How to fix common turntable problems

Turntable isn't working, or sounding quite right? Here are three common issues, and how to tackle them yourself.

How to fix common turntable problems

Replace a broken belt

  • If you go to play a record on a turntable and the platter doesn't spin, it's probably due to a broken or stretched belt.
  • The only way to tell for sure is to unplug the turntable and remove the dust cover and platter mat.
  • Then, rotate the platter to access the pulley through the access hole and use your finger (wear gloves, if possible, to prevent unnecessary handling of sensitive parts) or a screwdriver to lift the belt off the motor pulley. This should allow you to remove the platter.
  • Some turntable platters are also held in place by a tiny fastener, called a C-clip, on the spindle.
  • If this is the case, insert a small flat-bladed screwdriver between the clip and the spindle, and slowly twist the screwdriver until the clip slides up. Hold one hand over the clip in case it pops off.
  • Lift up the platter and remove the belt. Clean the platter rim and pulley with a chamois swab dipped in denatured alcohol.
  • If the belt is just slightly loose, you may be able to restore it with some rubber revitalizer.
  • If the belt is stretched out or broken, replace it with one that is exactly the same size (required to maintain the proper speed).
  • If the belt appears to be okay, the problem may be caused by a frozen or faulty motor, a dirty idler tire or a defect in the speed controls.
  • You would probably be better off having these professionally serviced rather than attempting to repair them yourself.

Stop rumble and hum

  • Rumble is a very low frequency noise introduced to the audio signal by vibrations within the turntable. It's an intermittent, low-pitched booming sound.
  • Don't confuse it with hum, which is constant, and a higher pitched sound that can be caused by a variety of reasons. All but the most expensive turntables suffer from some amount of rumble.
  • You can minimize it by placing an isolation mat or rubber feet under your turntable and making sure that the turntable isn't too close to your speakers.
  • Keeping the dust cover in the up position while playing a record can also reduce the amount of rumble picked up by the needle.
  • Pinpointing the cause of hum can be difficult, however; it may be caused by a defective transformer anywhere in your system.
  • Often, you can minimize hum, or eliminate it altogether, by using well-made, shielded cables to connect components to the receiver.

Clean up scratchy, erratic sound

  • Is your turntable suddenly putting out distorted "fuzzy" sound, or are the left and right channels fading in and out?
  • Check the wire connectors on the cartridge. Many cartridges use small clip-on connectors that sometimes become loose.
  • Remove the stylus and set it safely aside on a soft cloth, then loosen the locking band around the cartridge head shell, and remove it from the tone arm.
  • Make a wiring diagram of how the wires connect to the cartridge. Gently remove each one, using a pair of tweezers or a pair of needle-nose pliers.
  • Spray a little contact cleaner on a swab and use it to clean off the metal contacts on the cartridge before reattaching the connectors.
  • Once they're attached, make sure they are on tight. Reinsert the needle and reassemble the tone arm.
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