With the advent of Compact Disc the turntable has quickly fallen from favour in most people’s stereo systems. However many of us have a collection of albums that will never be replaced on CD, and anyway, Christmas is the ideal time to get them out and reminisce a little.
Turntable setup is critical to get the best reproduction from those old albums for recording, or straight listening. Here is a step by step guide to help setup your turntable correctly:
There are two styles of cartridges. The “P mount” is easy to identify as it plugs directly into the end of the arm with one screw horizontally through the arm and cartridge body. If your table has this cartridge type, ensure the screw is tight, the stylus (or needle) is clean and go to the next step.
The majority of cartridges are a conventional mount, easily identified by the two vertical screws through the headshell (usually removable) , with 4 wires connecting the cartridge to the headshell. Make sure all connections and the two anchoring screws are tight.
If you still have the accessories that came with the table look for an overhang gauge (check the box). It’s a funny looking two inch plastic holder which when attached to the removed headshell/cartridge has a grove which roughly aligns with the tip of the stylus. Loosen the two anchoring screws and slide in the cartridge to align the tip of the stylus with the grove. Tighten the screws, recheck the alignment, then go to the next step. if you are mounting a cartridge without a gauge, set the cartridge to the centre of the adjustment slots and tighten the screws.
Anti-skate stops the arm from skating toward the inside of the album during play. Anti-skate is set with a small wheel type gauge near the base of the arm on the table. With the headshell and cartridge mounted on the arm, and the arm in the holder, set the anti-skate to zero. Some tables have a fishing wire and weight hanging off the side rear of the arm. Gently remove the wire from the arm, we will adjust these settings later.
The counterweight is usually a graduated rotatable counter-weight at the rear of the arm. With the arm free of the holder and the cue down, hold the arm still and rotate the weight to the rear until the arm floats. Release the arm and lightly tap the top of the headshell, it should float free in the horizontal position, confirming there are zero grams of weight on the cartridge.
The counter-weight has two parts, the front part is a gauge only. Hold the rear weight portion firmly so that our setting will not be changed, then rotate the front gauge until zero aligns with the reference line. You have now balanced and calibrated the arm to the cartridge. Refer to your cartridge spec sheet for the manufacturer’s recommended weight. If unavailable, rotate the rear weight forward on the arm until the gauge shows 1.5 (standard setting). The gauge will rotate with the weight, that’s the idea.
Now that you have set the arm to the correct tracking force, the anti-skate must be set. If it is a rotational wheel type, set the wheel to the same weight as the arm (e.g. 1.5g). If it is the fishing line type, each notch on the arm the line loops over equals 1/4 gram, starting with the notch closest to the arm. Now, (with an album on the table) move the arm half way over the album. Using the cue lever move the arm down then up several times, the stylus should land at the same point every time. If it seems to move toward the inside, increase the anti-skate if it moves to the outside, decrease the force. Continue testing until the arm moves up and down without any side to side motion.
Having completed the basic set up, you can now “tweak” the sound further if you have the time and an adjustable or non “P Mount” cartridge. After the basic setup, play a well recorded preferably live non multitrack recorded album. Pay attention to bass extension, high frequency sibilance and image or centre fill. If you find the centre fill seems slightly off to one side, loosen the mounting screws and slightly “cock” the cartridge in the head shell so that the front of the cartridge is closer to the record spindle (to the right when viewed from the front of the table). Play again. If it seems better balanced you have gone in the right direction, if it seems worse, go the other way.
By moving the cartridge backwards and forwards in the headshell you will change the high/low frequency balance. This relationship will be different from cartridge to cartridge so start with a small movement forward, then listen again. Always use the same cut so that you get used to what you are hearing. When the highs start to “spit” at you or seem overly attacking you’ve gone too far in that direction. If the bass gets loose and overbearing you have gone too far in the other direction. This process can take a while so be patient, trust your ears and don’t rush.
When you have the best Tonal Balance and Image possible, re-check your counterweight by rotating the wheel backwards until the gauge reads “0” and see that the arm still floats. This is a good way to do a quick check at any time for “basic setup”.
Always tighten the screws before listening to any change, as loose screws introduce a whole range of problems you may interpret as, a problem with your last adjustment. With some patience you can get a midrange turntable to rival the sound of a mediocre set up on a high end exotic turntable – without the expense!