How to Clean a Record Needle for Perfect Playback

If you have an interest in the world of vinyl records, you need to know how to keep the vinyl and the needle clean. Even old phonographs were made with needle tips that you had to clean from time to time. These machines build static electricity, acting like a magnet and attracting dust. If you’re not an audiophile, you may not know how to clean a record needle properly. Let’s dive into how a dirty stylus affects your listening experience and learn about some steps that you need to take to remove the gunk that accumulates around the styli.

 

How a Dirty Turntable Stylus Impacts Sound Quality

Clean record player needles help prevent playback issues. When dust interferes with the stylus reading the record grooves properly, you will hear a slight scratching or popping sound when you play the records. If you hear these sounds, it’s time to inspect your record player’s stylus to see if there is any visible build-up that’s removable. 

 

When a stylus is dirty, you are more likely to hear the needle jump as it navigates the turntable. This is referred to as record skipping, and it can affect the sound of the music.  Dust and grime will also cause additional wear on the stylus tip, which will be heard as you play your music. If you don’t keep your stylus clean, it will wear down more quickly. In effect, a clean stylus will help you save money because you won’t need to replace it as often. 

 

Tips to Follow when Cleaning a Turntable Needle

Before trying your hand at stylus cleaning, here are some tips to help new record enthusiasts get back to the hi-fi sound that a clean record player creates. 

  • Cleaning a record needle should be done once a week. If listening to records is somewhat infrequent, you will be able to clean the needle every other week instead. 
  • Most record player needles last for about 1,000 hours, so the first time you hear static during playback, it most likely only needs to be cleaned.
  • When using a brush to clean the tip of the stylus, make sure that you brush in the direction that the record spins. This helps to ensure that the cantilever is not damaged during the cleaning.
  • Even if your stylus looks clean, before playing a record, whether it’s new or used, use an anti-static record brush to ensure no dust is hidden in the grooves that will transfer to the needle.
  • When cleaning your stylus, use a cleaning solution to get a deeper clean when using a stylus brush.
  • If you are uncomfortable using a stylus cleaning brush on the tip of the stylus, try using a stylus cleaning gel pad. This method may cost more, but it’s an option that many feel is less abrasive than the brush bristles.

 

Steps to Follow During the Cleaning Process

Following the right steps in how to clean a record needle or stylus requires a few select cleaning products. Most cartridge manufacturers provide a brush to use for this reason when you purchase the record player. You will also need cleaning fluid like Pro-Ject’s Wash It to do a thorough job. 

 

Follow these easy steps if you are using a stylus cleaning brush for this DIY process.

Step 1: Select a stylus cleaner to apply to the record needle. Any cleaning solution that is designed for records cleaning will do. If you don’t have anything that works, clean the record needle without a cleaning solution. It will remove the dust, but any caked-on grime will be more challenging to get rid of.

 

Step 2: Apply a small amount of the solution to the brush that you are using to clean the stylus. Since you are only cleaning the needle, very little liquid cleaner is required.

 

Step 3: Move the brush along the needle in a motion that moves from front to back. You will need to move the brush in the direction that the record spins because going the opposite direction can cause damage.

 

Step 4: Repeat these steps until you do not see any more grime on the tip of the stylus. 

 

If you are uncomfortable using a brush, there are other options to try, like the cleaning gel-based cleaning kit mentioned above. With this method, you simply place the gel on your turntable platter, and sit the needle on the gel. Then, raise it back out of the gel. Repeat this a few times to remove all of the grime stuck on the stylus. 

 

You may have also read forums about cleaning record needles with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. To start, gently place a small piece of the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on the platter. These sponges can be purchased at any hardware store. It needs to be an all white pad because the blue ones are a bit more abrasive and could cause unwanted damage. Lower the tonearm down to touch the pad, and then raise it back up. Do this process about two to three times or until the debris is removed. 

 

Vinyl Records Cleaning and Proper Storage Helps

gold rush vinyl austin

Even if you clean your stylus every time you use your record player, there is a good chance that dust will transfer from your records unless you have clean vinyl as well. Cleaning records revitalizes them and gives you better sound during playback. 

 

Make sure that you always clean the records in a circular motion from the inner grooves moving outward so that you don’t create scratches in the vinyl. Even new records need to be cleaned before use because static builds up, and dust accumulates on the surface before you purchased the vinyl. 

 

Learning how to clean a record needle is one thing, but record storage can make a big difference.

 

Record players and vinyl albums also accumulate dust when not stored properly. To protect your turntable, simply use a turntable cover to minimize dust. To keep your records cleaner, you need to use an inner and outer sleeve to reduce the dust that gets on the vinyl. Vinyl records also need to be stored in an upright position in an area where the temperature and the humidity are just right so that damage does not occur.


used records

Buying Used Records? Here are 10 Things to Know First

Collecting records is almost as much of an art form as the music itself. There is a certain dance you must learn to navigate the world of vinyl, and once you’ve mastered the moves you can spot a gem from a mile away. Before that, however, a trip to the record store can be as intimidating and disorienting as it is fun.

 

The act of buying an album is simple, but being able to figure out which used records are worth it, when pricing is on point, and which sellers to trust can take practice. The devil is always in the details, and when it comes to vinyl LPs, he’s in the grooves of the record. So, while you’ll eventually settle on your own record shopping guidelines, we have answers to common questions that will make the quest for your dream album smoother. 

 

1. What is the record grading system?

A record grading system is an invaluable tool that will help guide you during your record shopping endeavors. In short, record grading refers to the process of checking vinyl LPs for damage, then “grading” them according to the shape they’re in. Mint (M) is at the absolute top of the food chain. Both the record and sleeve must be in perfect condition to get a Mint rating, so they’re incredibly rare and usually still sealed up. Near Mint (NM) is often the highest rating you’ll find in a store, as they’re practically perfect. NM records can have no visible wear, no stickers, marker, or mislabeling, no off-center pressing, and absolutely no surface noise.

 

Very Good Plus (VG+) or Excellent (E) records still sound great during playback, but are far more likely to have light signs of wear or discoloration on the sleeve. However, if you don’t mind a little visual imperfection they’re a great purchase. The next step down, Very Good records are far more likely to have scuffs and potential surface noise. They’re generally still playable and good for a listen if you aren’t bothered by a few audible scratches.

 

Good (G), Good Plus (G+), or Very Good Minus (VG-) are often very cheap, and are bound to have ring wear, unavoidable surface noise, and warping. That said, many can still be played, and if you’re really looking for an album, a G copy is better than none.

 

At the bottom of the crate are the Poor (P), Fair (F), and Good Minus (G-) records. These puppies usually go for pennies, and often skip and have difficulty completing playback. Some collectors grab these for the cover art or view them as more of an artifact than a playable record.

 

2. Are used records worth anything?

A lot of audiophiles view their record collection as an investment. They’re investing in a collection of albums they love, while also curating a sellable product. The idea of flipping used records for profit sounds fun and simple, but the reality is far harder than it sounds. 

 

The condition of a record is going to be a major factor in how much it’s worth. The same album with a Near Mint rating will go for a much higher price than with a Good rating. And even used records in good condition are often competing with tons of other copies. The perfect axis for scoring a record that’s “worth” a lot is finding a vintage vinyl that is in pristine shape. Unless your used vinyl is rare or pristine, keeping a random record with the intention of selling it later isn’t likely to give you a major profit. However, it could give you just enough cash to trade for another lp.

 

So, to answer the question, the worth of a used record can be measured in a lot of ways, in money, experience, and based on your personal taste. A lot of used records are worth buying because they’re in great shape for playback and come with interesting art and history. But a used record isn’t automatically valuable in financial terms simply because it’s old. You’ll have to dig into how big an artist’s fanbase is, how many copies are floating around and if the demand is there.

 

3. Is it safe to buy used records online?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but only if you use your judgment. Online go-to marketplaces like ebay and Discogs make it super simple to find used records on the web. All you have to do is search for the album you’ve been thinking about, and voila, you’ll be matched with an eager seller. However, there is a risk that comes with shopping online, since you can’t physically inspect a used record. Yes, all online sales use the grading system, but that itself is subjective since the seller is the one marking it. Luckily, there are generally photos posted of used records online, and if you’re feeling crafty you can pop it into photoshop, play with the brightness levels, and spot any scuffs the seller might have been concealing.

 

You can also check the reviews of the seller you’re buying from and make sure they don’t have consistent complaints (and that they’ve been established a while). But also, with the pandemic in tow, a lot of amazing record stores are fully online, so if you want a trustworthy online space to digitally crate-dig, there are great options.

 

4. How much should you spend on used records?

Naturally, the answer to this will shift based on your personal budget and what kinds of records you’re looking for. In general, new records often range from $10-$40. When it comes to used records, most stores have $1 and $2 bins you can dig through for cheap vinyl, and interesting finds. Well-known or slightly better quality used vinyl often sits between $5 and $15, while rare used vinyl can go for hundreds of dollars. If you feel unsure about the pricing on an album while out at a shop, you can always check online to see what it’s sold for previously. Or, take a chance and visit your other neighborhood record store for comparison.

