Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to Calibrate a Non-Calibratable Turntable

I've recently been collecting pieces to make a DIY HIFI soundsystem. The first piece of this that I bought was my record player, the Audio-Technica LP60. This is known far and wide as THE best introductory model record player due to its price, ease of use, and availability. After researching, I found some low-cost/high-value mods that are easily done to upgrade this setup. These include a diamond tipped needle, and an upgraded belt, come to find out, the whole package including upgrades is available here at LPGear for $99

However, just listening to the record player through a normal amp, I realized quickly that I had a problem: Near the end of every record the last few tracks of it were distorting (or peaking) out. This made the vinyl highly unlistenable and basically negated the entire reason that I was assembling this system in the first place.

So after researching the issue, I discovered that it was due to the needle being unbalanced on the player. Basically, if the needle side is too heavy, it causes too much pressure on the record and results in distortion. Consequently, if it's too light, it causes record skipping and the needle doesn't stay in the groove. This problem generally does not become apparent until you reach the last few songs on the record due to the reach and pressure of the arm being maximized.

The solution to this is needle calibration, basically adjusting the weight on the needle end of the record player. This is easy on higher end record players and only requires a few clicks on the needle arm, however on midlevel record players it's a bit harder and requires measuring and highly technical readjusting. The problem? Although the LP-60 is an introductory model, it does NOT let you calibrate the needle on it, the only factory suggested way to fix this problem is to ship it back, and let them fix it. Being impatient and having zero clue if I voided the factory warranty by adding a new needle, I elected to fix the problem myself.

The problem is one of balance of the needle, so if it is too heavy.... simply counterbalance it. There is room behind the pivot point of the arm to do this afterall. Yes, it does look a little redneck, but I'm concerned very little with aesthetics and only after sound quality with this project. So to accomplish this counterbalance, I used a variety of objects, but most of them fell off.... until I tried the change from my pocket.

Now the balance issue will be different for everyone, I tried every setup from two quarters (which was MUCH too heavy) to a dime (which was much too light). This easiest way to do this process is to find a non-aggressive sounding album (think Bob Dylan, early Tom Waits) that doesn't contain big, distorted sounds. This way you will tell very easy if the weight is not correct due to the distortion being EASILY detectable. Start the record, then skip it to the last song of that side and listen to it as that is where the problem will be most apparent. If it's skipping around, you have too much counter-balance weight, if it's still distorted, not enough. (It should be noted this isn't particularly good for the record that you are playing, so DO NOT attempt this with a high-value, irreplaceable record).

I found my desired weight after a few hours of tinkering, which ended up being one penny placed as far forward on the platform as it would allow. This was adequate for clearing the record-player cover as well as the arm moving around the enclosure. I added a piece of tape and secured it. Now? My records sound amazing, and I'm ready to start building out the rest of my new HIFI system....

Next up? DIY tube pre-amp.






11 comments:

  1. The single best piece of advice that I've seen with this turntable. Thanks, Brian.

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  2. Really glad i found this post, experiencing exactly this problem with the AT-LP60 (with upgraded ATN3600DLXI stylus) I just received from LPGear.com. I actually had to use TWO nickels to get enough counterbalance to stop the distortion! But it sounds 99% better at this point. Much appreciated!

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  3. When you add a counterweight it makes the pressure on the record lower right? Im thinking about buy this turntable, but I've seen many comments on internet about how this model can damage the vinyls overtime due the "high" pressure calibration. What do you think about it? Does the penny solves this issue?

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  4. Yes, the counter-balance does indeed ease the pressure against the record. With that said, any product that has to be rigged like this I would advise against purchasing in the first place. The penny helps ease the issue, but a proper turntable can measure the pressure calibration, do yourself a favor and save up for the better record player. You will potentially save your record collection.

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  5. Bought this TT few days ago and did some googling. Found this trick and did the mod. I put a heavy piece of copper on the backend of tonearm. It got lighter and no skipping. Stylus should last much longer this way...

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  6. Hi, I've not long bought this turntable and I'm hearing some intermittent distorted sounds which I attributed to the turntable slowing down at times. When I've read this though I've reflected upon this assumption and it's not obvious that there is any change in pitch, which would occur with a slowing down of the player. It is just distortion. This might not happen during every record, but then it may occur a few times during another. Old records, lighter records, heavier records were tried and the problem was indiscriminate. I'm not hearing anything which sounds like skipping though.
    I've ordered a replacement of the same model, which is due to arrive tomorrow, If I have the same problem I'm happy to modify it at the price I paid for it, I wonder if anyone thinks I've had this same problem. If so, then I can't believe it isn't reported as often on the internet as I did a lot of research before I bought this and reviews were excellent...just the usual audio snobbery which I have learned to ignore!

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  7. I bought this unit a few months ago and have been generally very pleased with it, but I've noticed that the LP plays just a hair faster than comparable digital versions. Would the coin on the tone arm help at all with this problem, or do I need a new belt?

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    Replies
    1. Sounds like a motor speed issue. I would imagine that a loose belt would mean slower and sloppier playing. The coin wouldn't really help that unfortunately.

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    2. Under your AT-LP60 record player, there are two holes marked "33" and "45". You can manually adjust the speed of the motor for these settings by adjusting the screws in these holes.
      You'll need a very small flathead screwdriver (the kind you'd use to repair glasses or something).

      It looks like there aren't screws there because there's some kind of fabric material covering them, but they are merely underneath. Push hard enough and it will work, just be careful. Turning clockwise makes your record player faster, and turning counter-clockwise makes your record player slower.

      You can use the RPM app for iPhone or Android (totally free) to measure your RPMs and get the setting just right.

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  8. hello!! Very interesting discussion glad that I came across such informative post. Keep up the good work friend. Glad to be part of your net community.
    best turntables under 200 dollars

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