It's very easy to fall down the sonic rabbit hole searching for the absolute best sound that vinyl has to offer. Swapping out gear, room treatments, speaker placement, and chasing down rare pressings are all a part of that journey.
Frankly, I highly encourage getting lost in it. At least a little. It wasn’t until I really got into examining and, more importantly, experimenting with all of the various factors that go into finding the sounds I like that I really understood my system and what each component of it contributes.
With that in mind, there’s an aspect of vinyl playback that sometimes gets overlooked by those new to the hobby. An invisible disrupting influence you may not even know is throwing you off your path. Not to get overly woo here, but, everything is vibrations—and you have to do your best to control them.
Turntables are sensitive creatures and react to what’s going on around them. Heavy footsteps, passing traffic, and even the thundering bass produced by the records they play can degrade the sound coming from your table.
The stylus and cartridge (or cart) are designed to take microscopic movements and convert them into an electrical signal. The tone arm the cart is mounted to is resonant—as is the plinth (or base) that the entire turntable is built on. Any vibration picked up by any of these can be converted into music-obscuring noise.
While you may not notice this while it's happening, you will definitely hear the difference once it stops. Addressing vibration is one of the easiest, cheapest ways to tune up your rig.
A good first line of defense against bad vibes should be looking at some new feet. There’s a very good chance that the stock feet on your turntable are transferring vibrations to the plinth. Fortunately, you can change those out with feet designed to take care of this very situation. There are many kinds of isolation feet, but a few good examples are Pro-Ject Damp-It Turntable Damping Feet and Vibrapod Isolators and Cones.
As noted, you don’t have to just use them on your table. If placed under bookshelf speakers, they will help limit the amount of vibration being transferred from the speaker to the shelf it is sitting on, which, in turn, can limit the transference to the turntable. The cone-shaped feet work under a simple theory: between a stereo component and a source of vibration, there should be as little shared surface area as possible. Some people think that this reduction of coverage affects tone, so you may want to experiment.
Other solutions include using a dense layer of material under your turntable feet, such as a hockey puck or heavy blocks of wood. Heck, I’ve even seen people make their own replacement feet using tennis balls cut in half. The end result should be that the feet (or what is immediately under them) absorbs any and all vibrations, without passing them along.
Another point of entry for vibration is the space your turntable rests on. Sure, you may have a sturdy shelf/stand/pile of boxes holding up your deck, but think about it: Vibration travels through the floor, up the structure your table is on, and straight to your plinth.
A solid plan is to decouple your turntable from whatever it is sitting on. This is often done by using a solid wood base and some vibration-absorbing material. In this scenario, you would have your turntable (upgraded with new feet) sitting on, say, a thick piece of butcher block, which then uses isolation feet of its own.
Another common approach is to layer different types of material in order to have a strong base that defuses vibration between the layers. For example, you can have your turntable supported by not only that butcher block with isolation feet, but have that sit on another block with feet of its own. An illustration of this is available on the Vibrapod website, an example of what the company calls a Vibrapod Sandwich.
Some have found success having just a rubber mat between two layers of heavy, non-resonant slabs. There have even been adventurous souls that built their own bases by sandwiching a partially inflated bike tire inner tube between two layers of heavy material like marble.
Whichever way you go, keep in mind the total weight of the turntable and whatever layers you might be using. Soft, rubbery feet will not disperse vibration well if they are squashed by a weight they were never intended to hold. Many manufactures of isolation feet and bases will provide weight ratings for their products. If you’re brewing your own, this consideration may require some experimentation. But that’s all part of the fun.
Whether by these or other methods of your own devising, an isolated turntable is going to produce clearer music for you to enjoy.