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Setting Up Your Turntable

Vinyl records are a timeless format with widespread appreciation. Around the world people associate it with fond memories of when they first truly discovered music. The vinyl revival has brought this same appreciation to a new generation (listening to an LP through a stereo system will beat listening to music through your iPhone speakers any day). Regardless of which camp you’re in, we want to make sure your table is optimized for peak performance. Improperly set-up tables can wear records and needles unevenly and can even lead to playback distortion. For this reason, we feel it is our duty to assist those who are either getting back into vinyl or discovering it for the very first time, in properly setting up their turntable. After having spent the time to do this correctly, you will be able to enjoy playing any record at the peak of yourr turntable’s performance. Let's get started... 

Note: For this guide, we will assume that your cartridge is in good working order and has already been properly installed and aligned to your turntable. If you need help with cartridge set-up or replacement, contact your local Planet of Sound for more information. 

Before you begin: For optimal play, make sure to place your turntable on a level surface. This is especially important if you plan on leaving the turntable in place after performing the setup.


Step 1) Installing the belt and platter. (If you have a direct drive turntable, skip this step). For belt driven turntables, the majority of them will either have an exposed belt that runs around the outside edge of the platter, or a belt that is located underneath the platter itself. In either case, the belt must be connected to both the motor drive and the sub-platter. Make sure that the belt is not inverted at any point along its circumference. If you have an older table, make sure the rubber hasn’t degraded as this can effect the play back speed of the table. After the belt has been successfully positioned, fit the platter over the centre spindle, and make sure that it is comfortably seated on its base.


Step 2) Setting up the tonearm. This is a crucial step to do correctly as it will ensure that you are applying the appropriate amount of downward force from your stylus onto your record. Start with the counterweight. Most tonearm counterweights are made up of two parts: the weight, and a numbered dial. The dial can be rotated independently and is simply an indicator or gauge of how much downward force is being applied to the record. Begin by facing the front of the turntable.

Make sure that your tonearm lift lever is set to the down position, and that any stylus guards have been removed (the stylus guard may throw off the weight). During the next steps of the process, make sure that you guard the stylus from hitting the edge of the platter as you don’t want to damage the needle. Take the tonearm out of its cradle. Rotate the counterweight at the end of the tonearm inwards. The goal is to set the counterweight so that the tonearm is left floating parallel to the turntable. Once the tonearm is floating, you have established the zero, or neutral setting, of the tonearm. This might take a bit of fine-tuning, but it's worth it to get it just right. Once that’s set and the tonearm is floating, hold the weight in position, and turn the dial/numerical gauge so that it indicates zero (0). Return the tonearm to its cradle.

You will now dial in the recommended downward tracking force. With your counterweight indicating zero, you can turn the entire counterweight (including the numbered dial) to match the appropriate tracking force. If you’re unsure of the recommended weight, check your cartridge specifications. 


Step 3) Apply the anti-skating weight. The idea here is to match the tracking force value from your cartridge with your anti-skating mechanism. Setting your anti-skate will add a counter force to the inward moving tonearm and ensure that the stylus stays in the middle of the record groove. If you have a table with a anti-skate dial, simply adjust the dial to the appropriate number. Some tables, like the Pro-ject Debut Carbon, come with a hanging anti-skating weight. This is essentially a small weight attached to a length of fishing line and a loop at the end. Hook the loop end to the appropriate notch on the small post at the back of the tonearm near the pivot point. If you have a Debut Carbon Turntable and an Ortolan 2M red cartridge, you will want to hook the loop on the middle of the three possible grooves. If you have another table or cartridge, you may want to refer to your turntable manual for positioning. 


Step 4) Connecting the phono cables. Match the colour of the RCA cable ends with the output connectors on the turntable and amplifier/receiver (red to red, etc…) and secure the ground wire to the grounding post. One word of caution, if you choose to use an external phono preamplifier and your amplifier or receiver has a built-in phono option, make sure that you avoid connecting the external unit to the built-in phono input. This could lead to “double gaining” and distorted music coming out of your speakers.



Step 5) Listening. Now that the final connections have been made, you’ve reached the toughest step: choosing which record to play first! 

Happy listening! 

For a live action version of setting up a Debut Carbon, check out our online video. 

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