How to Get the Best Sound from Your Player: Step-by-Step Guide

best place to buy vinyl records how to preserve vinyl records cd from best place to buy vinyl records Reviews

The players work by measuring vibrations. The vinyl groove causes the stylus to move or vibrate, and this turns into a tiny electrical signal that is amplified and turned into sound by the speakers. This means that in order for the turntable to work well, you want it to “read” only the vibrations in the groove, and not distort them with vibration coming from somewhere else. The difference between good and excellent turntables is their ability to cope with external vibration, but none of them will perform at their best if they are in the wrong place.

In practice, this means installing the player on something that will not vibrate to the beat of the music, for example, on a small table or shelf, and not on a sideboard. Large pieces of furniture vibrate when the speakers are playing, just put your hand on them and you will feel it; ideally you need something both light and hard.

Another way to minimize vibration is to keep the player away from the speakers and not even think about putting them on the same piece of furniture. This is one of the many reasons why complete turntables in a box with built-in speakers sound like shit, it’s a miracle that they work at all.

Finally, wherever you put the turntable, make sure it is on the same level. Use a small alcohol level and adjust the legs so that they are aligned in both the side and front/rear planes. If the legs are not adjustable, use pieces of cardboard or something similar under the legs.

Once you find the right place for your deck, follow this five-point guide to extract the best sound.

Best Upgrades for Your Turntable

In the end it happens to all of us… We are getting bored with our setup. It’s not that it necessarily sounds bad; it just feels like you’ve been there and heard it.

Most of us tend to focus on the negatives of our Hi-Fi and turntable over time. Surface noise, static interference, rounded highs and lows, and electrical interference are just some of the troubles audiophiles face on a daily basis. However, minimizing and even eliminating these problems can be as simple as installing a small add-on or update.

Here is a list of the top 10 improvements that will help improve the performance and sound capabilities of your player.

* These updates are more focused on standard players (low-mass tonearm with counterweight, anti-slip protection, etc.).

1. Set-up

The next thing is to ensure that the stylus (cartridge) is at the right angle in the arm when viewed from the front. Most affordable turntables are supplied with the cartridge ready fitted, and most of them are installed more or less in the right place and at the right angle. But it’s worthwhile checking because not only does a poorly aligned cartridge not sound as good as a properly set up example, it can also damage your vinyl in the long run.

Before checking alignment it’s a good idea to establish that the tracking force is right, if you have a 10p on the end of the arm it definitely isn’t. Usually there are marks on the counterweight, the lump at the other end of the arm to the cartridge that balances it. Turn the weight to zero and the arm should sit level without the stylus hitting the platter, if it’s up in the air or still on the platter adjust the weight until it sits parallel to the turntable. Once your arm is ‘floating’ thusly dial in the tracking weight that’s recommended for the cartridge, usually this is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 grams but do check as too much force can damage the cartridge while too little results in mistracking which damages the vinyl.

2. Alignment

The next step is to check cartridge set up. For this you need an alignment protractor, these are supplied with some turntables but if not are fairly inexpensive as audio accessories go. As the types vary the best thing is to follow the supplied instructions, but the idea is to angle the cartridge so that the stylus is in line with the groove for the largest portion of the vinyl. The pivoting nature of most arms means that it’s technically impossible for the stylus to be at the right angle for the entire side so you need to find a good compromise. That’s what the protractor is for.

Cartridge set up can become an obsessive disorder among audio nuts because every tweak changes the sound, but if you get the basics right you will be at least 90% there. Sleep loss over the fine details is an option rather than a necessity.

3. Bias

Because the groove travels faster at the outside of the vinyl than the inside there is a force that pulls the stylus toward the middle of the disc that needs to be offset or compensated for. This is what bias or anti-skate systems do. Sometimes they consist of a thread with a small weight on and at others there is a sliding marker. The easiest way to set this is to put it just below the tracking force, so if your cartridge tracks at 1.75g set anti-skate to 1.5. With the thread and weight system the middle point is usually right but if you’re keen you can listen to the alternatives to see if they are better.

4. The Right Angle

Another adjustment is vertical tracking angle (VTA): this is the angle of the stylus in the groove as seen from the side. It is adjusted by loosening a bolt in the arm base and varying its height, theoretically best results are achieved when the arm tube is parallel with the vinyl surface but you can tweak the sound by having it tilted up or down by a few degrees.

