Set-up of basic vinyl discs for beginners

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This article is written to provide knowledge about setting up and adjusting trays for everyone just starting to get acquainted with vinyl, turntable, and related things. If you go to buy vintage, used, or new stuff, usually the seller will tell you that “rest assured, it’s been calibrated, bring it back and use it,” but how good it is to hear is good luck. It’s not because the seller gives you a cheat; I often see the guys selling turntables are very kind. But you know, when you move the tray from the place of purchase to your home, the mechanical components will be affected more or less and make the initially fine-tuned parameters no longer accurate; this will have an effect. The sound is pretty decent. So in this article, I will give some information that you need to equip yourself to be able to self-calibrate. These are very basic knowledge and play a very important role in the vinyl hobby. All vintage or new items apply them, so read and learn once and you can play for a long time. If you buy new wheels like Project Debut Carbon, Sony PS-HX500, Audio-Technica AT-LP120, they are already pre-mounted in the optimal position, so buy and adjust the VTF to run.

First, how to mount the cartridge on the tonearm? The key to playing vinyl is extracting the best part of the analog signal from the stylus produced when scanning the track. So each nanometer in the setup stage is also very important; if you accidentally attach the wrong needle, improperly calibrated, it will be easy to jump music, scratch the disc, or listen to glare, harsh, low bass, thin mid. First, in the setup, we need the tool.

Consists of:

– 2 screws to attach the cartridge to the headshell – this screw should be a copper screw; it will have three sizes short, medium and long; depending on the thickness of the headshell, you choose the screw to fit

– 1 eyelash pliers

– 1 set of screwdrivers

– 1 Protractor of Ortofon, or Project

– 1 bright LED flashlight

– 10X or 20X magnifying glass

– 1 dedicated electronic microscale or cartridge

– 1 pair of makeup glasses, really thin – this is for azimuth correction

– 1 round bubble water scale

  1. First, you have to make the wheel balance

Usually, turntables allow us to increase or decrease the height of the pins. They will look like this.

This step is the easiest; use 1 pound of water, put it on the turntable, adjust the four legs so that the bubble is in the center of the box!

  1. Installation

First of all, the cartridge usually comes with a plastic stylus cover; remember to leave it alone, do not remove it. I have witnessed a tragic scene for a $3,000 Lyra Kleos cartridge because the owner’s negligence broke the cantilever. You will feel like the sky is falling when you hear that tiny “click” sound.

Then, look to see if our turntable has an anti-skating knob. Usually, it will be located near the rotating part of the tonearm; some brands put it on the bottom of the tonearm, so they have to turn their hands down to adjust, in case you don’t know. Where is the anti-skating knob? See the manual. Usually, they look like this:

Set this anti-skating level to 0.

Next! You put the cartridge in the headshell; there will be two screw holes on the headshell. A tonearm will be attached to the headshell and only has a fixed screw hole but cannot be pulled up and down; these tonearms, I recommend avoiding because it can only catch a single cartridge, for example, Rega RB300 or Naim Aro. As for tonearms that have adapters for mounting a headshell or a headshell with an elliptical hole, allowing us to move the cartridge, it is more comfortable to use a needle cartridge to change the sound quality.

You attach two screws to the headshell and tighten it just right, not too tight.

  1. Wiring

This step is quite simple; the cartridge has four pins indicated by color; four colors are green, blue, white, and black, which color wire is connected to that color pin. Use eyelash pliers for ease.

  1. Adjust the force of the stylus

The stylus consists of the pointed tip that sweeps over the disc groove and the cantilever. A cantilever is a place to attach the stylus tip and acts as a bearing bar for the stylus. Quite fragile, so I just said that I keep the plastic piece to protect the stylus when installing the cartridge into the tonearm.

At this step, you will turn the counterweight on the back of the tonearm a little bit back so that the lever is in a dangling position; when the tonearm lifter lever is pushed, the stylus tip is slightly down and still has not touched the plate surface. We use an electronic microscale to get right into the stylus position, then turn the counterweight up so that the scale displays about 1g.

  1. Height of tonearm

The key to adjusting the tonearm’s height is to keep the arm wand parallel to the plate, thereby creating the best stylus tracking angle (15 degrees to 20 degrees depending on the model). The company has already optimized tonearm height when buying a wheel with a tonearm, so don’t worry too much. Only when on that tray you want to mount another tonearm will we start messing around. I will discuss this issue in more detail in future posts.

  1. Alignment of needle routing

That is an important step, and a lot of time, good or bad, is here. It’s easy, but it takes unshakable ears and a little meticulousness. When the record company engraves a disc, the knife follows a parallel translation from the outside to the inside; the diamond knife cross-section is always perpendicular to the disc groove it creates. When reconstructing the disc reader, the need to rotate around a non-translating point like when cutting; the stylus will not go in the groove like when cutting but will be deflected by an angle. That is called a tracking error. This angle will make the image affects the relative position of the needle to the track and affects the sound reproduction in the left & right channels, which is not temporally accurate (the left and right channel sounds are not emitted simultaneously as the spatial sound). Baerwald’s research around 1941 showed that there were two points at 66mm and 120.9mm from the center of the axis of rotation.

To fix the tracking error at these two points, people still had to measure and do everything in the past; now, it’s easier thanks to some Protractors that sell for about $10. You put the stylus in 2 positions marked on the protractor, look to see if the cantilever is parallel to the lines next to it, if it’s too difficult to see, you shine the LED light and use a magnifying glass to make it easier to see. Adjust them parallel to each other, and you’re done. Tighten the screw, and we continue to the next step.

  1. Azimuth

Azimuth is the lateral tilt of the stylus with the disc track; whichever side it tilts more, the channel on that side will sound louder than the other, plus the vinyl will wear out faster on one side. In the simplest way of Michael Fremmer from AnalogPlanet, use a thin makeup mirror placed on the turntable and lower the needle when I see the reflection of the needle and cartridge body completely symmetrical. In addition, there is a very accurate way to use an oscilloscope, but not everyone has the money to buy one to watch azimuth, and using that machine is not easy.

  1. Adjust the tracking force properly

After all, is done, we begin to use an electronic microscale to re-weigh the needle to match the tracking force recommended by the company. For example, my Ortofon Quintet Black S tracking force ranges from 1.8g to 2.5g and is recommended by the company to be at 2.3g. I like to hear the sound solid and a bit thick, so I adjusted it at 2.35g. If you like a thick sound, go up to about 0.05g and want a faster, thinner sound, from the recommended level, down to 0.1g or 0.2g is beautiful.

  1. Adjust Anti-Skating

As the turntable rotates on its axis, it creates a radial acceleration that rolls the tonearm inward like a tornado. This force causes the disc to be scratched, worn, and the cartridge cantilever is crooked to one side. Adjust this anti-skating to resist that pull. How to adjust it reasonably depends on the need and cartridge. Too much anti-skating will cause the rod to tilt outward. You should use a blank vinyl record, buy about 10 $ to adjust, rotate until it does not drift in. Using unpivot tonearms, you should follow Michael Frommer’s method so that anti-skating = ¼ tracking force.

  1. Check it out one last time and listen

Congratulations on not giving up and patiently making it to the end of this basic block. Now, I check the overview one last time for peace of mind, put the disc in, and listen to it.


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