This project is one of those ‘slow’ things that you take time to enjoy while taking the time to do it right. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself at the moment.
Back in April I decided to get back into playing vinyl records to experience music the we did before the digital purge of the ’90s. I already had an era-appropriate turntable, so all that was needed was to rebuild the playback chain from that point on.
After a brief look at the stuff I had on hand, here’s what I needed to build/buy:
- Preamp or amplifier with integrated preamp
- Cartridge and stylus — the current one was original and ~40 years old so it was likely showing it’s age
- Audio switch box
- Receiver or tuner
- Inner and outer album sleeves
- New and old music on vinyl 🙂
I already had:
- Headphone amp
- Assorted cables and connectors
- Diskwasher D4 record cleaner
- Stereo stand
- A few LP records that I had refused to part with
That pile of gear in the image above is pretty much what I started with. This is the Akai AP-Q41 turntable that was originally purchased around 1983. The phono preamp is new a this point, and the Focusrite box is about 5 years old — used that to pipe the output of the preamp into my computer as I don’t have a proper amp/receiver with speakers yet.
The goal at this point is to get the turntable working and then see if I still have any interest in listening to vinyl (spoiler: yup).
This thing hadn’t been played for 40 years, so I had no idea if anything was wrong with it or not. So, after carefully rebalancing the tonearm, adjusting the anti-skate to the recommended settings from the manual, I hooked it up to a new preamp, hooked that up to an LCD TV that had audio line inputs, and spun a disk or two.
And yep, I could hear music, though it was rather compressed, as if someone had taken and removed some of the top and bottom end of the audio spectrum. Very weird, but hey, that cartridge was old so maybe stuff happened to it, or the stylus was damaged. Or something. So let’s look at that stylus.
Seems fine, maybe a bit worn, but the cantilever and stylus mount look good. Maybe it’s the cartridge? If so, then it’s time to research (ues, I used ChatGPT to help focus the search and learning) and order one. I settled on a Grado Prestige Green3 — a bit more upscale than an entry-level cart, but since at this time I’m still figuring out if I am going to commit to this expensive hobby, it was a good compromise.
It still sounds like crap… hmm. So, what do I have in the chain that could be causing this:
- TV speakers
- Cables from preamp to TV
- Cables from turntable to preamp
- Turntable or turntable component (cables, electronics, etc)
Lots of things in that list to go wrong. I tested everything in the list above the turntable, and all checked out fine. So the culprit was at (or within) the turntable itself.
To cut to chase scene, I determined the younger-me was an absolute bonehead who had somehow messed up the headshell -> tone-arm wire positions. The red and green wires were swapped. And there is no colour coding on the tonearm connectors, so today-me thought everything was fine and hooked up the cartridge using the matching colours = crap sound.
I had the original manual, but it didn’t have any information on correct wiring. I guess they assumed nobody would be dumb enough to swap wires around. I also found a service manual online, but it too didn’t cover coloured wiring, though it did have a helpful schematic which showed how things get connected, but not within the headshell.
Eventually I solved it by looking at blurry-zoomed-in images (above) of the turntable that I found online. There were two or three that had enough detail that I was able to move the wires to the proper locations.
Heh, yep, that was the issue. And further testing (and listening) showed that the original cartridge wasn’t that bad sounding after all this time. Which gave me ideas that I’ll go over in my next post, as well as some of the things I learned about the ‘new’ vinyl scene.