Several issues could cause a record player to sound distorted.
Most are easy to diagnose and many are also easy to fix. We’ll help you with both.
But before that, we highly recommend asking somebody else to take a listen first.
Sound issues can be very subjective. You might think it sounds off, but others will say it’s perfect.
Get a second opinion and make sure your record player sounds distorted to them, too.
Then keep reading and let’s figure out what the problem is. And what to do about it!
Record Player Sounds Distorted
The following are the most common issues that could cause a turntable to sound distorted. Hopefully this list will help you figure out what’s wrong in your case.
Stylus / Cartridge Issues
This is first on the list because it is the most common reason for distorted sounds. Styli are the needles that are attached to the cartridge.
They read the disc. This is obviously a vital function, but they are really just physical pieces of metal with a hardened tip. They can, and will, wear out over time.
The more the stylus rubs on vinyl the more it wears down, and the lower it gets worn down the worse it sounds.
The cartridges rarely wear out before the styluses do, but it does happen. What is a turntable cartridge? It is the component that translated the vibrations picked up from the needle into an audio signal that eventually turns into sound in the speakers.
The way to determine if the issue is your cartridge or your stylus is a simple visual inspection of the stylus.
Get a magnifying glass and look very closely at the stylus. If it is visually worn down the chances are good that the needle is the issue.
Stylus / Cartridge Issues Fix
If you have determined the issue lies with the cartridge or the stylus, the fix is the same. Replace the cartridge and stylus.
It is possible to replace only the stylus on some models but trust me when I say it is much simpler to replace the cartridge with the stylus in one go. It is also just better to change them both at the same time.
Inner Groove End Of Side Distortion
This is a common occurrence and known issue with the vinyl medium. It is physics in action.
As you get toward the center of the record, the sound quality can get audibly worse. This happens because the wavelengths get shorter the longer the record goes on.
This is extremely easy to diagnose. To find out if this is the issue, simply pick up the tonearm and move it to the beginning of the record and listen to see if the distortion goes away.
If it does then you know you are just hearing the inner groove distortion phenomenon. Sadly, there is nothing you can do about this one. Just be glad nothing is wrong with your system.
Preamp / Cartridge Mismatch
There are 2 different types of phono cartridges. Each type has its own output level. MM cartridges are the easiest to deal with and the most popular.
MM stands for moving magnet and MC stands for moving coil. Moving coil cartridges have a higher level output than moving magnet cartridges do.
If you have your higher output moving coil cartridge hooked up to a preamp that is made for MM carts, you will hear distortion.
This is easy to avoid if you read the manual on your cartridge and your preamp. Many modern phono preamps have gain switches you can use to match the cartridge you are using and avoid distortion.
Preamp / Cartridge Mismatch Fix
If you are lucky this is as simple and finding the gain switch on your preamp and fiddling with it until you can hear that it sounds right. If you do not have gain switches you have 2 options:
- Replace the cartridge
- Replace the preamp
Replacing the cartridge is going to make more sense in most cases. However, there are some cartridges out there that cost several hundred dollars. The best way to determine which route to go is to figure out which one of these components costs the most and replace the other.
Preamp Or Amplifier Issues
There are times when your turntable and record are both perfect and you still hear some garbage sounds coming from your speakers. If you have determined the record and turntable are not the issue you may be dealing with preamp or amp issues.
Many times, amplifiers/receivers and preamps can get old and capacitors can burn out. Dust can get in there over time and cause shorts or knobs can get nasty in the potentiometers. There are many things that can go wrong with amps and receivers.
If your preamp is a standalone preamp, it is easy to figure out if is the issue, as long as it has a headphone jack. If it does, just plug some headphones in and if it still sounds distorted, the issue is the preamp.
If your preamplifier does not have a headphone jack it can be more difficult to diagnose.
Preamp Or Amplifier Fix
This fix is going to depend on the actual issue. As mentioned, there are lots of things that can go wrong in amps and receivers. If you are not comfortable with opening electronics and fiddling around, do not attempt to diagnose or fix an amp or receiver. You could really hurt yourself.
If you have determined it is coming from the amp or preamp or receiver you can either replace it or get it fixed. You will have to do a cost analysis to see if repairing is going to be cheaper than replacing.
Record Is Played To Death
This one is a painful realization to come to. Sometimes you just play your record to death and the grooves wear out, resulting in a terrible sound.
That is why many of us get the vinyl and the download code and have a digital library as well as our precious vinyl collection.
For everyday listening the digital will do, but the vinyl gets pulled out when you want to really indulge. This way, you avoid playing the heck out of your vinyl and ruining it.
To determine if your vinyl is played out, look at a newer record next to the record in question. If you can see the record in question is noticeably flatter and has less contour on the surface, your record is played out. A record player needle sliding out of the groove is also a good indication.
Sadly, the only fix here is to get another record.
Prevention is the key to not let let this happen to you. I have multiples of some records just in case!
Speakers Blown Out
Speakers are like any other audio component and they do break sometimes. When a speaker is blown out it will produce a distorted and unpleasant sound.
It is extremely easy to determine if this is the issue. All you must do to diagnose a blown out speaker is to play a different source that isn’t your record player. I the sound is still bad, it is either the speakers or the amp.
Next take a close look at the speaker. You can often see a rip. If no rip is visible you may have to take out the speaker and look at the driver. Drivers can blow out too and when they do you can tell.
Of course, some speakers are just really low quality, too. This is often the case when you play a USB turntable through computer speakers.
Blown Out Speaker Fix
This will differ slightly depending on your speakers. For the kind of bookshelf speakers most people have you can either replace the single speaker that is blown out or the entire cabinet, which will usually have a woofer and mid as well as a tweeter.
You will have to do a cost analysis to see what makes the most sense for your situation. Personally, I would just replace the entire pair of speakers, because if one has blown the other is not far behind.
This happens to me all the time. You hear a bad sound coming from the record player and you look at the needle and there is a massive ball of grey dust stuck to the cartridge. This happens over time especially with turntables that do not have dust covers.
Dusty Needle Fix
You can get record cleaning kits that have brushes specifically made to gently remove dust from your needle. Just take the brush and gently remove the dust bunny that has attached itself to your needle.
If you do not have one of these brushes you can use a toothbrush, too. Just be very gentle! This article has a section on cleaning the needle.
Some Records Just Sound Really Bad
There are some records that just sound distorted. That is how they are recorded. To determine if that is what is going on, you can find an audio recording of your record on the internet and see if it sounds distorted like yours does.
If it does, there is nothing wrong. Your record was recorded to sound that way! This is often the case if they put too much music onto a single record.
Turntable Spinning Too Fast Or Too Slow
Turntable belts wear out after a while. When they do, they become loose and can slip. This can cause the turntable to spin at the wrong speed, which distorts the sound.
Spinning Speed Fix
There are a few additional reasons why a turntable might play too fast. Our article on turntables playing too fast details the possible reasons and offers fixes for them.
Turntable Sounds Distorted: Final Thoughts
There are a lot of reasons why a turntable might sound distorted. We have detailed the most common above and offered fixes for each one. Hopefully this has helped you diagnose and fix the issue in your case. If not, sometimes it helps to just get a good record player stand, so that your unit has a solid base to sit on.