Whether you are a DJ or a vinyl enthusiast: In order to get the best sound and performance out of your turntable, it must first be optimally adjusted. Because even though crackling a stuttering might feel like the classic vinyl experience, it should not happen with a well-adjusted turntable and quality records. You want to prevent the sound skipping, interference signals or that annoying low hum. Therefore we have compiled 7 steps to correctly set up any turntable. Use it as a checklist or guide when setting up your turntable.
Set up & align drive
Turntables belong on a stable surface, this can, for example, be a DJ table or special vinyl cabinet, however, most cabinets will do if they stable. This helps to prevent the needle from jumping unintentional and offers some protection against possible rumbling from the streets. A non-flat surface can be corrected by simply adjusting the legs of the turntable or adding some wood/paper or a coaster.
Now in order to check whether the device is actually fully level a good way is to use your smartphone. There are a lot of smartphone apps that can measure the spirit level. Simply place the measuring tool directly on the turntable and check the position of both axes (North / South and East / West). Keep adjusting until everything is fully aligned. Keep in mind to never remove the turntable’s feet, this is counterproductive, just add something underneath the feet.
Mount & adjust the tonearm
Not adjusting the tonearm and cartridge is one of the mistakes we included in our article on the 10 mistakes to avoid with a record player. A lot of DJs use turntables with tubular tonearms and SME screws so they are able to change and replace the tonearm if needed. However, if you bought a plug and play record player it is likely not needed to install or even adjust the tonearm. But it is always good to gain some knowledge. For example, a specific model from a particular brand can have its own settings. An Audio Technics 1200 series turntable requires a cartridge with an overhang of exactly 52 mm: Which makes it for example perfectly compatible with the Ortofon Concorde series. However, this means you have to keep in mind these settings and adjust accordingly when replacing the cartridge
Aligning the tonearm
To have optimal sound the stylus has to be perfectly aligned with the record. Technically this is when the stylus sits vertically in the groove at exactly 20 degrees to the front. This is because the sound is actually generated when the stylus touches the sides of the groove.
Now to align the stylus most record players come with a locking lever or adjusting ring. Here tonearm and its stylus can be aligned to the record with great precision. Most DJ turntables are equipped with a combination of locking lever and adjusting ring.
To adjust the tonearm, first, release the lever and place the needle on the record. The drive remains switched off. Now turn the adjusting ring carefully and without touching the actual tonearm until the tonearm runs parallel to the record. Now lift the needle off the record and secure this setting with the Locking lever. This procedure is always the same. If you can’t find certain elements it is best to read the manual or it could be the case that your record player lacks this feature.
Set the support weight
What can be an important feature to set is the weight that pushes the stylus down to the record. If the overlay weight is set too heavy, the needle and needle carrier can be damaged, if it is too low, the reproduction of the audio signal is less than optimal and the plate tends to crack. The bearing weight is adjusted with the counterweight of the tonearm.
In order to optimize this you first adjust it so that the stylus hovers freely in the air. Now hold the counterweight in position and turn the number ring attached to it to the zero position. The required weight in grams can then be set using the numbering on the ring. A tonearm scale is even more precise.
If you only use your turntable for playing and sampling, you should choose the average value recommended by the pickup manufacturer to protect your records, whereas mix and scratch DJs set higher values, even if the record and needle suffer more.
Turntables such as the Reloop RP-7000 , the 1200 series from Technics and the Pioneer PLX-1000, use S-shaped tonearms to minimize vertical track angle distortion and thus optimize the sound properties of the drives when playing records. However, the tonearm drifts towards the center of the plate. To balance this power, turntables have anti-skating. If the needle jumps towards the middle of the plate when the disc is scanned, despite the sufficient support weight, anti-skating will make sure this is prevented.
Maintain cable routing & contacts
Anyone who assembles and disassembles their turntables frequently should regularly check the audio cables and the ground cable for defective plugs, faulty soldered connections and cable breaks. It is also advisable to clean the cable plugs, the SME contact pins in the tonearm and the connections of the headshell from time to time (my tip: alcohol and Q-Tips).
The audio signal from turntables without an integrated phono preamp has a voltage of only a few millivolts, so it is important to transmit this signal as cleanly as possible. What is also advised is to put the audio cable not parallel to the power lines as this can cause interference. Lastly, make sure when wiring that you always pay attention to properly screwed earth cables as they can cause nasty humming.
Clean the needle
Needles are a sensitive spot as all types of dirt can accumulate on them: dust, grease, and moisture. Therefore, the next time you are going to use your record player take some time to properly clean the needle. Under no circumstances should you bother trying to clean with your fingers, Q-Tips or cleaning alcohol, as needles are very fragile and easy to damage. The combination of needles and dirt are the number one reason your device or records can be damaged. Read more in our article on how long record player needles can last and read more cleaning tips in our article on how to keep your vinyl records in great condition. Instead, you should rather buy a cleaning set made of brush and special liquid. We recommend, among other things, the Reloop Stylus Cleaner.