A selection of accessories that help you get the most out of your turntable and thus make your records sound even better. Some of these devices are used every time I set up a turntable others are for routine maintenance while the rest are handy tools for refining turntable set up. At least one was included in the last accessories round-up and remain key tools in my set up armoury while others are recent discoveries that have made the record player fanatic’s life that little bit more interesting.
Measuring the speed of a turntable platter traditionally involves a strobe disc and a 50Hz light source, shine the light on the spinning disc and adjust speed until the radial marks stop turning. This is a very good system and not too pricey, Rega make a kit for £63, and its analogue nature makes it very accurate – not many turntables are so precise that you can completely stop the marks from moving – but it cannot be done with a stylus in the groove. A far more affordable option that’s available to iPhone users is the RPM app. In its basic guise RPM is actually free but the more user friendly Pro version is only £10. This ingenious app uses the gyroscope inside the phone to detect speed and the compass to produce a wow and flutter chart, and it can be used with the stylus in the groove so that you can take account of the drag that it introduces. You need something over the centre spindle to put the phone on, RPM’s maker Philip Broder suggests a spray can cap, I used a round spirit level, turn the app on press go and within a few rotations it indicates the speed to two decimal places.
The advantage of paying for RPM Pro is that it will carry on indicating speed for long enough to adjust it, the basic version has to be reset after a short time, but if you’re patient it’s quite usable. This is a very impressive creation and one that any vinyl enthusiasts with an adjustable speed turntable should try.
Blue Horizon Prolevel
The first thing to do when setting up a turntable is to make it level, this can be done with any kind of spirit or bubble level but for best results I use one that fits over the centre spindle. If you put the level on the plinth it may not be perfectly parallel to the platter and if you put it somewhere on the platter with a spring suspended turntable it may cause the platter to lean slightly. Putting the level in the centre of the platter ensures that it is actually level and using the Blue Horizon Prolevel (£94.95) which has a similar weight to a regular vinyl record (120g) means it won’t depress the suspension. There are cheaper options with a centre hole beneath them but they appear to double as record clamps/weights which means they are quite heavy. The Blue Horizon also has spring loaded grips within the spindle hole to adapt to different size spindles which is a nice touch.
Rega Atlas Mk2 tracking force gauge
Accurately measuring downforce makes cartridge set up and repetition considerably easier. The Atlas is not inexpensive at £185 but comes fully calibrated from a company that knows more about turntables than most. It’s easy to use, well made and more reliable than the relatively inexpensive alternatives on the market, I have been using the original Mk1 version for three years and it has been consistently reliable and accurate. The current Mk2 version caters for a wider weight range, up to 10g, and is said to be more stable and sensitive.
This might look like a cooking timer but designer Don Lindich has created a timer that caters specifically to the needs of anyone wanting to log the hours that their cartridges have done, he calls it an odometer for your stylus. The Stylus Timer (£22.50/€24.95) counts only hours and needs to be switched on and off manually, so not so good for casual disc spinners or single track players such as myself, but it does include useful features such as built-in memory for when the battery needs to be changed. It can also be reset when you replace the stylus or cartridge, the only question is how many hours is a given stylus good for? Don suggests: “if this isn’t on the info for the cartridge then 1,000 hours is a good rule of thumb,but some inexpensive cartridges are less, perhaps 500 to 750 hours. Some ultra high end cartridges can be up to 2,000 hours”.
Acoustical Systems SMARTstylus
Setting up a cartridge can be an involved and difficult business without the right tools, the SmartStylus (£85) looks like just such a thing. Essentially it’s an acrylic template that allows accurate setting of stylus rake angle (SRA), vertical tracking angle (VTA) and azimuth (the angle of the stylus when viewed from the front of the cartridge as opposed to the side). It includes a magnifier and a stand so that it can be positioned in front of or beside the cartridge. The only limitation of this approach is that the angle at which the original vinyl master was cut varies from record to record so it’s impossible to set up precisely for more than one slab of vinyl at a time. That said this gets you closer to an ideal median position for all vinyl of a given thickness – 180g and 120g records are inevitably different in this regard which is why adjusting VTA on the fly has so much appeal. Such adjustments can also be done by ear but it’s useful to have a start point that’s in the right ballpark.
Pear Audio stylus cleaning fluid
Last year John Burns wrote a piece about the importance of keeping your stylus clean and mentioned the stylus cleaning fluid that me makes and sells for a mere £2 through retailers (who clearly aren’t only in it for the money). But first give your diamond tip a very careful and very gentle back to front wipe (pull it toward you with the front of the cartridge facing you) with a piece of 30 micron 3M polishing paper or ‘green paper’ as this fine plastic sheet is known, which also appears to be £2 and can be found online with ease.
Rega felt mat
Perhaps a little controversial this one but I generally find that turntables sound better with a felt mat on them, even those designed not to have such a thing seem to sound a bit more musical and engaging. And given that you can get a good quality wool felt Rega mat for as little as £21 it’s worth giving this approach a go, especially if your turntable has a rubber mat or hard surface such as acrylic.