Ok… So this is a large, complicated topic that I’m tackling here but I’ll try to distill it down to the basics without going down too many rabbit holes, many of which can be debated ad-infinitum.
Wether you buy your turntable new or used, vintage or modern it will need to be set up properly for good results. I’ll preface this discussion by assuming you have a reasonably good quality turntable which is capable of the most basic setup options. This isn’t bargain basement territory, but then nothing found on this blog is. Sure, there are some inexpensive ways to improve sound quality found on these pages here (post), but most discussions are catered towards high end gear. So if you have a vintage or modern mid-fi turntable have fun with the retro vinyl revolution, expect any records you buy to be trashed and forever lost to audiophile sound quality, and… have fun! Seriously. People are having fun listing to records on vinyl again for reasons that have nothing to do with sound quality, which is great. It’s just not the crowd this post is written for.
So any reasonably good quality turntable will provide many ways to set it up for your listening environment and your chosen phono cartridge. Let’s progress from the most common to the more esoteric:
Leveling – Most any turntable will provide methods to level the platter. Variable feet are probably the most common and simple. Throw a small hardware store level on your platter and keep working it until it’s nearly spot-on level in all orientations. All good? Time to move on.
Stylus Tracking Force – After leveling, this is the most basic of turntable functions. Many vintage turntables have tracking force in grams stenciled onto the tonearm counterweight itself and you start by zeroing the tone arm where it is perfectly horizontally balanced and then you dial in the recommended stylus force shown on the counterweight. But I’ve never found this method to be accurate enough and sometimes it’s so far off that it could damage your stylus and/or records so… you’re gonna have to purchase another item for your turntable setup kit – a good quality stylus force gage.