When you are listening to your vinyl records, any audiophile will notice when their cartridge alignment is out of whack. The sound quality will decrease during playback allowing you to hear a muffled or muddy sound as the tonearm moves the stylus along the inner grooves of the vinyl. When this misalignment begins to occur, the hi-fi sound that you love will quickly diminish. However, there is an alignment tool, called a turntable protractor, used to adjust the tracking force and the alignment of the turntable phono cartridge.
Why Use a Turntable Protractor
Why do you need a cartridge alignment protractor for your turntable? Not only does it provide turntable cartridge alignment, it will give you precise alignment so that you don’t have to constantly adjust the cartridge stylus and the cantilever of the turntable. Doing this will stabilize the tonearm and help keep it from skipping during playback.
Not adjusting the stylus alignment degrades the sound that you hear over time. If the tracking errors remain, the stylus tip will begin to wear unevenly, creating more distortion during playback. Cartridge alignment tools like Pro-Ject’s Align It DS2 are easy to use. However, there are also downloadable templates that you can find online and use.
All you will need to do with a printable turntable protractor is make sure that it is the correct size as the reference scale. If the paper that you print on is slightly off the scale of the effective length of the protractor, then the alignment could be inaccurate.
Steps to Line up Your Turntable Protractor
There are cartridge-specific protractors that work to align specific types of cartridges. There are also universal phono cartridge alignment protractors that will work for any type of cartridge mounting. Regardless of the one that you use, the process for each is basically done the same way. Let’s take a look at how to adjust the overhang alignment geometry using a two-point protractor, which is a universal model. Print our downloadable turntable protractor to get started.
Step 1: Place the Protractor over the Turntable Spindle
This step is actually very simple to do because there is a mark or a spindle hole on the protractor goes on the spindle of your record player. Once the protractor is in place, it will lay on the platter just like a record so that you can easily measure and align the cartridge body.
Step 2: Lower the Turntable Lever
When lowering the tonearm, you will want to do it with care so that the needle does not get damaged in the process. To do this, you can move the tonearm by the cueing lever. Hold the sides of the cartridge so that you can rotate the counterweight just enough for the entire tonearm to look like it is floating right above the turntable platter. You don’t actually want the needle to touch the protractor, just be parallel to the grid lines so that you can offset the angle as needed.
If you are using a two-point cartridge protractor, you are going to find that the different points used vary based on whether you have a pivoted tonearm or a straight one. With a pivoted tonearm, there are only going to be two points along the arc that provides perfect tangency. Called null points, these points are the location where there are no tracking errors and the cartridge aligns perfectly in the record grooves.
Step 3: Measure the Tracking Force
Once the tonearm is in place along the protractor, you can look at the grid lines to measure the tracking force. When tuning your cartridge, you will want the value to be between 1.4 and 2.2 grams for the best results. When the tracking force is within these perimeters, you can start adjusting the overhang.
Step 4: Adjust the Stylus Overhang
To make these adjustments, you will need to loosen the screws on the top of the headshell so that it’s possible to move the cartridge forward and backward. There may be slight resistance, but when you move the stylus to adjust it so that the tip of the stylus is on the corresponding dot of the turntable protractor.
The cartridge body needs to be perfectly parallel to the line on the grid to be aligned properly. If it is off slightly, you will need to repeat the steps and realign it again before tightening the screws. This could take a few tries to perfect, but with practice, it will get easier to manage.
If you are having trouble lining up the needle, this may be because of the angle that you are looking at it. It could also be because the stylus is small, so adjusting it using the cartridge body may be easier. There are turntable protractors with mirrored surfaces that you can use that will make this process of adjusting the overhang simpler.
Step 5: Recheck the Tracking Force and Make Final Adjustments
When you have the overhang aligned properly, make sure that you tighten the screws. Then, you will need to check the tracking force again to make sure that it is still where it should be. It might have moved slightly, but it should be within a tenth of a gram or so from where you set it. Once the tracking force is accurate, then adjust the anti-skate mechanism on the tonearm to keep it in place. This keeps the stylus from shifting during playback, which will keep your vinyl records sounding the way they were intended.
Always Make Sure to Properly Align Your Cartridge
Alignment importance goes back to the time of the phonograph, which needed stylus alignment just like modern-day record players need today. However, cartridge alignment is even more imperative today because there are different types of cartridges that require different methods of alignment.
Using a protractor will allow you to visibly line up your headshell, and listening to your vinyl will help you get the settings even closer. Once properly aligned, you will immediately hear the difference in the sound that your record player is producing. The scratching, popping, and crackling will vanish, and you will hear the hi-fi sound that you prefer.
Try this downloadable protractor for yourself!