Setting Up a Turntable (Record Player)

An interesting device a turntable is. The mix of folks who are getting into or back into turntables is rather interesting (under 27 and over 40).  I suppose that the fairly large gap is explainable as many new families start at about 30 and for families, a CD or digital music system is preferred as both are easier to use, play multiple times and are less prone to breakage. For 40-55, in many cases our kids are grown, in some cases out of the house our careers are or have been building, listening to vinyl has a very healing effect and truly gives us a few hours of true relaxation because you want to get engaged with the overall effect. When you listen to a record, you have to pay attention to make sure the album is clean, that the arm is lifted of at the end of an LP etc.  One of the pleasures of owning a turntable is the overall maintenance. It is rather “fiddly farty” stuff but is a very pleasant way to spent a few hours in peace. The subject that I am going to tackle today is actually setting up a turntable.

A turntable is a relatively simple device. It really consists of a base, a platter assembly which also includes a felt or rubber mat,  a motor, a belt that is the link between the motor and the platter (Some turntables are direct drive. In this system the platter sits on top of the motor – therefore a direct connection) and a tone-arm which is the tube on the right side of the above picture that looks rather like a “hockey stick”. We have chosen a turntable manufactured by DUAL in Germany. These tables were extremely popular world-wide, known for their accuracy and consistency of spin, great  bearings in both the platter and the arm, simple to set up are very problem free. Many 40-50 year old Dual tables are still a vital part of music systems! They are also readily available in the used marketplace.

To set up a turntable, assuming the turntable is already a part of your system and is working is to check the speed. This can be done using the strobe light that is a part of your turntable, buy purchasing a strobe disk (this may be hard to find) or try by ear. I usually use this method. It is rather finicky but with patience it does work. I would also check the termination points of the RCA cables to ensure they are free of tarnish, a simple contact cleaner from your favourite audio store will work as will one from “the Source or Radio Shack”.  Once the RCA plugs are cleaned, re-connect them to the phono input on your amplifier/receiver.

The next stage in regards to the phono cartridge. If the cartridge has been used, detach the headshell or cartridge mount from the tonearm. Check to make sure the cantilever which is the little metal stick that contacts the LP is straight. At this point you should clean the diamond tip with a proper cleaner to make sure that no gunk from the needle will damage the surface of the record. If all looks good, re-attach the cartridge and mount or headshell to the tonearm.

The next step is to make sure the cartridge is in proper alignment so that it will properly translate the information that is on the album. Alignment gauges are available at most hi-fi stores, or simply take your table to a store and have them align it. Cost is usually minimal and if you replace the cartridge, alignment is often at no charge.

Once the cartridge alignment has been determined the next step is to make sure the tone arm is in proper balance. If the weight is too light or too heavy, the cartridge will not track correctly. This impacts negatively on both the sound and more importantly the vinyl. (Improper weight can destroy your favourite album) To set the weight properly first find two gauges on your turnable tonearm assembly and set them both at zero.  These two gauges are called “Tracking force” and “Anti-Skate”, while Tracking Force applies the correct downward pressure, anti-skate provides the force that counters movement towards the spindle ensuring the arm evenly tracks from groove one to run-off.  To set the “Tracking Weight” , move the tonearm from its’ rest position to the left making sure that the tone arm lift is in the “Down” position. When the tonearm is free from its’ rest, the tonearm should now simply balance freely in a level position. If it is too heavy and the tonearm is downward from level, turn the weight (called Counter Weight) counter clockwise to decrease the weight on the tonearm and bring to a zero balance point. If the arm actually lifts up, turn the weight clockwise until zero balance is achieved. Proper balance is vital as it determines how the needle or “stylus” sits in the groove. when the stylus was purchased there should have been a recommended weight measurement in the paperwork. If you are unsure – check on-line by going to cartridge manufacturers web-site. If you go to web-site of turntable manufacturer, they usually can only tell you about the table itself.If all seems good set the Tracking Force to the recommended setting and the Anti-Skate to the same as tracking force. You are done!

  1. If the Cantilever (the tiny stick coming out of the cartridge assembly) is bent – replace either the stylus or the entire cartridge to ensure no damage will be done to the album.
  2. If changing either stylus and cartridge it is always advised to have your favourite store to do it, again often it is free with the purchase of the cartridge.
  3. If you use an Ortofon cartridge, go to www.ortofon.com and this site offers recommendations for the correct cartridge for your turntable. (sign up for their newsletter when you are at it)
  4. If the turntable runs slowly, may be only a belt, check with a dealer
  5. Use a proper Stylus cleaner  (Mobile Fidelity, Clear-Audio, Roksan etc) some fluids will attack the adhesive that bonds the tip of the needle to the cantilever which will actually release the tip. See what cleaner your dealer uses.
  6. Use a proper record brush – either wet cleaners or Carbon Fibre Brushes
  7. Enjoy your music –

Please contact us with any questions or suggestions.

With Best Regards!