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Turntable just making a crackling sound!
February 24, 2013 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I bought a turntable and the sound is a disaster. I think I should just buy a new stylus but is there anything else obvious I might try first?

I've always played vinyl, but on very primitive turntables that required little interference from me.

I used to have a Technics automated turntable in the 80s/90s and liked it, so I just got one on ebay. This is the model: Technics SL-6. I bought one like this, again, cos I like a plug-and-play setup. I am a pretty lo-fi person.

I asked the guy selling it if it needed a new stylus, and he said the one fitted hadn't been used that much.

I plug it in and this is what it sounds like.

(Buried in that noise is Eddie Cochran singing Summertime Blues. Don't worry, it's a very cheap and shitty pressing that is already scratched up a bit - I know enough not to test out this stuff on vinyl I care about.)

Can a needle be this fucked up (by the way, I do not know the difference between a needle and a stylus if there is one, if that helps you to calibrate your answer)?

I'm quite prepared to order a new stylus and probably will anyway, but is there anything else I can try to make this sound decent?
posted by cincinnatus c to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Yes the needle can be fucked up, but this sounds like more...Some cables loose is my bet. Take the thing apart and look. Also get hold of a users manual and calibrate the tone arm balance and sideways force (whatsitcalled) and find someone with a microscope to look whether the cartridge is shot.
posted by Namlit at 1:50 PM on February 24, 2013


I had new-turntable woes and wound up taking it to a local hi-fi repair shop (yes, it was actually called that). The guy helped me balance my tonearm and get things up and running for $10. Nary a problem since.

I see from your question that you're about as experienced as I was on turntable care and feeding. :-) If there's a stereo repair shop near you, take the turntable over and see if someone can help you out. While you're there, ask someone to show you the ropes on tonearm balancing and stylus replacement. You might be able to learn this stuff yourself from a manual, but I'm one of those people who has to learn by feel (and be told what I should be feeling!)
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:56 PM on February 24, 2013


It sounds like cabling problems to me, too. Could be loose, could be the switch where you switch between different items in your hi-fi system has gone haywire (where you switch between am/fm/cd/turntable), could be that your turntable is plugged into the connection points for a CD player or tape player.

Turntables have the same plug but different requirements than other hi-fi equipment, like a CD player. Specifically, turntables need a pre-amp--which can be built into your amplifier, built into your phono player, or purchased as a separate unit. If your turntable is not plugged into an input specifically named "phono" or something similar, this may be your problem.

Newer turntables like this will sometimes have a built-in pre-amp but if yours is an older model, it most likely needs a pre-amp--either built into your amplifier or purchased as a separate unit.

If the pre-amp is missing, the 'static' you are hearing is because your amp is trying to amplify a signal many, many times too weak for it to actually amplify, you are turning up the volume way, way high to get any sound out of it at all, and the 'static' is noise normally present in your amp/hi-fi system now amplified many times louder than usual.

On the other hand, if the problem IS the stylus, it is most likely that the stylus is entirely missing, ground down to an absolute nub, or mis-aligned in a fairly catastrophic kind of way. You're not playing a stylus where it's played ten or twenty too many records and needs to be replaced--you've got something where there is basically no operating stylus at all. Maybe the cartridge is just riding along on the top of the record groove on a hunk of metal or something, rather than the sharp, pointy diamond type stylus point it is supposed to have.

Take a close look at a photo of a stylus like this. Does your stylus even HAVE that sharp-ish part that points downward and reaches down into the groove of the record? If the sharp-ish point area is there, is it aligned to point down and actually going into & tracking along the groove in the record?

If the problem is your stylus, I'm guessing at minimum it has like 1/8 inch diameter ball of dust glued to it, or the stylus part is 90% ground off, or the stylus is misaligned and pointing at some strange angle rather than straight down. Maybe the stylus cartridge has come unplugged partly so that the stylus is tracking at some strange angle.

If it's not one of those easy-to-spot-and-very-clearly-catastrophic-type-problems with the stylus, I would strongly suspect lack of pre-amp or other cabling problem.
posted by flug at 2:17 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The turntable is connected to a preamp. Without the preamp the turntable sounds the same though obviously quieter.

I have tried different cables.

Take a close look at a photo of a stylus like this. does your stylus even HAVE that sharp-ish part that points downward and reaches down into the groove of the record? If the sharp-ish point area is there, is it aligned to point down and actually going into & tracking along the groove in the record?

I took the stylus off and photographed it against the wall: here.

