How to Care for Your Vinyl Records
There is no doubt that vinyl is back. The sense of nostalgia, the great sound quality and the exceptional packaging are just some of the reasons why vinyl is emerging as one of the most popular ways to enjoy music.
But one downside of vinyl is, it can get damaged easily. Records can warp, scratch or break. The covers can fray over time bringing down the value of the album. That’s why it’s so important to know how to care for vinyl properly.
If you are a vinyl enthusiast that wants to do everything you can to keep your records intact, read on for some useful tips.
Store Your Records Properly
Records should always be stored vertically. This will keep them from warping. If you don’t have a shelf in your house tall enough to accommodate your records, a plastic bin is a terrific solution.
Extreme temperatures and humidity can also warp albums. Therefore, you will want to store them in a cool dry place.
Dirt, dust and oil can get into the grooves of the record to negatively affect sound quality. They can also do damage to your phonograph stylus.
To minimize damage from particles in the air, put your record in its inner and outer sleeve before putting it away.
Consider Upgrading Your Inner and Outer Sleeves
Records are typically sold in a thin paper sleeve that does not do much to protect your record. Furthermore, paper particles from the sleeve can scratch the record and rob it of its antistatic properties.
Therefore, you may consider purchasing more durable sleeves for storage. Polyethylene lined inner sleeves are an easy to find, cost effective solution. They will keep your record free from dust and help protect the cover art.
You can also buy double sleeves. These have two pockets, one for the cover and one for the vinyl. They provide a great way to protect all elements of your album.
Avoid Touching the Vinyl
As mentioned earlier in the article, dirt and oil can damage vinyl and fingertips are no exception. The oil in our skin along with any dirt remnants can get into the groove of the vinyl to negatively affect sound quality.
To keep albums as clean as possible, hold them using the palms of your hands on the outer edges and touch only the center label. If touching the album is unavoidable (such as when you are pulling it out of its sleeve) touch it gently using as little contact as possible.
Clean Your Records
Cleaning records will also minimize dirt and oil that can affect sound quality. There are several ways you can clean your record including the following.
Carbon Fiber Record Brush
The carbon brush will prevent dust, dirt and static build up and should be used before and after you play your records. It features 12,000 conductive fibers in a two row configuration that pulls out dust and dirt.
To use the brush, hold it gently above the record so the fibers just skim the surface. Hold it in place while allowing the record to spin. Most of the dirt will gather in the front fibers.
Then lift the brush to allow the rear fibers to pick up anything the front fibers may have missed. Repeat if necessary.
After using the brush to clean the record, you should follow up by cleaning the brush itself. This will keep the dust that accumulated from ending up on the surface of the next record you clean.
To clean the brush, rock the fibers through the handle. That way you won’t have to touch the brush with your oily fingers, and it will be ready for the next use.
Some people say that you should use the carbon brush by moving it from the edge of the record to the center to clean it. However, using this method may cause scratches.
Use a Record Cleaner
You can also clean records using a record cleaner. A record cleaner is preferable to water that can contain mineral deposits that can scratch the record.
Record cleaner solutions are specially designed to clean records without scratching or leaving any residue behind.
Before cleaning the record, you will want to make sure there are no loose particles on the record that might scratch it during the cleaning process. You can remove particles with a carbon brush or a soft cloth.
Next, wrap a clean, soft cloth over your index finger and dip it into the cleaning liquid. You only want to use enough to get the cloth damp. You should not leave behind any excess wetness.
When cleaning, start in the center of the record and run your cloth covered finger along the grooves moving clockwise. Keep going until you get to the edge of the record.
Then reverse directions so you are starting at the center of the record moving counterclockwise. It is a good idea to change out cloths before proceeding so you don’t put any residue dirt and dust back on the record.
While cleaning the record, you will want to keep your finger flat. If your fingernail makes contact with the record, it can do damage.
If you see any wetness after you are finished cleaning the record, use a dry part of the cloth to dab it away.
After cleaning, you may want to go over the record with a carbon brush again.
If the record is still dirty, repeat the process.
Note, there are also record cleaning kits available that come with cleaners and brushes that can be used instead of a cloth.
Vinyl Vacuum Cleaners
A vinyl vacuum cleaner is the easiest and most effective way to clean a record. However, the product is also quite expensive and may only be worth the investment for professional collectors.
Using a vinyl vacuum cleaner is easy. All you need to do is remove the excess dust and debris. Then apply the cleaning fluid and put the record in the cleaner.
The cleaner will suck out the cleaning fluid and remove any dirt from the grooves.
Record Cleaning Machine
Record cleaning machines are another option for keeping vinyl in good shape. Each works a bit differently, but essentially, you will have to set up the device, add the cleaning fluid and rotate the disk a few times.
The machine works to effectively clean both sides of the record at once. It’s much like a hand cleaning process but faster and perhaps more effective.
Ultrasonic cleaning uses high frequency sound waves to create cavitation bubbles in a bath of water of cleaning agent. The bubbles produce a force that cleans items well without causing any abrasion. It is effective in penetrating all grooves of the album and removing dust, dirt, oil, grease and fungus, all with minimal contact.
Ultrasonic cleaning can be used for a variety of items. If you are using an ultrasonic cleaning device to clean records, you will want to get a motorized attachment that will rotate your records during the cleaning process.
Smaller attachments will clean one record while larger ones can clean up to twelve at a time.
While industrial ultrasonic cleaning machines can cost thousands of dollars, manufacturers have made smaller ones made for cleaning vinyl that come with attachments for a few hundred dollars.
That’s still a lot for casual vinyl listeners but it could be a good investment for serious collectors.
