Do plate weights really work

Improve turntable sound: Sound optimization for turntables

Accessories and measures to improve the sound of the turntable

#How to pimp my turntable

There are many myths about sound optimization on turntables (for the test marathon: turntables and DJ turntables), but what are the benefits of the often mentioned measures, if you want to improve the sound of your turntable? Tips on this topic can be found in abundance on the internet, but which ones are effective enough that one can speak of an appropriate ratio of effort and benefit?

In addition, there is seldom a differentiation as to when the purchase of optional accessories (10 useful tools for vinyl DJs) or structural measures result in audible sound improvements at all and what the basic requirements are for even thinking about optimizations and upgrades.

Sound optimization for turntables - quick facts

If you want to give your turntable a few upgrades in order to improve the tonal properties of your sound system, you should be able to assess for yourself whether it is worthwhile with the present model or whether it is not much more sensible to invest in a completely new turntable. In addition, experimenting with different pickups can bring a lot, which is why the purchase of useful assembly and adjustment tools is highly recommended. A one hundred percent correct fine adjustment usually goes hand in hand with major tonal improvements. In addition, it should be clear to one that an improvement in the scanning situation and an optimization of the signal transmission have positive effects on the sound image. The situation is similar, if not quite as “sound-effective”, with measures that serve to dampen vibrations or to decouple the turntable, whereby these “upgrades” tend to improve the suitability for everyday use and the proportionality of the measures is quickly lost. Keyword: “We are building a subsurface…” Nevertheless: A very well decoupled turntable just sounds “free” and the bass then simply goes more tonally audible.

Basic requirement - a turntable with room for improvement

Before you seriously deal with such a complex topic, you should have a turntable that is basically capable of delivering a solid sound. If in doubt, you don't have to spend that much money on this. DJ turntables, for example, due to their accurate and powerful direct drives, can keep up with belt-driven drives from renowned hi-fi manufacturers up to the 1,500 euro price segment in terms of their tonality, but often offer several advantages over the products of purely audiophile board players: effective device feet and solid and Vibration-dampening chassis, S-shaped aluminum tube tonearms and some very comfortable, height-adjustable tonearm bases such as the Technics 1210 MKII, 1200GR or Pioneer PLX-1000, which are only found in the high-end segment from 2000 euros purchase price, to only include the most elementary ones call.

Necessary and helpful accessories for mounting the pickup

A pickup that is part of the standard scope of delivery of a DJ turntable is seldom any good. In my opinion, it is the same with the associated headshell. Well-known hi-fi manufacturers rightly enjoy a better reputation in this discipline, as there are well-organized cooperations with retailers and the often very customer-oriented retailers prove to be quite competent and offer quite flexible assembly options and carry them out independently on site free of charge. Good examples of this are the Phono-Schmiede Pro-ject, the system manufacturer Ortofon and most of the high-end stores that sell audiophile but affordable audio products.

In the market segment for the spinning guild, competent customer service in this sub-discipline sometimes dries up in the turntable desert, which is generally due to the rather low sound demands of the deejays and retailers on the one hand and the superiority of the Concorde users on the other.

“It’s the man himself” and “Respect who’s doing it yourself” are perfectly fitting marketing slogans here, but which are actually more familiar from the parallel world of DIY store advertising. But well, let's take the challenge!

A) High quality headshells and spacers

In order to mount a cartridge, consisting of a system and stylus, as uncomplicated as possible, but absolutely correctly, on a tonearm, a headshell is required that meets the SME standard one hundred percent. Specifically, with regard to the locking, i.e. the screw cap, this means no tolerances in production. In addition, the headshell must not have a degree of deviation with regard to the azimuth (vertical misalignment) and should therefore serve as an extended tonearm.

Once the headshell is fixed and the tonearm height adjusted, both the headshell and the tonearm must be parallel to the vinyl. If this is not the case, the system carrier is inferior. This is not so rare to find in headshells in the price segment under 20 euros. Personally, I would generally advise against buying such a headshell.