Many arms don’t offer the option to adjust VTA because there is a school of thought that says rigidity is more important than adjustability and that VTA only really changes tonal balance. As is mentioned above the only vibrations in a record player should be at the stylus/groove interface, and greater rigidity elsewhere makes this more likely to be the case.

5. Easy Fix

Even if you don’t want to fiddle with your arm or cartridge there is one tweak that brings instant results with minimal effort, that is removing the dust cover when you play vinyl. Although the cover is good for keeping children away from fragile parts it is also very good at picking up vibrations when the music is playing and transmitting them into the turntable.

The Main Causes and Troubleshooting of the Distorted Sound of the Recording Player

When vinyl records are at their best, I wholeheartedly believe it’s the best way to enjoy music.

As with any physical media, though, there are several reasons why they might not perform at their best.

If your record player or turntable sounds distorted, there’s a good chance the reason falls into one of the following categories on this page.

So let’s not waste any more time. We’ll get you back to spinning beautiful sounding records faster than you can say, “vinyl is final”.

1. Upgrade your Cartridge

This might seem like a given, but I’ve discovered that many turntable owners (not audiophiles) don’t know that they could easily swap out their cartridge and/or stylus.

As your turntable’s “sound generator,” a new cart can dramatically change your deck’s sound signature. From adding more color to your sound to creating a flatter and more neutral soundstage, and everything in between, a cart upgrade, in my opinion, can serve as a complete turntable overhaul.

Taking it a step further, if you have a turntable with a standard (“S” shape bayonet) or a detachable headshell, you can easily cart swap by getting an extra headshell with your new cart. Personally, I swap between 4 different cartridges. That way, I can listen to specific genres with a dedicated cart, and I can switch it up when things start sounding a little too familiar.

If this is the first cartridge you’re swapping out, Herb n’ HiFi highly recommends the Ortofon 2M Red and Nagaoka MP-110 . They both retail for around $100 and are massive upgrades over standard entry-level cartridges.

2. Add a Weight or Clamp

I’ll admit, I was almost positive that weights and clamps were more snake oil than actual upgrades until I eventually tried one out for myself.

Both weights and clamps are intended to do the same thing, press the record down to the platter. The main difference between weights and clamps is that weights are heavier and are simply placed on top of the record, while clamps are lighter but screw on to the spindle to create a tight grip between the record and platter. There’s no real verdict as to which option is better, but from experience, I have a better listening experience from using weights as opposed to clamps.

Weights and clamps have a few advantages. Firstly, they help straighten out any slightly warped records. They won’t completely fix or flatten extreme warping, but they can help with minimal audible warps. Secondly, they add additional mass to the record, which creates the illusion of a heavier pressing and decreases resonance and helps with tracking (think heavy 180g audiophile pressings). Thirdly, since weights and clamps help with tracking and unwanted resonance, you get the added benefit of a tighter bass response.

When choosing between getting a clamp or a weight, I like to look at the turntable I’m planning on adding it to. If the turntable is a torquier direct-drive deck like an Audio Technica AT-LP120 or Technics SL-1200, I would suggest getting a record weight since DD motors can easily compensate for the added mass. Clamps are best for use with belt-drive turntables since their smaller motors tend to not have as much torque, so a heavy weight can slow it down, or worse, cause premature wear.

For weights, I use an Audio Technica AT618a Disc Stabilizer, that is used primarily on the Den’s SL-1200MK2. It has a rubber exterior that helps with any accidental bumps and adds around 600g or 1.3lbs of Weight. When it comes to clamps, I use a Record Doctor Record Clamp on my Fluance RT85. It’s made of injection-molded high-density plastic with a velvet ring to help protect the record label.

3. Switch up your Mat

Today, most turntables come with either rubber or, worse, a felt platter mat, neither of which is optimal.

Rubber mats, while they help with dampening, resonance, and grip, can cause more static noise and are prone to embedded dust particles that can dirty and scratch your vinyl records. It’s better than felt options, but there are much better options out there for you to choose from.

