Vinyl FAQ 07: What does it mean to “ground” my turntable?

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.

First, let’s talk about ‘Ground’ in general terms. Your hi-fi is packed with electronics and electricity, and Ground is primarily included as a safety measure. All of your hi-fi boxes are electrically isolated from the metal exterior or chassis.

If for some reason, the safety measures within fail and electricity comes into contact with the chassis, the (often rubber) feet would prevent the electricity from going anywhere and it would sit waiting for someone to touch the chassis, with predictable consequences.

Having a Ground will mean any unwanted electricity will travel through the wire back to your electrical panel, tripping the circuit-breaker, and stopping the flow of electricity. Additionally, that wire must be connected to something that is in turn connected to the earth or ‘Ground’ outside.

This is where confusion can occur, because the turntable’s Ground is slightly different. This particular Ground is not a safety issue, it’s there to avoid a Ground Loop. If you have inter-connected equipment, of any kind, with more than one electrical path to the Ground, a Ground Loop can ultimately cause extra noise.

For a turntable, that handles sensitive signals from a delicate cartridge, the issue is (almost literally) amplified. A turntable suffering from a Ground Loop will produce a hum through your speakers. Because of this sensitivity, most turntable designs already arrive with a separate Ground wire attached principally to the tonearm, that can in turn either be attached to the amplifier or phono amplifier’s ground screw. Doing so will reduce the background hum tremendously.

Illustration by Abigail Carlin