 

5. How do you tell what year a vinyl was pressed?

One of the most exciting parts of curating a vinyl collection is the sense of history. When the sound quality is on point, spinning a vintage lp on the turntable can feel like a form of time traveling. And yet, figuring out which year your vinyl was pressed can be its own journey. 

 

First, you’ll want to check the spine of the record sleeve. If your lp is an original pressing (aka it was pressed when the album came out or if it's a reissue), then it will have a four-letter and number combination like ABCD-1234. Records that are second or third pressings have two letters and five number combos, like AB-12345. You can also check the sleeve of the record for a barcode. If there’s a barcode, you know for sure it wasn’t pressed before the 1980s.

 

You can also check the catalog number on the front of the record. The catalog number usually starts with two or three letters and a series of numbers, like ABC-1234567. You can plug the catalog number in on Discogs to find out if it was an original pressing.

 

6. How do you examine used records?

While it might sound harsh, judging a record by its cover can actually be a useful litmus. If an lp is sitting in a plastic bag or its original shrink wrap, that bodes very well for the quality. It’s also a great sign if the record is neatly tucked in its inner sleeve. Conversely, the cover is dog-eared and tainted with water damage, that’s generally a preview of what the record itself has gone through.

 

However, it’s always best to look at the record itself before fully judging. You’ll first want to check it at eye level to see if it’s warped or bent at all. Then, you’ll want to find the brightest corner in the shop to fully inspect. Place the record directly under the light source to check for visible scratches or damage. Generally, if the record has a glaring sheen that means it is smooth, slick, and fresh. Similarly, if there are short fibers that look like hair, that means it’s been in the sleeve without much use - another green flag. Any obvious perpendicular scratches or warping is a red flag, you can check light scratches with the back of your fingernail. If you can’t feel the scratch, then it’s unlikely to affect playback. You can always clean your records, so dirt and grime isn’t a definite deal-breaker unless it’s lodged in a scratch.

 

7. How do you know if the sound quality will be good?

Unless you’re shopping at a thrift store, pretty much all record stores have turntables so you can test out your potential purchases. Since this is the only way to truly know what sound you’ll be working with, it’s recommended you always give an album a spin before taking it home. Otherwise, you could be dropping money on a completely unlistenable album.

 

8. How do you clean records?

Regularly cleaning your records is the best thing you can do for your collection. Giving your used records a deep clean can improve the sound quality and extend the shelf-life. Regardless of the grading, we recommend you wash every record after buying it, just to ensure you have the cleanest version hitting the stylus. 

 

There are a handful of equally solid ways to clean vinyl, but the most important rule is that you never use your fingers to remove dust because the oil from your hands is majorly damaging. Only touch the labels and edges of the records during handling.  

 

You can easily wash your records with a carbon fiber brush like Pro-Ject’s Sweep It record broom, which mounts on your turntable and cleans the surface of your vinyl while it spins. This type of brush is anti-static, which means it both removes dust and static build-up (which helps prevent future build-up). If you’re feeling fancy, you can give your collection a full vacuum clean with the VC-E Compact Vinyl Record Cleaning Machine. The vacuum machine applies a cleaning solution to the records, scrubs them, and vacuums away all of the solution and debris.

 

You can also dampen a microfiber cloth with some eco-friendly Wash It cleaning fluid and gently wipe your record in a circular motion before leaving it out to safely dry.

 

9. What are the albums I need on vinyl?

While music taste is deeply personal, there are some vinyl essentials that are simply meant to be played on a turntable. There’s a reason most record collections include a copy of The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. The layers of psychedelic sounds simply make more sense in an analog format. Whether you’re a super fan or a passive listener, if you’re going to have The Beatles on your shelf, it’s hard to beat the feeling of listening to “Here Comes the Sun” blasting from your Abbey Road vinyl. The debut album Endtroducing from DJ Shadow immediately became a landmark recording for instrumental hip-hop and a major inspiration for musicians to this day. With its patchwork of moody vinyl samples, it’s best enjoyed blasted from a turntable, where it can really shine. 

 

It’s a massive understatement to say What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye was groundbreaking both creatively and politically. Gaye’s nine track narration of the return of a Vietnam War veteran was specifically mastered for vinyl, and that’s how it’s best appreciated. Michael Jackson’s Bad simply hits harder when cranked up in your living room after a successful shopping trip on record store day.

 

`0. Does colored vinyl sound the same?

The aesthetics of colored vinyl can be deeply entrancing, and for most albums, colored vinyl is harder to find than black vinyl. Historically, record companies and artists have leveraged limited edition colored vinyl pressings as a way to bolster artistic vision and inspire more sales. Colored vinyl (and clear vinyl) is often popular with avid collectors because of the novelty, and potential investment.

 

When it comes to the sound quality itself, in theory, colored vinyl should sound exactly the same. All vinyl records are made of naturally colorless PVC. In order to create the standard black vinyl color, black carbon is added. For colored vinyl, titanium dioxide and dyes are added. Technically, black carbon strengthens the vinyl in a way that dyes don’t, but the difference shouldn’t be noticeable unless the production process was compromised.

 

However, when it comes to picture discs and glow-in-the-dark pressings, there is a greater risk for finicky playback. Picture discs pose a particular risk because of their three-layer structure. The first layer is a clear record without sound, the second layer is the picture, and the third plastic layer contains the musical grooves. Because the thin top layer isn’t as hefty as regular records, picture discs can have a shorter shelf-life. When it comes to the ever so rare glow-in-the-dark vinyl, the pigments that enable the glowing unfortunately atrophy the acoustic properties, so surface noise is common. That said, if you buy from a trusted source and keep your records clean, the sound quality should still be solid.

 

With these tips, you're now armed with the knowledge to dive deeply into the seemingly endless world of used records!


turntable with moving coil cartridge

Moving Coil Cartridges: Better Than Moving Magnet Cartridges?

When it comes to the sound quality of your record player, every detail counts. The room you store your turntable in, how often you clean your records, and all the components of the turntable affect your listening experience. In this vein, few parts of the machine directly influence sound as much as your turntable cartridge. The cartridge does the work of actually reading the grooves of a record, so it makes sense that it’s crucial to invest in a quality cartridge, and knowing the difference between moving coil cartridges and moving magnet cartridges is where to start. 

 

What does a cartridge do?

If you’re new to the world of vinyl, or you simply need a quick refresher, it’s helpful to break down what exactly a cartridge does. The cartridge is the small piece on the end of the cantilever that touches down on the record.

Cartridge bodies are usually made of plastic and include the needle that kisses the vinyl itself. When the stylus touches the record grooves, it works as a transducer to translate mechanical movements into an electrical signal that can eventually be amplified through your favorite speakers.

Basically, the turntable cartridge turns the small etched grooves of the plastic into a signal that can eventually be music. They act as translators between the physical artifact of vinyl and the albums we love to jam out to. When you break it down this way, it explains why so many audiophiles are specific about what kind of cartridge they buy.

 

Are Moving Coil Cartridges better than Moving Magnet Cartridges?

Now that we’ve refreshed ourselves on the role of a cartridge, we can dive into one of the longest-running discussions in the audiophile community: Moving Coil vs. Moving Magnet.

Many an argument has been had over which type of cartridge is better for sound quality, makes more sense with various set-ups, and is ultimately the best. Obviously, given the subjectivity of this argument, this debate is ultimately unwinnable. However, mulling over the pros and cons of each cartridge type can be incredibly helpful for anyone considering mixing up their hi-fi setup.

Before we dip into the pros and cons, let’s first distinguish what makes these cartridges different from each other.

 

How do Moving Magnet cartridges work?

A moving magnet turntable cartridge contains a small magnet inside the stylus. There are two sets of fixed coils hugging the magnet on both sides. When the stylus reads the grooves of the record, the magnet moves between the coils to create a small electrical current. That magnetic field is what gets plugged into the phono stage so we can eventually listen through our speakers.

 

How do Moving Coil cartridges work?

Rather than using a moving magnet to create an electrical current, moving coil cartridges create the signal through the movement of the coils (thus the name). Moving Coil cartridges do contain a magnet, it’s just a fixed magnet surrounded by vibrating coils (so in many ways it’s structurally opposite of a moving magnet cartridge).

When the record grooves create vibrations on the styli, the coils then react by translating that movement into an electrical signal that will get amplified in the phono stage, and eventually through your system.

 

Pros of Moving Magnet cartridges

Moving Magnet phono cartridges, also known as MM cartridges have a lot of pros to them. For starters, the moving magnet design is very robust and generally produces a medium to high output level. This means it requires less gain in the phono stage in order to amplify loud enough to listen to on your speakers. MM cartridges are also typically more compatible with a wider range of household stereo equipment. Which is to say, you’ll find that most standard phono inputs connect with mm outputs. Because of a moving magnet’s widespread compatibility with everyday stereo equipment, it’s often a simpler choice when it comes to installation.

 

Moving magnet cartridges often come with a replaceable stylus, so if you want to swap out your conical needle for a Shibata, you’re in luck. Or if you’re simply looking to buy a new model of the same kind of stylus, a moving magnet is going to make this far easier. With a replaceable stylus, you’ll find your cartridge can survive lots of changes, and in some cases live a longer life because of it. 

