Turntables are amazing. They have been around since the early gramophone and their design and functionality haven’t changed much over time. These days turntables can be purchased new or used and the costs can be anywhere from free to the tens of thousands. Despite the fact that the market place offers a multitude of options, they all have one main thing in common. They do not work properly unless they are calibrated. Now, set up is actually pretty straight forward, but there is a large portion of collectors that do not fully understand the process. Within this post we’ll be breaking down the basics so you can be sure you’re getting the best quality and reliability out of your system.
The following instructions apply to turntables that have a typical balance assembly. For players that have more complex systems or don’t include a slip ring with gauge, we suggest reading the players instruction manual or purchasing a stylus force scale.
Anti-Skating: For normal use of your turntable, ensure your anti-skating is set to zero.
Tracking Force: Is simply the adjustment of how much weight is applied to the record needle. Too much pressure can damage your records and cause playback issues. Too little pressure can cause skipping and drastically affect playback quality. Please keep in mind that some portable and base model players do not allow for calibration. If your player isn’t adjustable and you’re experiencing playback issues, skipping, etc. These problems might be correctable through replacing the needle. When looking for a replacement needle, be sure to select a model identical to OEM or the manufactures suggested replacement. Either way, perfection is not expected with these types of players. You’re sacrificing quality for portability or affordability.
Step 1: Look up the manufactures recommended tracking force- All record needles are unique and require different amounts of tracking force. Inspect your needle and locate the make and model. A quick google search or a glance at the manufactures website should provide all the information you need. Just be sure to double check that you’re reviewing the details that are for your exact make and model. Tracking force weight will be measured in grams and usually between 1.5-3.5g. To be clear, you are searching for an exact number. If the manufacture is suggesting a range, our opinion is that you select the minimum and increase if needed. Or just split the difference.
Step 2: Balance the tone arm - At the opposite end of the tone arm, you’ll find the balance assembly. Typically this is a dial made up of two parts, the main balance weight and the slip ring. Turning the assembly will allow the balance of the tone arm to shift. In this step we need to balance the tone arm so that when released and left floating, it will balance flat in mid air. Not falling forward, towards or onto the plater, and not backwards so the the needle is up in the air. We want the tone arm to be perfectly level.
Step 3: Zero your the slip ring - Once the tone arm is balance you’ll need to zero the slip ring. This is a very simple process. Just before the main balance weight, you’ll see a dial (slip ring) with numbers listed zero to 2.5gram (typically). Holding your main balance weight in place, twist the s
lip ring until you’ve set it to zero. Release the tone arm to ensure it is still balanced. Repeat step 2 if you’ve slightly moved your main balance weight in the process.
Step 4: Add Tracking Force - Twist the balance assembly so that the main balance weight and the slip ring are turning counter clockwise, adding pressure to your cartridge and needle. Ensure that that both your slip ring and main balance weight are moving in unison. Keep twisting until the slip ring is set to the manufactures recommended tracking force. If you hav a needle that requires more than 2.5 grams of force, you’ll need to do a little bit of math. For example if your needle calls for 3 grams you’ll turn the balance assembly from zero one full rotation to zero, that equals a full 3 grams.