The tonearm is the part of a turntable that moves back and forth to play records, and it’s usually attached to the platter or spinning arm. The tonearm has two parts: the cartridge (the stylus) and the suspension assembly. The cartridge holds the record on its surface, while the suspension assembly keeps the cartridge in place as the platter spins. A tonearm can have one or more cartridges, depending on how many different types of records you want to play.
The tonearm is usually made from aluminum or steel, but some are plastic. It may be fixed to the platter or free-floating. Most tonearms have a built-in belt drive system for moving the cartridge back and forth. This type of tonearm is called an “arm”. Other tonearms use a direct-drive motor, which means they move the cartridge directly by using a motor instead of a belt. These tonearms are often called “cartridge” or “direct-drive” tonearms.
There are three basic types of tonearms:
- Fixed Arm: A tonearm with a fixed position. You attach this tonearm to the platter and then adjust the height so that the cartridge sits just right above the center of the record groove.
- Free Floating Arm: A tonearm with no attachment point. You simply put the cartridge where you like it and let gravity do the rest.
- Cartridge Arm: A tonearm that attaches to the cartridge itself. This is the most common type of tonearm.
Most modern cartridges come in two varieties: Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC). Both types work pretty much the same way, but there are slight differences between them.
Moving Magnet Cartridges:
A moving magnet cartridge uses a permanent magnet inside the cartridge body. When the record turns over, the magnetic field changes, causing the needle to jump up and down. The needle never touches the record; it rides along the grooves.
A moving magnet cartridge is very sensitive to speed variations in the platter. If the platter isn’t perfectly flat, the cartridge will skip when it reaches the edge of the groove. Also, if the platter wobbles slightly, the cartridge will skip.
A moving coil cartridge contains a small electromagnet inside the cartridge body. As the record turns over, a current passes through the coils, creating a changing magnetic field. The needle rides along the grooves because the magnetic field follows the grooves.
A moving coil cartridge is less sensitive than a moving magnet cartridge to speed variations in the turntable. However, a moving coil cartridge is not nearly as sensitive to wobble in the platter as a moving magnet cartridge.
The speed at which the platter rotates determines how fast the needle travels across the record. Generally speaking, the faster the platter spins, the faster the needle travels.
In general, a slower platter spin gives a smoother sound, but a faster platter spin makes the needle travel farther per rotation. For example, if the platter spins at 33 1/3 rpm, the needle will make about 34 inches of movement per revolution. If the platter spins at 45 rpm, the needle will only make about 30 inches of movement per revolution, but the sound quality will be better.
If your turntable doesn’t have a variable speed control, you’ll need to experiment with various speeds until you find one that sounds good to you.
The speed of the record also affects the sound quality. Generally speaking, the higher the record speed, the more treble you’ll hear.
You can play records at any speed you want, but the fastest speed is generally considered to be 78 RPM’s.
At 78 RPM’s the needle moves about 3 feet per second.
Reasons for Using Multiple Tonearms
There are several reasons why some people use multiple tonearms on their turntable. Here’s a brief explanation of each reason:
To get different sounds from the same record.
For example, if you’re playing an LP by Miles Davis, you might want to try out both his trumpet and piano parts. Or maybe you’d like to compare the sound of a live performance with the studio recording.
To change the tone of the music.
For example, if you’re listening to a jazz album, you may want to switch back and forth between the horns and the strings.
To match the tonal characteristics of your speakers.
Some people prefer to listen to recordings using speakers that reproduce the midrange frequencies best. Others prefer speakers that emphasize the highs or lows. By switching back and forth between two cartridges, you can adjust the tonal balance of the music to suit your speaker system.
To improve the sound quality of vinyl records.
Some people believe that the sound of vinyl records improves when they play them on a turntable with two tonearms.
To reduce noise.
Some people think that the noise level of vinyl records decreases when they play them on two-tonearm turntables.
To increase the life of the cartridge.
Some people believe it helps keep the tonearm cleaner when it plays on two tonearms rather than just one.
To prevent damage to the stylus.
Some people believe the stylus wears down more quickly when it plays on a single tonearm.
Can I Add Another Tonearm to My Turntable?
Yes! You can add as many additional tonearms as you wish. However, there are a few things to consider before adding another tonearm.
First, you should check to see whether your existing tonearm has enough clearance for the new tonearm. In other words, does the existing tonearm fit over the new tonearm?
Second, you should check to make sure that the new tonearm won’t interfere with the operation of your existing tonearm. For example, if you have a belt drive tonearm, you shouldn’t put a direct drive tonearm in front of it.
Third, you should check to ensure that the new tonearms don’t touch the surface of the platter. This could cause scratching or even breakage of the tonearm.
Finally, you should check to determine whether the tonearm will work properly with your existing tonearm arm. For example, if your existing tonearm uses a belt drive mechanism, you probably won’t be able to use a direct drive tone arm motor.
If you decide to purchase a second tonearm, you’ll need to take into account all of these factors. If you do so, you’ll find that having a second tonearm makes your collection much richer.