 

One of the most practical pros of the MM cartridge is affordability. It’s generally easier to find more MM cartridge options across different price levels, and incompatibility with different equipment, so if you’re on a budget they pose clear benefits.

 

Pros of Moving Coil cartridges

As evidenced by the very title of this post, Moving Coil phono cartridges have enough pros a lot of audiophiles consider them to be the better option. Since the coils on a moving coil cartridge are lighter than a magnet, the process of transferring vibrations into an electrical signal is more fluid, which means the tracking, frequency response, and overall sound quality are often more precise and high-quality. 

 

Basically, because MC cartridges have less mass, they’re capable of transcribing more micro-detail, especially when it comes to high frequencies. While most moving coil cartridges don’t come with a replaceable stylus, they often come with more precise styli such as fine-line, microline, and Shibata needles that are less likely to wear out as fast. So the quality and shelf-life of an MC cartridge often live up to the investment.

 

Cons of Moving Magnet cartridges

While MM cartridges produce a higher output that connects to most sound equipment easier, the higher inductance can negatively flatten the frequency response. This is to say, the heavier bearing and higher output can erase a lot of the nuance of sound. If you have a trained audiophile ear, or you’re simply someone who savors all the distinctions of your favorite album, you’ll likely be able to tell there are details lost in translation. 

 

One of the (many) reasons people get addicted to vinyl is the different playback experience. Record players offer us a more holographic and warm sound experience compared to streaming. So, even a speck of sound quality difference can be a dealbreaker for people who have already decided to invest in phono equipment. This is the primary reason a lot of people opt against mm cartridges despite the affordability and convenience: the sound quality can still be super high-quality, but it is less likely to match the meticulous detail of an MC cartridge.

 

Cons of Moving Coil Cartridges

Because MC cartridges produce less signal and lower output, they need a step-up transformer in order to blast your favorite album through your amplifier. This adds yet another step to the initial setup process, which can be overwhelming for any entry-level vinyl fan. And even if you’re a seasoned record collector, knowing you’ll need a quality phono preamp in order to enjoy the fruits of the MC cartridge can be a deterrent. The stylus inside an MC cartridge is usually non-replaceable, so if you want to get it fixed you have to ship it to a factory (which isn’t always possible). Generally, if a stylus attached to an MC cartridge gets damaged or ages out of use, you’ll need to replace the whole cartridge at once, which can be an expensive ordeal.

 

Because MC cartridges often come with high-end turntables and are designed in a far more light and delicate way, they run a much higher bill overall. If you don’t have lots of money to spend on a cartridge, this can be a full-on dealbreaker. Similarly, if you can’t tell the difference in sound quality between MM and MC cartridges, then springing for a moving coil might not be worth the hassle. 

 

A Moving Coil Cartridge Suits Most Vinyl Priorities

There is no one-size-fits-all winner of the rivalry between moving coil vs. moving magnet. Everyone has different priorities and relationships with sound. And there are exceptions in both cartridges that defy the regular talking points. For example, MC Cartridges are known for more meticulous sound quality, there are plenty of high-quality Sumiko MM cartridges that deliver stunning sound. Similarly, there are high output MC cartridges that are designed to function more like MM cartridges when it comes to easy compatibility with your preamplifier or receiver.

 

A lot of people can list off anecdotal experiences with both types of cartridges that dispel stereotypes, while others may still not find the sound much different. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can decide which is the best match for you. The good news is you can always change your mind and switch cartridges if you feel like it. There are no rules when it comes to exploring and having fun with your HiFi set-up.


sweep it e record broom

Must-Have Turntable Accessories to Upgrade Your Setup

Anyone who enjoys listening to analog music on a record player is going to wonder how they can improve the sound quality of their vinyl records. Any audiophile will tell you that getting perfect Hi-Fi sound is not easy, but there are several turntable accessories that you can purchase to upgrade your home audio listening experience. These accessories will not only make your record collection sound amazing, but they ensure that even the best turntables don’t skip a beat during playback.

 

Must-Have Turntable Accessories

Whether you get your vinyl accessories from Pro-Ject, Audioquest, or Amazon, they can be used to provide you with high-quality sound that you can’t get when listening to music on a CD player. With the right accessories, record skipping as well as the pops and crackles that are sometimes heard through the speakers will no longer be picked up by the stylus. Let’s take a look at some of the upgradable accessories that will improve your Hi-Fi sound. 

 

Phono Preamp

tube box preamp with debut carbon evo

A phono preamp is a great way to upgrade your setup and push your audio listening to the next level. Without using one of these, you will find that distortion occurs when the signal is not boosted.  An A/V receiver is used in combination with the phono preamp to boost the sound coming from the turntable before it reaches your speakers. If your amplifier does not have a built-in phono input, then a separate phono box, like the Pro-Ject Phono Box DS2, is a solution. You simply use RCA cables to connect the devices, so it’s relatively easy to use.

 

If you are unsure if a phono preamp will benefit your audio setup, take a look at our phono preamp guide to learn more.

 

Turntable Weight

record weight puck

Also called a record weight, these turntable accessories work as a stabilizer and help keep vibrations to a minimum. This added weight will also ensure that the tracking is more precise, which will produce a cleaner, less distorted sound. The weight should be enough to stabilize the records without adding weight to the bearings or straining the motor of your turntable. 

 

Stereo Interconnect Cable 

When audio cables wear down, they don’t perform as well as new wires. A stereo interconnect cable is an excellent way to provide a performance-boosting sonic upgrade to your audio system. Typically, you can connect these cables anywhere you have an audio cable connected.

 

45 RPM Adapter

Most record players are not designed to play 7-inch singles. RPM adaptors, like Pro-Ject’s Adapt It, make 45s a universal fit for most vinyl records to fit on any turntable easily. This specific model is made out of aluminum, so it will last for years.  Without an adapter like this, the different-sized records will not spin properly on the platter, which causes damage to the stylus.

 

Bluetooth Transmitter

Older audio equipment is not likely to be Bluetooth enabled, but with a Bluetooth transmitter, you can easily add the functionality to amps, record players, and other technology. The device is relatively small and enables you to connect to Bluetooth headphones anytime you want to listen to music without disturbing those around you. 

While it's not the first place most vinyl enthusiasts think of, it can ensure that your system can stay analog-focused while being future-proofed. If you're considering a new turntable, there are a few that are Bluetooth-enabled right out of the box.

 

Turntable Mat 

A turntable mat or a platter mat is designed to keep the record and the platter from moving during playback. This helps to minimize vibrations and gives you more resonance control. It also helps prevent static from forming, which means less dust will accumulate over time. DJs often use slipmats to more easily cue and back-cue music. It gives them more freedom to move the vinyl as they see fit. Typically these mats are made out of cork, felt, or leather.

 

Cartridge Alignment Protractor

cartridge alignment tool

One of the turntable accessories that you will want to have to keep your vinyl’s tracking force in check is a cartridge alignment protractor. Pro-Ject’s Align It tool will allow you to align the phono cartridge's edge so that the needle tracks better in the record’s grooves. It will also prevent the needle from jumping on the vinyl, which could damage the stylus.

 

When using one of these tools, you are actually not aligning the cartridge; you are aligning the stylus to make sure it tracks the grooves correctly. The cartridge body is larger, making it much easier to see when you align it. Having a misaligned stylus will create pops and crackles in the music, giving it a distorted effect that is always unwanted. 

 

Isolation Feet and Pads

Isolation feet and pads will improve the sound of your music by removing unwanted vibrations that could affect playback. Even someone walking in your home or traffic going by could add to the vibration you hear, so decreasing it will help create hi-fi sound. If your turntable is heavy, make sure that you have stiff feet so that the vibrations do not move the feet along with the turntable. 

 

Cleaning Kit

record vacuum vc s2

A good vinyl cleaning system will come with cleaning solution, microfiber cloths, and a carbon fiber record brush. These items are used to remove static and dust from the vinyl before it is played. You will also need a stylus cleaner because stylus cleaning is just as crucial as cleaning records. In fact, if you don’t properly clean your stylus, the dust on the needle has a good chance of being tracked back to your records.

Cleaners come in all types, from tools like the Spin Clean to the Pro-Ject VC-S2 (pictured above). A record brush or record broom is a bare minimum for preserving your vinyl.

 

Dust Cover 

Of course, you protect your vinyl with record sleeves when they are not in use, but how can you keep the dust off of your record player when it’s not being used? To keep your turntable platter cleaner, a dust cover is going to be a must-have accessory.  Most dust covers, like Pro-Ject’s Cover It E, are designed to sit right on top of the record player without attaching to it.

 

In addition to keeping the dust off, it also protects your device from spills and helps extend the life of your record player. Another benefit of this accessory is that it will protect your tonearm from getting bumped and damaged. 

 

Beyond Turntable Accessories, Consider Upgrading Your Speakers

Whether you are using soundbars or bookshelf speakers, there is always an upgrade that you can find to give you a better audiophile speaker setup. This doesn’t mean finding bigger speakers. It’s the quality of the components that give you higher-quality sound. If you have all of the accessories mentioned above but want to continue upgrading your setup, see what speaker options call out to you.