Does that look normal? Looks bent upwards compared to your image. I can see how it might not get near the groove. Is a new stylus the answer after all then?
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:36 PM on February 24, 2013


The upward bend is fine but I am not seeing the little actual downward-facing little mini-needle thingie (super technical term) that actually gets lodged into the groove of a record. It's possible that it was broken off in transport from old owner to new.

That said, it could just be that the photo isn't close enough to pick it up. It's probably a really good idea to get it looked at locally and (if needed) a new stylus installed from a local hifi/turntable shop.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:49 PM on February 24, 2013


The upward bend is fine but I am not seeing the little actual downward-facing little mini-needle thingie (super technical term) that actually gets lodged into the groove of a record. It's possible that it was broken off in transport from old owner to new.

Nah, unless the mini-needle thingie should only be viewable in a microscope, that photo shows everything that can be seen. There is definitely nothing pointing down.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:57 PM on February 24, 2013


Then, yeah, that super delicate and also super important part seems to be missing. I've broken a few off or knocked them crooked/bent in my time, too. My guess is that at some point the arm wasn't secured while the table was moved.
posted by destructive cactus at 3:03 PM on February 24, 2013


If you think there's something wrong with the stylus, replacing it should be the first thing you do. Remember that a damaged stylus can permanently damage your records.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:56 PM on February 24, 2013


You really have no excuse to not try a new stylus first. This is the part of the turntable that is exposed to the most wear and tear, usually in a way that is not completely visible and frustratingly unfixable, plus it's cheap to replace, plus you'll need one in the future anyway.

Typically a damaged stylus or a damaged record will produce a noise pattern. That doesn't appear to be the case here. But the fact that you can hear an underlying melody come in and out would to me indicate that this is a problem with the stylus tip. A broken cable and you wouldn't be able to hear anything but static.

If you're really searching to eliminate other possibilities, I would remove the pre-amp and try and hear what the record sounds like without it. If you don't hear the static, there's your problem. Also make sure you are plugging the pre-amp into the correct input. Sometimes the pre-amp blows out the signal if it's in the incorrect input and this could just be the result of too much amplification.
posted by phaedon at 4:11 PM on February 24, 2013


Destructive cactus is right. You need a new stylus. The diamond tip thing is missing, so the stylus is just riding on top of the grooves and all you are hearing is friction.
posted by gjc at 4:29 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to chime in to confirm that others are right: your stylus is missing it's most important (but teeny tiny) piece.

Compare to this image of a somewhat similar stylus.

This picture is a good comparison. See the pointy thing sticking downward from the arm of the stylus? That's what you're missing.

I know I'm not offering any new information, but I'd hate for you to go opening the thing up and checking connections when all you need is a new stylus.

Enjoy your turntable! I love mine to death, and I think you're going to fall down this money hole with the rest of us very soon. Enjoy it!
posted by summerteeth at 5:07 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, busted off diamond stylus bit is definitely it, and easily cured with a new stylus cartridge.

What you're hearing is that round metallic piece floating around basically on top of the groove, where it can pick up just an infinitismally small bit of the actual vibrations encoded in the groove that make the music. So you're getting an infinitismally small bit of music along with a whole lot of noise of that metal tube running along the top of the groove.

If you just google 'replacement phonograph stylus' you should find plenty of places that can help you find the right replacement for it.
posted by flug at 6:40 PM on February 24, 2013


Here is a nice photo of a phonograph stylus tracking in the groove of a record.

You are missing the entire part that, in the photo, looks like an upside-down triangle with the point down in the groove of the record.

You can see how, with that part missing, it has no real chance of operating successfully.

Wikipedia has an interesting section in the Phonograph article about the stylus and how it works.
posted by flug at 6:51 PM on February 24, 2013


Nthing that the stylus is busted. Also, when you replace it, you really need to check the downward force (tracking force). First thing I thought when I heard the cut you played was wow, it's too light- it's bouncing! Well, no wonder it sounded like it does- my guess is that the seller didn't protect the arm and cartridge when it was shipped.
That turntable does have a (somewhat) calibrated adjustment for tracking force, see the user manual available on Vinyl Cafe. For a replacement stylus, try these:
needle doctor
LP Gear
And while you're at it, grab this stylus force gauge. (1.25 grams would be a good rule-of-thumb for that cartridge, IMO.)
posted by drhydro at 10:29 PM on February 24, 2013


Yeah, your stylus is completely goosed. All you're doing is dragging metal over plastic, there's no needle to slip into the groove (man). Go buy another one!
posted by Callicvol at 11:27 PM on February 24, 2013


New stylus ordered! Thanks!
posted by cincinnatus c at 1:51 AM on February 25, 2013


Once you've fitted it, do this.
posted by flabdablet at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2013


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