You can align your turntable cartridge by loosening the screws holding the cartridge to the tonearm and making minor adjustments. Using a cartridge protractor or just listening for the proper angle are two common ways of getting the angle dialed in correctly.
I’m Donovan, a musician and music lover at heart. I’ve worked in the music industry and am a vinyl enthusiast with a constantly growing record collection. I know through first-hand experience how to align a turntable cartridge.
This post will show you how to align a turntable cartridge. I’ll walk you through some steps to make this happen and provide other relevant details. My goal is to help you achieve the best audio quality from your turntable setup.
Let’s dig in.
- Key Takeaways
- Initial Thoughts on Cartridge Alignment
- How to Align Turntable Cartridge
- Additional Tips
- Final Thoughts
- Aligning a turntable cartridge properly will help you achieve the best sound possible from your records.
- Most cartridges come aligned from the manufacturer, meaning you don’t need to align the cartridge on a brand-new turntable.
- Using a cartridge protractor or listening and making minor adjustments are two common ways to dial in alignment.
- The purpose of cartridge alignment is to alter the angle of the stylus for ideal playback.
- Each turntable can have a different design with a different way to loosen a cartridge, but the idea for alignment is the same with all of them.
Initial Thoughts on Cartridge Alignment
Properly aligning your turntable cartridge is essential, as this can dictate the sound quality and affect how much wear and tear occurs to your stylus and records. Without a properly aligned cartridge, you won’t unlock the full potential of your turntable setup.
That said, cartridge alignment is not something that the average vinyl listener knows about or does often. Most new turntables will have a properly aligned cartridge that might not need adjustment often or at all.
But when your alignment is off, it should be fixed up as soon as possible. You might need to do this if you buy a used turntable or when you change or upgrade your cartridge on a turntable you already own.
Alignment alters the angle of the stylus or needle. And this directly impacts how much force and pressure is applied to the grooves of a record. Even minor adjustments of a single degree of angle can have an effect on sound, so it’s crucial to get it right.
How to Align Turntable Cartridge
There are several different schools of thought on aligning a cartridge. Some people say that the only way to do it right is by listening to your records and dialing things in slowly but surely. Others only use tools, such as a guide or protractor, to get a specific angle.
No matter how you go about doing it, the process for making adjustments is the same. And it’s all about loosening the cartridge so you can move it around slightly until you get the alignment correct.
How to Use Cartridge Alignment Protractor
Using a cartridge alignment protractor is one common way to get the proper alignment for your turntable. And although this might sound like a task for math wizards, don’t be alarmed – using an alignment protractor is easier than you might think.
If you recently purchased a turntable, it might come with an alignments protractor. If not, there are free cartridge alignment protractors PDFs available online. You can print one of these out and use it to get everything aligned.
If your record player doesn’t come with a protractor, you’ll want to search online for an option specific to your turnable’s make and model. If you can’t find the model, at least get the brand right. This will help you dial in proper alignment.
There are universal protractors out there that will work if you can’t find one specific to your turntable. These will also work just fine.
Follow these steps to align a turntable cartridge using an alignment protractor.
1. Locate or print a cartridge alignment protractor that will work for your turntable. Make sure you print the protractor to scale, as indicated by whoever makes it, or else you won’t be able to get proper alignment.
2. Place a few small pieces of cardboard between the turntable platter and base to keep the platter from rotating as you begin the alignment process.
3. Place the protractor on the platter. Most protractors are designed to sit on the platter, much like a record, and will have a hole (or a location to cut a hole) that you place over the spindle.
4. Loosen the screws connecting the cartridge to the tonearm. You can use a small screwdriver for this. You don’t need to take the screws out all the way, but you do need them loose enough to rotate the cartridge to adjust the alignment.
5. Following the points, grids, or guidelines indicated by the protractor, move your tonearm and stylus until it is above the first point. This is usually indicated as point A or 1.
6. With the stylus located over the first alignment point, rotate the cartridge as needed until it’s parallel with the grid of the protractor.
7. Now move the tonearm and cartridge with the stylus over the second alignment point. This is typically marked as Point B or 2.