What is a Turntable Ground Wire and Do You Need One?

Whether you’re brand new to the world of hifi, or you’re a longtime audiophile, it’s always helpful to get a refresher on how to improve your sound. There are so many delicate moving parts that make music play out of a phonograph, and paying attention to each of them only improves your listening experience. The more you learn about the science of sound, the more satisfying it feels to curate a space dedicated to top-notch acoustics. As with all things audio, the key to perfect playback is a combination of attention, high-quality gear, and energy to rearrange your set-up if needed.

 

Since it’s natural to primarily focus on the quality of your stylus and turntable cartridge, it can be all too easy to skip over other important parts of the record player. A turntable ground wire might not be as sexy as other pieces of equipment, but it can play a major role in improving playback. Luckily, once you learn how to locate it, and what precisely it does, connecting your turntable ground wire is easy and makes an immediate difference.

 

What is a turntable ground wire?

First things first: what precisely is a turntable ground wire? A grounding wire is a single wire you can attach to your turntable chassis and amplifier. This wire puts the turntable and the amplifier at the same ground potential (the zero reference level used to apply and measure voltages, in this case in the context of sound). If you don't ground a turntable, a small difference in ground potential will cause a ground loop. A ground loop could then cause a 60-cycle alternating current to pass between a turntable and amplifier along your audio cables. Since preamplifiers for phono inputs are deeply sensitive, you can hear an audible 60-cycle hum with the phono input selected. In layman's terms, a ground cable can help you avoid humming and improve your overall sound quality. Luckily, many turntables come with a grounding wire, so you generally don’t have to seek them out.

 

Why do you need a ground wire?

You may agree that excess hum isn’t ideal, but this still begs the question of how exactly a ground connection mitigates unwanted sound. Why don’t the other cables involved in the connection between an amplifier and a turntable have these bases covered? Basically, grounding wires create an alternate path for the electrical current to flow back to the source, rather than creating excess noise or a potentially dangerous electric charge. While the other cables are meant to carry the sound from the source to the amps (and eventually the speakers), a grounding wire’s whole job is to only pick up what’s extra. A grounding wire is a safety wire that has intentionally been connected to earth, and does not carry electricity under normal circuit operations. It’s almost like a bucket picking up the spare water so a room doesn’t flood, except instead of mitigating water it’s scooping up electrical current that could cause excess hum or charge. 

 

How do you know if hum is because of a grounding loop?

While an ungrounded turntable usually causes hum, that’s not the only reason for noise. So it can save you time to make sure you’re fixing the right problem. A record player’s hum is generally caused by one of two factors: feedback or a grounding loop. A ground loop hum is 120 hertz, while other hum will be 60 hertz. This may sound overly technical, but there are easy ways for the untrained ear to figure out which hum it is. First of all, the sound itself is vastly different. The 120 hertz hum will sound aggressive and high-pitched, while 60 hertz hum is lower and more even. 

 

Another way to differentiate the source of hum is to turn the volume knob and see if the hum follows. If the hum goes down with the volume, this generally means it’s from feedback or an issue other than ground looping. Also, if you change inputs and the hum doesn’t change or stop, that’s likely a grounding loop.

 

If you discover the hum isn’t a grounding loop, there are a few things you can immediately check for a possible solution. The first is very simple, but easy to lose sight of: make sure your turntable is on a completely flat and sturdy surface. Secondly, make sure your speakers aren’t on the same surface as the record player, since even subtle vibrations can cause a feedback loop. Third, make sure the phonograph isn’t kept near any sources of static.

 

Is it always necessary to ground my turntable?

Usually, yes. Regardless of whether it’s a belt or direct drive turntable, there’s a potential for ground loop. Since the ground wire doesn’t conduct the electrical currents for the music itself, you don’t technically need to ground a record player in order to listen to music. However, even if the hum isn’t super noticeable, in most cases it’s better to play it safe to avoid a ground loop. If your turntable comes with a ground wire, that’s a surefire sign it needs to be grounded. Technically, some turntables with built-in phono preamps don’t require grounding. If your turntable has a built-in phono preamp that you use instead of a separate, there’s no grounding wire included, and you’ve never had sound issues - you may be fine. It’s easy enough to check for a wire, and also see what the sound is like. Even so, it never hurts to ground it.

 

Do I need to ground RCA cables?

The short answer is no. RCA cables are already balanced and grounded by nature of their design. The three-wire cable includes two signal wires and one ground wire, all of which are sheathed in a cylindrical shield that is also grounded. The two signal wires have identical impedances to the common ground terminal, so they are generally immune to creating hum. 

 

How do I find the grounding wire?

You’ll want to look on the bottom of your record player to find it. Many times, the grounding wire is  connected to the underside of the metal turntable chassis and has an unconnected copper spade connector. Most classic turntable ground wires are green, although they could technically come in any color. If your turntable is brand new, the wire might be folded up underneath the chassis and concealed with a twist tie. Make sure you’ve fully checked the underside of the chassis before concluding you don’t have one.

 

Can I use speaker wires if I don’t have a grounding wire?

Yes. The main objective of a grounding wire is to connect to the earth and provide a wire that doesn’t carry its own signal. Technically, any insulated wire can do the job, ideally 18 to 20 gauge stranded wire. You just have to make sure to properly connect it to the amplifier’s grounding terminal, or create a connection using gaffer tape.

 

How do I ground my turntable?

All this talk about why it’s important to ground a turntable still leaves the “how’ question looming in the air. The first thing you’ll want to do is turn off your turntable and amplifier. You don’t want to run the risk of electric shock or unseemly noise. Next, you’ll check under the metal chassis to locate your grounding wire. If your turntable doesn’t include one, then pick out the insulated wire you’re going to use. Once you have the wire on hand, you’ll want to find the grounding terminal on your amplifier or receiver. Usually, the terminal can be found on the back of the unit under the marking “grounded.” Oftentimes, it’s a metal post with a simple screw terminal or a metal post with a knurled shaft. Make sure to loosen the grounding terminal once you’ve located it. 

 

Double-check to ensure the grounding wire can reach your amplifier’s grounding terminal. If it can’t, move equipment as needed (or measure and cut your own grounding wire according to this distance). Now, all you have to do is slip the ground wire spade connector onto the grounding terminal. Make sure it’s tightened enough to be sturdy, but don’t overtighten. 

 

If your amplifier doesn’t have a grounding terminal, have no fear. You can use gaffer tape to stick the grounding wire’s copper spade connector onto the amp’s metal box. Just make sure you secure it enough so that it won’t disconnect.

 

If you end up making your own grounding wire, you’ll want to strip roughly 6 to 8 mm of insulation from both ends of the wire. Then, you’ll attach one stripped end to the chassis screw on the amplifier (try to avoid the speaker terminal). You’ll attach the other stripped end of wire to the chassis screw on the turntable. This set-up creates the same basic effect as a grounding terminal. 

 

Once the amp and turntable are connected, you should be able to turn on the record player and test it out to see if the hum is gone. If the sound is clear and gorgeous, your work here is done.


phono preamp

How to Choose an Amplifier for Speakers at Home

Building your ideal home sound system can be simultaneously fun and overwhelming. The process of how to choose an amplifier for speakers at home is high-pressure since not all pairings are going to give you the sweet sound quality you crave. Luckily, there are lots of great amplifier options, so no matter what your budget or space is like, there’s going to be a fit.

 

However, in order to crank the best sound, it’s crucial to consider the basic math that determines the best amplifier for your speakers, and vice versa. There are multiple ways to set up a hi-fi system, each of which has their pros and cons. Some of the determining factors include your musical preferences, whether you listen to the radio, the space between your speakers and amp, and of course, striking the balance between convenience and quality. While there’s no magic one-size-fits-all prescription for the perfect amp and speaker set-up, there are a lot of technical factors that affect the quality of your audio signal. So it’s crucial to get familiar with all the puzzle pieces involved.

 

Preamps

tube box phono preamp
Tube box phono preamp with Pro-Ject turntable

The primary purpose of a preamp is to boost the weak audio signal into a line signal that can be listened to through speakers. A preamplifier connects directly to your turntable, streaming music site, or another musical source, and boosts the voltage gain of the signal so it can eventually be enjoyed through loudspeakers. There are phono preamps, which specifically work with turntables to bolster the otherwise quiet and delicate gain of a turntable, and there are preamps that connect to digital streaming devices and home theater set-ups. The preamp takes the electrical signal from the source and creates a line-level signal somewhere from the mV range into 1-2 volts, which is what most amps need as input. Some turntables and other musical sources include a built-in preamp, in which case you technically don’t need to buy one. But many audiophiles prefer the sound quality that comes with a separate preamp. 

