Setting up your new/old turntable and cartridge
I received the old Denon DP-45F turntable I mentioned in the last blog entry and a new Grado Cartidge (RED) I bought on ebay and hooked them up to my Denon 3805 Receiver. I use this system for my Computer audio and iPod audio while working or using my computer. The speakers are Reference 3A Dulcets - it's a nice sounding little system.
While spending 5 figures on a turntable, tonearm, cartridge and ancillaries seems easy for some, it is not my cup of tea. Plus, I cannot afford tea like that! There are plenty of great, old turntables that are easy to afford for those interested in testing the waters of "analog audio" - "LP records" to us normal people.
Ebay is filled with plenty of Thorens, Dual, Garrard, Pioneer, Technics Turntables and all sorts of other brands from yesteryear that probably only 40 somethings or older may remember. There are plenty of yardsale or fleamarket options, but in all cases you have to be careful to not get a "project" TT - a turntable that needs repair. Do your homework before buying a turntable. Get a top model Turntable from the mid to late 70's and up and it should have a pretty nice tonearm. Get a new Grado Black, green, blue, red or Shure M97XE cartidge online for a good price and you have the basic hardware for high quality playback. You'll also need a receiver or amp with a good "phono" preamp section for best results.
Setting up a cartridge in your new/used turntable is unfortunately a bit of a PITA. You have left CD world and are in a new land of DANGER. It would not be so difficult if your needle were indestructible, but unfortunately that is not the case. It's a teensy weensy little diamond glued onto a glob of material glued to a teensy weensy little shaft, etc. We are talking FRAGILE.
You have to get the wiring right, and you need to be very careful with the tiny gauge wires involved - they break very easily. The little sockets involved are certainly strange to a newbie (or more accurately - non oldbie?). The wires are color coded and the cartridge should come with a wiring guide. The markings on cartridges are so small they are hard to see and are sometimes incomplete enough that relying on them is tricky, so hopefully you have the paperwork on your cartridge.
Alignment and Setup:
Alignment in the head shell is necessary so that the cartridge stays as close as possible to 90 degrees perpendicular to the record grooves while traversing the record and parallel to the platter/record. This is not fun to do, and particularly dangerous for the needle. You can buy numerous alignment devices, but there are also easy to use printable pdf versions that you can print out, and as long as you are very careful, and can find a way to accurately poke out the "center hole" for the spindle of your turntable, they can do the job very well.
Setting up the proper "tracking weight" (how much weight the needle has applied to press down into the record groove) is hugely important to how well the needle can track the grooves, as well as how much the needle may adversely effect the wear on the grooves. It's a balance between the two you need to achieve. Too light - and you get distortion as well as groove damage since the needle has limited groove surface area contact and tends to get bounced around. Too heavy and the needle is just not compliant enough to follow the grooves with all the weight applied and scrapes off the sharp edges (dynamics and high frequencies) until you get - mush. There are digital gauges which are nice, but a bit pricey. They should work very well. Then again, "manual" gauges like the Shure SFG-2 can be had for less. The negative part is they are not "brain dead" setup gauges. You will need to be careful with your needle, you may need to read and understand directions - and at this point you are probably pretty tired of "tools" like that! In any case, a manual gauge is not going to ever stop working unless you lose it.
BIG NOTE: Always RAISE the needle before making adjustments. It will take more time, but your needle will survive the process!
Anti skating - Easy - Just set it equal to the Tracking force you use. Most turntables should work very well set this way.
Here are some good links to more info to help you out.
Align Your Turntable Cartridge:
Hopefully you have local used record stores that have bins and bins of records for $1 for you to hunt through.
Have fun, and happy listening!