How to set up a turntable

Proper cartridge and stylus alignment can help you get the best sound and reduce wear and tear on your records. (This step is also called adjusting the overhang.) Many turntables, including mine, come with an alignment protractor, also called an alignment gauge. As you can see in the photo below, the protractor is a rectangular strip – often made of cardboard or paper, but sometimes plastic – that is placed on the pin, with small circular target points for the needle, plus a series of grid lines that should line up with the cartridge. This tool can help you make sure your stylus and cartridge are positioned correctly in relation to the record grooves.

If your turntable didn’t come with an alignment protractor or you’ve misplaced it, there are plenty of versions online that you can print out. First, see if you can get one from the turntable manufacturer’s website; if not, you can download one for free from vinylengine.com, which is a great all-around resource for turntables and vinyl information.

There are two popular alignment systems – Baerwald and Stevenson – with protractors that work with many models. You can see if your cartridge manufacturer recommends one or the other, or you can try both and see if one is better. (If you are printing a protractor online, make sure the printer is set to print at 100%.) Cut out the protractor, and the hole for the turntable axle, along the dotted lines on the template. Then place the protractor on the spindle.

The goal is to rest the tip of your stylus on the alignment gauge’s target point, with the cartridge body parallel to the grid lines of the gauge. If your gauge is thin, like a piece of paper, place a 33 rpm record on your turntable. Some gauges are made to be the thickness of a disc, allowing you to skip this step.

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