 

Power Amp

Much like the title suggests, a power amplifier is an amp that supplies power directly to one or more speakers. Aside from the power switch itself, the main knob you’ll find on a power amp is the primary gain control, which affects the volume level sent to the speakers. Power amps come in a variety of channel configurations, all of which match up with different sound system set-ups. There are one channel power amps (also known as monoblocks), two-channel (stereo), and even power amps that support up to 5-7 channels, primarily used for surround applications or home theater set-ups. If you are in need of nine channels or eleven channels, a seven-channel amplifier can be used along with one or more two-channel power amps. The main purpose of a power amp is to communicate sound directly with the speakers and give them a channel from which to safely hear your favorite movies and albums.

 

Stereo Receiver

A receiver is an amplifier that can also pick up AM/FM radio signals. Simply put, all receivers are amplifiers, but not all power amps are receivers. Just as with other power amps, receivers have channels that can be connected directly to your speakers, and the amount of channels varies depending on the model you buy. When shopping for receivers, it’s common to see numbers like 2.0, 5.1, and 7.2. The first number refers to the number of speakers supported by the receiver channels, and the second number references the number of channels that support a subwoofer.

 

Integrated Amplifier

An integrated amplifier includes the preamp and power amp in the same box. If you're looking to choose an amplifier for speakers that you don't know much about, this can be th way to go.

The translation of electrical currents that goes on inside an integrated amp is the same as with separates. The sound is first sent from the source audio device to the preamp, then the signal is raised just enough to get picked up by the power amp. The power amp bolsters the sound enough to connect directly to your speakers. Integrated amps can support anywhere from one to eight speakers, depending on their function. Although those specifically used for home theater often range from six to eight power output channels. 

 

Is it better to buy separate preamps and power amps or an integrated amplifier?

tube box preamp with debut carbon evo

If an integrated amplifier does the same thing as a power amp and preamp combined, then it’s only natural to question which set-up is better. As with all things audio, there are pros and cons to both configurations. One of the pros of an integrated amplifier is that it’s usually more affordable to buy one component than to shell out for both a power amp and preamp. Similarly, it’s much simpler to find space and energy to set up one single unit than to curate a space for both a power amp and preamp (although this varies based on models and sizes). If you’re creating a surround set-up for a home theater, or for loud listening at parties, an integrated amp with multiple channel amplifiers will save you a lot of space compared to buying multiple power amps to support your speakers.

 

On the other hand, the sound quality is often improved when you use separate power and preamps. The ability for a separate preamp to pick up delicate signals and retain the sound can make for a major sound improvement, particularly if your source is analog (like a turntable). Also, buying separates gives you the ability to upgrade either the pre or power amp without needing to replace both, which can make for more versatile and flexible listening set-ups. At the end of the day, it really all does depend on what your priorities are.

 

How Do You Choose an Amplifier for Speakers for a Perfect Fit?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of amplifiers, we can dig into the most fun part: pairing your speakers with your amp of choice. While it’s tempting to throw all the focus on tracking down that dreamy pair of speakers you saw at a party, it’s just as crucial to make sure the amp and speakers are compatible with each other. There are a few technicalities that help determine how well a set of speakers pick up sound from an amp. 

 

Impedance

Impedance is the measurement of the electric resistance of your audio components, and it’s measured in ohms. The symbol for the ohms (or resistance level) is Ω, so when you see a number like 8Ω that translates to 8 ohms. Checking the impedance is one way to figure out the compatibility between your speaker and amp.

 

Speakers often have ohm ratings that range between 4 to 8 ohms. Amps often have a wider ohm range, somewhere between 4 (or 6) and 16 ohms. You can check the spec sheet to check these ranges for your amp or speakers. If you’ve lost your owner’s documentation, you can look up the spec sheet online by searching the make or model number.

 

The most important rule to remember when matching your speaker impedance with your amp impedance, is that the speaker ohm rating can’t be higher than the minimal amplifier impedance. So for example, if your speakers have an impedance of 6 ohms, they shouldn’t be matched with a stereo amp that has an impedance ranging from 8-16 ohms. However, a speaker with an impedance of 6 ohms is perfectly compatible with an amp that has a range of 4-10 ohms, or 6 -16 ohms, and so on. The minimum ohm level for an amplifier must be equal or less than the speaker’s nominal impedance.

 

If that sounds confusing, have no fear, a lot of newer amplifiers and speakers clearly layout which ohm ratings they’re compatible with, and there are also impedance calculators you can check out online to plug in the specs. 

 

Power Rating

Looking at the power ratings is another way to gauge whether you’ve matched the right speakers and amp. The amount of power in hi-fi equipment is measured in watts, and while we often connect wattage to volume or loudness it’s not that simple. The wattage level in a speaker or amp indicates how much power an amp can put out, and how much power a speaker can handle. 

 

Amplifier spec sheets usually reference two power ratings: Continuous Power (also nicknamed Continuous Power Output or Continuous RMS Power), and Dynamic Power (or Peak Power Rating). In general, the continuous power rating is the most relevant, because it reflects the watts of power your amp can consistently support. Continuous power delivers a fixed wattage to a specific number of ohms, for example, 50 watts per channel into 4 and 8 ohm speakers.

 

The dynamic power, on the other hand, could deliver 100 watts into 8 ohms, or 150 watts into 4 ohms. This is because dynamic power is designed to support those blasts of sound that come in short spurts during movies or certain musical moments. This power is only meant to be utilized for milliseconds and doesn’t reflect the consistent amplifier power. So while dynamic power accurately tells you if an amp supports enough power for brief moments of sound, it’s not the primary rating to look for.

 

Basically, when pairing your speakers with your amp, you’ll want to check to see if the continuous power wattage the amp puts up is compatible with the recommended wattage levels of your speakers. Much like impedance, many have recommended ranges and pairings listed on the spec sheets.

 

Sensitivity

The sensitivity exclusively applies to speakers and measures how loud a speaker is in decibels when it’s one meter away and driven by one watt of power. Speakers with higher sensitivity will sound louder than speakers with a lower sensitivity. While it might sound obvious to go for a higher sensitivity speaker in order to have louder listening, you’ll want to check the compatibility with your amp and consider how many speakers you’re setting up and how the sound will be spread around.

 

What to avoid

When it comes to the complex and mathematical dance of audio, sometimes the least overwhelming move is to remember what not to do. Eliminating the worst-case scenarios automatically guides us towards a better sound experience.

 

As you’re mixing and matching for the gorgeous sound set-up, you’ll want to make sure your amp’s continuous power speaker wattage is not greater than the power your speakers can handle for long periods of time. Otherwise, your hi-fi speakers will be receiving more heat energy from the amp than they can handle. Since speakers don’t have a way to dissipate heat energy, the excess burns up the voice coil and can damage the suspension. This ends up ultimately trashing the speakers.

 

Another no-no is matching up a weak or low-watt amplifier with high-powered speakers. The low power from the amp will cause you to crank the speaker volume control all the way up. The constant need to crank the volume will end up overheating the amp, and eventually burn the inner components. On top of that, the amp will start sending clipped signals, and the high-frequency energy can eventually damage the speakers.

 

A Million Factors Influence How to Choose an Amplifier for Speakers

The main takeaway is that you should check the impedance and power rating compatibility between your speakers and amp before buying. As another general rule, spending similar amounts of money or sticking to one brand can help you avoid disparate mismatches in equipment.

If this all freaks you out, there are also amplifier speaker matching calculators that help you estimate compatibility based on ideal headroom, the number of speakers, the power handling, and the space of your room. At the end of the day, this should be fun and about creating the best sound possible.


phono preamp phono box

Hi-Fi Electronics vs Home Stereo: What's the Difference?

Have you ever wondered which audio systems are best for your home theater? When strolling through the store looking for high-quality gear, you may be confused when it comes to the best option for your record player setup. The speakers for your home system that you use to watch movies and play music are not going to be the same as hi-fi electronics that audiophiles strive for. Let’s take a look at some of the differences so that finding high-end acoustics that sounds amazing during playback is easy.

 

What is a Home Stereo System?

Basically, a home stereo system uses a combination of speakers and subwoofers to create a surround sound effect in your home. Typically, five, seven, or nine speakers are used in addition to the base loudspeaker to create this effect. This means that you might place speakers around the room on a table or a bookshelf to amplify the sound perfectly from a specific location.

 

Whether a home setup is designed for movie watching or music listening, you want at least a 5.1 setup with five speakers. For larger spaces, a 7.1 or a 9.1 arrangement may be ideal to create more surround sound. The first number in the system tells you how many speakers are in the system, while the second number is the subwoofer. Some larger setups do have two subwoofers to create more bass.

 

When you have a home stereo music system, the speakers work in sync. With this being said, the speakers will also need to be calibrated occasionally to make sure they create the perfect immersion. This immersion is ideal for someone who watches a lot of movies, but also listens to music throughout the day. Hi-fi electronics do not create this same effect because they are designed to play the music as close to the artist’s intent as possible.

 

Home Stereo Electronics

With this type of system, you will need an A/V receiver to power the number of speakers that you plan to have in your setup. This type of device has an integrated amplifier, but it typically won’t have the power of one with external amplification.

 

As long as you have good Wi-Fi connectivity, you will be able to use streaming services to watch movies and listen to music with a home system. If your Wi-Fi is not the strongest, you can use CD players, DVD players, and Blu-ray players instead.

 

What is a Hi-Fi System?

