In our technology column last month we shared the 8 best turntables for home listening. Now, it’s time to learn how you can take it to the next level, with these 8 turntable tweaks for the truly committed audiophile.
Words: Paul Rigby
The problem with Hi-Fi and turntables especially is that they are machines. Like any machine, they can be tweaked and tuned to improve performance. In addition, they can also be affected by the actions of outside forces in a positive and negative manner.
To give you one example, you can buy yourself a five-star rated turntable for lots of money, take it home, put it on your coffee table, hook it up to your amp and speakers, spin your favourite record and wonder what the fuss was all about. Suddenly, your expensive, well received turntable sounds like a blancmange. Pick up that same turntable, place it on a carefully set up wall shelf, plug it into the same amp and speakers and we are talking chalk and cheese. Now, your turntable has been transformed into a world-beater.
Similarly, play that same turntable on that very wall shelf and be happy with the sound but then add isolation feet, a quality clamp and a replacement platter mat and listen to that turntable sing! Suddenly, that deck of yours has been lifted to a new sonic level.
The main reason for this odd behaviour resides in distortion. It comes in different flavours and it’s everywhere: it also hates great sound quality. If you have a suspended wooden floor, every time you walk on it, the planks vibrate. The vibrations make their way into your floor-mounted stand and into your deck disrupting the sound quality. The noise of your electrical appliances such as your fridge and kettle can produce electrical spikes that affect the hi-fi mains source and, ultimately, sound quality. Airborne radio frequencies from mobile phones, computer routers and Wi-Fi devices interfere with the sensitive cartridge and the turntable mechanism, adding to the background noise level.
This accrued noise can sometimes be distinctive and blatantly obvious but a lot of the destructive distortion is subtle and layered and tends to mask turntable sound quality like a thick curtain or blanket. In fact, most of the time, you won’t even know that it’s there until it has been removed. It’s at this point that you notice more detail, where background silences now sound inky black and where the differences between loud and quiet passages of music have a greater significance. The following Top Tweaks will help you to remove a heap of that horrible distortion for good.
A record clamp looks like the ideal design for a flying saucer from the 50s and sits over the top of the central spindle of your turntable. Once fitted, the knob of the clamp is twisted to help the device fix itself to the turntable and, hence, your record. In this way the connection between the record and the platter is secure, improving the solidity of lower frequencies such as bass but also improving the focus of the entire soundstage. It can also help to flatten out those previously unplayable, warped records.
The STB isn’t so much a clamp as a multi-function weight that sits on the turntable’s central spindle and rests on the label of the record. The structure can be dismantled and the various weights contained can be removed and added so that you find the best weight/sound quality combination for your turntable. While one side of the STB is great for basic vinyl, you can flip the STB and rest the extended spindle side onto ‘dinked’ or jukebox singles, without a spindle holder, to provide stability. Easy to use and easy to tweak, a great all round performer.
Isolating your turntable from the shelf it sits upon helps to dislocate it from any distortions that might be affecting the shelf itself. Using the pods under your turntable you will see improvements in bass and instrumental separation (the space between instruments).
The Superpods build on earlier designs by offering the same isolation and resonance control as the company’s other product, the Polipod, but the Superpod can take far more punishment. Each Superpod will support up to 25kg in weight so four together will support 100kg.
Many mats are included on turntables almost as an afterthought. Their quality is not only poor but most of the good work done by the turntable itself can often be negated by the mat which can transform sharp clarity into a muddy blur. This value for money Origin model adds both transparency and enhanced dynamics, allowing the turntable to do its job as it should. It is only 1mm thick, so is easy to install without causing problems. The diameter is 296mm to fit inside the lip of most decks.
“A bubble level? Surely you jest?” Not at all. A bubble level is one of the most important parts of any turntable set up. Why? Because your turntable is a sensitive and delicate machine subject to stresses and strains which will all affect the sound quality of your records. So, if you have a deck which is situated on a table or shelf that even sits on a slight angle, then the arm, cartridge and needle will be pushed or pulled unnaturally, resulting in groove distortion and excess wear and tear.
How long have you had your turntable? Does your deck utilise oil to enable the bearing to run smoothly? (The Technics SL1200 doesn’t, for example) If your deck does use oil and your deck is a few years old or more then there’s a chance that the oil surrounding the bearing has either lost its efficiency or may possibly be contaminated over time, lowering its effectiveness, increasing bearing wear and lowering sound quality. If you want to replace that oil you can’t use any old lubricant, you’ll do more harm than good. Give this stuff a try. It’s been created especially for turntables and will improve sonics no end.
For the braver, DIY-minded among you, try Sorbothane sheets with or without a sticky side. Sorbothane is natural sound deadening substance, providing valuable damping for your turntable. The non-sticky version can be used as a surface for your turntable to rest upon or it can be placed inside a hollow plinth. The sticky version can be cut and trimmed to line, like wallpaper, a hollow plinth to deaden nasty ringing sounds: great for Technics SL-1200 turntable owners, for example. You need to experiment with how much you need to use so add a bit, then listen, add a bit more, then listen, etc.
One of the best wall shelves on the market, the Decent arrives as a single or, if your turntable has an external power supply, double shelf configuration. The frame can also be filled with sand to further deaden the structure and improve sound quality. You will need to install the shelf onto a solid wall. Use a bubble level to make sure that the shelf is absolutely level. Also, if your turntable is heavy, consider replacing the included screws for longer, high tensile, parallel (as opposed to tapered) screws for added strength support.