Clever Approach To Stylus Alignment

Digitally stored music is just data. But not long ago, music was analog and required machines with moving parts. If you have never owned a record player, you at least know what they look like, now that there’s a(nother) vinyl revival. What you may not be aware of is that the player’s stylus needs to be aligned. It makes sense, that hypersensitive needle can’t be expected to perform well if it’s tearing across a record like a drift racer.

There are professional tools for ensuring alignment, but it’s not something you’ll need each day. [Ali Naci Erdem] shows us his trick for combining a printable template with a mirror to get the same results without the professional tool costs. Instead of ordinary printer paper, he prints the template on a piece of clear plastic and lays it across a small mirror. These are both items which can be picked up at a hobby store, which is not something we can say about a record player mirror protractor.

We love music hacks like this informative introduction to circuit bending, the wonderful [Martin] from Wintergatan, or if you want to get weird, an organ made from Furbies.

25 thoughts on “Clever Approach To Stylus Alignment

          1. Of course you can digitize a vinyl, but then it’s no longer a vinyl.

            You can make resin copies, but the process gradually damages the disc, each copy will have dust and dirt imprints, and copying a record that has been played through is pointless as it won’t restore the audio quality. Subsequent copies get worse and worse.

            You could digitize the vinyl and then start cutting your own vinyls, but that goes into the “unreasonable” category for practicality.

          2. True, but the digital copy is good enough for my purposes. I purchase the vinyl record as a “future proof” official copy of an album, and serves as my “license” to be able to play the work in private.

            The digital reproduction is then used in day-to-day use as a more portable medium. The artist still gets the money for their effort. The record company collects a premium for the privilege of providing the recording on DRM-free vinyl. I don’t have to worry about not being able to play my music when a format goes out-of-date. It’s a win-win.

          1. Going on old memory, the common formulations for vinyl records were made such that a disc would last about 60 playthroughs on a common turntable before it starts to lose fidelity. Built in obsolescence.

            This effect was the death of quadrophonic vinyls where the surround channels were encoded as ultrasound and then pulled back down by frequency mixing. The records worked for a while, and then the extra channels would just turn to hiss.

      1. If I could get a suitably sized 8-track cassette player, it’d be funny to mount one in a 5¼ inch drive bay on my desktop computer and wire it up to a 2-channel ADC with a USB control interface.

        See how many people ask how many MB I can store on it. (Maybe better than QIC40.)

        Hmm… food for thought…

  1. >”Because the tonearm is rotating on an axis and the stylus have a determined angle with it, it is not possible for the stylus’ axis to remain parallel to the grove cutting axis throughout its motion from the beginning of the record till the end.”

    A modified parallelogram linkage gets pretty close. Adding an extra arm allows the needle to turn and follow the tangent of the record.

    1. I remember having a Denon linear tracking turntable – probably in the mid ’80s. It had a linear motor pulling the tonearm instead of a pivot point. IIRC, it also had electromagnetic tracking weight/force.
      It looked cool and futuristic, but that’s about all it had going for it. I think it lasted about 6 months before dying for good.

  2. I remember the Garrard turntable with “Zero Tracking Error” other turntables that tracked tangentially to have zero tracking error, but I don’t recall adjusting to “two null points” to minimize tracking error on my turntables.

  3. I remember a paper chart that came with my Garrard. If not that it was in an album liner, zine, or something. 1969 or so.
    Recently I found curbside a Technics linear arm push button track selection turntable. It needed all the stiff grease removed and is good as new except I hacked in a phono preamp and put a 1/8 inch TRS cord on it. Interesting to see it work, a photo switch pulsed a motor to keep it up as groove motion retards the mini-arm relative to whole arm with two rods running thru it’s base like a flatbed scanner drive.

  4. Some time in the 50’s, someone published an article on optimizing the tracking error on phono tone arms. There are two parameters to adjust: Head angle and overhang.

    When you plot the curve of tracking angle error vs. radius from the center of the turntable, you get a roughly parabolic curve. The trick is to “minimax” the curve, so that it crosses zero twice, and the peaks of the errors are equal. With the right settings, you can reduce the worst-case HD to about 1%.

    I had just bought a Weathers tone arm, a lovely thing made entirely of wood. But it had no adjustments at all, and was horribly off the optimal settings. Garrard made a tone arm (not the parallelogram one pictured), that allowed adjustment of both parameters. I set it to the optimal values, and I must admit, I found it to sound a little better.

    Many years later, I sat down and re-derived the equations. I’ve got it in a Mathcad around here somewhere. Could upload it, if anyone’s interested.

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