HiFi Setup

If you intend on listening to music often, consider a hi-fi system. This setup is optimized for an analog setup that might include a vinyl record player or a digital setup with a CD player or streamed/stored music files. Audiophile speakers have an advanced design that reproduces music accurately, as it was intended to sound. This means that you hear music the way that it was recorded in the studio.

 

Hi-fi systems are very versatile because they play various music formats. There are even mobile systems with portable Bluetooth speakers available for those who want to take their music with them. The important thing to know with a hi-fi system is that it needs to connect to a power amplifier to create the sound stage that you want. Then, all you need is a tuner to fine-tune the quality of the music.

 

Hi-fi electronics do not create a surround sound experience. Instead, they use preamplifiers and amplifiers to recreate something very close to the original sound as it was recorded. These speakers are excellent at covering all frequency ranges, so a subwoofer is not required. To get hi-fi sound, you are also going to need high-performance equipment like this audiophile CD player.

 

Hi-Fi Electronics

If you use a digital setup, you will need to use a DAC converter to change the digital music into analog music that you can hear through the speakers. This type of converter connects directly to the speakers that you are using, but it can also connect to a headphone amplifier for when you want to listen to your favorite jams without disturbing others in the area.

 

With a record player in this type of system, you are also going to want a phono preamp that works with the type of cartridge that your turntable uses. This device connects to your system using RCA ins and outs.

The turntable cartridge is located at the end of your tonearm. If you are unsure if your turntable uses a moving magnet cartridge (MM cartridge) or a moving coil cartridge (MC cartridge), looking at the cartridge will help determine which components work with your device.

 

How Hi-Fi and Home Stereo Speakers Differ

phono preamp

One of the major differences between hi-fi and home stereo electronics is the speakers. Hi-fi speakers are designed to handle most, if not all, of the frequencies that your music contains. This means that you will need fewer speakers to get the full sound that was intended by the artist in the recording studio.

 

A subwoofer is often not used to pick up the lower frequencies in a hi-fi system. Also, when listening to hi-fi speakers, they will typically be connected to an amplifier so that the sound that comes out of the speakers is properly optimized.

 

On the other hand, home stereo speakers are designed to give you a theatrical experience that is immersive. Because of this, there are more speakers to contend with the variety of frequencies and effects that movies could have.

 

Typically, with a 5.1 setup, the center speaker is dedicated to dialog. The two front speakers play the music and the soundtracks of the movies, and the two rear speakers play the additional sound effects. This includes extra sounds and anything that is designed to be heard from behind. This is why this type of setup is great for viewing your favorite films.

 

Home Stereo vs Hi-Fi: Which is Best for a Turntable?

Although these electronics work well for both movie viewing and music listening, a hi-fi system with 2.0 speakers is going to optimize the sound being produced. If you are listening to music on a record player, and you want to optimize the quality of the music through amplification, then you should purchase hi-fi electronics to bring out the sound that was originally intended. This type of installation will be closer to the source and more faithful to the sound of the instruments and the vocals used in the original recordings or remixes.


tube box preamp with debut carbon evo

How Important is a Phono Stage?

Building the ideal vinyl listening corner, with or without a phono stage, looks different for every music lover. Your musical preferences, budget, and amount of space are all going to inform your hi-fi arrangement. If you live in a large house with the ability to generously spend, you’ll have different options than someone limited by space and funds. Likewise, if you’ve already built a sound space that works for you, you’re less likely to trade it in for a new system than a newly converted audiophile.

 

Still, even with all the vastly different circumstances, there are some questions all turntable lovers will face. One of these questions is whether a phono stage is worth it, and how exactly it affects the listening experience. As with all things vinyl, this topic inspires a lot of strong opinions across the board. So, let’s dive into all the disparate corners of the phono stage question.

 

What is a phono stage?

In layman's terms, the purpose of a phono stage is to translate the electrical signal from a turntable, so you can successfully play your favorite album through the stereo. When your turntable cartridge picks up sound from the record grooves, it produces a phono signal. A phono stage converts the small phono signal into a line signal. A line signal is the standard signal level that can be played through home audio stereo components such as CD players and DVD players. A line signal can be plugged into the LINE or AUX inputs on amplifiers, active speakers, and receivers, while a phono signal can’t be directly connected to these inputs.

 

What Happens When a Phono Signal is Converted to Line?

There are two major things that happen when the phono stage converts a phono signal to a LINE signal. First, the small signal from the turntable cartridge is amplified to make it robust enough to be connected to a LINE input. For this to happen, the amplitude (size) of the phono signal must be increased roughly 100x (for a moving magnet cartridge).

 

Secondly, in order to convert phono to a lin signal, the bass notes are increased while the treble (high tones) are majorly reduced. This is necessary because when record grooves are carved, the bass is reduced to save space on the record. The phono stage amplifies the bass and decreases the treble to correct this and create a good listening balance. The process of a phono stage balancing the bass and treble is called RIAA (recording Industry Association of America) equalization.

 

Is a Phono Stage the Same as a Phono Preamp?

Yes, a phono stage and a phono preamplifier are the same thing. However, it should be clarified that not all preamplifiers are phono preamplifiers. In the context of analog preamps, the term “phono stage” is interchangeable with phono preamp. 

 

But in the larger context of music and sound, the term preamp can apply to microphone preamps, analog sensors, and other uses.  In a stereo setup, preamps can include the volume control, phono stage, and source selector all in one. These types of preamps include analog input connectors, but only one analog output connector (LINE output). This output connects the preamp to a power amplifier to drive the speakers. When a stereo amp and power amp are bundled together, it’s called an integrated amplifier or stereo receiver.

 

So yes, a phono stage is the same as a phono preamp, but not all devices with the label “preamp” are phono stages.

Does a Phono Stage Make a Difference?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that the quality of your phono cartridge, spacial set-up, record collection, cable and the phono preamp itself will all affect just how much of a difference you hear. If you don’t buy a phono preamp that’s compatible with your cartridge, then you won’t get the optimal outcome.

In general though, because the process of RIAA equalization works to balance the bass and treble for a more balanced listening experience, a phono stage improves the sound quality. Also, on a practical level, it’s harder to listen to LPs if the turntable can’t be connected to a variety of amplifiers, speakers, or home audio components.

 

Is a Phono Stage Necessary?

The answer to this varies based on your current set-up. If your record player comes with a built-in preamplifier, then you technically don’t need to get a phono stage (although many audiophiles prefer a separate one). 

If you’re unsure whether your turntable has a preamp, you can check the back of it. If there’s a PHONO/LINE switch, then it has a built-in phono stage. In order to activate the preamp, you must set the switch to LINE. If the switch is turned to PHONO, the built-in preamp is automatically bypassed.

Similarly, you’ll want to check and see if your amplifier or receiver has a PHONO input. If your amplifier doesn’t have a PHONO input and your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp, you’ll need a phono stage in order to plug in the RCA and listen through loudspeakers.

 

What is the Difference With Phono Stage for MC Cartridges vs MM Cartridges?

sumiko phono cartridge pro-ject turntable

There are two main types of phono stages: those designed for moving magnet cartridges (MM) and those designed to work with moving coil cartridges (MC). A few preamps will successfully work with both cartridges, those generally include a switch that adjusts the phono stage according to the cartridge type. The Pro-Ject Tube Box S is a great example of a phono stage that’s compatible with all types of cartridges. The Pro-Ject Phono Box RS also offers full-range compatibility with MM and MC cartridges.

Moving coil cartridges produce a lower signal, usually outputting around 0.2mV. By contrast, moving magnet cartridges create a signal level that hovers between 3mV and 6mV. Both MM cartridges and MC cartridges produce small signals that require amplification and RIAA equalization in order to be converted to a LINE signal. However, because MC cartridges output a much smaller signal, they require more work from the phono stage. 

Moving magnet phono stages are far more common, and MM cartridges are compatible with more preamps. You’ll find that many standalone preamps are compatible with MM cartridges, but many don’t do the legwork for an MC cartridge, so you always want to double-check.

Here are some of the key differences between MM and MC phono preamps:

In general, MC phono preamps have higher gain than MM phono stages, due to the lower signal output of MC cartridges. 

MC phono preamps tend to have a lower noise floor and more distinct noise characteristics than MM phono stages (this is also because of the lower electrical signal).

Moving magnet and MC phono preamps have different input impedance in order to match the different output impedance.

MC phono preamps have adjustable gain and input impedance that you must manually adjust to meet the signal levels of your specific MC cartridge. MM phono preamps don’t require that, making the phono stage set-up easier.

If you’re looking for a great MM-compatible phono stage, the Pro-Ject Phono Box MM is a great place to start.

 

Does a Better Phono Preamp Make a Difference?

This question brings up the complex task of defining the meaning of “better.” While ranking sound quality itself might feel like an objective undertaking, there are a lot of factors to consider. People listen to music for different reasons. While some prefer the warmth of a holographic effect, others look for the punchy distinction of a guitar riff. Changing any component of your sound system is going to shift things, at least slightly, and the way it affects sound could be different instead of better. That said, when it comes to all things audio, “better” and “more expensive” are almost always synonymous.

