Turntable Cartridge Alignment: Practical Guide

Turntable Cartridge Alignment: Practical Guide

A proper replacement of the phono cartridge includes an alignment, which is crucial for the sound quality of your turntable. Precise alignment of the phono cartridge ensures full detail, high clarity, and a wide frequency range. On the contrary, the improper alignment leads to a thin sound with poor stereo separation, harsh treble, and a little bass. If you experience such output with your record player, most probably, your cartridge isn’t properly aligned.

Alignment is usually performed once, during a cartridge change. However, if you noticed your records started to sound differently over time, a re-alignment may be required.

The cartridge alignment may vary depending on the cartridge model. There are cartridges that come built-in into a headshell. These models usually come pre-aligned. The cartridge can be mounted in a certain way letting you move it backward and forward, or left and right only. However, in general, the procedure is the same.

Tips for Correct Phono Cartridge Alignment

While a cartridge alignment foresees several steps, in general, it isn’t difficult and can be performed without external help. See how to align a cartridge for turntable:

  1. Make sure the cartridge is movable on a headshell. It shouldn’t feel loose though, but be regulable.
  2. Take an alignment protractor fitting your turntable, and put it on the platter.
  3. Lower the needle on the point corresponding to the outside alignment (closer to the outer rim of the record). Regulate the cartridge position so that the cantilever is in line with the horizontal lines on the protractor.
  4. Move the tonearm so that the stylus is centered on the inside. Align the cartridge again if needed.
  5. Sweep the tonearm back to the outside checkpoint and see if any regulation is needed. If so, align the cartridge and go back to the inside dot. Perform the procedure until you have the cartridge perfectly positioned in line with horizontal lines on the turntable cartridge alignment tool.

In order to spend less time for alignment, and enjoy your records sooner, check the smart tips in the first place:

  1. Tangency is an important factor that should be taken into account. The more tangency is there between the stylus and the record, the more detailed sound you will get. However, being excessively pressed to the record’s surface, the needle can scratch the vinyl. That’s why the tracking force should be set before the alignment is performed.
  2. For some cartridges, a specific headshell might be available setting the cartridge in the optimal position. Using this headshell will spare you time and effort. Still, this option is usually available for specialized cartridges (e.g for 78 RPM vinyl records).
  3. Some turntables and phono cartridges are supplied with the protractor charts. However, if your chart has worn out, or is absent, you can use a special phono cartridge alignment tool to set your cartridge correctly. These things usually have a universal design (e.g. the Protractor Tool Mirror), and might provide a different result on various turntables. Still, they’re quite handy for beginners and usually help set the needle correctly.
  4. In some cartridges / headshells, the cantilever isn’t well visible. In this case, adjust the cartridge so that its sides are in line with the lines on the protractor.
  5. Make sure to tighten the screws fast on the cartridge / headshell, after the alignment is done. This will provide for a fixed position and for a long time of proper performance.
  6. Phono cartridges have tiny stylus tips, and the difference of 0.5mm can influence the output considerably. Try not to move the cartridge at all after you’ve aligned it at both checkpoints.