Record Player Setup: The Basics

Record Player Setup The Basics

If you love vintage items, you might fall in love with an ancient record player. It is also referred to as a turntable. But, to get the most out of your record player, you need to hack the best set up. How do you go about it?

You need the components first, which may include, but are not limited to, a receiver, phono preamp, amp with speakers, and a turntable.  It will not be an easy ride, with hundreds of record player components already on the market. Nonetheless, if you know what to look for, the search should not be a nightmare. Here are a few things to consider before making a record player set up:

Parts of a turntable

A turntable is one of the most important components of any record player. It is therefore critical to learn its individual parts before understanding how to set up a record player. One of them is the platter, which spins when the record is playing.

The mat, on the other hand, holds the record firm when it is playing. It also cushions it from the vibrations of the motor. Then, there is the counterweight, which runs the needle that touches on the surface of the record.  It is also referred to as tracking force.

In addition, there is anti-skate, which refers to a mechanism, which enables you to regulate the amount of force that is applied on the tonearm.  It is also used to balance the centripetal force that is applied on the needle when the record is spinning.

There is a cueing mechanism, which allows you to lower or raise the tonearm from the surface of the record.  The tonearm hosts the wires, which transport signals from the needle to the turntable base and later into the amp. Tonearms can be straight or curved.  The tonearm rests on yet another feature of the turntable named the armrest.

Other components include a headshell. This links the stylus and the cartridge to the tonearm. A speed switch is used to set tuning speeds.  Some records are played at 33 RPM whereas others are recorded at 45 RPM.

Plinth on the other hand, is used to separate the turntable from vibrations. The plinth, or the base, is made of wood or any other hard material. Lastly, we have the spindle, which you stick in the hole at the middle of the record.

How to set up a record player

Assuming you have already gathered a phono preamp, receiver, amp with speakers and turntable.  Here is what you need to do:

Balance the tonearm

In order to balance the tonearm, you need to install your cartridge while placing a record on the platter. Then set the anti-skate to zero, decrease the cueing mechanism and take the tonearm from the armrest.

While putting your hand on the headshell, use the other to spin the counterweight.  Then, release the headshell carefully and check if it wants to move up or down.  The idea is to have the tonearm balanced well, such that when you allow the tonearm to move, the needle will be left floating a slight distance from the record’s surface.

It is best if you can maintain the needle closer to the record without it touching its surface. After you have done this, return the arm to the armrest.

Adjust the anti-skate and the counterweight

Now that the tonearm is balanced, you need to apply the most appropriate tracking force based on the cartridge you have.  If your cartridge is new, you can ascertain the tracking force from the manual.  Where the cartridge is a bit old, you can find the tracking force by looking into online databases.

However, to help you out, simply spin the counterweight force dial, until you see that the zero mark is in line with the indicator line.

Once you have done this, you will only spin the weight until the dial falls on the appropriate tracking force meant for the cartridge. This should enable you to apply the best tracking force. Then, set the anti-skate setting to almost the same reading.

Get the cartridge right

Aligning the cartridge, can be the most challenging task when you are carrying out a record player set up.  You need to move the cartridge backward or forward in the headshell, while spinning it sideways, to achieve the correct angle.

At this stage, the idea is to ensure that inner groove distortion is minimized. This problem happens when the needle grooves slower at the middle of the record than at the edges, which makes it produce a distorted sound.

There are three main forms of alignment including Lofgren, Stevenson and Baerwald. Each has advantages and disadvantages but Baerwald has been proven the best.

As a beginner, you might have to look for a protractor which will make the work easier.  Alternatively, you can go for a template. You can find a generic one or you could get one customized based on the tonearm and the turntable.  Another important tip is that you should check the alignment to ensure it has not moved.

Regulate the vertical tracking angle

Not all turntables have this component, but if you are lucky to have one, this is how to adjust the vertical tracking angle.  Before we delve into that, it is important you know that some people think that the component is critical whereas others have rendered it useless.

To achieve the best vertical tracking angle, by adjusting the middle point of your tonearm, you can make the needle find the groove of the record at the most appropriate angle. Although some people think it is pointless, if you have a vertical tracking angle on your record player, it is vital to set it right.

Balance your turntable

The next thing you have to do is to ensure that there are no imbalances. Make sure that your platter is in balance at the spindle.

Separate your turntable

It is important that you isolate your turntable, such that fewer vibrations get to it.  This will help to prevent needle skips and unwanted feedback.  You can use a huge stereo cabinet and rubber feet to reduce vibrations. In addition, place the speakers some meters away from the turntable.  This will go a long way in ensuring that the sound produced by the record player is perfect.


With that, you now understand how to set up a record player. You can enjoy your favorite music, with less effort.

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