Quick thanks to Geoff for asking for a post on this topic.
The question was "Whats the best way to measure turntable speed and what tolerance is acceptable?"
OK, Let's dive right in- This has got to be one of the easiest things to either forget.. procrastinate on, or never learn in the first place. All to often do you hear "it probably just needs a new needle" on a trademe description, (or Ebay etc for those outside of NZ) when actually, there are far more maintenance and factors involved when trying to achieve the best possible sound. To ensure optimal playback quality, it's crucial to measure turntable speed accurately. In this post, we will delve into the best methods for measuring turntable speed and explore what level of tolerance is considered acceptable.
So, why measure turntable speed? The rotational speed of a turntable, commonly referred to as RPM (Revolutions Per Minute), directly affects the playback quality. Precise speed control ensures that records are played at the correct pitch and allows for accurate reproduction of the original audio. Inconsistencies in turntable speed can result in pitch variations, timing discrepancies, and distortion, leading to a pretty subpar listening experience.
Here are some tools we can use for measuring turntable speed:
Stroboscopic Discs: Stroboscopic discs are a pretty popular and effective method for measuring turntable speed. These discs feature a series of concentric rings with evenly spaced markings. When illuminated by a strobe light that flashes at a specific frequency, the markings appear to freeze or move slowly. By adjusting the turntable's speed until the markings remain stationary, you can achieve precise RPM measurement. At first glance, they can look pretty confusing to be honest and hard to explain without a video, so I found a pretty good demonstration on how to actually use one here. It's just a 5 minute watch, and well worth it.
Optical Tachometers: Optical tachometers utilize optical sensors to measure the rotational speed of a turntable. They work by detecting the changes in light intensity caused by the passing platter or a reflective mark on the edge of the platter. These devices provide real-time feedback and are often more accurate than visual estimation methods. Here's some on Ebay for reference purposes, and I should probably look at stocking a good version of these actually.
Smartphone Apps? Hmmm.. There is one for everything these days. I even use a smartphone app for tuning my guitar, but unfortunately a magic wand wouldnt make a difference to the crappy song attempts that I torture my family with. Several smartphone apps are available however, that can measure turntable speed using the device's built-in camera. These apps utilize the same stroboscopic principle as dedicated stroboscopic discs, displaying a virtual strobe pattern on the screen. While they may not be as precise as dedicated tools, they can be a convenient and cost-effective option. I havent tested this app, but it seems to have some OK reviews for the most part, and you can also find them on Android.
Measuring 'tolerence levels' are not just counting the amount of noise complaints from your neighbours.. When it comes to measuring turntable speed, "tolerance" ofcourse refers to the acceptable margin of error. While a perfect speed may seem ideal, in reality, slight variations are often considered acceptable. The industry standard for turntable speed tolerance is typically ±0.2% or ±0.3%, which means the actual speed can deviate by that percentage above or below the target RPM.
However, it's important to note that some high-end turntables aim for even tighter tolerances, with tolerances as low as ±0.05% or better. These turntables employ advanced motor control systems and precision engineering to achieve unparalleled speed accuracy.
When deciding which method to use for measuring turntable speed, consider factors such as accuracy requirements, personal preference, and budget. Stroboscopic discs are affordable and widely accessible, making them a good choice for most users. Optical tachometers provide accurate readings and are ideal for enthusiasts seeking a more precise measurement. Smartphone apps offer convenience but may have limitations regarding accuracy and precision.
Accurately measuring turntable speed is essential for achieving optimal audio performance. Whether you opt for stroboscopic discs, optical tachometers, or smartphone apps, it's crucial to ensure that your turntable's speed falls within an acceptable tolerance level. By maintaining precise RPM, you can enjoy faithful sound reproduction and a truly immersive listening experience, unlocking the full potential of your vinyl collection.
Hope this helps!
If you happen to be looking for a great little record store that sells pre-loved and new records, check out thevinylrevolution.co.nz Or if you're passing by Timaru, it also happens to be an ideal place to stop for a coffee. Not only that, you'll get the warm satisfaction of supporting local.
There is also one of our LED Isolation platforms on display, so the is a great way to pop in and check it out!
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