Listening to your favorite albums on vinyl is incredibly rewarding. In exchange for careful attention to your equipment setup, you get a listening experience that makes devoted Spotify, Apple Music, or Pandora users melt with sonic envy.
From the stylus to your speakers, these tips can optimize your setup and help enjoy your music to its fullest.
1. The better the setup, the better the sound
Turntables are sensitive instruments, and your equipment was built to function on a level surface. The flatter the better, so take advantage of those adjustable turntable feet if you have them!
2. Make sure your cartridge is lined up
Every tone arm has some variance as to where the cartridge mounts. Your turntable will usually come with a setup gauge to help you get the stylus tip in just the right spot. If your table came with a pre-mounted cartridge, you are probably ok. But if you change or upgrade, make sure you use the setup gauge or better yet, use a professional.
3. Tracking lightly doesn’t prevent record wear – it causes it.
Similar to the point above, the stylus needs to make appropriate contact with your records. For obvious reasons, it shouldn’t be too heavy. But it shouldn’t be too light either. If you’re tracking too lightly, the stylus is bouncing around in the grooves in odd ways. It’s not good.
4. Secondhand records are usually good
Save some money – buy secondhand! The exception is records that have visible gouges or big scratches. If a record looks ok, it probably is.
Think of it this way: If you invest in a really nice cartridge, that stylus tip is going to contact the record in places that no stylus has ever ventured before.
In all likelihood, you’ll crank more high fidelity sound out of that old record than the previous owner. In this sense, most “used” records are only partially used.
5. Clean records and stylus are important
Crackle. Hiss. Pop. Many people think these sounds are a normal part of the vinyl experience. In reality, these sounds usually indicate that a record is dirty. To avoid these sounds, use thin carbon fibers that help get the gunk out of your record grooves without scratching anything.
A dirty record only affects the listening experience of that record. A dirty stylus, on the other hand, makes all of your records sound bad. The solution? Clean the stylus! Use a stiff brush, which you can use to remove dirt that your stylus picks up from the record grooves. Be sure to apply turntable cleaning fluid every now and then to be sure your stylus stays clean.
The longer you go without cleaning it, the more gunk sticks to it. Eventually, the dirty stylus has a negative impact on sound.