Spin Doctor: Tips for Your New LP Rig

Placement. First, don't locate the turntable on a surface or in a cabinet that also supports loudspeakers, or in the acoustic peak of a room mode, as nothing will screw up your sound more than feeding energy back into the turntable. In addition, cartridges can pick up hum when they're near large transformers, so don't sit a big power amp right next to the turntable. Direct sunlight from a window can actually cause a stationary record to warp, so watch out for that, too.

Most turntables work best sitting on a rigid table or platform that isn't coupled to sources of vibration. A suspended wood floor can be a problem if you're a heavy stepper, although there are dedicated turntable wall shelves that let you get the player up off a bouncy floor. Floors tend to bounce more as you get further away from a supporting wall, and this often causes a situation where the front legs of a stand move up and down while the rear legs nearer to the wall remain relatively still, resulting in a stand that sways front to back as you walk past. If you have an unfinished basement under your music system, a well-positioned floor prop beneath the front legs of the stand might help solve this problem.

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Once you've found the ideal location, the first and probably most important task is to get the turntable level with adjustments on the 'table or shelving. An out-of-level turntable not only screws up many of your tonearm settings, it can also cause increased friction in the main platter bearing, resulting in diminished performance. I like to make a final check for level in each plane directly on the surface of the platter using a small bubble level, after making sure that any mat has been removed.

Arm and cartridge setup. Setting up the turntable itself consists primarily of installing the phono cartridge and adjusting the tonearm. If you're stuck with doing the job yourself, I won't kid you: It's a precision sport requiring patience, sharp vision, good lighting, and dexterity, all while trying to avoid trashing an expensive stylus. The steps include mounting the arm to the turntable (if it's not already there), mounting the cartridge in the headshell and connecting the wires, and then using templates and tools to optimize tracking force, antiskating, the position of the cartridge in the headshell (overhang), its lateral rotation in the headshell (zenith), the axial rotation of the arm (azimuth), and the vertical height of the arm (vertical tracking angle). That probably sounds pretty daunting, although not all arms let you adjust every parameter.