Tackling Common Turntable Issues: Tracking Force and Anti-Skate

Tracking force and anti-skate are arguably two of the most important specs of a turntable. The two aspects might seem like technical jargon, but they are important in keeping your turntable in tip-top shape and sounding its best.

However, more often than not, you might find yourself wondering why your favorite records aren’t sounding as good as they should. In most cases, the discrepancy in sound quality can be attributed to improper tracking force and anti-skate adjustments.

These settings have a direct impact on how the turntable interacts with your records, but they can throw a wrench into the works by distorting sound, leading to uneven sound quality. In this guide, we’ll discuss why tracking force and anti-skate matter and provide a guide on how to adjust them for optimal performance.

Turntable Setup and Calibration

Before we get into adjusting tracking force and anti-skate, it is important to understand how to set up and calibrate the turntable just to make sure you aren’t missing anything. Proper setup helps ensure that your turntable operates smoothly and preserves the integrity of your cherished record collection.

Incorrect turntable setup can lead to issues, such as skipping, distortion, or premature wear on your records and stylus. Equally important, a well-calibrated turntable provides a stable platform for fine-tuning the turntable and maximizing its effectiveness.

Always choose a stable, level surface for your turntable, away from sources of vibration such as speakers and other electronic equipment. Ideally, placing your turntable on a stable platform ensures it remains steady during playback, thereby minimizing the risk of vibrations that can compromise sound quality.

When installing the cartridge, ensure the stylus makes precise contact with the record grooves. Generally, any misalignment or instability in the cartridge can result in tracking errors. Equally important, ensure to balance the tonearm so that it floats parallel to the platter surface.

This ensures that the stylus applies the correct pressure on the record for accurate playback. Take time to level the turntable for optimal performance. A level turntable ensures the platter rotates smoothly and that the tonearm operates accurately.

Once the setup is complete, test the turntable by playing a record and listening for any signs of distortion, skipping, or imbalance. At this point, you can make minor adjustments to tracking force, anti-skate, and cartridge alignment as needed to optimize performance.

What is Tracking Force?

Tracking force refers to the downward pressure exerted by the cartridge’s stylus on the surface of the record during playback. This force is used to ensure that the stylus maintains proper contact with the record grooves, allowing it to track the audio signal accurately and reproduce the music faithfully.

Importance of Tracking Force

As we have stated, tracking force determines the amount of pressure exerted by the stylus on the record grooves. If the tracking force is too light, the stylus may not make proper contact with the grooves, leading to reduced sound quality, skipping, or bouncing off the record. Conversely, if the tracking force is too heavy, it can cause unnecessary wear on both the stylus and the record.

Now, to ensure accurate playback and minimize the risk of damage, it’s essential to set the tracking force within the recommended range provided by the cartridge manufacturer. This typically falls between one to three grams. Always, aim for the middle of this range to strike the right balance between proper tracking and preserving the integrity of your records.

How to Adjust Tracking Force

  1. Use a tracking force gauge to measure the downward pressure exerted by the stylus on the record surface.
  2. Carefully place the gauge on the turntable platter and lower the tonearm onto it. Ensure the stylus rests on the gauge.
  3. Read the measurement displayed on the gauge to determine the current tracking force.
  4. Before adjusting the tracking force, ensure that the tonearm is properly balanced. This entails adjusting the counterweight at the rear of the tonearm until it floats parallel to the platter surface.
  5. Use the markings on the tonearm or the tonearm scale to set the counterweight to zero initially.
  6. Refer to the turntable manual or cartridge specifications to determine the recommended tracking force range for your cartridge.
  7. Gradually adjust the counterweight by turning it clockwise or counterclockwise until the desired tracking force is achieved. Some turntables feature a dial or marker that corresponds to the recommended tracking force range.
  8. Double-check the tracking force using the gauge after making adjustments to ensure accuracy.

What is Anti-Skate?

Anti-skate is a feature incorporated into turntable tonearms to counteract the inward force that occurs as the tonearm moves across the record surface. This force, known as the skating force, ensures that the stylus remains centered within the groove, thereby allowing for accurate tracking.

As the stylus tracks the record grooves, skating force causes the tonearm to exert inward pressure towards the center of the record. The anti-skate mechanism applies an equal and opposite force to counteract this tendency, which helps maintain proper alignment of the stylus within the groove.

Importance of Anti-Skate

Properly set anti-skate reduces the likelihood of uneven wear on the record grooves and the stylus. Without adequate anti-skate, the stylus may favor one side of the groove, leading to premature wear and damage to the record.

Additionally, proper anti-skate adjustment allows the stylus to maintain optimal alignment within the groove. This, in turn, ensures accurate stereo reproduction and preservation of the intended soundstage of the recording.

How to Adjust Anti-Skate

The anti-skate adjustment mechanism is typically located near the tonearm base or on the tonearm itself. On some turntables, it comes with a dial or knob that you can adjust manually, while on others, it features a calibrated scale indicating different levels of anti-skate.

