If you are someone who is new to the world of vinyl it may be pretty daunting to hear that there is this thing called tracking force and that there are different “weights” you need to worry about and stuff like that. The good news is that it is not as complicated as it sounds and many of the turntables we have looked at on the site make this as easy to deal with as possible for you.
What Is Tracking Force?
This is what many of you may be asking right now and now it is not some kind of rebel unit that would fight GI Joe! Tracking force is basically the amount of weight that your stylus is going to be on your record with. Most record players these days have a little dial at the end of the tonearm. If you look at this pretty awesome-looking Crosley C62 Vinyl Turntable you can see the dial at the end of the tonearm.
On the flip side of this, if you look at a cheaper more modest turntable like this DIGITNOW! Turntable Record Player for example. These are made to be easy to use and they do not always offer any way to change the tracking force. They are designed to have an “average” tracking force that is more often than not adequate in getting the job done.
What Happens If The Tracking Force Is Too High?
If the tracking force on your turntable is too high then this means the weight of it is too much and as a result, the stylus will be really pressing into the vinyl. This can lead to a strange distortion in the sound and many people state that it can damage your records. Now on the flip side of this, there are also those that say it is very unlikely that having the tracking force would cause damage to your records.
You can tell if the tracking force is too high on your record player if the sound is weird and the stylus looks like it is really pressing into the record.
What Happens If The Tracking Force Is Too Low?
In my “professional” opinion you are actually at way more of a risk of damaging your record if the tracking force is too low. The reason for this is that the stylus will be just barely pressing against the record. First of all, this is going to make it sound bad and more than likely lead to skipping. Which by the way we did an article on a little while back.
The thing is if your records are skipping or skating it is very annoying, but this can also scratch your vinyl records and damage them to a point where there is no coming back from it so it is something that you do need to watch out for.
How Do I Fix My Tracking Force?
As we talked about just before, the tracking force can be adjusted (if your turntable has it of course) via the tonearm. It is a little dial that is 99/100 located at the very end and it has numbers on it, these numbers are grams and that is the weight they will be at. So, if the dial is set to 2, it is 2 grams.
The first step to making sure your tracking force is just right is to “reset” the tonearm. The way we do this is first of all making sure there is no record on the turntable. Next, you want to turn off your record player’s anti-skate feature if it has one or turn it down to 0. You want to tinker with the tonearm counterweight so that the tonearm will balance in midair.
Once this happens, you know that the counterweight is zero. If you still have the manual for your record player, it may tell you what the best counterweight is. Or if you have purchased a new cartridge that should come with the information. If not do not worry, you can easily find it online. Set the counterweight to the right setting and if your turntable does have an anti-skate setting set this to the same number as you have the counterweight and this should keep things sounding great.
Setting The Tracking Force With Technology!
I would say that this may be a bit over the top for the amateur or recreational vinyl listener. However, a device like this Neoteck Digital Turntable Stylus Force Scale Gauge can be a great way to get the counterweight just right. This handy device will let you know just how much tracking force you are using. It may not be for everyone, but it is a device that can come in real handy.
Do I Have To Set The Tracking Force Regularly?
I would wager that many people who buy a turntable get lucky and never have to play around with the tracking force. However, I do think that once a year or even a couple of times a year, resetting it and having a bit of a play around can-do wonders for the sound that you are experiencing.
I would also advise that if you have moved the record player from one area to another to think about doing it then. Record players need to be treated kindly and any kind of moving or disruption can cause things to shift so it is worth tinkering around to make sure you are getting the best sound possible.
At the end of the day, we all have our own ears and what sounds great to me may sound not so great to you. The best thing you can do is play around with your record player and get it the way that you think it sounds best. As long as you are not damaging your vinyl or your record player you are doing fine. The music is what really matters and as long as you are happy with what you are hearing that is the main thing!