picking up any hum – move the turntable a few inches away from your amplifier.
If in any doubt talk to us. We will be glad to advise, to check, to service or maintain your record player and ensure it is working at its best.