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How to get the best sound from your turntable

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Vinyl is the format that just refuses to die. Back in the late 1990s its days seemed numbered, but since then, slowly but surely, sales have been building.

And we’re glad. It’s a format we like, and it’s capable of a terrific sound, provided you take a bit of care – and this is where vinyl is different from other formats. Unlike the digital alternatives, a lack of care in installation can cripple the final sound.

Now there are some great ‘plug and play’ turntables on the market, and for more complex decks, many dealers will help you set it up correctly. But if you’re prepared to get your hands dirty, there’s a lot you can do yourself to ensure you get your turntable performing to its full capability.

So, if you want to know how to get the best sound from your record player, from arm positioning to cartridge fitting, read on.

How do vinyl records work?

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Have a close look at a record. That spiralling groove is packed with tiny bumps that cause the cartridge stylus (sometimes called the needle) to move. That movement is converted into an electrical signal by using an electromagnetic mechanism inside the cartridge body.

Consider that the tiny diamond tip of the cartridge is trying to trace bumps as small as a micron (1000th of a millimetre) and you’ll get an idea of just how difficult the task is. Any external vibration will degrade the cartridge’s ability to track the groove accurately.

These disturbances can be caused by many different sources: the sound coming out of the speakers, footfall transmitted through the floor or even passing traffic sending vibration energy through the structure of your house. Yes, really.

As an experiment, place the cartridge on a record but don’t start it spinning. Turn the volume up on your amplifier and try tapping (lightly) on the support, the deck itself and maybe even walking near where the player is positioned. The thumping sound you hear through your speakers is the mechanical energy picked-up by the record player. Loud isn’t it?

When you’re playing a record this unwanted energy is still being fed into the structure of your deck, not only making its life more difficult, but also superimposing itself over the sound of the record. The result? At best, there will be a slight degradation of performance. At worst, awful feedback that spoils everything.

That’s why a decent turntable support is essential if you really want to hear how good your records can sound.

Where to position a turntable

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The ideal support would be perfectly level, low resonance and positioned as far away from sources of vibration as possible. Yes, that includes your speakers.

On a hard concrete floor, a floorstanding support will work fine, though such a support will emphasise footfall on a suspended wooden floor. If you have such a floor construction we would recommend investing in a dedicated wall shelf. This kind of support avoids the footfall issue totally. Just make sure you use proper heavy duty mounting screws and fixings or the consequence could be expensive.

Most decks have some sort of isolation built in. This could be something like rubber feet at its simplest, going all the way to a fully suspended design. The better the isolation, the less fussy the deck will be about the support, but even the most sophisticated designs will perform better with careful placement and a good support.

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