Antistatic Cleaning Arm
Antistatic cleaning arms are not made specifically for vinyl, but they will do the trick.
They have their own stands and can be set up next to your record player, ideally on the side opposite of where the stylus is located.
The brush attachment will sit directly on top of the vinyl to eliminate dust and static.
Antistatic arms can be applied while the record is playing, or you can turn the record on the turntable manually to allow the brush to clean it.
Your stylus is the little needle on the arm of the phonograph that runs over the record to pick up the sound. Because the stylus is in direct contact with the record, it is essential to give it proper care and attention. If the stylus is damaged, it could damage the surface of your record.
A stylus will need to be changed out every so often. Experts recommend that you change it out after one thousand hours of playing time. So if you use your record player for about an hour a day, you will need to change it out every couple of years.
It’s important to care for your stylus between changes. This will prolong the life of the stylus and ensure that it is not doing any damage to the surface of the album. Here are some tips for proper stylus care.
Clean Your Stylus
It goes without saying that you will want to keep your stylus clean. It is recommended to clean your stylus once a week although some dedicated listeners will clean them after every spin.
There are several ways to clean your stylus including the following.
Carbon fiber brushes are effective in cleaning albums, but they can also clean stylus brushes.
To clean your stylus with a carbon brush, hold the tone arm steady. Then move the brush across the stylus in the same direction the album spins in.
You can add a record cleaner to the brush to make the process more effective.
There are also eraser products that can be used to clean the stylus. Just cut off a small square of the eraser and rub the stylus against it until it is no longer leaving a residue behind.
Stylus cleaners will also do the trick. These are specially designed products that work quickly and easily. All you need to do it place the stylus into the cleaner. Lift it up and all dirt will be removed.
The cartridge is the case that holds your stylus. It is important to make sure your cartridge is properly aligned. If you want your records to sound their best and you don’t want any damage to occur to your stylus or vinyl when your record is being played, proper cartridge alignment is necessary.
Here are some factors that should be considered in cartridge alignment.
Vertical Tracking Force (VTF) measures the amount of pressure the stylus applies to the record when spinning. It accounts for the tonearm’s suspension and how it can be affected by gravity.
Your owner’s manual will let you know what the recommended VTF is. It will typically range between 1.5g and 2g.
If the tracking force is too light, it will not track properly and the stylus could pop out and skim across the record scratching the surface.
If the tracking is too heavy, it will put pressure on the surface area causing it to wear down negatively affecting sound quality.
While there are devices you can use to measure VTF, one foolproof way to tell if yours is in a decent range is to listen. Adjust the tracking pressure and use your ear to determine what pressure sounds best. If the record sounds good, chances are you’ve achieved the perfect force.
Overhang refers to the distance the stylus extends beyond the central spindle of the headshell. Ideally, the cartridge should be aligned to the record’s arc.
If this is not the case, you can adjust it using the overhang gauge. Sometimes phonographs will come with an overhang gauge or you may have to make one yourself.
Stylus overhang should be around 15-16 mm. If your model came with a pre-mounted cartridge and stylus, it’s likely that your overhang is on point.
Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) refers to the angle of the stylus in reference to the record’s groove. It can be adjusted by raising or lowering the tone arm from behind.
A Neutral VTA is achieved when the tonearm is parallel to the platter. If the VTA is Negative the cartridge will slope to the back. If it’s positive, the cartridge will slope down towards the front of the headshell.
Once again, finding the perfect tracking angle may be a case of trial and error. Use your ear when adjusting to find an angle that’s ideal.
When you look at your cartridge from the front, you will notice that it tilts a bit to the right. This tilt is known as the Azimuth.
If the cartridge is completely straight or tilts to the left, it will need to be adjusted or it won’t fit into the groove properly.
Adjusting the azimuth is not easy. You can’t just eyeball it to get it to the right angle and you will probably need a magnifying glass to see the individual parts.
Fortunately, Azimuth testers can be used to make the process easier. You can use the tester to measure the cartridge separation. It will monitor the angle as you tune to let you know when it is properly positioned.
Anti-skating is the turntable’s built-in counterforce. It keeps tonearms from being pulled as the record is rotating.
Anti-skating will typically be ideal when it’s adjusted to the same pressure as your tracking force. However, some say you can simply put the stylus in the groove to see if the stylus is moving outward or inward. Adjust as necessary until it’s stable.
Other Phonograph Care Tips
While the stylus may be the most important component of your phonograph when it comes to keeping your albums protected, general phonograph care will also be helpful. Here are some tips for keeping both your phonograph and records in the best shape possible.
Make Sure Your Turntable is Level
To keep your records in shape and sound quality high, you will want to make sure your turntable lies flat. If it doesn’t, it can cause the tracking force to fluctuate so that it damages the disc.
Make sure your phonograph is on level ground. If it is, and it’s still tilting, see if you can adjust the legs to obtain optimal balance.
Place Your Phonograph Away from the Speakers
Sound produces vibration. These vibrations can cause trace amount of feedback to distort the sound of the record. They can also shake the magnets in the cartridge excessively.
To ensure your phonograph is not damaged by sound vibration, it is best to place it away from the speakers. If you place it on a heavy table or in an area adjacent to the speakers, it should be fine.
Clean Your Phonograph
Just like you want to keep your records and stylus clean, you will also want to keep other components of your phonograph clean. This will prevent dirt and dust buildup from getting onto your albums and into your stylus.
The player can be cleaned using a microfiber dusting cloth. If there is noticeable build up, you may want to use a very pure form of alcohol or a record cleaning solution to clean the individual components.
Vinyl is valuable. Don’t let your get damaged due to a lack of care. These tips will ensure your vinyl is well maintained. What do you like to do to keep your records in great shape?