Knowing how to align your tone arm is critical when you’re listening to your vinyl records. If you have a modern Crosley or Jensen record player, you will not have to do this because your record player does not allow for you to adjust the arm. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, although will be addressed later in a future post. Turntables made by Audio Technica, Denon and Sony will usually have adjustable tone arms which, if not properly calibrated, may negatively affect your turntables performance.
Alignment? Adjustment? WHY?!
The alignment of your tonearm makes sure that your arm is tracking properly. Tracking is when the needle is riding the grooves of the record. Incorrect tracking, the likes of which can occur when the needle is leaning a little too far to the right or left in the groove, or at an awkward angle, can lead to wearing down the record and even damaging it. A tonearm that is aligned properly will do as little damage to the record as possible, and will prolong the life of your record. Note that records can wear through repeat plays, but it’ll take you quite a while to wear one out!
How Do I Setup My Tonearm?
First unlock your tonearm and turn the counterweight all the way to the back. This should make the front of the tone arm rise up, and the back should dip. Also make sure that the cue lever is down and that the anti-skate is set to zero. Now, your goal will to get the tonearm as level as possible. This is done by turning the counterweight inwards, to the arm. Place a record on the platter so that you can verify if the level tone arm will reach the record. Make sure you are holding the headshell as you are making adjustments so that the arm doesn’t slam into the turntable platter as this can harm the needle if it does not have a guard on it.
A level tonearm!
Once your tonearm is level, lock it down. Take a look at the counterweight, you’ll notice that it has two parts, the weight and the dial. The dial at this point should be at a random number, and this is because you have simply rotating the weight to get the arm level. Hold the back of the counterweight, and turn the dial so that zero is lined up with the short line in front of it. .
Turn the dial to the desired tracking force after it’s zero-ed out!
The fact that you have your tonearm level does not mean that you are done, you still have to add the tracking force for the cartridge. All cartridge will come with instructions with how much of a tracking force your should apply. There is generally a minimal, an optimal, and a maximum number. For example, my Shure M97xE cartridge has the following tracking force chart.
The number I selected is within the range they have given me. Now that the dial is at zero, turn the entire counterweight to a number within the range your cartridge requires. Adjust your anti-skate so that it reflects the tracking force for your tone arm. Congratulations, your tone arm is now officially setup!