In direct terms, if you don’t have a working phono preamp, and can shell out a little extra money for a slightly pricier model, it’s statistically going to produce more ideal sound quality. Similarly, if your turntable has an MC cartridge, shelling out for a compatible MC phono preamp is going to be worth your buck. Because of the low signal output MC cartridges produce, you’ll need to invest in a phono stage with the right impedance and gain output. 

However, if your turntable has a relatively common MM cartridge, there are a lot of available phono preamp options that run the gamut price-wise. It’s always a solid option to shop within your budget, then judge from there. When it comes to buying audio components, it can be tempting to let perfect be the enemy of the good, and ultimately it’s a personal choice.

 

What happens if you don’t use a phono preamp?

If you try to play vinyl records through a speaker or receiver that doesn’t have a PHONO input (aka its own built-in phono preamp), the music will sound extremely quiet and have little to no bass. The sound picked up by your stylus is going to sound very thin, and the nuance of the music is going to be hard to make out. 

 

Is a Separate Phono Stage Better than a Built-In Preamp?

tube box phono stage

Since a lot of turntables come with their own built-in preamp, many have wondered whether it’s worth it to buy a standalone phono stage. While separate and built-in preamps both fall under the phono stage umbrella, there are some differences in their construction.

The most obvious difference is that built-in preamps are part of the turntable, while separate phono stages require you to connect them manually with power cables. In order to fit into the record player, built-in preamps often have smaller circuit boards and a more pared-down construction. Built-in preamps also often have cheaper capacitors, op-amps, circuit boards, and resistors. That said, built-in preamps are naturally compatible with your cartridge and enable you to plug into the power supply and blast your vinyl collection right away. 

Standalone preamps tend to have more expensive and high-end capacitors, resistors, and other parts. In general, most vinyl lovers agree that separate phono stages produce better and more nuanced sound quality. However, they cost more and require more setup.

If you’re on a strict budget or new to the world of records, sticking to a built-in preamp can be a solid start. But if you’re looking to maximize your sound quality, going for a separate phono preamp is worth the effort.

 

Does Phono Sound Better Than Line?

There are two main differences between a phono signal and a line signal. A phono signal is far weaker than a line signal. A phono signal needs to be boosted between 50-1500x its original output in order to reach the output level of a line signal.

Secondly, a phono signal has boosted treble (high notes) and greatly reduced bass. In order to reach the flat (neutral) frequency curve of a line signal, a phono signal must be RIAA equalized through a phono stage.

Comparing the sounds of these signals doesn’t make very much sense, since they have different purposes. A phono signal is necessary to translate the music coded in the grooves of our favorite record. When the tonearm and stylus do the heavy work to kiss the turntable, we need the small phono signal to hear anything at all. However, when it comes to playing that sound through speakers and receivers, we need the signal to be converted to line level so that we can hear the full volume and richness.

 

Finding the Phono Stage to Match Your Setup

Purchasing a phono stage that is compatible with your turntable cartridge is a great investment for your overall listening experience. However, if your turntable already has a built-in preamp, it’s not technically necessary.

 

Looking at the variety of integrated amplifiers, solid-state preamps, and tube preamps available, there are endless ways to perfect your vinyl playback.


The Best Record Cleaning Machine: What To Look For

Regularly cleaning your vinyl records is one of the most important habits to establish if you want your record collection to last for years of enjoyment. Even the most meticulously careful audiophile is going to have bits of dust, oil, and grime accumulate on their records, meaning they need the best record cleaning machine around.

 

The natural oils from your fingerprints can erode the quality of the vinyl, the unavoidable dust particles that accumulate in a room can nestle into the record grooves, and even the simple act of playing the record can transmit small specks of debris onto your most prized albums. 

 

If you love crate digging for rare used records, it’s important that you wash the vinyl before it even touches your record player. Used records are often kept in old (and potentially dusty) sleeves, and can sit in crates inside stores for months on end accumulating dust. Plus, you never know how often the former owner cleaned them, and if they gave them a wash before selling. So, regardless of the record grading quality, it’s absolutely necessary to wash secondhand records before giving them the first spin on your turntable.

 

Likewise, new records should also be washed before playing because they oftentimes come positively charged with static electricity right out of the sleeve. When a record is statically charged, it can stick to the turntable mat when you swap sides or remove the record, and the static charge can attract surrounding dust and particles. 

 

Another factor to consider is that newly pressed records often come with residue from the factory itself. Unsurprisingly, factories aren’t the most pristine environments so a lot of dust can naturally find a way into the vinyl grooves. But on top of that, the production process itself can leave the faint dregs of a gummy release agent on the record surface. If the release agent doesn’t get washed off before the record hits the turntable, you could potentially damage your stylus without knowing it.

 

Beyond the potential to look dusty or compromise your needle quality, records that aren’t regularly cleaned will eventually start making surface noise, regardless of how well you store them. So if one of your most played vinyl starts randomly hissing or popping, it’s likely it’s in need of a deep clean with the best record cleaning machine around before you blast it once more.

 

 

Luckily, keeping your vinyl clean isn’t rocket science, and there are plenty of different methods and top-notch record cleaning machines out there to add to your repertoire.

 

Record Brush

There are a handful of viable ways to keep your collection in tip-top shape by hand, and using a vinyl record brush is one of the simplest and most effective methods. A static-dissipating carbon fiber record brush (such as the Brush It from Pro-Ject USA) has bristles that remove dust particles from LP records, 10-inch and 7-inch records by reducing overall static. Since static electricity can be a magnet for dust and eventually lead to those surface-level pops and crackles, a brush with the carbon fiber bristles can work both to remove what’s there, but also to prevent more grime from accruing as quickly.

 

The process itself is simple, as all you have to do is gently hold the brush in place during playback to catch both the static charge and the dust.

pro-ject record brush

Record Sweep

If you’re a fan of listening to your records while hand cleaning them, but you’d like to give your hands a break, then a hands-free record brush (also referred to as a broom) might be a great fit. Rather than standing to brush the record while it plays, this contraption can be set up to do the sweeping during playback, both cleaning and preventing grime all-in-one.

The Sweep It E from Pro-Ject USA places the brush right before the needle, so the grooves are freshly brushed before the stylus makes contact on every spin. The base is heavyweight, so you don’t have to worry about the brush falling or toppling, and the bristles are fashioned like a soft hairbrush, so it’s naturally gentle on the record surface.

sweep it e record broom

Stylus cleaner

Just as the surface of your records require love to preserve the sound quality, so does the stylus itself. Keeping both your records and stylus clean can create a positive feedback loop, since they both make contact and affect the quality and longevity of each other. There are very simple but effective anti-static brushes, such as the Clean It Stylus Cleaner from Pro-Ject USA that will help keep your needle in pristine shape. 

Made with carbon fiber bristles, the stylus cleaning brush will help dissipate static while also cleaning the tiniest dust specks without scratching the needle. All you have to do is give the stylus a gentle touch to keep it in top shape, and this brush requires no cleaning solution.

clean it stylus brush

Microfiber Cloth

As simple as it sounds, when you’re in a hurry to make your record cleaner, a microfiber cloth can be the ultimate tool. In order for it to be effective, you want to pick a cloth that is truly absorbent and lint-free, and on the newer end so it doesn’t have any leftover residue. You’ll want to pick a safe record cleaning fluid (the Wash-It from Pro-Ject USA is eco-friendly, non-toxic and non-flammable) and use the clothing in gentle circular motions following the grooves of the record. Once it’s been wiped, you’ll let it dry on a straightened out dry microfiber cloth.

 

Anti-static Slipmat

While a slip mat is not technically a vinyl record cleaner, reducing static on your turntable is a great way to keep your vinyl cleaner and reduce overall damage. The multi-colored high-end Felt Mat from Pro-Ject is a great practical accessory to keep on your audio desk, since it lends both style to your turntable and protection to your records during playback. 

 

Turntable Dust Cover

The whole process of keeping your record collection clean is far easier if you have every form of maintenance covered, which means anything that prevents your phono set-up from accruing more dirt is crucial. A dust cover for your record player is about as straightforward as it sounds, it’s a box that keeps the whole turntable from gathering dust while it sits unplayed. The Cover It Signature 12 from Pro-Ject USA comes in clear acrylic so you can look at the beauty of your record player while keeping it safe.

turntable cover cover-it

 

Vacuum Record Cleaner

If you’re in the market for the best record cleaning machine money can buy, then vacuum cleaning is definitely one option to consider. A vacuum-based machine combines cleaning fluid with a vacuum tube to literally suck out dirt and dust. 

 

The VC-S2 record cleaning machine from Pro-Ject USA is designed to withstand excess fluid spills without damaging the chassis and cleans records in as little as one or two spins. For the best potential clean, it’s recommended to clean with one forward rotation followed by one backward rotation. The spins themselves take only 2-3 seconds, which means you could potentially clean multiple albums thoroughly in a minute. Of course, you want to be gentle when handling the sides of the record before and after the process, so it’s best not to rush the process even with the quickest and best vac record cleaning machines.

record vacuum vc s2

The VC-S2 comes with a durable motor and an aluminum clamp that seals onto the record label to protect it from any damage or wetness during the vacuum cleaning process. The machine includes a 2.5-liter container that collects all the used cleaning fluid and is easy to empty.

