All that scratching is making me itch.
August 12, 2012 3:11 PM   Subscribe

New turntable is misbehaving. Would like the green's advice before I call in the pros.

I bought this Audio-Technica turntable a few weeks ago. It requires you to balance the tonearm and adjust the tracking yourself, which I'd never done before.

The documentation is as helpful for newbs as you might expect. Balancing the tonearm appears to be some sort of art that you have to join a guild to learn, but I did the best I could with some help from Lifehacker. I have absolutely no clue as to whether I did it correctly, and I don't have any friends who know anything about this. After I balanced the arm, I did zero it out as called for in the manual.

The identity of the installed cartridge was cryptic at best. According to a circular sheet that was lying on the platter (!), the counterweight/anti-skate values are supposed to be set to 3.5 for the ATP-2 cartridge. So I did that.

Well, let the popping, skipping, and skating begin. I just played a record that I bought new and probably have played twice in the last 30 years. It was horrendous.

I saw online that this turntable has also shipped with a cartridge that requires a counterweight of 2, so I tried that as well with an appropriate anti-skate setting of 2. That was a little better, but still not all that great. In general, the setting of 2 seems to work better.

I bought a Shure cartridge and haven't installed it yet; frankly, I'm afraid to. At this point, I'm probably going to call my local record store and have them recommend someone (who hopefully will make house calls). But before I call someone who's going to benefit from my remaining in the dark about my turntable, I'd like to hear from the green as to what you think might be wrong.
posted by Currer Belfry to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would follow these directions, and if you are still having significant trouble after trying different calibration values, cartridges and records, then consider the possibility that the unit you have received is faulty and should be replaced under warranty.

The video clearly shows the two types of shipping cartridge, so hopefully you'll be able to positively identify the cartridge you have.

You might also consider the use of an additional calibration tool to help with setting up. The tool is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with the cost of cartridges and the turntable itself, not to mention the potential of damaging hard-to-replace records.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 3:54 PM on August 12, 2012

First of all, yes the arm could be popping up because you've set the counterweight too far out. If that's the case, why don't you get a record that you don't particularly care for, and try to play it with the counterweight all the way in. If the record plays, then yes, its a counterweight issue. In my opinion you can afford to have the arm be a little heavier than mandated. In fact, back when I used to "scratch" on vinyl, I would put the counterweight on backwards, so that the indented side is facing away from the head of the arm. However this can affect the sound of and wear & tear on the record, so you want to be judicious.

However, there could also be a problem with the stylus and/or the way it is mounted to the cartridge. If you had to assemble this on your own and don't really know what you're doing, it's possible that you screwed it on incorrectly and the stylus rests at a bad angle. If that's the case you could buy an Ortofon style cartridge.
posted by phaedon at 4:53 PM on August 12, 2012

Despite my user name, I can't help you with the DIY stuff with regard to your turntable. I love my gear and take care of it, but leave most of the work to others. I will say, though, that many retail audio shops have free turntable clinics as an incentive to get you into the shop. You might want to see if there are any such clinics in your area. Outside of that, online forums are a good place to find recommendations for repair shops. Don't be alarmed if the repair shop you end up going to looks a little Unabomber-ish inside - those are some of the best ones.
posted by analog at 5:38 PM on August 12, 2012

Gunk and fluff around a needle can seriously effect the performance of your turntable. Take a close look at the end of the stylus, with a loop if you have one, to check out if there is something physically screwing up the way it's riding.
posted by jade east at 6:22 PM on August 12, 2012

Here's a couple things that may have nothing to do with your problem, but could be worth checking out. Are you playing the record with the dust cover closed? If the dust cover is charged with static electricity, that could be causing popping noises. It can also attract the business end of the tonearm, reducing tracking force to the point of severe mistracking. (In a severe case I've actually seen the arm fly right up off the record, so this is a lesson I learned the hard way.) The other thing I'm wondering about is the record itself. Have you tried more than just the one you mentioned? The possible failure mode here is that a record stored for a time in excessive humidity can be damaged by mold. Again, I've owned records that were still visually perfect but wouldn't track without skipping.
posted by in278s at 6:40 PM on August 12, 2012

(By the way, I work in Nashua so I am not so very far away. If you really get stuck, memail me. I wouldn't mind taking a look to see if anything is obviously wrong.)
posted by in278s at 6:44 PM on August 12, 2012

Balancing the tonearm appears to be some sort of art that you have to join a guild to learn, but I did the best I could with some help from Lifehacker. I have absolutely no clue as to whether I did it correctly, and I don't have any friends who know anything about this.

Did you do it like this?
posted by flabdablet at 7:33 AM on August 13, 2012

ins278s - I've tried about 10 different records I also kept the old turntable; a record that skipped like crazy on the new one played nearly flawlessly on the old one yesterday. Dust covers closed on both; perhaps I'll leave the dust cover up on the new one and try again. Thanks also for the offer of help; you might be hearing from me!

nordyne/flabdablet - thanks for the links. I wish the official documentation had included them!! The video of the tone arm balancing was worth a thousand words and I definitely didn't do the balancing in the way shown. I might have messed up my stylus in the process as well (bows head, kicks at dirt) - good thing it wasn't the Shure.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:53 PM on August 13, 2012

The whole idea of reproducing music by bashing a tiny rock against a bit of plastic is clearly completely unsound and doomed from the start. But if you have indeed damaged your stylus, that could easily account for its failure to track properly.

Have a look at it under a microscope if you have access to one (100x magnification should be plenty). If it looks like a broken tooth instead of a tiny rock with a rounded end, no amount of careful tonearm balancing will be enough to make it work properly.
posted by flabdablet at 1:23 AM on August 14, 2012

Also, playing records using a damaged stylus will wear the hell out of them. Don't do that.
posted by flabdablet at 1:24 AM on August 14, 2012

Update: I took the turntable to a local "hi-fi" repair shop (yes, it was really called that, I was so excited) recommended by a local record store. The guy took a look at the setup, played a record, deemed everything OK (i.e. not damaged), and most importantly, showed me how to balance the tonearm and walked me through doing it myself. He emphasized that it's one of those things you learn by feel, so for me it would have been next to impossible to get the hang of it without someone talking me through. He charged me $10. I wrote his instructions down in the turntable manual when I got home.

At one point he said: "It's like balancing a teeter-totter," which absent an old hand to help you out is a pretty important instruction to receive.

Interestingly, he said not to get too worked up about the skipping; he said that my old turntable, which played everything without skipping, might have had too much tracking force.

I played a favorite record in its entirety today, as well as a favorite song on a well-worn record. No problems whatsoever. I might even get brave enough to swap out the cartridge - might as well since the Shure isn't doing me any good in its box.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:23 PM on September 3, 2012

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