After decades of gradual decline, record players have seen a spectacular renaissance in the past few years. They were widespread in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but with the rising popularity of CDs, turntables became obsolete for most folks except for a few DJs.
Record players are simple machines powered by an electric motor. The motor turns the turntable using a thin rubber belt looped over the motor (aka belt drive) or directly using gears (aka direct drive)
Vinyl records change sound vibrations into electrical signals. Sound vibrations are generated and processed into electric signals when a record spins. This information is routed into electrical amplifiers.
Electric amplifiers vibrate and transmit the generated sound to the loudspeakers, which increases its volume. Record players still employ the same needle and groove system as phonographs, despite the fact that record players nowadays are considerably more technologically advanced.
Sometimes you may notice your record player so quiet than normal. If that does ever happen, then you shouldn’t worry, as I have compiled this detailed guide to help you troubleshoot the problem.
Understanding Record Player Components
Before we dive into the reasons behind a quiet record player, let’s take a moment to understand the various components that make up this marvelous music machine.
A typical record player consists of:
- A turntable
- A tonearm,
- set of speakers or an amplifier.
The turntable is responsible for rotating the record at a constant speed, allowing the stylus (attached to the tonearm) to track the grooves on the vinyl.
The cartridge, located at the end of the tonearm, contains the stylus and converts the mechanical vibrations of the grooves into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is then amplified and played through the speakers or an external amplifier.
Reasons for a Quiet Record Player
1. Incorrect Tracking Force
Tracking force refers to the downward pressure applied by a turntable’s tonearm on a record as it plays. An incorrect tracking force can lead to various issues such as excessive record wear, skipping, distortion, and poor sound quality. To ensure optimal performance and longevity of your records, it is essential to set the tracking force correctly.
To determine the correct tracking force for your turntable, you should consult the manufacturer’s instructions or the cartridge’s specifications. Typically, the recommended tracking force falls within a specific range, such as 1.0 to 3.0 grams.
If you believe your tracking force is incorrect, here are some steps to help you address the issue:
- Check the turntable’s user manual or the cartridge’s specifications for the recommended tracking force range.
- Make sure your turntable is on a stable surface and level.
- Ensure that the tonearm is balanced and parallel to the record surface when it is in the resting position.
- Use a calibrated tracking force gauge to measure the actual tracking force applied by the tonearm. These gauges are specifically designed to provide accurate measurements.
- If the tracking force is outside the recommended range, adjust it according to the turntable’s instructions. This adjustment is typically made by using a counterweight or a tracking force adjustment dial.
- Repeat the measurement and adjustment process until you achieve the correct tracking force within the recommended range.
2. Issues with the Record Player Needle
A stylus is another name for the record player needle that rests against the record. It’s often cone-shaped and made from diamond, one of the hardest materials on earth. We also have a stylus made of sapphires.
A stylus is connected to the tonearm using a flexible strip of metal, and this flexibility allows the stylus to ride up and down as the record rotates. Stylus are either elliptical or spherical. Elliptical ones have the advantage of increasing the music’s authenticity as they allow for more contact with the record groove. On the other hand, a spherical stylus is more sensitive but provides less fidelity.
With time the needle/stylus begins to tear and wear, hurting the quality of sound the record player produces. In some instances, it can even cause problems with the volume.
If you experience sound quality problems accompanied by volume issues, then you will likely have a needle/stylus problem.
Replacing the stylus needle on your record player is a simple task. You only need a flathead screwdriver, press down the tab, and slide the stylus right off. Putting the needle back is simple and quite the opposite of what you did above.
Record player needles are affordable, and this is one of the first troubleshooting procedures you should follow if you have volume or sound quality issues. Below is a video detailing how to replace a record needle.
3. Issues with Record Player Cartridge
Record player cartridges are notably one of the important features of your record player. They are mounted on the end of the record player tonearm. The cartridge includes a stylus, which reads the modulations on the record.
The cartridge is made up of six different parts. Each of these parts must be present and properly functioning for the cartridge to work effectively. The main parts of the cartridge are:
- Coils are tightly wound columns of wire in the cartridge at the assembly’s front. Because of the coils, the cartridge appears larger than it is.
- Pole pieces– The pole parts are metal components connected to the coil’s base. They serve to intensify the magnetic field to increase the signal’s strength.
- The cantilever, also called the stylus holder, holds the stylus and transmits vibrations to the magnets and coil assembly.
- Rubber suspension– the rubber suspension helps keep the cantilever in place and secure while simultaneously allowing it to vibrate sufficiently to translate the vibrations into electrical signals.
- Magnet– these are one of the essential parts inside the cartridge. Without the magnets, the record players would otherwise be useless.