 

Ultrasonic Cleaner

Ultrasonic record cleaners can run a very high bill, but the results are usually hard to argue with. The cleaning system works by using high-frequency pressure sound waves to create tiny cavitation bubbles in a cleaning liquid. The tiny cavitation bubbles then gently lift dirt and dust and all the nitty-gritty from your record grooves, making ultrasonic cleaning a safe and effective way to keep your hi-fi gear in tip-top shape. 

These are often some of the best record cleaning machines around, but far out of reach for most consumers.

 

Spin Cleanspin clean

A record bath system, like the Spin Clean from Pro-ject, uses a bath of distilled water to clean your precious albums. Your records are spun through the bath with the help of two rollers and applicator brushes, and the dirt and dust are removed during the spinning process. This method cleans both sides of the record equally at the same time and can be pretty fun to watch. You do have to remove the records from the basin by hand for the drying process, so you want to keep your A-game when it comes to gentleness.

 

The Best Record Cleaning Machine Gives You The Best Playback Experience

At the end of the day, the cleaning method you pick is going to entirely depend on your budget, personal preferences, how often you blast music through your amplifiers, and how extensive your record collection is. Naturally, a cleaner collection is going to equal better and more consistent sound quality, but that doesn’t mean you should get too in your head about which machines or tools you can afford. Collecting vinyl should be a fun and joyful activity. So while knowledge is power, it’s also helpful to keep a healthy perspective and remember that even the most pristinely preserved collection is going to need a refresh every now and then, and that’s only natural.

 


tube box preamp with debut carbon evo

Vinyl 101: Ideal Record Player Setup for Beginners

Whether you’re new to the world of record players, or you’ve always loved jamming out to a turntable but never fully understood the ins and outs, it’s crucial to learn the basics of a record player setup so you can create the best listening experience possible.

 

Building the perfect turntable setup is going to look different for everyone depending on your space, budget, and personal preferences, but having a strong foundational understanding of what makes the magic happen is necessary no matter what.

 

Before jumping into a few high-quality record player set-ups, it’s helpful to go over how each part helps amplify your vinyl records so that you can tap into the best sound quality possible.

 

A Phono Preamp For Your Record Player Setup

When you put your favorite record on, the turntable creates a phono output signal. In order for you to actually hear the beautiful notes through your amplifier, the phono signal needs to be converted to a line-level signal (this is also called an aux signal). The aux signal can then be played through hi-fi stereo systems, powered speakers, and even computers. The phono preamp does the work of converting the phono signal to a line-level (aux) signal.

 

It should be noted that some turntables have a preamp already built-in, if your turntable has a USB output, that usually means it has a built-in preamplifier. On older models, you can look for inputs on the back marked “phono” to check if they already have a built-in preamp. DJ mixers can also be used as preamps. If you need to buy a separate standalone phono preamp for your listening corner, you’ll need the right cables to connect to your audio system, in most cases RCA cables will do the trick.

 

Grounding Your Turntable

If your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp, you’ll need to “ground” it in order to avoid hum. Luckily, turntables that require grounding already come with a cable that connects the turntable to your sound system. The record player needs to be turned off during the process of locating the grounding wire, finding the terminal for it in your hi-fi system, and then making sure all components are placed close enough together to connect. If you forget or skip this step, your overall sound quality will be affected and you’ll likely notice hum.

 

Speaker Placement for a Record Player Setup

When it comes to how you experience music in your home, speaker placement is going to be a major factor. You want the sound to travel enough to fill up your space, but also not overpower your ears, or create any feedback. For this reason, making sure you find speakers with built-in protections against damage, falling, or interference with other electronics is an important consideration, as well as finding a design that can be hoisted onto a base or seated on the ground according to your preference.

 

Now that we’ve gone over a few of the (many) major factors to consider when designing your vinyl set-up, let’s go through a few pieces of high-end audio equipment that pair beautifully together.

Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB with Stereo Box DS2 and Speaker Box 5

The T1 Phono SB turntable from Pro-ject is a sleek hi-fi record player that comes with a glass platter, a built-in-phono preamp and electronic speed control so you can adjust your listening speed from 33 to 45 RPM without worrying about causing damage to the record grooves by doing it manually. The tonearm bearing is low friction and vibration-free which makes for ideal tracking force, and the tonearm itself is made of light aluminum and gentle on your records (it has an integrated headshell, making it a one-piece tonearm design).

The new turntable pairs great with the Stereo Box DS2 from Pro-ject, a stereo integrated amplifier that comes with five phono inputs and moving coil and moving magnet phono stage. The Stereo Box DS2 gives you the simplicity of a classic stereo system, while also giving the listener a preamp section with high-quality phono stage compatible with moving coil and moving magnet cartridges. The RCA line inputs can be connected to CD players, DACs, and streaming devices, and there’s even a Bluetooth receiver if you wanna dig into some wireless playback from your phone.

 

The variable and fix RCA outputs are compatible with active speakers, or a subwoofer, and the ¼” headphone output gives ample headroom to even the most heavy duty headphones. This all comes in a far more compact design than many equally detailed stereo systems.

The Speaker Box 5 from Pro-ject includes two compact bookshelf speakers, perfect for a modest record player setup. The 2-way monitors use a bass-reflex enclosure design and are magnetically shielded to make them safe to sit near computers and other sensitive electronics in your listening corner. The speaker system does the work to show off your favorite records’ most lively dynamics and rich bass. You can find them in black, white or red, and they work great alongside the Stereo Box DS2 and the T1 Phono SB to create an ideal analog listening experience.

 

Pro-ject Debut Carbon EVO with Tube Box DS2

The Debut Carbon EVO from Pro-ject turns both heads and ears with its sexy satin finish (complete with real walnut veneer), motor shielding and suspension, and its adjustable isolation feet. This turntable comes with a Sumiko Rainier Moving Magnet phono cartridge, an electronic speed changer and stabilizer so you can switch between 33 and 45 RPM (it’s also able to play 78RPM), and low-friction sapphire tonearm bearings to keep your records in pristine shape, and an 8.6’ one-piece carbon-fiber tonearm. You can pick from an 8-coat lacquered finish in three high gloss colors, 5 satin matte finishes, or real walnut veneer, whatever fits your aesthetic best. And it comes with a felt record mat and a two-year parts and labor warranty in case you party hard with your new record player setup.

The Tube Box DS2 from Pro-jet is a phono preamp that runs compatible with both MM and MC cartridges. It includes two turntable inputs so you can use it for multiple record players, or connect it to the same turntable after you’ve swapped cartridge types. It has an adjustable input impedance that works well with low output MC cartridges, and also features input capacitance for MM cartridges as well as a subsonic filter that helps clear out any mechanical noise. The dual mono circuitry works to optimize channel separation while maintaining the crucial quality of sound, and the selectable subsonic filter works to protect both your ears and speakers. The sandwich alu metal casing protects from electromagnetic interference, so you can avoid conjuring any angry electrical signals, and the RCA in and outputs are plated in gold to give a kick of style. 

 

Visually, you can opt for a silver or black finish, with or without wooden side panels, whatever floats your boat.

As already mentioned above, the Stereo Box DS2 from Pro-ject (here in silver) is an all-star product that pairs well with multiple turntables and speaker systems. When it comes to mixing and matching with different speaker types, the volume control with motor driven potentiometer is an asset. The fixed and variable outputs for both subwoofer or second zone amps make for easy set-up, and the three analog inputs and one Bluetooth input allow for multiple configurations depending on what floats your boat. Of course, when it comes to connecting to the record player itself, the Stereo Box DS2’s built-in phono preamp makes it simple, particularly since it’s compatible with both MC and MM turntable cartridges.

 

The Speaker Box 10 from Pro-ject includes two audiophile floor-standing speakers that serenade vinyl lovers with refreshingly low coloration, a rich depth of sound without sacrificing specificity, and lively dynamics, and of course, soulful bass. Visually, they lend a heaping dose of style to your listening corner with a luxurious rigid glass base protected by adjustable spikes, all tied together with a high-gloss lacquer finish in black, red, or white. Both aesthetically and soundwise, the Speaker Box 10 is a great option to pair with the Stereo Box DS2.

 

Of course, as with all decisions when it comes to your record player setup, creating the ideal musical space is going to look different for every audiophile. Everything from your preference in turntable cartridge and stylus, to your decorating taste and available space is going to inform which type of audio equipment you’re drawn to. Even when you’ve found your ideal combination of gear, you’ll want to make sure that you’re eyeballing the speakers that work best with your preamp (or mixer). For this reason, it can be helpful to check out some curated combinations in order to zero in on what you need, and Pro-Ject USA is a consistent heavy hitter when it comes to creating high-quality products for vinyl lovers.

 

Once you’ve sifted through the best recommendations and options for a record player setup, you can hunker down on the fun part: the final act of mapping out where it will all sit in your room. This is the ultimate challenge and joy of setting up a dedicated listening space.