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Help troubleshoot installed turntable cartridge?
May 14, 2014 12:56 AM   Subscribe

I just bought a new cartridge for an old record player, installed it as instructed, and sound is only coming out of one channel when playing a record.

I recently bought an AudioTechnica AT95E cartridge for use in an old Marantz TT221 turntable. I've attached the headshell leads to the cartridge in the order advised, done the tonearm balancing and such, and proceeded to test the cartridge on a record. Upon playing, I'm only getting sound out of the right channel of my system.

I tried reattaching the headshell leads to see if I just attached it very loosely, and tested again, and still don't get any sound from the left channel. I've switched RCA inputs, and confirmed that the RCA switched the output as well, so I'm narrowing it to the headshell/cartridge as problematic.

What things can I check to see if the headshell wires are possibly the culprit here? I'm skeptical about the cartridge being the problem, as it's new. Is it ok for me to try and switch the leads on the cartridge (switch ground and output correspondingly for left and right) to troubleshoot, or would that potentially wreck the cartridge? Any other stuff I can look at before I throw my hands up and possibly get someone else to look at it?
posted by FarOutFreak to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Is it ok for me to try and switch the leads on the cartridge (switch ground and output correspondingly for left and right) to troubleshoot, or would that potentially wreck the cartridge?

Yep, it's not like there's any real power traveling through there, and it would just be like hooking up a speaker with the polarity swapped anyways: you'll just be out of phase. The thing is, if one was just reversed you should be getting out of phase audio out of that side... not no audio. the four wires are just left-ground right-ground, there's generally no state of this besides like left-right ground-ground that would result in no sound, and that would just result in NO sound on either side.(and i wouldn't do this to like a $2000 cartridge, but it's not like it's going to generate enough current to melt a coil or anything in a second or two of operation) It's pretty failsafe in that if you're getting audio from one side it should be coming out of both.

I would actually try swapping the headshell wires from one side to the other to isolate whether this is a cartridge, or outside the cartridge/headshell electrical problem.

If you get audio from the other channel on the cart when it's swapped, i'd actually start with continuity testing the RCA cable itself. Yea, this means opening up the turntable but seriously every single time i have a damn problem like this it's just a chewed up RCA cable either at the rca plug end or a cold/yanked out/janky solder joint inside the deck.

After that, don't put your ohm/volt meter away yet. Time to do the same continuity check on the little tiny wires that run through the tonearm to where they terminate inside the chassis.

I can't really think of anything else it could be that wouldn't be really left field. Or that you wouldn't somehow encounter through that testing and at least figure out at which stage of the signal path it was cocking up.

Do you still have the old headshell+cart to test with? Can you test this headshell+cart on another turntable real quick? Those would both be super easy sanity checks to skip some steps here.

I'm skeptical about the cartridge being the problem, as it's new.

As a closing note, one thing to remember is that this is false logic. Something being new is a reason to suspect it. I don't mean new out of the box new, but new to what was previously a known working device/system. I generally treat it as just as likely as a failure somewhere else, and it's fairly easy to make an argument that it's more likely to be defective or otherwise the problem than anything else simply because you're introducing a new bit into an existing thing.

On preview, do a wiring sanity check against this post before you start seriously dissecting and troubleshooting.
posted by emptythought at 1:53 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Is there no sound *at all* coming from the off speaker, or is it just very faint? I'm asking because it's remotely possible that your--I forget the term for it--"sideways tracking force" got discombobulated during the cartridge switch enough that the stylus is bearing down on just one side of the groove.
posted by bricoleur at 8:50 AM on May 14


another thing i noticed after getting in to work, and playing with my stupid discombobulated stereo here that's an utter mish mash of random components...

My right channel cuts out like this. If i switch the channels, i'll get sound from the left channels cable out of the right channel and vice versa. Unplugging it and plugging it several times generally makes it kick in and work. There's a slight bit of corrosion or something i've been way, way too lazy to investigate on the flaky right channel connection on the receiver/amp(i've long since tried swapping cables, and bridging cables together, etc)

I'm way too lazy to fix this here since i can just plug and unplug it a couple times every time it acts up when the temp/humidity changes enough to make it get weird again, but my point is it's another point of failure you should be looking at that can be weird and inconsistent.
posted by emptythought at 12:20 PM on May 14


I would actually try swapping the headshell wires from one side to the other to isolate whether this is a cartridge, or outside the cartridge/headshell electrical problem.

I actually meant this, and I did try this out. I'm not sure if I'm going crazy or what, but when I tried this, the output still came out of the right channel only, and not on the left. I'm going to try that again today to see if I've just been hearing things.

Do you still have the old headshell+cart to test with? Can you test this headshell+cart on another turntable real quick?

Nope. The headshell is intact, but the cartridge didn't have a stylus on it when I got it. I have another turntable with a functioning cartridge, but that was because the cartridge came pre-installed. And I'm not really willing to try testing that on the old one at the risk of possibly messing the working rig up as well. My curiosity will only take me so far, heh.

There's a slight bit of corrosion or something i've been way, way too lazy to investigate on the flaky right channel connection on the receiver/amp(i've long since tried swapping cables, and bridging cables together, etc)

I was actually wondering if it was possible to use some contact cleaner on those headshell wire leads. I also have an old stereo receiver, and the usual thing I read about is people using contact cleaner liberally on various parts of the receiver that conduct any signal/power, so I've done that to the receiver. It's also possible that the wires themselves might not be functioning, or are cutting out. As for the RCA, I tried the turntable out on a receiver with a phono preamp, and it's the same problem. When I try taking out the RCA connection halfway, there's a loud hum coming from the speaker, and my assumption then is that the RCA by itself is working; is that a bad assumption, or something that can only be validated by basically checking via meter?

Is there no sound *at all* coming from the off speaker, or is it just very faint? I'm asking because it's remotely possible that your--I forget the term for it--"sideways tracking force" got discombobulated during the cartridge switch enough that the stylus is bearing down on just one side of the groove.

Nope, nothing faint. You mean azimuth, right? I have read about that, but the needle looks pretty straight to me. I also have problems with cartridge alignment here, but that's something I'm going to tackle only after I can get sound coming out of both sides. Never thought this would be such a finicky process.
posted by FarOutFreak at 7:15 PM on May 14


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