How to Setup a Turntable

Close up of a classing turntable record player


Christina Reichl / Getty Images

In this tutorial, we’ll be using a Dual 1215 Turntable (circa 1970) as an example, which is typical of many turntables, although your turntable may differ. Be sure to consult the owner’s manual for your specific model.

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Attach Phono Cartridge to Tonearm or Headshell

Attach the phono cartridge to the cartridge using two screws and nuts supplied with the cartridge. The phono cartridge is connected to the cartridge holder (also known as a headshell), which is attached to the tonearm. Release the cartridge holder from the tonearm by sliding the tonearm lift bar to the rear of the turntable. Before tightening the screws make sure the cartridge is centered and aligned on the cartridge holder. ​

To prevent damage to the stylus, keep the stylus cover in place during this step.

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Connect Four Wires to Phono Cartridge

Connect the four wires on the cartridge headshell to the correct terminals on the back of the cartridge using needle-nosed pliers. The four wires are color-coded and generally labeled as follows (Note: your turntable's headshell may have different colored wires, check the owner’s manual for details):

  • Left Channel: White
  • Left Channel Ground: Blue
  • Right Channel: Red
  • Right Channel Ground: GreenAttach the cartridge holder to the tonearm and secure it.
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Balance the Tonearm

Balance the tonearm for the weight of the cartridge so it floats. Unlock the tonearm from its resting post and rotate the counterbalance forward or backward on the rear of the tonearm until the tonearm floats. Make sure the tracking force indicator on the tonearm is set to ‘0’ and remove the stylus cover while performing this adjustment.

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Set Tonearm Tracking Force

Shure SFG-2 Tracking Force Gauge

Every cartridge model has a specific tracking force specification, usually ranging from 1-3 grams. Using the tracking force indicator on the tonearm or a stylus force gauge (best option), set the tracking force per the cartridge specifications.

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Set Anti-Skating Control

Anti-skating controls are found on some turntables. Simply explained, an anti-skating control compensates for the 'skating' force that pulls the tonearm towards the center of the record as it’s spinning and puts unequal pressure on the sides of the record groove. Anti-skating control is adjusted automatically as part of the tracking force adjustment on the Dual 1215 turntable used in this example. Consult the owner’s manual for your model as some have separate anti-skating control.

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Connect Turntable to Audio Equipment

Connect the left and right channel (usually white and red connectors, respectively) output from the turntable (usually under the turntable) to the phono input on the back of the receiver or amplifier. If there is no phono input, a phono pre-amp may be required. Do not connect to any input other than phono. A single ground wire must be connected between the turntable and the ground post (or a chassis screw) on the back of the receiver or amplifier.