Felt mats are, in my opinion, horrible! They are rough, can store a lot of static electricity, and can be abrasive. In short, they feel and behave like a Scotch Brite scrub sponge. A big pet-peeve of mine is seeing reputable brands like Rega, Pro-Ject, and Audio Technica packaging their turntables with basic, sub-par felt mats as standard. I understand that DJs need more slippage (they are commonly referred to as slip-mats), however, for in-home use, there aren’t really any advantages.

There are alternatives, and the aftermarket is flooded with excellent platter mat options. There’s cork, leather, acrylic, and even glass, and all of these options help with reducing static, dampening the platter, and are less abrasive than the standard felt and rubber mats.

Changing the mat also changes the sound, with cork and leather usually lending to fuller bass response while glass and acrylic tend to brighten up the highs and sound livelier.

For the past few years, I have been using a hybrid cork+rubber mat made by Tonar. The cork helps reduce static noises, and the added rubber bits provide a better grip on the record as opposed to a 100% cork mat. It also adds some weight and mass to the mat itself for better resonance dampening.

Overall, whichever material you choose, it will be a substantial upgrade over your base rubber or felt platter mats.

4. Antistatic Record Cleaning Arm

This one can seem like a stretch, but an antistatic record cleaning arm can be a pretty smart add-on to your turntable, especially if static buildup and dust are a constant problem for you.

It’s a pretty simple idea; a metal arm and counterweight with a brush on the tip that clears away any dust and discharges static electricity in real-time as the record is spinning. The arm comes with a grounding wire that you can bind next to your TT’s ground wire for optimal antistatic performance.

Back in the day, record cleaning arms were mostly made from horse and goat hair. Today they are 100% vegan and made out of the same plastic antistatic bristles found on handheld cleaning brushes.

Setup can be a little finicky, and overall esthetics are dependent on the turntable itself. I use a generic cleaning arm on my Technics SL-5200, and it works great at helping me get that “I can’t believe this is vinyl” listening experience, with minimal static and surface noise. However, when the time came to trick out the Den’s SL-1200MK2, I decided that the turntable’s design was too iconic to mess with and passed on the idea.

Before getting an antistatic record cleaning arm for yourself, make sure you have enough space on the top of your deck to fit it and that there is enough clearance to close the lid. YMMV.

5. Get a Preamp/Upgrade your Phono Preamp

The last tip in our rating may seem like a given to a more experienced player. However, many record player owners, especially owners of modern record players with docks equipped with built-in preamps, may not know how much an external background preamp can change the sound of their vinyl records.

Until recently, I would refer to the built-in phono preamp on my receiver or integrated amplifier, but a Denon DL-103 moving coil (MC) cartridge forced me to look at other options since the MM only preamp in my Yamaha R-N303 Stereo Receiver wasn’t optimal. After some research, I found the Pro-Ject Phono Box, and I was very impressed by how it performed alongside the Denon. When I tried it on my Ortofon 2M Red MM cart, I was even more impressed since it elevated an already excellent sound signature that I was familiar with from my built-in preamp.

There are many preamp options out there at many different price points, ranging from $15 for a simple and basic preamp like the Pyle PP444, and can go up into the thousands of dollars for more high-end esoteric models. Personally, I think $80-$200 is a good price-point to start looking at for an at-home HiFi setup.

A few great options are the Pro-Ject Phono Box that I mentioned above, the U-Turn Pluto, Fluance PA10, and the Cambridge Audio Alva, all of which come in at $200 or less.

Recently I replaced the Phono Box with Pro-Ject’s Tube Box S2, which is a tube-based preamplifier. The Tube Box S2 sounds fantastic with that warm sound that only pure tube preamplification can provide. It is more on the pricey at around $450, but it goes to show you just how much a new preamp can drastically change your vinyl playback experiences.

There you have it. Herb n’ HiFi’s the best turntable upgrades to make your vinyl records sound better than ever.

**This article includes affiliate links for Amazon listings and/or other outlets.

6. Dirty Stylus/Needle

Perhaps the most common and easily fixed cause of why a record player or turntable might sound distorted is a dirty stylus.

The needle (more accurately known as a stylus) is the tiny diamond tip that tracks the record groove. As it travels across the record, it will occasionally pick up dirt and dust from the record surface along the way.

Slowly but surely, the grime will gather on the stylus tip and hinder its ability to trace the groove accurately.