Ingredients supplied by Technics or Pioneer usually meet this minimum criterion. If you buy something from an investment of around 35 euros, you can be reasonably certain that the requirements for correct assembly will be met. For me, the SH4 from Ortofon is an absolutely worthy representative of this segment of reasonable price, which I would recommend to everyone without reservation, as the long straight edge offers a good visual reference for a correct assembly and the part is produced with fairly low manufacturing tolerances.

For users who own a PLX-1000, a 1210 or 1200GR or even higher quality, I would like to recommend the purchase of a magnesium headshell from Nagaoka or Jelco, which with an investment of 70 euros tears a hole twice as large in the wallet, in return, however, comes fully flexible with adjustable azimuth, high-quality Allen screws and headshell cables from Audioquest, which can also be purchased separately for a purchase price of 30 euros. Ultimately, the price also fits here.

The included headshell from Pioneer is ok. No setting option for azimuth, but correct.

The use of spacers made of carbon or precious woods is not without controversy. But this can make sense for three reasons known to me. You can generate more system weight with such intermediate carriers (if, for example, the headshell and the cartridge are "real flyweights) or achieve more system height, which can be necessary when you have already reached the lower end of the tonearm base.

You can also influence the sound in this way: Spacers are also recommended, for example, if the sound seems a little undercooled overall. Spacers (made of carbon or various precious woods) are easy to get on eBay for around 20 euros.

B) Cushions, rubber mats and slipsheets

When it comes to editions (or better: vinyl records), many experts often blow in the same horns, but I consider the associated problems to be far too essential to simply ignore them here without conscience. On the one hand, the vinyl underlay serves as a bedding for the record, and on the other hand as a vibration damper to prevent external vibrations from causing the tonearm to vibrate. These include shock-like events such as slammed doors or drawers, structure and footfall noise as well as periodic stimulation through the acoustic reproduction of basses, e.g. from the home hi-fi system or the sound system in event rooms. In addition, a combination of supports can only serve to set the vinyl higher, because you can no longer lower the tonearm tube by adjusting the height of the base, which is seldom the case, but does happen sometimes.

Numerous manufacturers of phono accessories sell various pads made of a wide variety of materials in different thicknesses, starting with standardized rubber mats and equally flexible pads made of rubber or cork, to DJ-typical slipmats made of felt in hard to soft from 0.3 mm to 3.5 mm Material thickness up to hard bases made of plastic, carbon or even vinyl.

The following applies here: What pleases and works well cannot be wrong. As is well known, many roads lead to Rome, but there are long and short routes and, of course, you can optimize here. But I have one thing to consider: where there is a will to optimize, there must be enough budget to try out and compare different combinations. On average, each edition costs between 15 and 30 euros and one is usually not enough. And if you own two turntables, you have to buy everything in duplicate.

With regard to vibration damping, the following sentence can be added as an exception:

A lot helps a lot!

A combination of different documents made of different materials is always more effective in this case than a single edition. Why? Because more vibration energy is absorbed due to several material transitions than with ONE edition, even if it is made of quite solid material.

The more material transitions, the more effective the vibration damping!

For this reason I like to recommend a combination of rubber mat, slip sheet and slipmat. With two material transitions and a relatively high mass, namely that of the rubber mat, you can achieve quite a bit with regard to the problem of "vibration dampening" and the use of a slip sheet as a "middle layer" allows the use of a slip mat, which will delight the guild very much .

As a slipmat, in my opinion, only really hard specimens with little "fluff" come into question, as they are included in the scope of delivery with Pioneer. If in doubt, I would advise against using felt mats that are too soft and thick.

A conventional rubber mat is both a non-slip surface and a good damper

For everyone who likes to do without device hoods permanently ...

