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Everything You Need to Know About Tonearms

by Jeffery Huang on January 07, 2022


According to the work trajectory of turntables, tonearms are mostly divided into the straight cut arm (The Tangent Tonearm) and the curved arm (The Crankarm Tonearm). However, from different balance point of view, two types of Statically Balanced Arm and Dynamically Balanced Arm are normally delivered. Besides, when considering different kinds of bearings, it can be segmented into Gimbal Tonearm, Uni-Pivot Tonearm, Linear Tracking Tonearm and so on.


Tangent Tonearm

Tangent Tonearm Turntable is a record player that can reproduce the sound directly on the master disc. In 1977, the first straight cutting arm turntable was invented by Harman Kardon in the United States. The invention is based on the realization of the motor principle from the carving machine. Since then, the United States and then Japan issued the straight cutting arm record player. The most obvious characteristic of this type of tone arm is the sharp linear stable needle.The Tangent Tonearm 2Theoretically, it can reproduce music in a tangential position to maximize the playback quantity and is also called tangential direct recording. However, it is difficult to make such a high-precision mechanism in the real world. Currently there are some shortcomings in terms of manufacturing technology, application, as well as material, which have not been researched enough. The three main problems of the straight cut tonearm turntables are: First, large size and expensive production costs; Second, tough operations and high requirements for horizontal smoothness; Third, the Straight cutting traveling power almost non-existent, so it is difficult to achieve flexible activities.


Curved Arm Tonearm

The Curved Arm Tonearms is divided into S-, J-, and I- type. It is the oldest tone arm in the history of vinyl record players. In the 1940s, the concepts of ‘Overhang’ and ‘Offset Angle’ were first introduced to turntable arms, which later became the mainstream shape for curved-arm gramophones. A fixed angled design enabled the pivoting arm to move all around. The arm's overhang distance (usually 9 to 12 inches) and offset angle (around 20 degrees) are critical in reducing tracing errors. They are the major causes of tracing distortion under these designs. In a sense, the closer to a straight line a tonearm can get, the better tracking result will receive. However, from an engineering perspective view, linear tracking would introduce other problems such as increased mass, and flutter effects caused by friction in pivoting bearings.

  • I-Shape
The I-Shape tonearm (The Straight Tonearm) is generally divided into two kinds of characteristics - long arm and short arm. For the long straight tonearm, it has less tracking error, and its working principle issimilar to the S-shape; but the structure is more complex, mainly because it needs to install an antiskid device, which causes the weight heavier. Compared with S- or J-Type tonearm, the straight tonearm is simpler to produce, but the disadvantage is that it would exist more arm deviation and then worse the effect of sound interference. 
        直臂I型臂2     J型臂    S型臂
                       (I-Type)                         (J-Type)                                  (S-Type)
  • S-Shape & J-Shape

  S-shape and J-shape tonearms are curved arms that evolved from the straight arm. They are designed to solve the problems of overhang and stroke length. They allow a smooth, low friction ride with excellent tracing ability and good sound. This makes the sound quality more consistent, with reduced high-frequency distortion and improved overall tonal balance.Compared with I-shape tonearms, they require more detailed operations, which involve a significant factor - anti-skating. By correctly installing the stylus and cartridge, adjusting the needle pressure and counterweight, as well as setting up the proper height of the antiskid device, the sound quality of the S-shape & J-shape arm turntables are obviously better than the straight arm turntables. However, incorrect operation procedure would crack the needle or even damage the cartridge, thus, it is quite difficult to control.


Statical Balance & Dynamical Balance

Statically balanced arms and dynamically balanced arms are two different tonearm types of vinyl record players. The former has a counterbalance weight on its pivot point to provide a stable fulcrum for the tonearm to rest on and then minimize tracking errors. This helps to achieve high accuracy and minimal wear. However, it needs to consider the horizontal angle of the turntable.By contrast, a dynamically balanced tonearm, which is made up of four parts: upper pivot, lower pivot, spring, and magnetic force, doesn't account for the horizontal angle. It simply presses the needle tip through spring and magnetic force to stay in a balanced position. However, as use time increases, the parts inside dynamically balanced arm are prone to aging.



Gimbal bearingGimbal Tonearm is the most common type of tonearm, and the easiest one to set up. It is tried and tested to work effectively. The advantages are cost-effectiveness, consistent sound, and simple operation. However, the design and performance of a Gimbal tonearm can be fragmented and problematic at times – it’s worth remembering this. The Gimbal tonearm will ideally be serviced periodically as the bearings can degrade with age.
  • Uni-Pivot Bearing

The Uni-Pivot tonearm effectively eliminates friction and cuts tracing errors by allowing for a single point of contact between the arm tube and the pivot. This generates no unnecessary friction, so the cartridge will receive the maximum performance from a record's groove. This system is even leveraged with a spindle adjustable counterweight to create the perfect balance for the tonearm, and further reduces unnecessary resonances from record surfaces.

  • Linear Tracking Bearing
linear tracking tonearm

Linear Tracking Tonearm is a tonearm that moves a vinyl record in a linear straight line instead of pivoting the cartridge by the bearing. It is remarkable with the culmination of sound quality and elegant design. The result is a tough and touch-sensitive arm with lightning-fast tracking and a stable, low-vibration platform. This accurately controls lateral movements and minimizes distortion and other errors over conventional tonearms, making it the perfect choice for the vinyl playback system.


Reference List

  1. Groovy Wax (2021). Guide to Turntable Tonearms. Retrieved from https://www.groovywax.com/hifi-guides/buying-a-record-player-or-turntable/guide-to-turntable-tonearms/
  2. Toomey, R. (2021). What Is A Tonearm And How Does It Work?. Retrieved from https://www.upbeatgeek.co.uk/what-is-a-tonearm/
  3. Voxoa (2016). Introduction to Vinyl Series (3) Types of Vinyl Turntable Tone Arm. Retrieved from http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_8282d5700102wis3.html
  4. Youtube Music Sucks (2020). Turntable Tonearm Types – A Quick Guide. Retrieved from https://youtubemusicsucks.com/turntable-tonearm-types/
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