Project "Cheap Turntable"

Recently I purchased a Pioneer PL514 turntable as a fun project in order to see what I could do to on the cheap side of sound with modifications. This table was a fully automatic belt drive model that was built around 1978-79. It's Plinth is a 2 inch MDF and it has an S shaped tone arm with a detachable head shell.

Here are the mods that were done.

1) All mechanical parts that operated the fully auto return were removed. I did not want any unwanted vibrations getting to the arm.

2) A new on/off switch was installed so that the unit could be engaged on/off manually.

3) A Canare/Nuetrik cable was stalled to replace the cheapo cable that came attached.

4) The platter was sprayed with a damping material used in car sound automotive.

5) Motor was relubed.

6) Spindle bearing was replaced with a higher quality one and relubed.

7) Head shell was replaced by an Aluminum stamped one. Not the greatest but better than the Plastic one it came with.

8) Arm was wrapped with shrink tubing to eliminate any higher resonance and to better secured the detachable head shell.

9) Installed a AT 440 cartridge that I bought here for $45.00

10) Belt was replaced.

The outcome was really surprising. Comparing it to my Well Tempered Record Player/Benz Glider or Meridian 506.20/MSB GOLD LINK III the Pioneer did very well. No it didn't slay the WTRP but it did come very close to the MERIDIAN/MSB and for a fraction of the cost.

The mod that created the greatest improvement was the shrink tubing/tone arm wrap, which allowed the bass to be deeper, better defined and with more punch. (I would suggest this mod for other tables!!!!!!!! I might even try it on my WTRP)

Last night after, applying the last tweak, I listen to the table for over three hours and I have to admit I was extremely impressed that a 25 year old budget table could actually sound so good. Now that I have had my fun, the table has been sold to a friend who wants to give vinyl a spin.

In a nut shell, I was really surprised with the final results and with the total package costing around $125.00 it is a no brainer, easy project for someone who wants to get into vinyl on the cheap.
The best thing about your project was the fact that you had some fun! Sometimes we forget....
Neat experiment! Before others just run out any buy some shrink wrap on your recommendation without giving it much thought, how much mass did this shrink wrap actually add to your arm and did it in any way alter the relationship of the mass of the arm and the compliance of your cartridge?
I didn't weigh it but I would guess around a gram or two. The AT cartridge started off light at 6.5 grams, so the extra weight was a non-issue.

My best guess is that it tamed the resonating frequency and created a better bond between the cartridge shell and the arm. Without running test it is hard to actually say why it improved the sound but it did. Also, it didn't cost more than a dime to install since I already had some along with a heat gun. If I didn't like the results I could just remove it.

I would caution others to beware of the high temperature of the heat gun. You don't want to transmit the heat to you cartridge or directly heat other parts that could be damaged.

I wish that I had a Grado Platinum to see how much better the table would sound with an even better cartridge than the cheap AT. Before the wrap I put the Glider on the table and noticed an improvement so I would assume that the wrap would even allow better performance now. Maybe I can try it out with the Glider/wrap before sending it out. If only the clips on the WTRP were less fragile so I didn't have to worry about breaking and resoldering them.
Further suggestions:

My suggestions for anyone else thinking about doing the same is to look for the following
Qualities in a table:

1) Belt Drive
2) Solid Plinth, nothing made of plastic
3) Decent tone arm with bearing that are smooth with little to no play.
4) Simple design. “The less the table has the better to mod.” Something that has all the bells and whistles, i.e., computerized fully automatic controls is less desirable than fully manual. You basically want to remove all variables that may negatively affect the sound, so just having a motor, belt, platter, plinth and arm system leaves you with ingredients that can result in a greater sonic outcome.
5) Have fun and experiment.