What Causes Static Noise in Turntables?

By Scott Shpak

To many, the sound of a vinyl album played on a turntable provides the ultimate listening experience, with an inherent warmth that digital audio can't match. That experience gets marred quickly, though, when your music is covered by annoying static. Tracking down and eliminating noise on your turntable system maximizes your sonic experience.

Define Your Noise

One person's "static" may be "clicks and pops" to someone else. Clicks and pops on a turntable suggest noise created at the record's surface, while crackling, intermittent noise may be a loose connection or electromagnetic interference. Hiss is a high-frequency noise component common in analog systems, while hum is low-frequency and associated with induced 60-cycle noise, often stemming from ground loops. Examine your noise conditions and see if the sound itself may give clues about its origin.

Run It Into the Ground

Proper grounding of a turntable and its audio components is a complex electrical problem for engineers. Fortunately, there are best practices for grounding that you can follow. Many audio amplifiers or receivers have outlets on the back. Using these for your turntable keeps each component in the same circuit. Keep all connections as short as possible; if your turntable has a wire as well as audio connectors on its cable, that wire should be connected to the ground post on the back of your amp or receiver. These steps will reduce chances for both hum and electromagnetic interference.

A Solid Connection

Intermittent crackles frequently originate from cables and connections. Your turntable's stylus cartridge may plug into the tonearm, or it may have four connectors to which wires from the tonearm attach. Check these connectors for connection, and remove and reseat a bayonet-mounted cartridge. Handle each cable used in your stereo and check the connection at terminals. If moving a cable causes the offending noise, replace it. Lightly crimp any plugs that feel loose on the respective jacks. Check all cables, including those between amp and speakers.

The Static Buildup

Static electricity can be another culprit that creates clicks, pops and crackling sounds. As a record builds a static charge, it attracts dust, which in turn captures its own charge and creates a physical impediment for the stylus. The stylus requires periodic cleaning of dust and other buildup; cleaning your records can also keep your music sounding fresh. The stylus and cartridge require periodic replacement also. Check your manufacturer's recommendations for the products you use.