8. Move the cartridge forward or backward until it’s parallel with the grid lines indicated on the protractor.
9. Double-check both alignment points and continue to make any adjustments until things are dialed in.
10. Tighten the screws on your cartridge. Don’t go too tight. You just need them to be firm and not overly tightened.
11. Take the alignment protractor off, and your cartridge should be properly aligned.
Quick Tip: Depending on which protractor you use or the model of turntable you have, the process for alignment might be slightly different. Follow any instructions accompanying the protractor if they differ from those outlined here.
Cartridge Alignment Without Protcrator
If you don’t have an alignment protractor, you can still get your cartridge aligned. To do this, you’ll use your ears and eyes rather than the precision of a grid and points that the protractor creates.
I know some serious audiophiles who only do alignment this way. It’s intuitive, and you need to have a good ear. So if you can’t really tell the difference between an aligned cartridge and a misaligned one, you might not be able to complete it this way.
But if you have a pretty good ear for music and are in tune with your vinyl stereo setup, aligning your cartridge by ear can deliver excellent results.
Follow these steps to align turntable cartridge without a protractor:
1. Play a record on your stereo for reference.
2. Loosen the screws on your cartridge so you can make adjustments.
3. Rotate the cartridge and move it forward or backward where you think adjustments need to be made.
4. Tighten the screws of your cartridge.
5. Play the record again to analyze the adjustments.
6. Repeat all steps until you get the ideal sound.
These changes in the sound you hear might be subtle, or they might be pronounced. Properly adjusting the cartridge this way can take some time and experience. But it’s good practice and can help you better develop your ear.
If you can’t hear any changes in audio quality after you make these changes, you likely don’t have an ear that is good enough. If this is the case, you should switch to using a protractor rather than intuition for proper alignment.
Cartridge alignment is critical, but as you can see by the intuitive method, it’s not technically an exact science.
The perfect alignment relates to the angle at which the records you listen to were cut by the master. This means that different records can have different exact alignment angles. And that means they each would technically require you to adjust your cartridge.
Should you do this for every single record? No way. You just need to get your cartridge alignment close to ideal, and that should be good enough. Following the instructions mentioned here will get you there.
I recommend using a protractor or other cartridge alignment tool for beginners rather than trying to make adjustments by ear. It’s a more hands-on approach that will teach you the basics of making adjustments.
You can also take your turntable into a repair shop if you need or want help with alignment. Someone with more experience than you have will be able to do a very effective job and it shouldn’t cost you too much.
Here are a few short answers to some of the most commonly asked questions related to how to align a turntable cartridge.
What happens if a cartridge is misaligned?
If a turntable cartridge is misaligned, it won’t produce the ideal sound quality as intended. It can also cause wear and tear issues with your records and stylus. Getting the cartridge properly aligned is ideal and pretty easy to do.
How do you align a phono cartridge stylus?
You can align the stylus on your phono cartridge by aligning the cartridge itself. To do this, you need to loosen the screws that hold the cartridge to the tonearm. Then you can use an alignment protractor tool, or just your ears, to make adjustments.
Should a cartridge be parallel to the record?
In most situations, your turntable cartridge should be parallel to the surface of a record. This helps to ensure proper cartridge alignment, which has a direct and important effect on sound quality. You can make adjustments by loosening the screws that hold the cartridge in place.
How do I know if my turntable cartridge is aligned?
You can check the angle of your cartridge and stylus by using an alignment tool, such as a cartridge protractor. Some people can also hear when a cartridge is out of alignment, but the average listener might not have that good of an ear.
Can a misaligned cartridge damage records?
A misaligned cartridge can potentially damage your records, which is why you always want to ensure that it’s properly aligned. Sound issues are more common than damage, but you don’t want to risk permanently ruining your record collection.
How tight should I screw my cartridge on?
You should tighten your turntable cartridge so it is firm but not overly tight. You want to be able to unscrew it pretty easily if you ever need to make adjustments in the alignment or replace a cartridge. Don’t apply too much torque as you tighten the cartridge screws.
Getting your turntable cartridge alignment right is critical to achieving ideal sound quality when you’re playing records. You can use an alignment protractor to help you get everything dialed in quickly and easily. Make sure you print the protractor to scale if you don’t already have one.
You can also use your ear to make changes in alignment. This can be good for anyone who is skilled in listening to audio, but it can be overwhelming for beginners without experience. But give it a try if you want to develop your listening skills.
Have you ever aligned a turntable cartridge? What method did you use? Let me know in the comments below.