Vinyl FAQ #03: What is anti-skate?

By in Features, Turntables & Tech





Everything you always wanted to know about vinyl but were too afraid to ask.

Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or a new recruit, our FAQ series aims to tackle questions big and small about records, turntables and everything in between.

From quizzical musings like “What does dust actually do to my records?” to the more fiddly “How do I change the cartridge?” or just handy information like “What’s the difference between a belt and direct drive deck?”, this series will have you covered.

What is it? Anti-skate affects the tracking ability of your stylus – how well the needle is able to move across your records. Get it right and the stylus runs through your vinyl grooves like a good’un. Get it badly wrong and you risk having the stylus jumping around like a kid on a trampoline, adding wear and tear on the grooves themselves.

Where is it? The anti-skate control differs depending on your turntable, but it is generally found at the foot of the tone-arm in the form of a small-counter-weight and adjustable knob. Some tonearms don’t allow you to set the anti-skate, though. The Rega Planar 1, for example, handles this task for you.

How does it work? Anti-skate is there to maintain equal force on both the inner and outer sides of the stylus to keep it balanced within a typical groove. This balance is not natural, it has to be created by the anti-skate control.

The natural inclination of the stylus is to be drawn towards the centre spindle putting excessive force on the inside groove wall. This is because of the design of most tonearms, which arc inwards across a record during play, and the fact that almost all have a slightly tilted headshell (which sets up opposing forces in relation to the arm pivot), as well as the friction imposed on the groove.

If left completely unchecked, the stylus could leap from the groove and ‘skate’ towards the centre. Anti-skate control counteracts this by, in effect, pulling it out a tad.

Can anything go wrong? If you apply just enough force to stop the actual skating, you may still experience balance problems that could cause issues in terms of the stereo channel separation and distortion. You can normally hear a bias issue but, for the beginner, the best solution is to set the anti-skate according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Illustration by Abigail Carlin

Catch up on previous questions below:

FAQ 01: When should I change my needle?
FAQ 02: How does dust affect my records and needle?