What’s so important about alignment?
The groove on a modern record is incredibly narrow – around 2.2 thousandths of an inch (0.0022") at the top. On a stereo record, each groove contains the music for both Left and Right stereo channels at once, so there’s a stack of information that the stylus needs to read carefully in a very tight space. Depending on the type of stylus, your cartridge only needs to be out by a small fraction to emphasise one side over the other, leading to lost detail and less natural-sounding music. A poorly aligned cartridge can also cause problems like distortion or a humming sound when playing records, and nobody wants that!
The good news is that it’s easy to get your alignment right, and make sure your cartridge is picking up all the details it’s supposed to. If you’re using a cartridge like the OM 5E or a 2M Red/2M Blue, you can use Ortofon’s Alignment Card to make sure your cartridge is sitting pretty. It’s easy to use, and has a helpful overhang guide (which can be a confusing thing to get your head around).
If you’re serious enough about vinyl that you’ve got a 2M Bronze or 2M Black, you might want to invest in the Align It, which gives you more ways to achieve perfect alignment.