Editor’s Note: Turntable Set Up Issues and a Forum?
Turntable Set-Up Issues
With the arrival of a new tonearm and tone arm pod, I’ve been juggling two tone arms, with the added mass of the arm support pods (each of which weighs about 30 lbs). Balancing this weight on the Minus K isolation platform is a little tricky. One basic step is optimizing arm position for ease of use and pivot to spindle distance. Other, more routine set up steps—alignment, null points, and anti-skate are par for the course. However, the lateral tracker doesn’t involve null points or anti-skate as such, but instead, in addition to alignment and overhang, requires a special technique for leveling that may be at odds with ‘level’ for the other arm and its cuing and anti-skate. It’s a balancing act involving elements that require high precision in placement and adjustment.
The immediate objective—apart from the desirability of two different tonearms for reasons that will be explored in more depth in a later piece—is setting up the arms to make them easy to use- cuing, stylus cleaning and the like, while at the same time, maintaining a load balance on the Minus K. This has been a learning experience for me in several respects. Not just the Minus K balancing trick but also tone arm set up that takes account of other these other factors. This process thus forced me to confront tone arm set up in even more depth than normal—given the interplay of the arms on the Minus K isolation platform and the special demands of leveling the linear tracking arm in relation to its ‘balance’ vis a vis placement of the other tonearm/heavy pod on the Minus K (Thank you, Scot, for your insights on that).
All of this took time, was extremely painstaking, and very micro-detail oriented stuff that some people deal with routinely, if not with a little trepidation. (If you don’t approach this with a healthy respect for what could go wrong, you really should have someone help you– the idea of smashing the cantilever of a kilobuck cartridge should be sobering).
For these reasons (and more, this idea has been in the offing for a while), I’m planning a more in-depth piece on the subject, “Confessions of a Turntable Set Up Guy,” which will be published in the near future. What I also hope to include is some resources for readers who may want to obtain more information about techniques, tools and third party turntable set up specialists. I know, it’s simple, right? (It certainly seemed to be back in the ’70s when I was slinging gear as a youth and set up hundreds of turntables). Maybe the cost of the cartridges and level of precision now attainable with better tools and knowledge makes it seem more challenging. Or maybe with age comes a sense that bad stuff can happen.
Some of the folks that do this every day, for a living, really know their stuff. Frankly, much as I like tinkering when in the mood, I’d be happy to write the check to such a specialist to do this, to be sure. But, though those resources were available to me in NYC, where I was based for decades, it isn’t so easy to find such a person in Austin. (I’m not saying one doesn’t exist–we’ll explore that too). I did call one dealer who said, ‘sure, bring it on into the shop!” It didn’t take long to explain that, aside from the obvious difference in results from a set up in situ, the 168 lb turntable, the additional 30 lb arm pod, the 50 some lbs of HRS plinth and the 80 or 90 lbs of Minus K plus stand weren’t exactly the sort of thing you just throw in the back seat of a car and take to a dealer.
Forum for Set-Up and Cleaning Issues?
I also have a question for readers—is there any interest in a fairly narrow forum for discussion of turntable set up issues, record cleaning, flattening and the like? There are some pretty well established Internet fora out there- all with different degrees of depth on things like turntable set up, record cleaning, flattening and other matters peculiar to the medium. I’m certainly not interested in trying to duplicate what is already out there on other platforms. However, if readers see value in such a forum here, I’m willing to explore adding this as a feature to The Vinyl Press.
In some ways, this represents a departure from the original aim of the site. I had planned to avoid any gear reviews altogether when I first started publishing TheVinylPress in early 2015. But, over the years, things like record flattening machines, LP cleaning machines and the like are gear of a sort. And my recent exploration of multiple cartridges puts me directly into “gear” mode.
The source material itself is always where I start with this stuff and that will remain a constant- searching out good sounding records that are musically interesting and a little less mainstream than the usual audiophile warhorses. But, there are times when it is difficult to describe sonics without at least acknowledging the contribution the machinery makes. What originally prompted me to start TheVinylPress was the primary focus on gear and sonics on most of the audiophile fora. I wanted something different to satisfy my own interests: an exploration of the music, the production and the people behind it. However, it is impossible to ignore the role that the equipment plays in making these evaluations. And things like “set up,” room acoustics and dialing in a system over time often make more of a difference than the brand of equipment or wire, assuming you’ve run the gauntlet of different speakers, amps and preamps and arrived at some combination that delivers the musical goods for you.
I invite your thoughts in the comments box to this article.
April 18, 2019