Max Impact

Max Impact

Byline: Robin Smith

Although technique and skills are important, knowledge of how to dial-in your gear for maximum performance can help make the most out of any equipment setup. Therefore, it’s a good idea to consider some tips and tweaks for optimizing your turntable settings.

One dilemma that often faces budding DJs is which slipmat to use. Many varieties, from thick to thin, are available. The best I have found is the ISP Butter Rugs version 2.0. These clothlike slipmats feature a shiny side and a fuzzy side and are quite thin when compared with traditional slipmats. I have mine installed shiny side down so that the slipmat “slips” against the platter as it holds on to the record. Initially, the thinness of the Butter Rugs may take a bit of getting used to, as they feel different than regular slipmats. However, once familiar with them, you should find that they have a consistently predictable amount of slip and offer little resistance when holding the record.

CARTRIDGE QUESTIONS

The next hurdle is to decide on a cartridge. In recent years, the Shure M44-7 cartridge/needle combo has become the industry standard for turntablists and is my cartridge of choice. When properly dialed-in, these cartridges can deliver excellent tracking – even during rigorous scratching – while causing minimal record burn (the nasty static audible on a frequently scratched section of vinyl). Setting up the carts correctly is critical to getting the best skip-free performance.

When setting up the M44-7 for turntablist-style DJs, it is important to mount them correctly in the headshell. The goal is to strike the balance between minimized skipping and maximized audio fidelity. One way to do this is to reduce the total weight of the cartridge/headshell by not including the separate metal weight (provided with the cartridge) when mounting them to the headshell. This will reduce skip-inducing side-to-side wobble when scratching. You may find that you need to include the weight to get your tonearm to track at the correct setting; however, you should eliminate it if you can.

Once you mount the cartridge, you need to determine where to position the cartridge in relation to the headshell. When aligning the M44-7, it works best when the front of the cartridge is flush with the front of the standard Technics headshell. (This may differ if you use other headshells.) This is a little farther forward than the setting you would use for optimal audio quality but helps to reduce skipping – a worthwhile trade-off.

TONEARM TYPE

DJ turntables now come with two flavors of tonearm: the traditional S-shaped arm and the newer straight arm. With most S-shaped tonearms, the closer to the center spindle that the record plays, the greater the misalignment of the needle in the groove. This manifests itself in increased side-to-side wobble during heavy scratching. Straight-arm turntables greatly reduce that, resulting in a significantly reduced amount of skipping. Noteworthy straight-arm turntables include the Vestax PDX-2000 and the Numark TTX-1.

If you have a turntable with an S-shaped tonearm, you can “toe-in” the cartridge a little. By angling the back end of the cartridge toward the center spindle, the needle is aligned to be more parallel with the groove, and the wobble is reduced further. The trade-off with this tweak is increased record burn. My recommendation is to only toe-in your cartridge if you continue to have problems with skipping after making all of the other adjustments noted here.

Most turntables with S-shaped tonearms feature an antiskate setting. Skate is the tendency for the tonearm to swing toward the center spindle. The antiskate setting is typically a dial that counteracts this inward force, but because you pull the record backward as well as forward when scratching, setting antiskate to the manufacturer’s recommended setting may actually result in increased skipping. I have found the best setting for scratch applications is 0, which reduces the amount by which the tonearm pulls the needle backward and thus reduces skipping on the back-pull of a scratch.

TRACKING WEIGHT

As settings go, you have the most control of tracking weight, and it has the single biggest impact on skip reduction. Typically, this is adjusted by turning a cylindrical weight at the back end of the tonearm, moving it closer to or farther from the tonearm’s pivot point. This adjusts the downward force that the cartridge applies to the needle at the other end. The golden rule is to track with as little weight as possible while still minimizing skipping. I generally set mine somewhere between 2.5 and 3 grams.

Turntablists often reverse the tonearm weight, as it allows you to track at a heavier setting. On the Technics SL-1200MK2 (a design copied by many turntable manufacturers), the weight has a bullet shape that, when mounted properly, has more weight at the back than at the front. When mounted in reverse, it places the heaviest end of the weight closest to the tonearm’s pivot point, thus reducing the weight at the back of the tonearm and therefore increasing the tracking weight.

Although that technique is popular, I prefer scratching with the weight mounted properly and the tracking set to a known amount. However, if you max out the weight increase available on your turntable, you can employ this method (if the weight on your turntable is designed in this manner) to get a greater range of weight adjustments.

TONEARM HEIGHT

Most turntables offer a mechanism for adjusting the entire height of the tonearm assembly. On the Technics SL-1200MK2 and many others, that mechanism is a circular dial that surrounds the entire tonearm suspension assembly base. Turning it raises the tonearm up or down, which adjusts the horizontal angle at which the needle interfaces with the vinyl surface.

My tonearm height is set so that the tonearm is parallel with the surface of the record when the needle is on it. Some turntablists recommend adjusting the height ring to its maximum height setting to gain improved tracking abilities. If you achieve satisfactory performance with the tonearm parallel, leave the setting as is; if you need a little more skip resistance, start at the recommended settings and adjust higher.

These settings should be a starting point for optimizing your turntable rig. Once you understand the impact of each setting, experiment with various adjustments to see which works best for your technique and equipment. If you find a setting that differs from those described here, go for it! Setting up your gear is as much an art as it is a science.

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