Turntable 101: How To Set Up Your Turntable Correctly

by jcooke

Turntable setup is an important part of your record listening experience. Improper setup can result in skipping and may even damage your records. Let’s take a look at a few basic tips to set up your turntable correctly.

The following are basic recommendations for your turntable setup, like ensuring your turntable is sitting on a surface free of movement and vibrations. There are a lot of factors that go into how you set up your turntable and setups will vary.

If you’re looking for than a super in-depth audiophile setup guide, we recommend doing some research and experimenting to find out what works best for you.

Before You Set Up Your Turntable

RTFM

For this example we’re going to use my dusty, crusty, but always trusty, Technics 1200s. The Technics 1200 is widely considered to be the industry standard turntable for DJing. When you’re setting up a turntable the first thing you should do is read the manual. If your turntable’s manufacturer suggests something different than what’s discussed here, it’s probably best to follow their suggestions.

Plug Me In

How and what you’re plugging your turntable into is an important part of getting your turntable setup correct. Always make sure all your equipment is turned off before making any connections to avoid damaging your speakers!

The Technics 1200 produces a phono output signal. A phono output level is significantly lower than the normal line or aux level that comes out of your phone or other media player so it needs to be boosted. If you’re plugging a phono output into a DJ mixer, there’ll be a preamp built in, just make sure you use the mixer’s phono inputs.

Most old stereo receivers will also have phono inputs. If you’re plugging a phono output into a newer stereo receiver or directly into powered speakers, you’ll need a phono preamp to boost the signal to line level. Phono output turntables also need to be externally grounded. Your phono input device will have a small screw where you can affix the ground fork from the turntable. If you’re using a newer home listening or portable style turntable there’s a good chance the preamp is built into the turntable itself. Be sure to check your turntable’s manual first.

Ensuring phono out is plugged in correctly for turntable set up

Where’s Your Head At?

A lot of newer turntables will come complete with a needle, cartridge, and headshell, however the Technics 1200 does not. For this example, we’re using another industry standard: the Shure M44-7 cartridge and stylus (needle). The cartridge will need to be attached to the headshell, which will then be attached to the tone arm. You should use extreme care when attaching the cartridge to the headshell and always be sure to follow the instructions included with your cartridge. Once you’ve got your stylus, cartridge and headshell fully assembled, line up the guide posts and gently screw the assembled headshell onto the tonearm.

Putting together headshell, cartridge and stylus on Technics SL-1200 to ensure correct turntable set up

Achieve Balance

Now we’re ready to set up the tonearm’s counterweight which determines how much tracking force is applied to the cartridge. Setting the tracking force too low will cause your needle to skip, too high and it can wear down your records and stylus prematurely. With the cue lever down, set the anti-skating to 0 and bring the tone arm over the platter, gently supporting it with your finger from the headshell. Now, adjust the tone arm counterweight back and forth until the tonearm is balancing in a level position (like a see-saw). Once you’ve got a good balance going on you can return the tonearm to it’s resting position. With the tonearm balanced, the tracking force is now at 0 grams so we’ll need to adjust the dial on the front of the counterweight to 0. Now we’re ready to dial the counterweight tracking force to what’s recommended by the cartridge’s manual. The Shure M44-7 recommends a tracking force of 1.5-3 grams, however your cartridge and the way you play records may require different settings.

Optimizing counterweight and anti-skating on tone arm of Technics SL-1200 to ensure correct turntable set up

Adjusting counterweight on Technics SL-1200 turntable to ensure correct turntable set up

Anti-Skating Is Not A Crime

Anti-skate counteracts the tone arm from being pulled into the center of the turntable and the side wall of the vinyl’s groove. Generally the anti-skate setting should be the same as the tracking force on the cartridge, however a lot of DJs just leave it at 0 to prevent jumping while scratching or back cueing.

Adjusting Anti-skating dial on Technics SL-1200 to ensure correct turntable set up

Platter Matter

Most turntables like the Technics 1200 will come with a rubber or felt mat that goes on top of the platter. For home listening purposes a rubber or cork will work really well for absorbing unwanted vibrations. For DJing purposes, a felt mat (like the awesome ones pictured below) is preferred to reduce friction while scratching or cueing. The thickness of your mat will determine how high you’ll need to set your tone arm. On the Technics 1200 you can adjust the height of the tone arm using the large outer ring where the tone arm connects to the deck.

Technics turntable with Discogs slipmat on the platter is part of the optimal turntable set up

That’s it! Now that you’ve got your turntable set up, you’re ready to start spinning.

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