Why is my turntable audio suddenly fading in and out?
November 26, 2016 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Setup: Audio Technica LP120 plugged directly into Sonos Play 5 aux input, so using the LP120's internal preamp. More inside ...

This has been working great for over a year. I'm not particularly looking to move up equipment-wise: till now the albums playing out through the paired Sonos Play:5s have given me a nice full sonic experience on old and new vinyl. Recently a new record seemed to fade in and out as I listened, then it started happening on others. I did notice that the stylus tube was angling left a bit so I used a pen tube to gently center it, and that seemed to fix it for about 3 sides but now it's back. I also bumped up the tracking force/anti-skate.

I'm tempted to just order a replacement stylus online, but I don't know enough to know if it could be something like the internal pre-amp going bad, or (less likely) the Sonos input. It "feels" like an analog problem ... louder/softer/louder/softer. I need a real vinyl pro to help me out! It's driving me crazy, and I've stopped using the turntable for now. Sad face. My knowledge of turntable mechanics is limited.
posted by freecellwizard to Technology (6 answers total)
This sounds like a failing stylus or cartridge.
posted by zippy at 12:14 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It could be a cartridge simply because of the fact that your tweaking the cartridge seemed to alter things but I'd also try another set of cables.

Beyond that, does the turntable have any electronics other than the cartridge? Like, does it have a built-in/integrated pre-amp? If so, are there direct outputs without the pre-amp that you can test using an outboard pre-amp?
posted by bz at 8:37 PM on November 26, 2016

Best answer: I did notice that the stylus tube was angling left a bit so I used a pen tube to gently center it, and that seemed to fix it for about 3 sides but now it's back

This made me wince.

People accustomed to using digital media and watching DJs do vicious things to turntables really have no idea just how delicate a high-quality cartridge and stylus combination is, or how easily damaged a vinyl groove is.

If your stylus has been subjected to a force sufficient to bend its stylus tube, it's almost certainly been badly damaged enough to do brutal things to your records. Replace the stylus. If that doesn't work, replace the cartridge.
posted by flabdablet at 6:43 AM on November 27, 2016

Response by poster: Bz - yes, it has an integrated preamp (inside the housing). Part of this setup was to avoid having to drag out my old stereo setup and find room for it in my LR. It's basically stream through Sonos, or record player through Sonos.

flabdablet - yeah, I read conflicting things on audio forums about trying that. Some folks seemed ok with it, others didn't. But at this point I think I will try a new stylus as a starting point, since that did seem to affect things. I'm not sure how it got bent, as I don't remember dropping the needle hard or anything. I love vinyl, but as my wife said, her crappy K-mart player from the 80s played records fine (though probably not optimally) for like 15+ years with almost no maintenance ... frustrating that a 1-2 year old, relatively pricey turntable already needs new parts.

I'll update this thread if I solve it. Also, I like the idea of playing through an external pre-amp. I could get my old receiver out of the closet and try that (if the new stylus fails to fix it).
posted by freecellwizard at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2016

Response by poster: Long-overdue update. I replaced the stylus and still had the problem, but it seemed better on most records. Then I bought a cheap but well-reviewed little pre-amp from Pyle and switched the output to that. Seemed better again, but one record still sounded bad. Turns out that one album (LP of a current indie band) is just a bad pressing that has fadeouts in some tracks. But everything else is good again.

Problems with multiple causes are the worst to diagnose, especially because your ears can play tricks on you. Thanks for all the help!
posted by freecellwizard at 11:22 AM on March 2, 2017

your ears can play tricks on you

That's fixable though. All it takes is spending $10,000 on 00-gauge gold plated oxygen-free copper digital interconnect cables with inbuilt batteries to maintain the proper bias on the flux capacitance, wooden volume knobs for your amplifier, a green felt tip pen to colour in the edges of your CDs, and a crystal pyramid to suspend over the chair in your listening room. Easy peasy!

Glad you got a result.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 PM on March 2, 2017

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