Did you recently buy a new turntable? Are you happy with the playback quality? We sold the record listening experience over the past decade to a new generation of listeners and my inbox is full of questions and complaints from those same people who are not convinced that they are getting the full experience.
We’ve devoted a lot of space to affordable audiophile turntables, phono pre-amplifiers, and all of the accessories you might need to maximize your experience but not enough attention has been paid to phono cartridge setup.
Setting up a phono cartridge correctly is important to ensure optimal sound quality and to prolong the life of your cartridge and records. Here are the steps to set up a phono cartridge:
Choose the right tonearm: Select a tonearm that is compatible with the cartridge you have chosen, and has the right effective mass, compliance, and overhang to work optimally with your cartridge.
Mount the cartridge: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mounting the cartridge to the tonearm. Ensure that the cartridge is mounted securely and aligned properly, with the correct azimuth, overhang, and vertical tracking angle.
Choose the right stylus force: The correct stylus force will depend on the cartridge you have, but typically, it’s between 1.5 and 2.5 grams. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for the recommended force and use a stylus force gauge to set it accurately.
Align the cartridge: Aligning the cartridge correctly is important for optimal sound quality and to prevent damage to your records. This includes ensuring that the cartridge is parallel to the record, and the stylus is centered over the groove. There are several popular alignment protractors available to help you with this step.
Balance the tonearm: The tonearm must be balanced so that it remains level when tracking a record. This involves adjusting the counterweight until the tonearm floats freely with the cartridge in place.
Adjust anti-skating: Anti-skating helps prevent the stylus from skating towards the center of the record, causing unequal wear on the record and affecting sound quality. The anti-skating force should be set to the same value as the tracking force.
Connect to the preamp: Finally, connect the cartridge to a phono preamp, which amplifies the cartridge’s low-level output signal to line-level.
Calibrate the phono stage: Adjust the phono preamp’s gain, impedance, and capacitance to match your cartridge’s specifications.
Check the stylus condition: Regularly inspect the stylus for signs of wear and replace it as needed. A worn stylus can cause damage to your records and degrade the sound quality.
It’s a good idea to consult the cartridge manufacturer’s manual or seek the assistance of a professional for the best results. Keep in mind that proper cartridge setup is critical to achieving the best sound from your turntable setup.