How to Keep the Tone in Your Tonearm
Many audiophiles swear by the sound of vinyl records. The clear analog sound of a turntable reproduces the music as it was meant to be heard.
How Does a Turntable Work?
All turntables work in essentially the same way. Also known as record players, they are one of the few truly mechanical methods of musical reproduction. All the music comes from a tiny stylus vibrating as it rides along a rotating groove in a vinyl disc. There are three main components to a turntable:
- Plinth: The plinth is the base of the unit. It holds the motor and any gearing and supplies the weight to ensure that it stays stable when playing records at a constant speed.
- Platter: The rotating platter both supports the record itself and also provides its stability in motion.
- Tonearm: The tonearm mounts to the plinth and supports the cartridge at one end while being balanced by the counterweight at the other.
What's Important About the Tonearm?
The importance of the tonearm starts with the fact that it handles all of the audio reproduction. Not only does the arm have to do all that, it has to move smoothly with the record while doing everything else. Here are just some of the requirements of a tonearm:
- Stiffness: an SME Series V tonearm has to be both light and stiff so that it can support the counterweight at one end and the cartridge at the other. Any flex in the tonearm can cause interference in the audio signal, which only underscores the importance of these parts. The Series V relies on a carefully choreographed balance of mass and damping forces to ensure that the only vibration in an SME tonearm is that of the stylus.
- Balance: Bearings are some of the most important tonearm parts. They not only have to support the arm, but they have to let it move freely but only within very circumscribed limits. At the same time, the counterweight has to provide just enough mass to ensure the minimum necessary level of tracking force to ensure that it doesn't wear down the grooves even as the anti-skate mechanism keeps the stylus from spinning.
Sitting in its headshell at the far end of the arm, the cartridge contains both the needle and its magnetic pickups that transform physical vibrations into electrical signals. Most use a moving magnet system, though some use a more accurate but fainter moving coil design. This extra low signal strength is one reason why a separate phono amplification stage is so important to a Hi-Fi system. It also means that the stylus has to be very carefully mounted in the pick-up arm.
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