Parts of a turntable
These are the basic parts of a standard, modern turntable. Familiarise yourself with them so you can study carefully how any turntable you’re considering buying deviates from the “norm”.
7” adaptor (1) – Many 7” singles have a wide hole in the centre, originally because such a hole was needed for them to work with the mechanisms in jukeboxes. This adaptor lets you play such records on your turntable. Typically long-lost on club turntables; take your own if this is important yo you.
Anti-skating control (2) – Sets the anti-skating force, which is to counter the tendency of the rotating record to pull the cartridge towards the centre of the platter. Setting it to the same value as…
Cartridge (not shown) – A small attachment that fits onto the end of the tonearm, into which plugs the stylus. It contains a magnet, which transforms the vibrations from the stylus into tiny electrical signals. These are then sent to a phono pre-amp to amplify them, typically inside a DJ mixer. Can mount to the headshell, or be the same piece as the headshell.
Counterweight (3) – Used to balance the tonearm so it applies just the right amount of pressure to the cartridge and stylus. The correct “tracking weight” is usually two or three grams, but you see DJs reversing the counterweight, adjusting it to be as heavy as possible, and even attaching small weights like pennies to the top of their cartridges to help stop skipping.
Cue lever (4) – Lets you lift up and lower the stylus without touching it. Rarely if ever used by DJs, who prefer to lift the tonearm using the arm of the headshell.
Headshell (5) – The mount for the cartridge and stylus, has a little arm that is there to help you lift and place the assembly where you want it. Sometimes it is not a separate piece from the cartridge.
Headshell holder (6) – For storing a headshell that you’re not using. Can theoretically be useful if you use your own headshells for DJing (a good move!) so you can store those supplied by the venue. I’ve never seen anyone using it.
Height adjuster ring (7) – For adjusting the fulcrum height of the tonearm. Don’t mess with this unless you have good reason to and know what you’re doing – it’s unlikely to cause you any issues left as it is.
Needle (not shown) – See Stylus
Pitch adjuster (8) – Essential for beatmixing, because it lets you change the speed of the motor, and so the speed of the record, and so the tempo. Gets its name because speeding a tune up or slowing it down also raises or lowers the musical pitch, +/-4% being about a semitone. Curiously, moving it up lowers the pitch, and down speeds it up. The scale printed on the turntable’s body allows you to see the percentage value of your change.
Pitch adjuster range (9) – Doubles the range of the pitch control, meaning you can slow down or speed up the record more, but at the expense of accuracy.
Pitch reset button (10) – Sets the pitch to zero no matter where the pitch adjuster is set – basically, disabling the pitch adjuster. Pressing it again returns the turntable to the currently set pitch.
Power switch (11) – Rotating on/off switch for the deck. Sits on top of the strobe light on many turntables. On some turntables, it can be turned off to give the classic turntable “slowing down” effect. The reason why cutting power to the turntable cuts the motor but not the sound, is that no external electricity is needed to output an audio signal – the audio signal that leaves a turntable via the “phono out” cables is unamplified, created only by the movement of the needle on the record and a small magnet in the cartridge.
Platter (12) – The rotating surface, on which you place the slipmat and record (or control vinyl) on.
Slipmat (13) – A thin, slippy felt mat that sits between the metal of the platter and the record. Allows DJs to easily stop and manipulate the vinyl with their fingers, while the platter continues to spin underneath.
Speed buttons (14) – Where you select the turntable’s speed, usually a choice of 33 or 45 RPM. Long-playing records tend to rotate at 33, singles tend to rotate at 45 RPM. On some turntables, pressing them both together sets the turntable to 78 RPM – the speed of a very old record format.
Spindle (15) – Goes through the hole in the centre of your record. Should the hole in your record be accidentally not quite central (it happens…), the record will appear to speed up and slow down slightly as it plays, and the tonearm will move left and right slightly with each revolution.
Strobe light (16) – Rapidly flashing light that illuminates the strobe markings. It appears to be a solid light to the naked eye.
Strobe markings (17) – Dots or other markings on the sides of the platter that work in conjunction with the strobe light. They give the illusion of “freezing” at certain pitch positions (-3.3%, 0%, 3.3%, +6%). useful for checking the turntable is spinning at a constant speed.
Stylus (not shown) – A small diamond mounted on a tiny metal arm that picks up the sound. When it “tracks” through the groove of a record, the needle vibrates. Attached to the cartridge.
Target light (18) – A light that shines across the surface of the record. It helps DJs to see where the quiet and louder parts of the song are, and indeed the gaps between tracks should there be more than one track on the side playing. Quieter parts appear “smoother”. Some are removable; on Technics decks, they can be pushed down to hide, and a button pops them back up again.
Tonearm (19) – A hollow metal tube that has the cartridge and needle mounted on one end, and the adjustable counterweight on the other. The idea is to set this up so it applies just the required weight to the cartridge and stylus for them to “track” correctly in the groove.
Tonearm stand (20) – Where you stand the tonearm when you’re not playing a record.