Five Gadgets (Under $100) To Improve Your Turntable
In my last vinyl article, I talked about the top five “must-have” items that every vinyl enthusiast should have. But it’s in our nature to always want to chase perfection or try to upgrade to a different (and usually more expensive) turntable. But here is what you need to know. You will very quickly come across the law of diminishing returns, and all that extra cash is more likely for prestige or finishes. But what if I could give you five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable?
Here are my rules. The gadgets must be under $100 (duh), have a meaningful impact on your system, and not be subjective whimsy or hyperbole. I know that sounds hard, but I think I have compiled a solid list! Let’s discuss.
So a phono pre-amp tops my list of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable. Without going super-nerd on you, all turntable cartridges have low output. You need something to boost and equalize the signal from the turntable before passing it on to your amplifier.
In some cases, your turntable or receiver will have a pre-amp or phono stage. So why not use those instead of a dedicated preamp? The answer is gain or lack thereof. In my experience, most receiver phono stages (or built-in pre-amps) don’t have enough gain, and you turn the volume way up.
The Fosi Audiobox X2 is defiantly one of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable I would recommend. It has three adjustable gain settings (39dB, 42dB, and 45db), and it has freaking tubes!! At $70, it definitely won’t break the bank, and it will make a difference in your system. No, it doesn’t alter the sound of your LPs, aside from making them louder. But that’s a good thing. It’s distortion-free, and it just looks cool.
2) A Record Clamp
Ok, I can hear you rolling your eyes and getting ready to call me an audiophile snob, but hear me out. LPs are physical media, and damage to the record can impact the sound. Well, guess what? Not everyone stored their record collection properly! If so, you now have some warped records. If this sounds like you, a record clamp is one of the must-have five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable!
These warps will cause your tonearm and cartridge to move vertically significantly. These variations can cause wow in the playback, and the cartridge will pick these resonances up and amplify them. Enter a record clamp.
A record clamp can reduce these resonances by adding additional downward pressure to the record’s surface, creating a more solid connection and smoothing out the warp. Where a record weight adds mass, the clamp mechanically attaches to the spindle and creates downward pressure. In some cases, added mass can cause the bearings of the platter to wear out faster because the design of the motor didn’t factor in that extra mass.
And I know I said I wouldn’t use subjective whimsy, and I didn’t. I did a blind comparison with and without the clamp, and picked out the clamp almost every time. But let me be clear, it only made a difference with older, warped records. My new records sounded no different at all.
So if you have some warped records and want an inexpensive fix, I recommend a record clamp as one of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable. This one from Amazon is about $20, is light, and comes in black and silver.
3) A New Slipmat
A lot of entry-level turntables come with felt slipmats. While they are adequate, felt has the annoying habit of creating static electricity. This attracts dust and dirt and creates static feedback through your cartridge.
Good news! Slipmats are inexpensive, and I highly recommend a new one as one of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable. And here is the great part; you can get them in lots of different materials, colors, and designs. So you can add some flair to your setup.
I like acrylic slipmats. They look fantastic, come in many different colors, and are inexpensive. My favorite is this one from Amazon. It is dual purpose with a cartridge alignment protractor (see below) on one side and a plain white background on the reverse side.
But you can also get them made out of cork or rubber, so choose a material and design you like. But whatever you choose, a new slipmat is one of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable I recommend.
4) Cartridge Alignment Protractor
So how about that? I combined two items into one and saved you a bunch of money on one of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable. But if you already have an excellent slipmat, a protractor can be a low (or no cost) item.
Ensuring your cartridge is lined up properly has several benefits. First, it limits distortion from a cartridge that is not sitting correctly in the grooves. Secondly, correct alignment reduces wear on those groves. And lastly, proper alignment reduces wear on your stylus. A win-win-win.
My Monolith by Monoprice Belt Drive turntable came with a paper protractor in the box, but my puppy ate it! But you can get a plastic protractor on Amazon for under $10. Or you can head over to Fluance and download and print one for free.
Either way, a cartridge alignment protractor is one of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable I recommend.
5) Stylus Force Scale
Ok, so owning a turntable is more work than I remembered. My old Emerson stack system didn’t have a counterweight on the tonearm, and I didn’t have to set its tracking force. But that was then, and this is now, and I had to manually set my vertical tracking force when I set up my turntable. ￼
Now don’t get me wrong, setting the tracking force wasn’t hard. I moved the counterweight until my tonearm floated perpendicular to the table, zeroed the dial, and adjusted to my cartridge’s 1.8g of tracking force. But is it truly 1.8g?
Well, if you want complete accuracy, then a stylus force scale is one of the five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable you should have. Bonus, they are inexpensive! I recommend this one from Amazon. It only runs around $15.
And they are simple to use. Place it on your turntable platter, turn it on and zero it out. Then place your stylus in the center, and the digital readout will tell you the vertical tracking force. Then, adjust the tracking force (increase or decrease) until you get to the correct amount.
By correctly dialing in the tracking force, you reduce wear on your records/stylus and get the most detail from your records.
So there you have it. Those are my five gadgets (under $100) to improve your turntable. As promised, they are inexpensive and improve the sound of your system, plus they are readily available on Amazon.
But what about you? What gadgets did you add to your turntable that made a difference? Let us know in the comments below.