Whats wrong with my vintage audio receiver?
December 14, 2013 2:53 PM   Subscribe

When I play records sound only comes out of the right speaker.

I have a vintage turntable and receiver. Its worked fine until I moved apartments. Now only the right side works. The problem is not a broken speaker, because I switched the speakers and which ever one is connected to the right input is the one that works.
Most of the records I have sound fine coming out of just one speaker, but some don't (like if the vocals were recorded on the right and drums on the left or something...sorry I don't know the term for that) so I'm trying to figure out the problem.
I don't have a cd player or tape deck so the only other audio source to test is the radio. Since I don't have an antenna the radio is just white noise, BUT white noise does come out of both speakers. What does that mean? I took apart the receiver to see if I might find some obvious loose wire or capacitor or something, but everything appears in place 9not that I really know what I'm looking at). I don't know if its worth bringing to a repair shop or buying a new (old) receiver from Craigslist that I can't test. If I do choose to replace it, is there a modern way to connect a vintage turntable to speakers that does not require a heavy hunk of a receiver? The output is the red and white jacks plus a little u-shape thingy (sorry! I don't know what thats called) if that helps.
I use the receiver solely for the turntable. My other source of music is my computer but I prefer to play vinyl.
posted by hellameangirl to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Have you tried replacing the cable that runs from the turntable to the receiver? or plugging it into a different input on the receiver?
posted by 2ghouls at 3:00 PM on December 14, 2013

The problem is most likely with the turntable, either the connections from the turntable to the receiver, or the connection to the pickup itself (at the end of the arm). Start by switching the wires going from the turntable to the receiver - does the sound switch in the speakers?
posted by BillMcMurdo at 3:00 PM on December 14, 2013

The turntable requires a ground (the u-shaped deal is what that's for) and a pre-amp. Most modern receivers do not come with those. You could theoretically still hook it up to a set of speakers or a more modern stereo but it won't sound very good (and will be very quiet). There are turntables that include preamps and/or USB hookups, though, so you could theoretically play them through something more modern or your computer. For example, this Audio-Technica unit has a line-level output, so you could hook it into a newer stereo. That does require you to buy a new turntable, though. You can also find standalone phono preamps but in the small bit of research I did on that not long ago (as I have a turntable and a new receiver) they were expensive enough that just getting a new turntable would be about the same cost.

There are a few things you can check too. For one, make sure the stylus is in there all the way - if it's got a cartridge-type stylus make sure it's plugged in all the way. (That should just require a bit of a push but you may want to look at the manual for your specific turntable. Yours may not have a stylus, either; it depends on the turntable itself.) You can also get a cable like this (which you should be able to find in a myriad of places if you don't already have one) to plug your computer or something into one of the other inputs, just to make sure that works. You can also plug the turntable into another input but you will have to turn the amp up pretty loud to be able to hear anything. (I suppose you could also plug your computer into the phono input but you will want to turn the volume all the way down first, then turn it up slowly. Turntables output audio at a far lower level than most audio gear.) If your turntable happens to have detachable cables, then you can also try just getting a new cable. Last but not least, you may also want to invest in some contact cleaner - especially if the plugs and jacks aren't shiny. Things corrode and pick up junk over the years.
posted by mrg at 3:10 PM on December 14, 2013

Response by poster: When I switched the wires going from the turntable to the receiver, the sound did switch in the speakers. I can't use any of the other inputs because they are too far from the required 'ground' 9thanks mrg)
So the does seem like the problem is the white or left cable that runs from my turntable, which is not detachable. Darn. I really don't want to replace my beautiful turntable :(
I will get some contact cleaner in hopes that may save it.
Thanks for your help!
posted by hellameangirl at 3:42 PM on December 14, 2013

Your turntable likely has, at the end of the tonearm, what's called a cartridge - a little box where the needle you put on the record sticks out of the bottom, and there are also pins on the back side of the little box that lead to a small cable that goes under the tonearm.

If one of the connections between the cartridge and the little cable that runs under the tonearm is loose - and this is fairly common on older turntables - one of the stereo channels will cut out. You may want to look at the cartridge and make sure that either each wire is connected firmly to it, or, if the cartridge sits in a socket, that it's tight in its socket. If this doesn't rectify things, you may need to change the cartridge or, if your turntable doesn't have a cartridge, the needle.

It is more uncommon that one of the white/red wires that connect your turntable to your receiver would go bad, unless the cable showed signs of being cut, chewed (by a pet) or crimped.
posted by eschatfische at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

By swapping the cables, you've eliminated the receiver as the problem. This means either that particular cable (or connector) is bad, or there's some other problem with the turntable. The latter is hard(er) to diagnose, but you may want to try this...

When playing a record, wiggle, twist and strain the problem cable (at the turntable, at the receiver connector, everywhere) to see if you can get audio out. If it works in some contorted position, just the cable needs replacing, which is a pretty simple fix for an electronics repair shop or if you have a soldering iron (you could hack it together with a new piece of cable and some wire nuts, too).
posted by mrrisotto at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2013

What eschatfische said (so very well.) The stereo signal (left and right channels) begins right from the cartridge. I used to have a Thorens turntable that did this to me every once and a while.
posted by three blind mice at 4:16 PM on December 14, 2013

Response by poster: Ok, yes it has a cartridge and I can see 4 teeny wires (red, white blue and green) but I can't tell if any are loose. I'm afraid to take the arm apart..everything seems so delicate! I guess I'll have to take it to a repair shop.
posted by hellameangirl at 5:06 PM on December 14, 2013

The wires of interest on the end of the arm are almost always going to be the white and blue (handy diagram!) since the left channel wasn't working. They're actually pretty easy to take on and off with a tweezers, and you can use the tweezers to crimp the connectors a little tighter if they're loose, then put them back on. They're delicate, but not, like, eggshell delicate - they'll hold up to plenty of removals and reattachments. That said, loose headshell wire connectors might not be the problem, but it's an easy thing to check and could save you a repair bill.

If that's not the problem, since the RCA cables coming out of the turntable aren't detachable, there's not much you can do to fix it yourself unless you're up for opening the table up and poking around with a multimeter and doing some light soldering - but that's really fun, and a great project to learn this stuff on if you haven't done any soldering before! Turntable wiring is actually really simple and forgiving. If you did want to try to DIY it, feel free to memail me, I would be glad to help walk you through it - rescuing old broken down turntables is a bit of a hobby of mine.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:49 AM on December 15, 2013

It could be RCA cable, or it could be the cartridge itself. Or, it could be one of the connections in the headshell (which the cartridge is mounted in.)

Just for fun, I would first remove the cartidge from the headshell completely. Then, re-mount it, making sure all the wires are securely attached, and connected to the correct pins. Then, see if you get the missing channel back.

If you can drum-up a second cartridge to test in the headshell, that would be fantastic.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:42 AM on December 15, 2013

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