The Result? Your records will sound distorted.

Dust and grime build-up on the stylus is particularly troublesome if you play a lot of older used records, but it will still rear its ugly head on your crisp new records.

Keeping dust at bay is just part and parcel of the vinyl format. You’ll need to invest in a stylus cleaning kit and use it regularly.

You can reduce the amount of stylus cleaning required by keeping your records clean, of course. Clean records are kinder to your stylus, as the dirt, dust, and grime will accelerate wear.

7. The Stylus Needs Replacing

While keeping your records and stylus clean will help extend the life of your stylus, you’ll inevitably need to replace it occasionally.

As a guide, a diamond stylus should be replaced after 800 to 1,000 hours of playing time (that works out at around four albums per day over a year). Check out our full guide on how long a stylus/needle will last for more detail.

A turntable or record player stylus is usually made from diamond (sometimes sapphire). Diamond being the hardest surface known to man means a typical diamond will last longer than a cheaper sapphire design.

Despite the durability of your stylus, they travel a remarkable distance (roughly 1,500 feet across each side of the average LP). With that in mind, slowly, but surely the surface will wear, causing degradation in sound quality.

You can use a jeweler’s loop or magnifying glass to inspect the stylus for flat spots indicating significant wear. Alternatively, you can make a habit of swapping the stylus out for a new one at least once a year before distortion even takes hold.

Depending on how often you play records, once a year can be a good habit to adopt if you want to avoid damaging your vinyl records or suffering distorted, harsh sound.

8. Worn Out or Badly Pressed Records

Sometimes, the cause of distortion is the vinyl record itself.

If a record is well-loved and played to death, there could be considerable groove wear depending on how well the previous owner cared for the records and looked after their turntable.

Try swapping the record and listening again. If you can isolate the problem to just one or two specific records, the chances are it’s the record causing the problem.

Sometimes, cleaning the record will help restore the sound quality, removing distortion caused by grime and dust, but if the record has significant groove wear (or significant scratches) no amount of cleaning will rescue the sound quality.

Other times, the issue is with the pressing or mastering of the record. Mastering for vinyl is a very specific skill that requires years of experience to perfect.

If the parameters and quirks of vinyl are not taken into consideration during the mastering and cutting of a vinyl record, audio issues can occur.

These issues could manifest themselves as excessive sibilance, distortion, or just a dull, lifeless sound.

A great mastering engineer will know how to play into vinyl’s strengths.

9. Poorly Aligned Cartridge or Incorrect Turntable Setup

This one’s a little harder to fix, but it’s a very common cause of why a turntable produces a distorted sound.

If you own an all-in-one record player (as opposed to a separate turntable, amp and speakers), there’s a good chance the cartridge position is factory-fixed.

Therefore, this cause of why a turntable or record player sounds distorted is almost exclusively aimed at setups featuring a user-replaceable cartridge.

When installing a cartridge on the tonearm, you can’t just fasten the screws and hope for the best. The cartridge needs to be aligned in a very specific way to optimize tracking across the record surface.

Put simply: if the alignment is incorrect, your stylus will not sit correctly in the groove and the resulting sound will be distorted.

As your tonearm pivots across the surface of the record, there are two points where the stylus will line up perfectly with the linear cut record groove.

For the best overall performance across the record from start to finish, it’s important to align the cartridge perfectly at both of these null points using a cartridge protractor.

Cartridge alignment is the most obvious issue when dealing with incorrect turntable setup resulting in distorted or muffled sound. But other key setup parameters, including tracking force, anti-skate (or bias), among other factors, all play a part in tracking performance.

10. Incorrect System Setup or Mismatched Equipment

Very often, it’s the most obvious of blunders that can cause distortion in an audio system. If you’ve checked the stylus, tried multiple records, and ensured correct turntable setup, the issue could be coming from an issue further down the signal chain.

Double-check to make sure everything is hooked up as it should be.

For example, have you plugged the turntable into an appropriate phono input or phono preamp? If your turntable doesn’t have a built-in phono stage, you’ll need an external phono preamp or a receiver/amplifier with a phono input to amplify the signal correctly.

Without a phono stage, the playback will sound quiet and tinny. (Check out our guide to phono preamps and why you need one, linked here).