  1. Begin by setting the tracking force to the recommended value for your cartridge. Adjust the anti-skate mechanism to match the tracking force setting. For example, if the tracking force is set to 2 grams, adjust the anti-skate mechanism to the same value.
  2. Some turntables have a spring-loaded anti-skate mechanism that adjusts automatically based on the tracking force. In such cases, you’ll only need to ensure that the tonearm is properly balanced.
  3. Another method involves adjusting the anti-skate by ear while listening to a test record. Gradually increase or decrease the anti-skate until the sound is balanced and free from distortion.
  4. Experiment with different anti-skate settings while listening to various records, paying attention to the clarity of the sound, stereo separation, and any signs of distortion. Fine-tune the anti-skate until you find the setting that provides the best balance between tracking accuracy and sound quality.

Troubleshooting Common Turntable Problems

Turntable Doesn’t Spin

When your turntable fails to spin, it’s essentially unable to perform its primary function of playing records. Ideally, if the platter is not spinning, the stylus won’t make contact with the record, resulting in silence. This issue can be frustrating and can be caused by several factors.

Firstly, check the power source – ensure that the turntable is properly plugged in and receiving power. If power is not the issue, the problem may lie with the motor. Over time, motors can wear out or encounter faults, leading to either inconsistent spinning or complete failure to spin.

Additionally, if your turntable is belt-driven, the belt might be broken, loose, or off-track. This is often a complex issue that requires inspection and probably adjustment or replacement of the belt.

Poor Sound Quality

Poor sound quality from your turntable can greatly detract from the listening experience. When this happens, you might notice distortion, muffled sound, a lack of clarity, and an overall reduction in audio fidelity.

There are several reasons that can make your turntable deliver poor sound quality. For instance, if the stylus is dirty or worn out, it might struggle to track the grooves of your records accurately. Similarly, the cartridge might be misaligned or in need of replacement.

You may also want to check the alignment of the tonearm. If it’s not properly set up, it can lead to tracking errors and, consequently, poor sound quality. Additionally, don’t overlook external factors like dust and dirt, as they can significantly impact the quality of the sound you’re hearing.

Skipping or Jumping

Skipping or jumping can be incredibly frustrating for any vinyl enthusiast. This occurs when the stylus fails to maintain proper contact with the record surface, causing it to skip ahead or repeat some sections of the music.

Common causes include improper tracking force and anti-skate settings, as well as a dirty record surface. Additionally, a warped record or a damaged stylus can also make your machine skip or repeat your music records.

The easiest way to curb this problem is to ensure that the tracking force and anti-skate settings are adjusted correctly to prevent excessive pressure on the stylus. Also, make a point of cleaning your records regularly to remove dust and debris that can interfere with playback.

Excessive Hum or Noise

Excessive hum or noise is another common issue you’re likely to encounter with your turntable. Any present background noise can detract from the purity of the music and disrupt the listening experience. More often than not, grounding issues are to blame – if your turntable isn’t properly grounded to your amplifier or receiver, it is bound to pick up interference from nearby electronic devices.

Additionally, if your setup lacks adequate shielding, it can introduce unwanted noise into the audio signal. For best results, make sure your turntable is properly grounded to minimize electronic interference. To be on the safe side consider adjusting its placement to curb interference from nearby electronic devices.

Tonearm Won’t Lift or Lower

There is nothing as frustrating as trying to pull out your favorite record only for the tonearm to refuse to lift or lower as you would have expected. Ideally, the tonearm lift mechanism helps place and remove the stylus from the record safely. If it doesn’t work correctly, it makes handling records difficult and risky.

The most obvious reason behind this hiccup is a mechanical obstruction within the tonearm lift. This obstruction could be anything from dust or debris to a misaligned component hindering the movement. The moving parts of the tonearm lift may also dry out or become stiff due to lack of lubrication. This can impede smooth operation and result in difficulty lifting or lowering the tonearm.

To get things back on track, you can start by giving the lifting mechanism a once-over. Check for any obvious obstructions or misalignments, and give it a good clean and lubrication if needed. Equally important, make sure your tonearm balance is set up correctly for smooth operation.

The Parting Shot!

Owning a turntable is often a rewarding experience for avid vinyl collectors and casual listeners alike. However, you may need to spend a chunk of your time making sure the tracking force and anti-skate parameters are properly adjusted and calibrated. That way, you can make the most out of your vinyl collection and maximize the performance of your turntable for years to come.

Avatar for Jamie K. Martin

Jamie K. Martin holds a degree in Audio engineering from Husson University, Bangor. Martin spends most of his time testing and trying the technology he writes about to ensure that he provides first-hand information to our customers from all walks of life.

0 thoughts on “Tackling Common Turntable Issues: Tracking Force and Anti-Skate”

  1. Thanks , I have just been looking for information about this subject for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far. But, what about the bottom line? Are you sure about the source?

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