One of the possible problems why your record player is so quiet and not loud enough could be a problem with the cartridge. Over time, these cartridges wear out, so the low volume could result from the faulty cartridge.
The easiest way to know if that’s the precise problem would be to replace the cart and see if it fixes it. Cartridges often last longer than the needle, so if your record player is relatively new, this should not be the issue.
4. Issues with the Tonearm
A tonearm supports the cartridge that holds the needle/stylus. The purpose of a tonearm is to guide the needle/stylus across the vinyl grooves and then rely this back via the cartridge to ensure that your tunes are played at the best quality possible.
Technically, the tonearm supports the cartridge going around the record and toward the center. In addition, the tonearm must keep a stable position above the vinyl for the cartridge to track down the groove.
Some tonearms are manual, while others are automatic and will automatically stop when the record is done playing.
The main problem you could have with the tonearm is that it’s not well balanced. Balancing the tonearm is quite technical and should be done with care. Below is a detailed guide to help you learn how to balance the tonearm.
5. Problems with the Record Player Speakers
This doesn’t happen often, but it shouldn’t be ignored either way. However, a problem with your speakers will likely make the record player go dead silent or affect the audio quality of your records.
Therefore, if you notice your record player producing growling-like sounds, you should have the speakers inspected.
If your record player has built-in speakers, there should be a line-out plug to help you test the audio using external speakers. Assuming that your record player has this option, this is a great way to try and see if the speakers are the problem.
Upon plugging in the new set o speakers, you notice they aren’t loud enough, which means something else is causing the problem. But if the external speakers are loud enough, then it means the internal speakers have issues.
6. Poor Quality Record Players
This should serve as a warning because those cheap suitcase-style players are bound to give you endless problems in the long run. One of these problems could be soft volume or even a list of endless problems.
Paying $50 for a record player isn’t the best deal, and you will probably get a bad-quality one. Therefore, if you are having problems with your suitcase-style player not being loud enough, I would highly appreciate the advice you get a higher quality one rather than going through all the hassles of trying to fix it, which might even be costlier than the cost of the record player.
The truth is that you will spend more money getting a higher-quality player, but it will last longer without having any major issues.
In addition, you will be saving yourself some headaches as some of these cheap record players damage your records long-term, something you wouldn’t want to happen to your favorite record.
7. Bad RCA Cables
Record players often use RCA cables to connect to audio systems or speakers. RCA cables are a common type of analog audio cables that have red and white connectors at each end.
These connectors are color-coded for easy identification: the red plug is for the right audio channel (usually the “R” channel), and the white plug is for the left audio channel (usually the “L” channel).
Most of these cables are low-quality and poorly designed, so the soldered joints at the cable’s tips break after bending and a few hours of use.
If you’re experiencing issues with the RCA cables on your record player, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot and potentially resolve the problem:
- Check the connections: Make sure the RCA cables are securely connected to both the record player and the audio receiver or amplifier. Sometimes, loose connections can cause audio problems or a loss of signal.
- Test with different cables: If you suspect that the RCA cables are faulty, try using a different set of cables to connect your record player. This will help determine if the issue is with the cables themselves or another component in the setup.
- Inspect the cables: Examine the RCA cables for any signs of damage or wear. Look for frayed wires, loose connections at the ends, or any other visible issues. If you spot any damage, it’s likely that the cables need to be replaced.
- Clean the connections: Sometimes, poor audio quality or intermittent signals can be caused by dirty or oxidized connectors. Use a clean, lint-free cloth and some isopropyl alcohol to gently clean the RCA connectors on both the record player and the receiver/amplifier. Ensure that all connections are dry before testing again.
- Test with a different input/output: If possible, try connecting the record player to a different input on your receiver or amplifier, or connect a different audio source to the same input. This will help determine if the issue lies with the record player or the audio system.
A quiet record player can dampen the joy of vinyl listening, but with a little troubleshooting and maintenance, you can revive its sound quality.
By understanding the components, identifying potential issues, and implementing the appropriate solutions, you can restore your record player to its full potential. Remember to exercise caution and seek professional assistance if needed.
With a properly functioning record player, you can once again immerse yourself in the enchanting world of vinyl, enjoying the rich and immersive sound that only analog audio can provide.
Meet Mike O’Connor, (a DIY enthusiast), living in Cincinnati, a city ranked as the noisiest in the USA.
As a work from home dad, I have a first hand experience of how noise can truly affect your well being.
Soundproofing isn’t something that should be taken as a hobby, it should be a skill that every homeowner should be equipped with.
Most of the work documented on this blog comes from purely first hand experience, and the products recommended work as indicated.