What I would advise in this case is to purchase a hard pad made of plastic, vinyl or the like, transparent or even colored, to protect felt mats from being dusted, because the biggest enemy of vinyl is next to humans as before Dust!

A black plastic pad can also be used to raise the platter ...

For a correct adjustment of the system

After mounting the pickup under the headshell, the entire system now has to be fine-tuned. This requires the purchase of suitable accessories.

A) Adjustment blocks and setting templates

On the one hand, a system block made of transparent acrylic is required to determine the parallelism of the tonearm to the record, and at least one simple adjustment template (Cartridge Alignment Protractor) is required. Better: Invest directly in a Schoen template, type 2, that costs a good 40 euros, but there are various options for adjusting the overhang (overhang (direct / indirect) as well as center distance and effective tonearm length).

A mooring block from Millenium made of transparent acrylic is available for around 30 euros

B) Tonearm scales, circular levels and blanks

In order to achieve correct results with regard to the contact weight, a digital tonearm scale is not absolutely necessary. The supplied counter weights of the turntables are usually accurate enough immediately after balancing the tonearm, but this only remains accurate as long as you do not (accidentally) turn the scale wheel. For users who want to change the pickups frequently, a digital tonearm scale is recommended, as you can balance the tonearm for free and thus save time. Costs 10-140 euros, depending on the version, but seriously: 15 euros definitely do it!

In order to be able to align a turntable exactly horizontally, you absolutely need a spirit level. The circular levels, which are easily available on the internet, are best suited for this purpose, best of all order them directly in three different sizes, in case you really have doubts about the manufacturing quality of a chassis or the geometry of a turntable or its suspension or the SME lock of a tonearm tube. With the three “cans” shown below, pretty much anything that is supposed to be “horizontal” can be checked on a turntable.

Last but not least, in connection with the correct adjustment of the pickup, I would like to mention the purchase of an unwritten vinyl blank, which is required for the correct setting of the anti-skating value. A simple blank page of a 12-inch EP is sufficient here, if available. Mainly 12 inches and unwritten!

The digital tonearm scale from Analogis has been serving me well for 4 years now

Optimization of the sampling and signal transmission

Now we come to the optimization of the scan. To do this, we have to concentrate on the essentials while looking at the actual process and ask ourselves what exactly is happening: A diamond needle, fastened under a gimbal-mounted tonearm tube, follows the course of an almost concentrically cut record groove, which is constantly rotating at the most constant speed possible System is passed.

The scanning is therefore initially a purely mechanical process, which must be kept as close as possible to the ideal. As much print run weight as necessary to get a reproduction without needle jumping and as little print run as possible in order to produce as little abrasion on needle and vinyl.

You can already hear from the formulation: This mechanical process is subject to compromises in one way or another. If the needle is exactly 90 degrees on the vinyl and the headshell is parallel to the vinyl and the Schoen system is ideally adjusted and the support is optimally set, the entire scanning system cannot be further optimized. We can only do something with the object being scanned, THE VINYL: Make sure that it doesn't slip and that it rests as flat on the turntable as you can imagine.

A) Record pucks and vinyl clamps

In order to force vinyl records to lie evenly on the turntable, correctly manufactured discs are of course necessary. But if you catch one with a sharp bounce, this can not only lead to a rather restless sound, but even to undesirable needle hoppers; especially stupid: returning needle jumps! But you can counteract such a runout or a wavy vinyl by working with a record puck, record weight or a vinyl clamp.

Ideally with a weight (and again the opinions are divided) of 250 to 450 grams. Less is hardly worthwhile, as you do not exert enough weight to press the plate down and more weight can damage the suspension of the turntable. In the case of very blatant ripples, I would rather recommend the use of a vinyl clamp.

With a vinyl record weighing around 280 grams ...

B) High quality audio cables and professional connectors

In order to optimize the signal transmission, I recommend making a one-off investment in a good cable. Regardless of whether it is pre-assembled or soldered yourself - the effort is always worth it. For a two-meter-long stereo audio cable and four high-quality cinch connectors, you have to reckon with around 50 euros in material costs. For those who do not want to solder themselves, about twice as much applies.

