When it comes to vinyl, there’s nothing more important to me than getting the most out of my records and equipment. Peak sound quality, a sturdy setup, and a long-lasting collection are what I strive for and what I want to help others achieve. Knowing how to set up a record player correctly is essential to enjoying the best sound quality possible and ensuring your vinyl collection is around for years to come.
Without proper setup, you could risk unwanted noise or even damage to your records. If you’re new to the world of vinyl, however, you might not be entirely sure how to set up a record player. Whether you’re a longtime collector or a newbie, this guide will help you get your new record player up and running quickly and easily.
How Do Record Players Work?
Chances are if you’re wondering how to set up a record player, you’ve seen a record: a disk made of vinyl with a fine groove carved in a spiral from the edges to the center. To play one, you’re going to need some special equipment. There are four key components, which I’ll go over in more detail in a bit: the record player or turntable, a preamplifier, an amplifier, and some speakers.
On the turntable, there’s a needle, sometimes called a stylus, which is placed on the record’s edge and dragged through the groove via the rotation of the platter. The way the groove is cut makes the needle move, vibrating vertically and horizontally. These vibrations are then translated by the turntable’s cartridge into electrical signals.
Once the vibrations are translated into electrical signals, those signals are sent to the phono stage or phono preamp, the preamplifier, and then the amplifier. The initial signals are very weak, which is why they have to be sent through preamps and amplifiers before they’re finally sent out to your speakers for you to enjoy.
What You Will Need
Before we look at how to set up a record player, I’m going to tell you a bit more about the key components to your setup. This is important information to know before learning how to set up a record player because you’ll want to know what it is you’re working with as you put everything together.
A Record Player
Of course, in order to learn how to set up a record player, you’ll need a record player in the first place. There are a few key parts to your turntable to familiarize yourself with:
- Belt Drive
I’m going to keep it short and sweet here so you get a good run-down on your equipment.
The plinth is the base, the platter is the large circular piece where your record sits and spins, the tonearm is the arm that guides the needle, and the cartridge attaches to the end of the arm. The cartridge also contains magnetized coils, which is what converts the kinetic energy from the vibrations of the needle into electrical signals.
There are two types of turntables, usually: belt driven and direct driven. Belt-driven turntables are what you’d use for home listening. Direct driven turntables are what DJs use because they allow the record to be played backward and used for stylistic “scratching.” What we’re going to look most closely at today is how to set up a record player for home listening.
When you first look online to figure out how to set up a record player, you’ll probably find that guides use “phono stage” and “preamplifier” interchangeably even though most setups also have a main preamp. Turntables still produce a “phono” signal and this needs to be translated into an “aux” signal by a phono stage for today’s technology.
Your main preamplifier, on the other hand, can be more than just a phono stage. It could also be a preamp for a microphone, for more volume control, and more. The reason that most guides use the terms “phono stage” and “preamplifier” interchangeably is because, in most cases, you’ll only be using a preamp for that initial conversion and amplification.
There are some turntables, amps, and stereo systems with built-in phono stages. You’ll want to look for inputs marked “PHONO” if your equipment might have one. If not, you’ll want to do some research into what phono stage your system needs and pick up one of those, too.
As I mentioned before, the signal you initially get out of your turntable is very weak and needs to be amplified before being sent to your speakers. The amp you’ll need to make your audio signal strong enough to drive speakers is known as your power amplifier or A/V Receiver. Once the signal from your turntable has been converted from phono into a “LINE” or aux signal, the power amplifier will boost that signal.
Typically, a phono signal runs about 1-10mV, which is nowhere near enough to drive your speakers. After going through the power amp, the signal that hits your speakers will be around 10-30V. Essentially, the signal after going through your power amp will be between 3,000 and 10,000 times stronger than the initial signal from your turntable.
Last but certainly not least, you’ll need some speakers. Some speakers have built-in amplifiers, eliminating the need for a separate power amp and saving some money, but generally speaking, these won’t produce the best sound quality. You’re going to want to get some speakers that really let your vinyl shine.
How To Set Up A Record Player Step-by-step
Now that we’ve looked a little at how a record player works and what you need to play your records, let’s look at how to set up a record player.
Step One: Attach The Belt
Assuming you’re setting up a turntable for home listening, you’re going to want to start by attaching the belt. Begin by lifting the dust cover and taking off the protective mat and platter. Flip the platter upside down and place the belt around the bottom.
Once the belt is in place there, put the platter back in place. Take the belt and hook it on the pulley to pull it through the square opening – most belts have a little ribbon on them to help make this bit easier. Attach the belt securely and ensure that there are no twists in it and place the protective mat back into place.
