8 tips for getting better sound from your turntable
How to improve your vinyl listening experience
Buying a great turntable is the most important decision you can make when creating a sweet-sounding analog stereo system. But even the best record player will benefit in a big way from the right setup and accessories.
For starters, I highly recommend watching this video about how to set up a turntable — it's full of helpful tips for getting started off on the right foot.
Some turntable accessories are so essential, you should have them on hand from the first day you start playing records. Others you may decide to add later if you find you're just not quite getting the sound quality you hoped for.
I've come up with 8 tips for improving your turntable sound, starting with the most basic add-ons and getting into more advanced solutions as we go.
1. Keep your records dust-free
When you order your turntable from Crutchfield, order a good record brush, too. You should brush your records each time you play them, period.
A good record brush removes dust and static electricity from records to reduce pops, clicks, and other surface noise.
Brushes are made from soft carbon fiber that can remove loose dust, fibers, hair… all things that tend to settle on any flat surface in our homes. Modern brushes also have a conductive metal piece in the handle that helps draw off static electricity, which also produces audible noise.
When your records aren’t on the platter, keep them scratch-free and safe from dust and static by substituting good record sleeves for the abrasive paper sleeves they often are shipped in.
2. Add a cushy record mat
Shortly after I bought my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable, I added a cork record mat. It decouples the record from the platter, which can transmit rumble from the ‘table’s motor. It also grips the record better for a more consistent speed, and reduces static that can attract dust particles to the record’s surface. It's a relatively small investment that pays big dividends.
3. Reduce unwanted vibrations
The needle on your record player is very sensitive to vibration. That’s what makes it so good at bringing out nuances from a record groove, but it also means your sound can be affected by unwanted vibrations. Fortunately there are a number of relatively simple fixes that help isolate the needle from vibration.
No matter how daintily I try to walk when I’m playing a record, I inevitably tread too heavily and cause a skip that makes my heart drop. Vibration isolators remove that danger, plus any rumble that may be transmitted from amps, speakers or other devices that share a platform with your turntable.
A set of four IsoAcoustics vibration isolators can help keep vibrations from footfalls or nearby components from interfering with music listening.
Solid placement on vibration-resistant furniture is also important. Consider placing your 'table on a solid turntable stand, for instance. And I highly recommend a set of speaker stands to help isolate your turntable from sonic vibrations and improve your overall listening experience.
4. Check your cables
Sometimes, a crackling sound from your record player means the cables that connect it to the rest of your gear have frayed connections. Many turntables ship with relatively inexpensive cables that are useful for getting started, but don’t always last as long.
Well-made RCA cables use high-quality materials to improve signal transfer, especially over slightly longer cable runs. Turntables also need to be well-grounded to eliminate a very annoying low-frequency hum that can creep in. If you're experiencing this, a high-quality grounding cable can help.
5. Give your records a deep cleaning
If your playback sounds crackly or muddy even after you use a cleaning brush, your records may need a deeper cleaning. A brush can remove surface detritus, but record grooves can harbor deeper infusions of grease, mold and grime, especially if you haunt the used record shops like I do — you just don’t know what conditions the former owner subjected them to.
A good record cleaning machine that uses specially-formulated cleaning fluid and vacuum suction to really clear out the grooves can make records sound like new, and add years of listening life by keeping them in good shape.
A Record Doctor cleaning machine can make records — old or new — sound their best by removing packing and shipping debris or worn-in grime from decades of service.
6. Upgrade your cartridge
Your turntable probably shipped with a pretty decent cartridge, but you’ve got plenty of room for improvement. Read our phono cartridge guide to get the full rundown on how this crucial part of your turntable works its magic.
Some turntables have a nut on the tonearm that can be loosened to remove and replace the headshell for a relatively easy cartridge replacement process. If you don’t have this option, you can still replace your cartridge, but it may be a good idea to get help from a professional so you don’t damage the delicate wire leads.
7. Improve your platter
You can also upgrade your platter to a more dense material, but make sure it’s one that’s meant for your turntable — you don’t want a mismatch that could burn out your ‘table’s motor or cause other problems. Many audiophiles go the extra mile to keep records from wobbling or slipping by adding a turntable weight.
8. Invest in a high-quality phono preamp
Most turntables ship with a good phono cartridge pre-installed. But there are more advanced models available, and if you’re considering making an upgrade, a more sophisticated phono preamp makes that possible. A good preamp offers adjustable settings that help you get the most out of a top-notch cartridge.
This phono preamp with vacuum tubes is an excellent upgrade for an audiophile-grade turntable setup.
Some audiophiles prefer the warm, inviting sound of a preamp that uses old-school vacuum tube technology, plus they look pretty cool. And some preamps offer a built-in subsonic filter that eliminates distracting low-frequency “rumble.”
Let us help
Building a great two-channel record playing system is a rewarding experience, but it can be a daunting task to tackle on your own. You want your entire system working in harmony, and our advisors have the knowledge and experience to help you customize your turntable setup. Contact us for a friendly helping hand.