How to Balance Your Tonearm
Plus, what does anti skating mean and other important questions answered.
What Does Anti Skating Mean?
In a nutshell, the anti-skate feature on your turntable stops your tonearm from skating across the centre of your record as it comes to an end. On most turntables, there is an adjustable anti-skate control but some may have a pre-set version internally.
Deceptively simple, balancing your tonearm and getting your tracking force correct is the single most important modification you can make to your turntable, and both your vinyl (and your needle) will thank you for it. An incorrectly balanced tonearm can cause distortion and let’s be honest, nobody wants that. Balancing the tonearm and setting the stylus tracking force should be done when you are setting up your turntable, but regular check-ups are a good idea too. Some patience and dexterity is involved so take it slow – nothing good ever came from rushing this process.
How to Balance a Tonearm
- First things first. Make sure your turntable is switched off and sitting on a level surface.
- Ensure the anti-skate is set to zero and that the counterweight is properly fitted with the numbers facing the front of the turntable.
- Lock the tonearm to the armrest then very gently remove the protective cover from the stylus. Careful now….
- Keep the tonearm stable while you release the tonearm lock. The tonearm will swing freely so keep hold of the headshell to prevent it crashing into the turntable platter.
- Keep the cueing lever in the down position, while you gently hold the headshell above the rest position.
- Carefully turn the counterweight on the rear of the tonearm until it’s horizontally balanced. This headshell should naturally be suspended above the rest position.
- Once the arm is horizontally balanced and the arm is level, it's time to set the dial on the counterweight to zero. Once this is done you will need to rotate the entire counterweight to set the right tracking force for your phono cartridge
- The tracking force for each cartridge is supplied by the manufacturer. For example, if the downforce is 1.75 grams then turn the counterweight counter clockwise to adjust the weight until 1.75 is reached on the counterweight dial. If your counterweight does not have a marked dial then you should use a stylus force gauge. Gently place the stylus onto the stylus force gauge to measure the downforce.
- Once you’ve set your tracking force, turn the anti-skate setting back on and make sure it matches in grams to the tracking weight.
- Exhale and enjoy!
Stylus Tips: Conical v Elliptical
The Hi-Fi world is full of technical jargon, and vinyl is no exception. With many different stylus types available, the conical and the elliptical are perhaps the most popular choices, but which one is right for you?
A conical stylus is probably the simplest, least expensive and most popular stylus type. It has a spherical tip (like a ballpoint pen), which touches the centre of the record groove walls. A conical stylus can also result in less surface noise from any dust and debris trapped in the groove and they usually work best on mid-range to lower priced or older turntables.
The Elliptical stylus has a slightly different design which allows it to ride in the centre of the groove, similar to the conical stylus, but it's design means it can more accurately track higher frequencies, meaning more precise tracking. The result is more precision, improved frequency and phase response, and lower distortion, particularly in the inner grooves of the record. One drawback of the elliptical stylus is faster tip wear, and you’ll need to watch your cartridge and tonearm alignment for the best results.