How Important is a Tonearm

Replacement Tone Arms - Devizes - Wiltshire

The Tonearm

A good quality Tonearm is very important!

The tonearm takes the form of a balanced arm on a pivot that carries the cartridge and needle assembly over the record, and has to ensure that the correct forces are exerted on the record by the needle. Too much force either downwards or sideways will compromise playback quality and damage both record and needle.

A tonearm should have two accessible adjustments, tracking weight and anti-skate force. The tracking weight and anti-skate force settings should be defined by the manufacturer of your cartridge and needle, and will be specified in grammes. Cheap turntables will have these preset by the manufacturer or may miss them entirely, their presence is a good indication that the turntable is of some level of quality.

The tracking weight is simply the weight exerted by the needle on the record, and it will normally be in the region of a gramme or so. In most cases it is set by means of a counterweight on the other end of the tonearm that can be moved back and forth on a screw thread. There should be a dial on the counterweight calibrated in grammes. To set the tracking weight, first adjust the weight until the tonearm balances on the level, then adjust the weight back until the required tracking weight setting is shown on the dial.

The anti-skate force is a force applied to the tonearm that pulls it towards the edge of the record. This counteracts the force applied to the tonearm towards the center of the record by the friction of the disc, with the desired result of reducing groove wear. There is usually a spring that is tightened or loosened by means of a small calibrated knob, simply turn to the value in grammes.

Some modern tonearms have a small weight on a piece of thread connected to the tonearm.

The tonearm itself can be found in a variety of different shapes, both straight and curved. It should be a metal tonearm or new innovative carbon materials, avoid turntables with plastic tonearms as a tonearm should be as rigid as possible.

There are a lot of audiophile theories about the perfect shape for a tonearm, but the idea is to ensure that the cartridge axis is always at right angles to the groove and that the arc it tracks is as good an approximation to a straight line as possible. You’ll find hotly contested arguments over straight tonearms versus S-shaped ones, but you are probably better placed concerning yourself with your tonearm’s quality than its shape.

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