Record Player Set-Up Pt1

Record Player Set-Up  Part 1

The Turntable and Tonearm

A record is normally made by a series of electro-mechanical and mechanical processes starting with the cutting of a complex analogue groove into a coated aluminium disc called an acetate and finally ending up with a vinyl copy of the original. The information on this copy (the record) is then extracted, again by electro-mechanical means, this time using a stylus and cartridge, before being converted and amplified into the sounds we hear.

The secret to getting those signals from the groove to sound as good as possible and to maintaining the long term integrity of the vinyl copy, is to mirror the parallel movement of the cutter used to produce the original acetate as closely as possible. This is not an easy task because the groove design is necessarily both small and very complex. Ideally the tip of the stylus following the groove will also sit parallel to the surface at all times so that it can trace the exact waveforms. In theory this cannot be completely accurately achieved with a conventional tonearm because it traverses the record in an arc rather than by paralleling.

In practice the ideal solution is a parallel tracking tonearm which attempts to more closely follow the original groove pattern but these arms can have their own compromises and are expensive to manufacture. A well designed and properly set up conventional tonearm only has very minor tracing errors, so despite it's theorectial drawbacks it has continued to remain very popular.

In addition to having proper tracking of it's groove, the record must be made to revolve at an extremely precise speed because even slight variations will alter the pitch of the sound. This leads to slurred tones and a general sense of uncertainty in the listening experience. Finally there should be no sound added to the original recording by bearing or motor noises or from resonances within the turntable unit itself or from the tonearm. 

Initial Set-up

Even if your playing equipment is very basic it can still benefit from some thought being given to it's set-up and the more sophisticated the equipment, the greater the benefit.

First of all the turntable needs to be set absolutely level with a suitable gauge. If it is tilted there will be side forces applied to the main bearing which can contribute to wear and speed instability. The tracking of the cartridge will be affected by incorrect levelling of the turntable too. It is also important that the major components of the turntable are in good order and lubricated as recommended by the manufacturer.  

Once the turntable itself is level the tonearm can be set up if required. It is very important that the arm should have freedom of movement in vertical and horizontal planes so that the stylus tip remains in the groove at all times when playing.

Setting the Tonearm and Cartridge

There are a number of different settings for the tonearm and cartridge and each is important. The cartridge assembly is often mounted with two screws which allow some sideways twisting moments to be applied along with the fore and aft adjustments. Depending on the arm type, the headshell azimuth and vertical tracking angle may also be adjustable.

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