A very good audio cable: SOMMER SC-Albedo MKII and ...

Vibration dampening and decoupling

In general, it is important to protect the mechanical scanner from external influences, i.e. to keep it away from mechanical vibrations such as impact or structure-borne noise. This is best achieved with an effective decoupling from the subsurface.

A) Alternative damping feet

... are good choices. Last year I tested the Isonoe Audio Isolation System here on Bonedo, which uses a freely suspended, internal center column. Clever, it can really do something and with an investment of around 160 euros it is manageable in terms of costs. Check out the test here.

The situation is similar with regard to the financial outlay for the NeoLev suspension dampers from TritonAudio, but they rely on a completely different concept: Based on two repelling neodymium magnets, the turntable no longer has any direct contact with the ground. And: They also level themselves independently, which means: The plate turner is automatically on the scales without its own fine adjustment. Strong! Cost: 4 pieces about 160 euros.

B) Individual device bases

Of course, individual device bases are particularly interesting in this context. Of course, you can also buy ready-made bases in high-end stores or buy them online, but the prices that you partially pay for these are extraordinary. 5 years ago I paid a good 80 euros for two 45 x 37 cm plates. In addition, however, you have to calculate four solid rubber feet each, which cost 20 euros each and that's it. So you can expect a maximum of 60 euros per base. At 13 kg, a plate weighs about as much as one of the PLX-1000. Since using the granite slabs as equipment bases, I have been able to open and close the 19 ”rack drawer built into the wooden rack during vinyl playback without the needle jumping.

A made-to-measure granite slab in this size is only available from a good natural stone dealer

C) Stable and massive substrates

Basically, the ground on which a record player is set up should be as solid as possible. A brick base is ideal; Stone, granite, marble, everything is allowed. Pouring concrete is also a great thing. But this is rarely suitable for everyday use, the complaints of the partner or at least those of the cleaner are inevitable. And: From now on you will definitely need a moving company for moving.

But joking aside. This is not something for every statics either, such a bricked underground. And I would be more careful with something like this in attics that have been expanded afterwards, and in old buildings with plank ceilings / floors I would prefer not to do that because it doesn't work there either. Such structures are only useful in houses with brick walls and reinforced concrete ceilings. If there is still a carefully laid sound insulation under the parquet floor (better not a laminate!) And you intend to stay there for at least the next 10 years, you can think about such measures.

But a surface made of solid wood can also be quite useful. Heavy and stiff woods such as oak or beech have enough weight and if only 30-50 mm thick boards are used, all of which of course have to be glued correctly, you will achieve your goal.

A fully solid wooden shelf made of beech with 45 mm thick panels has enough weight

D) bitumen and anti-vibration mats

In the case of wooden substrates, it is particularly important that any contact (e.g. that with the device base or contact with the floor) is provided with an additional material transition. So: between the base of the device and the surface there should be solid rubber feet and between the hi-fi furniture and the parquet floor a decent strip of building protection mat (60x60cm washing machine pad from the hardware store for around 15 euros)

A commercially available 6 mm thick building protection mat that is highly effective at damping vibrations

When damping vibrations, i.e. the transmission of structure-borne noise, you can also use inexpensive, but nevertheless very effective little helpers. Various online retailers sell bitumen as prefabricated mats with a self-adhesive layer on the back.

With the help of such mats, the automotive industry provides the cavities in motor vehicles in order to eliminate resonance spaces and to minimize vibrations. So the Phonofreak can line all invisible inner walls, back walls, etc. with those mats, which can increase the mass considerably depending on the thickness of the "tiles" (3, 6 or 8 mm). But be careful, at some point you will no longer be able to lift the wooden hi-fi furniture on your own, and certainly not move it around on your own ...