Turntable Tonearm Types – A Quick Guide

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types of turntable tonearm

What does the tone arm do?

  • A stable and slightly longer tone arm (12″ vs 9″) will cut back on various types of audio distortions you might encounter (ie. tracing distortion).
  • Tone arms are ideally set up to allow you to add a cartridge and then adjust it accordingly without any issue
  • A rigid tone arm will cut back on vibrations that will result in inferior audio
  • Tone arms give you a means to control the playback of your record as you like it, and set up accurate points where you want the needle to “drop”

Here is a quick glossary of terms that you’re bound to encounter as you get familiar with vinyl records and how they work:

  • VTF – tracking force
  • Azimuth – ability of the tone arm to rotate sideways – you can extend your own arm and turn it over one way, then the other – that’s the idea!
  • VTA – the angle of the stylus when it is rotated backwards or forwards
  • Anti Skate – the amount of centripetal force exerted

Watch this video showing tonearm adjustment of azimuth on the fly…

Ok, now on to the 3 types of different tonearms you will likely encounter in your travels through the vinyl-verse.

#1 – Gimbal Tonearm

gimbal tonearm

So let’s take a look at the pros and the cons of this type of tonearm design.

Pros:

  • This is the most common type, and it’s known to work well
  • Also easiest to set up
  • Other designs are more expensive

Cons:

  • As mentioned, there is increased friction due to the design which sometimes can be unavoidable
  • As well, we mentioned bearing resonance, which happens as the bears age, and they will need to be serviced periodically
  • Design can lead to some tracing distortion

#2 – The Uni-Pivot Tonearm

Pros:

  • You’ll get as close to no friction as possible with one of these
  • Less worry about bearing work needed
  • The afformentioned bearing noise will be practically eliminated

Cons:

  • Because of the pivoted nature of this tonearm, you will run the risk of tracing distortion
  • If you are a novice, as we said, it will be harder to set up – especially the azimuth
  • Some people don’t like the floaty nature of these tone arms
  • A little less sturdy

#3 – Linear Tracking Tonearm

tangential linear tracking tonearm

All in all, the linear tracking tonearm is what we might call the “best” kind of get, but you need to be dedicated to whatever audio pursuit you are chasing to want one of these, as there are some clear affordability challenges, plus the pain in the butt setup.

Pros:

  • Basically takes care of all the previous cons we mentioned with the other arms, such as high friction, tracking distortion, and bearing noise

Cons:

  • Needs some maintenance to be kept at optimal levels
  • Expensive, more so than the other two
  • Set up is a pain!

Wrapping Up

2 thoughts on “Turntable Tonearm Types – A Quick Guide”

  1. Would have been nice to understand the mechanical implementation differences between gimbal and uni-pivotal tonearms. I don’t understand the differences.

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  2. There was also a lateral tracking tone arm turn table made. It was and is far superior to those gimble mounted tone arms! To push those tone arms you are talking about as being so good is shear stupidity!!!! You need to do some real research before you comment!! I know they exist as a friend of mine bought one while in the ARMY and stationed in Germany!!!!

    Reply

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