This glossary has ordinary as well as obscure terms used in the vinyl record hobby, defined (to the best of my ability) in plain English. It will be edited, updated and added to regularly. If there is a term you would like defined or added, send me an email!
Anti-skating: adjustment to counteract the natural skating tendency in a radially-tracking tonearm.
Belt drive: drive system using a belt and an electric motor to spin the platter.
Cantilever: in a phono cartridge, the tiny wand that holds the stylus (needle.)
Cartridge: the cartridge, or phono cartridge, is the component that reads the information in the grooves of the record and turns it into an electrical signal for reproduction.
Ceramic cartridge: a primitive phono cartridge design, no longer used in high fidelity record playback equipment. Ceramic cartridges use crystals to generate the electrical signal through a piezoelectric effect. They cause higher record wear than other types of cartridges and are best avoided.
Conical stylus: cone-shaped, the most basic kind of stylus.
Crystal cartridge: see ceramic cartridge
Deadwax: The silent grooves at the end of a record.
Direct drive: drive system where the electric motor spins the platter directly, without any belts or intermediary parts.
Elliptical stylus: an upgrade from a conical stylus, an elliptical stylus has a smaller, elliptical shape to extract more information from the grooves of the record while causing less wear.
Headshell: the part of the tonearm that holds the cartridge. Some tonearms have removable headshells, allowing quick cartridge changes.
High output moving coil cartridge: a moving coil cartridge with higher electrical output, approximately the same or just a bit below a typical moving magnet cartridge. High output moving coil cartridges can be used with a moving magnet phono input.
Idler drive: Turntable drive system that uses a powered wheel to spin the turntable platter.
Laterally-tracking tonearm: tonearm that moves left to right across the record to track the grooves.
Line-level output: An audio connection with output voltage comparable to that of a CD player, tuner or other typical audio component.
LP: Long play
MicroLine stylus: High-end stylus design, an upgrade over an elliptical stylus. MicroLine stylii extract a great deal of detail from the record, track the grooves very well and cause minimal wear.
Moving coil cartridge: A cartridge that uses fine metal coils to generate the electrical signal, moving coil cartridges are known for excellent sound quality but are more demanding of the user and the playback system, The very lowcoutput voltage id a small fraction of a moving magnet cartridge and unless it is a high output moving coil, you need a moving coil setting on the phono preamp to use this kind of cartridge.
Moving iron cartridge: a cartridge that uses a small piece of iron that moves between magnets and coils to create an electrical signal. It shares some of the qualities of both moving magnet (high electrical output) and moving coil cartridges (fine sound quality) but may have a susceptibility to hum on some direct-drive turntables.
Moving magnet cartridge: the most common type of cartridge, a moving magnet cartridge uses tiny magnets attached to the cantilever to create an electrical signal. Moving magnet cartridges produce a higher voltage signal than moving coil cartridges, and almost all of them have removable, replaceable stylus assemblies. Moving magnet cartridges work well with most turntables and tonearms and are available across a wide price range. These factors make them by far the most popular and numerous cartridge type.
Needle: see Stylus
Phono input: highly sensitive input on a receiver or amplifier that can only be used with a phono-level (not line level) output from a turntable. A phono input leads to a phono preamp inside the receiver or amplifier. Most phono inputs are designed for moving magnet cartridges, though some may also have a moving coil (MC) setting as well.
Phono preamp: A device that amplifies and applies RIAA equalization to the weak electrical signal from a phono cartridge, creating a line-level output that can be played back by other electronic components. Phono preamps are available as standalone components, and are also sometimes integrated into receivercs, amplifiers and turntables themselves.
Platter: the spinning circular disc that holds the record for playback.
Plinth: the body of the turntable.
Radial-tracking tonearm: pivoted tonearm design, by far the most common type of tonearm.
RIAA equalization: RIAA stands for Recording Industry Association of America. RIAA equalization is applied both when a vinyl record is created, and when it is played back, to create accurate sound.
Shibata stylus: exotic (and usually, expensive) stylus shape designed to fit nearly perfectly in the record groove, yielding extremely high quality sound, even from worn records, and low record wear. Shibata styli are also some of the most demanding, requiring very precise mounting, alignment and VTA adjustment.
Skating:the tendency of the cartridge and tonearm to glide across, or “skate” across the record rather than keeping the stylus in the groove.
Stylus: A removable assembly in moving magnet (and most moving iron) cartridges, consisting of a stylus, cantilever and an interface for the cartridge body. Many cartridges can be upgraded and the sound improved by changing the stylus.
Stylus (needle): the diamond that sits in the record groove. (The plural of stylus is both styluses and styli.)
Tonearm: the arm that holds the cartridge and allows it to track the grooves of a record.
Tracking force: The amount of downforce applied to the stylus, typically set by a weight on the opposite end of the tonearm. Optimal tracking force will differ depending on the cartridge. Setting the proper tracking force is important to achieve the best sound quality and minimize record wear.
Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA): the angle at which the stylus rests in the record groove. Some tonearm so have adjustable VTA, others require shims between the plinth and tonearm to adjust VTA. Many audiophiles do not think VTA adjustment is critical, since records themselves differ in thickness, which changes VTA. Others think it is important with certain stylus shapes, such as Shibata styli.