Other issues within the wider audio system could include an input impedance miss-match between the cartridge and your phono preamp.

To avoid getting too complex within the context of this article, I’ll simply highlight that two types of phono cartridges exist, moving magnet designs and moving coil.

Moving coil designs produce a much smaller signal at a lower impedance level and thus require an additional gain stage at the phono preamp. They also need a much lower load impedance at the input stage.

Some amplifiers or phono preamps will have a separate or switchable input stage for moving coil phono cartridges, so double check you’re hocked up correctly for your cartridge type. Moving magnet design cartridges are by far the most common.

Some phono preamps will allow the user to adjust the input load impedance for optimal performance across a wide range of different cartridges. (Check your phono preamp specifications or manual for the optimal load impedance of your cartridge and set the input accordingly for the best performance and sound quality).

In summary, however, most affordable phono cartridges are moving magnet and designed to work with most standard pre-set phono input stages.

If you’re just starting out on your vinyl journey, it’s likely your system will be just fine so long as you plug the deck into an input labeled “phono” or an appropriate external moving magnet phono preamp.

11. Amplifier or Speaker Issues

Distortion or sound quality issues caused by amplifiers or speakers can be harder to diagnose.

Start by checking the basics. The issue could be as simple as poorly applied user settings. For example, some amplifiers have a built-in EQ, which, if poorly applied, could distort the sound. Flatten out the settings and apply small changes to taste.

To distinguish if the amplifier or the speakers cause the issue, try plugging a set of headphones into the amplifier; if the sound is clean on your headphones, the issue is likely with your speakers.

The same process can be applied at a separate phono preamp stage by plugging a set of headphones directly into the preamp (if your model has a separate headphone amplifier). If the sound is clean at the preamp stage, but not at the amplifier stage, it’s safe to say the issue is with your amplifier.

Record Player Sounds Distorted: The Bottom Line

If all this sounds basic, it’s because it is. Troubleshooting distortion or bad sound quality is always a process of elimination.

Start with the input stage and slowly work your way through the other possible causes, slowly reducing the variables until you pin down the exact cause.

The vast majority of issues are resolved by applying a little maintenance and ensuring the turntable is set up correctly. Troubleshooting faulty equipment further down the signal chain can be a little tricky (and often quite frustrating) but with a little patience and a methodical approach, you’ll be back to spinning records in no time.

How can the sound of a record player be improved?

The sound of a record player is not quite what it used to be? There are many factors that can affect the sound, such as the vinyl quality, the turntable speed, and even the type of needle used.

While there are many ways to improve the sound of a record player, there are two solutions that can help you get started. The first solution is to use a different needle and cartridge. There are many types and brands available on the market today so you should be able to find one that suits your needs and budget.

The second solution is to upgrade your turntable and turn it into an audiophile turntable by using high-quality speakers or amplifiers.

What are the best ways to improve sound of a record player quality?

Some of the most common ways to improve sound quality of a record player are:

  • Ensure that the record player is cleaned and serviced regularly.
  • Ensure that there is no debris in the needle.
  • Ensure that the stylus is not damaged or bent.
  • Ensure that all parts are working properly and there is no damage to any part of the machine.
  • Adjust the volume on your record player so it does not get too loud or too soft.

Which are the best record players for improving sound quality?

The best record players for improving sound quality are those that can reproduce sound with better clarity and fidelity.

The following are some of the best record players for improving sound quality:

  1. Audio Technica AT-LP120 USB turntable
  2. Crosley Cruiser 6″ 33 1/3 rpm Turntable

What is the difference between a record player and a sound fuzzy?

A record player is a device that is used to play records. The sound it produces is fuzzy.

A sound fuzzy is a type of toy that makes the sound of a record player as if it was playing records.

What are some of the best types of vinyl records to buy for scratching?

There are many types of vinyl records to buy, but before you do so, you should know what kind of records scratch the best.

There are a few things that can make scratching easier on vinyl records. The most important thing to keep in mind is the speed and pressure that you’re using when scratching. If you’re using too much pressure or speed, your record will skip instead of scratching.

The best type of records for scratching are those with a high-quality vinyl material and thick grooves (usually on the first five inches).

Share to friends
Rate author
( No ratings yet )
Add a comment