Step Two: Level Your Table
Your turntable is where the magic begins, so you’re going to want to make sure you set it up appropriately and in a place that won’t pick up vibrations from your other equipment (particularly your speakers). Almost all turntables have adjustable feet, so place your turntable in its desired location, put a level on the platter, and adjust the feet until your turntable is level. Then, spin the platter 90 degrees and level the turntable on this axis, too, double-checking that the table is level on both axes before moving on.
Step Three: Balance The Tone Arm
Before you proceed with this step, make sure your record player is unplugged so it doesn’t start spinning when you’re doing this.
There will be a small, numbered gauge next to the tonearm, which is the gauge for your tracking weight. Set it to 0g and carefully lift the arm – be sure not to drop it, as you could damage the needle this way. Position the tonearm so it is parallel to the record by moving the counterweight until it sits level.
Step Four: Set The Tracking Weight & Speed
It’s very important to use the manufacturer’s recommended weight for this step. If your tracking weight is too high, the needle could jump out of the groove and damage your vinyl. If it’s too low, it could distort your audio quality and give it a deadened sound.
Since you set the gauge to 0 earlier, your beginning tracking weight is effectively 0g. Now, set your tracking weight to what the manufacturer recommended. To do this, just move the counterweight up or down the tonearm.
If you need to change the speed for your turntable, there’s a button on the plinth that lets you choose between two speeds. For twelve-inch records, you should use the 33 RPM setting. For seven inch records, use the 45 RPM setting.
Step Five: Connect Your Components
Now that you’ve gotten the finer details of how to set up a record player out of the way, you can hook up the rest of your equipment. There are a few different variations on how to set up a record player in terms of the equipment you have other than a turntable, so take a look below at some of the most common record player setups.
Step Six: Test Your Setup
To make sure everything’s hooked up correctly and working as intended, go ahead and grab one of your records. Ensure you’ve selected the appropriate speed and place your record onto the platter. Press play, lift the tonearm’s cue lever, line up the tone arm and your record, and lower the lever until the arm drops and the needle settles into the groove.
If everything’s working right, you should now be able to enjoy the rich sound of your favorite records!
Common Record Player Setups
Record Player + Powered Speakers
A turntable and powered speakers is the most compact turntable setup you can get. If you had this setup, you’d just plug the record player into your powered speakers. There’s no need for an amplifier with powered speakers, and your preamp would be built into your turntable, so this setup is ideal for simplicity and size. Make sure, though, that your turntable does have a built-in preamp if you’re going for this option.
Record Player + Preamp + Powered Speakers
If your turntable doesn’t have a phono stage, or you’ve opted to get a separate main preamp to customize your quality, this might be a setup you’d go for. If you went with this option, you’d need to add a grounding wire between the turntable and the preamp as well as the preamp and the powered speakers. Otherwise, you’d likely get a bit of buzzing or humming noise.
Record Player + A/V Receiver + Passive Speakers
This is one of the most common setups for enthusiasts all around. If your turntable had a built-in phono stage, you’d simply plug the turntable into the amplifier with an RCA cable followed by plugging the amplifier into however many speakers you desired. This is a highly versatile setup that allows you to easily hook your record player up to existing speaker systems in your home.
Record Player + Preamp + A/V Receiver + Passive Speakers
This setup is the most complex but also the most customizable. Many enthusiasts opt for this setup as it allows them to fine-tune their sound and select the optimal equipment for their listening needs. It also allows you to upgrade and replace any specific component for any reason down the line.
Tips & Tricks
Here are a few ways to make how to set up a record player a little simpler or more versatile:
- Although putting your speakers on either side of your turntable may look nice, the risk of your record player picking up those vibrations and creating excess noise is very high. You’ll want to make sure you have a separate surface to place your record player on instead.
- If your turntable’s counterweight didn’t come with a tracking weight gauge built-in, you can order an inexpensive digital scale online to measure it. Sometimes, digital scales can be easier and more accurate than trusting the dial anyways!
- Some turntables are Bluetooth compatible, which is great if you want to take a portable Bluetooth speaker with you into another room while you’re listening. If yours isn’t, don’t fret – you can get devices that convert 3.5mm stereo adapters into Bluetooth transmitters.
Getting the most out of a record and record player setup is of the utmost importance to me. It can be difficult to find clear and concise guides on the internet sometimes, so I want to make sure you have the best guides possible at your fingertips. Learning how to set up a record player can be a very simple thing if you get the right instructions!
Did this guide help you out? Did you find the process enjoyable? Let me know in the comments below and, if you liked the article, share it with your friends so they can get the best setup too.