During playback of a record, a force is produced that pushes the tonearm towards the center due to the friction between the stylus and the record surface. This inside force is called skating force and needs to be counteracted or balanced out. Otherwise, it may affect the sound quality and make the needle more prone to skipping. The device that prevents a turntable from skating is called anti-skate.
Most turntables include this features. Record players that don’t have an anti-skate adjust device may have an internal mechanism to counteract the skating force. The fact that a record player doesn’t come with an anti-skate knob doesn’t imply that the turntable will skate. It only means that the anti-skate force cannot be manually adjusted. Turntables with cartridges fixed to the tonearm don’t need an adjustable anti-skate feature because the cartridge cannot be changed and no counterweight is needed. If your turntable doesn’t have an anti-skate dial, you can verify if your turntable skates using the two methods described below, but you may not be able to adjust it.
How to adjust anti-skate
Phonograph cartridges work properly when a certain weight or force is vertically applied at the point of contact between the stylus tip and the record groove. This weight or vertical force can be adjusted with the counterweight. A proper tracking force or weight will maintain the needle inside the groove and will allow the stylus to track your music well. If the tracking force is too heavy, the stylus may damage your record and the stylus and cantilever will have a hard time moving up and down. If tracking is too light, the stylus won’t sit fully on the groove and may be jumping all over. So the proper weight must be set up, not too light and not too heavy. You must follow the manufacturers specifications.
The walls of the microgroove make a “V” shape. The tip of the stylus most ride in the middle. To maintain the stylus in the middle of the groove you have to set the proper tracking force and anti-skate, both are equally important. The vertical tracking force (VTA) keeps the stylus fully sited on the grooves vertically while the anti-skate will keep the stylus in the middle of the groove horizontally. If no anti-skate is applied, then the needle will sit against one of the walls.
Manufacturers know what they’re doing, so always trust their specifications. In order to adjust the tracking force, you first need to read the cartridge’s specifications to check the recommended tracking force. Then you set both, the counterweight and the anti-skate knob to the weight recommended for your cartridge. Here’s a video that explains this very clearly. Minute 10:30 explains the counterweight adjustment and minute 20:22 explains anti-skate adjustment.
There are two ways that I know you can use to verify if the anti-skate is properly adjusted.
- You can use a Test Record to verify the proper anti-skate. A test record contains signals recorded that can help you adjust or asses different aspects of your turntable. In the case of anti-skate, one signal is present for each of the channels. When you play this track, both channels should sound clean and to the highest level. Distortions and differences in intensity are signs of incorrect anti-skate setup. You can adjust your anti-skate until the sound is clear and the level is balanced. You can listen to the track or use an oscilloscope for analyzing the signals. The problem with assessing the signal audibly, is that our hearing decreases with age and with our listening habits. So our hearing may not be trustworthy. For the average person this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Some people use a blank vinyl record. This is a record without grooves, it has a flat surface with no music. In this case, you place the needle in the middle of the record. If the needle maintains its place during playback, then the anti-skate is setup properly. If the needle skates towards either the center or the edge of the record, your anti-skate needs to be adjusted. There are some people that disagree with this technique because the skate force is different on a grooved record than on a flat surface. Here is a video that demonstrates this procedure.
What to do if the turntable doesn’t have anti-skate
Many low end turntables don’t provide a way to adjust the anti-skate force. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it. My advice is, first to make sure that your record player is perfectly horizontal. Use a spirit level tool to make sure your unit is leveled. If you find your turntable still skating, you may try placing small index cards underneath the feet of your turntable to modify the inclination. This is not, however, an accurate way to control anti-skate, but may solve some skipping problems that a player without anti-skate may have.