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How to Get Great Sound from a Tonearm

By some standards, one might consider it a miracle that turntables work at all. A tiny stylus vibrates at the end of an arm, yet it still produces enough music to fill a room.

How Do Turntables Work?

All record turntables work by spinning the disk at a constant RPM and using that motion to vibrate the needle. There are three main components to any turntable:

  • Plinth: This is the base of the unit and contains the motor and drive system. It has to be heavy enough to maintain stability and large enough to hold either a belt-drive or direct-drive electric motor.
  • Platter: This supports the record while it spins. It needs to be perfectly flat and may come with a slip mat in order to keep the vinyl from moving.
  • Tone Arm: The arm does the heavy lifting of the record player. It guides the needle that actually converts the grooves in the vinyl into music.

What About the Tonearm?

An Audio Technica phonograph tonearm has two contradictory jobs to do at the same time; it has to apply the lowest possible amount of weight to the vinyl, while still ensuring that it has enough tracking force to keep the needle in the groove. It's a delicate balancing act, both figuratively and literally.

  • Counterweight: Mounted at the rear, this component controls the tracking force. Dial it up for more weight and down for less depending on your needs.
  • Arm tube: The key to a good arm tube is that it has to be both light and stiff as any vibration can affect the audio quality. It needs the strength to keep the head perfectly still while still moving smoothly across the surface of the LP.
  • Headshell: This clamps onto the arm and provides a mounting point for the cartridge. Most offer universal mountings, while some come with a built-in cartridge.
  • Cartridge: This holds the stylus and contains the circuitry to convert vibrations into electrical current, with everything packaged into something only a few mm on a side.

Maintaining Your Turntable

An automatic belt-drive turntable like the Audio Technica AT-LP60 can benefit tremendously from regular maintenance of the tonearm. This model is available with USB support and can upgrade with different magnet cartridges and a replaceable stylus. Upgrading the cartridge when necessary is one way to keep the system sounding as good as it can. It also contains a phono preamp, so you can use the AT-LP60 as either a stereo component or a standalone record player just by switching the preamp on or off. Just lay the disk on the platter and start the turntable spinning to enjoy high quality analog audio in beautiful stereo.

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