Turntable setup and care

Tone arms and cartridges Care/Tracking
Everything about vinyl playback is dependent upon the balance of the tone-arm and the condition of the needle.

If you didn’t know better, it would be easy to think that when calibrating the tracking, you could simply put the needle down and adjust the tracking dial until sound occurs. This is not the best practice however. Each cartridge has it’s own specific setting, which must be used, or you may destroy your records.

Set tracking force by adjusting the weight at the base of the tone-arm. Each cartridge will have its own unique setting, please use the one on the cartridge you are using.

Remember to check the tracking from time to time, as the setting can be accidentally altered with undesirable results. Here is a simple step-by-step guide from The Vinyl Factory, with excellent illustrations, to help you with this.

The needle must be kept clean, but never clean this by using your finger. The needle itself is ¾ of the value of a cartridge. Even if the pressure of your finger doesn’t damage the needle, the grease from it could help hold any dust that comes into contact with the needle in the future. Grease also has a tendency to harden over time. Not good.

The best way to keep a needle clean is to keep the records clean. Use a cleaning brush on your vinyl with every play and every now and then, use a specially designed brush to clean the needle. Periodically check the tracking weight of the tone arm to ensure that it hasn’t been accidentally changed while cleaning.

When placing the needle, imagine that you are using the most delicate of appendages to touch the most fragile and sensitive of spots. Because you are. Your turntable will have either a button or a lever to lift the tone arm with, use these to lift the arm down gently, to touch the record and play the music.

The next article will be a thorough introduction to records, but for now, please remember to handle them with care. Try not to touch the grooves at all, handling the record with fingertips and thumb balancing it, with your fingers spread across the label, and your thumb on the rim, balancing the opposite rim on your other palm.

More advanced cleaning of records than regular brushing, is provided by Spin Clean, which Liptons sells. Such cleaning is usually a one-time thing for each record if you properly store them.

How to correctly hold a record.

Precision and Vibration
There are many things that can impact the integrity of the playback, as turntables are precision instruments using a mechanical process to play a delicate physical record. Because the essence of turntable/record playback is the transmission of vibration, care has to be taken to manage any incidental vibrations that may impact it.

A record player (and records!) must be treated with a greater amount of care than digital playback devices. This involves both the fragility of the devices and media, and the delicacy of the interaction between turntable, cartridge, and record.

Turntables must be level, so that the record always has a consistent pressure on it and the needle is not likely to skate downwards. If a marble would move, so might the tone-arm, with fairly unmusical results.

Because the interface between arm, stylus, and disk is so sensitive, a number of elements need to be considered with respect to placement.

A stable and level surface is important. You don’t want the vibration of the turntable to cause the table to vibrate. Not only might this unseat the needle from the groove, causing it to skip, but it could cause feedback. You also want to prevent transfer of any vibrations that may come from the floor. Ideally, do not place it in a narrow traffic path, both for vibration, and the risk of accidentally knocking it.

In the old days it was popular for audiophiles to suspend their turntables from the ceiling, or mount it to joists on the wall, to try and obtain a perfectly level, vibration free surface.

The sensitivity of turntables to vibration also means that care needs to be taken with the relative positioning of speakers. If a speaker is too close to a turntable, and the volume gets turned up, the vibration of the speaker can start to make the arm on the turntable vibrate in sympathy with it. This may cause a loud hum, which then gets louder and louder until the arm jumps right off the record.

Lindsay says: “Dustcovers serve no function when you are playing records. Dustcovers prevent the turntable and any records on it, from getting covered in any dust that may be present in the room. Typically in the old days, mainstream turntables came with a dustcover and the dustcover had a hinge. When you changed records, you would tip the cover up, change the record, and put the cover back down.

That was great, made it look a certain way, and kept the dust off. The catch was, that a lot of the time, people would play the record with the cover open. The problem with that is that with the cover up, the physics is that the whole thing becomes a lot less stable. That cover, hinged, and sticking up like that, is subject to a lot of vibration, especially with heavy bass. It can exacerbate the feedback problem by causing vibration itself, making the turntable less stable.

If you have a turntable with an attached cover, you must close it when the record is playing. With audiophile turntables, their owners don’t want to introduce any vibration at all, so their dust covers are separate and lift right off. Often, the dustcovers sit right over the entire unit, covering it completely, sitting around the turntable.

McIntosh MT2 with the MA252 and XR100 speakers

McIntosh MT2 with the MA252 and XR100 speakers

If Liptons delivers your turntable, set-up of a basic turntable is included. A very sophisticated turntable may require additional time, for which there may be a charge. We like to make it easy for you to get straight to enjoying the music. For a detailed explanation of set-up if you really want to do it yourself, please watch the videos below.

This article and the series it is part of are a primer of turntable ownership and care. The next series on turntables and vinyl will go into greater depth. Meanwhile, stop by Liptons Audio Video Unlimited at any time to discuss your turntable needs, issues and thoughts with one of our skilled and experienced staff of Audio Video specialists.

A simple video about turntable set-up from our friends at Pro-Ject

..and a much more detailed explanation from Vinyl TV.

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