Vinyl Care: Looking After Your Records
Look after your valuable collection with Andy Price’s guide to keeping your actively played records, and your player, in tip-top condition
So you’ve amassed hundreds (if not thousands) of records, which you intend to play regularly. You might be a dyed-in-the-wool collector who’s been buying vinyl since it was the singular format for music consumption, or maybe you’re a newcomer to record-buying, attracted to their physicality or by audiophiles finally convincing you about frequencies and fidelity.
Anyway, this article is broadly aimed at both of these ends of the collector spectrum. It’s likely that if you fall into the seasoned collector camp, you’ll be versed in at least some form of vinyl care – but the relative newcomers will be unfamiliar with ‘looking after’ your music collection in this way.
In these days of mobile storage and high-quality streaming, the act of cleaning and dusting your albums might seem archaic.
Yet in many ways, it’s just one of the many factors which adds to the charm of the format, being something of a ritual appreciation of the records you want to preserve, as well as being an essential part of keeping your albums in good condition for a longer time.
Eye On The Needle
The threats to your records are numerous and each can affect your discs in different ways: from impairing the clarity of the audio to skipping and even, in a worst-case scenario, rendering them unplayable.
But before we focus on the threats to your records themselves, we should highlight the importance of looking after your player, and more specifically, your stylus.
The stylus is the part of the player that runs through the groove, generating the electrical signal that results in your audio – therefore, it’s fundamental that you don’t allow your stylus to become caked in dust, grime or, well, anything really.
It’s often best practice to give your stylus a clean with a dedicated solution and fine brush regularly, if not after each play.
There are many different types of stylus cleaner around which you can pick up affordably for under £5; they’re worth their weight in gold. Be sure to always run your brush over the stylus in the same direction that the record spins.
Be liberal with your application of the liquid but remember to clean and brush your stylus regularly. Also, check (as much as you can) that there isn’t anything nasty affixed to it.
Eventually, no matter how frequently you clean it, your stylus will naturally start to wear and need replacing. We’d recommend you purchase a brand-new cartridge after around two -to-three years of regular playing.
Replacing the cartridge also combats the possibility of the suspension stiffening, which tends to happen with poorer quality cartridges after around four years. Bear in mind that even if your needle is spotlessly clean, a cartridge with degraded suspension can damage your collection. So, to reiterate – get your cartridge changed after a couple of years.
Making sure your tonearm balances is another way of making sure you’re not unintentionally damaging your records and ensuring you’re getting the best audio quality out of them.
Many newer, more cheaply built record players will have both the arm and cartridge preassembled, so there’s nothing much you can do about it; but midrange to high-budget record players will allow you to modify the alignment and weight of the arm.
Your tonearm may have adjustable controls near the cartridge, which allow you to tweak the height at which it meets the record. We recommend that for listening purposes, you set it as level as possible.
The counterweight at the opposite end of the tonearm is arguably the more important tonearm control: if you set the weight too high or low, then the resulting sound can be either too thin or muffled respectively.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll find newer players will come with this setting predetermined and unmodifiable, whereas higher end players should state the optimal tonearm settings in their manuals. However, it’s important to bear this in mind and to periodically check that all is aligned correctly.
Of course, it’s not just your player that needs TLC – and in fact, it’s your prized records themselves which require the most day-to-day maintenance.
The build-up of static electricity that is produced simply by the action of playing a record sucks in dust, grime and all kinds of foreign airborne particles. Giving them a general clean is normally a two-fold process.
First, using a carbon-fibre, anti-static brush is the best way to get all the deep-seated particles of dust up to the surface before following up with a record cleaning spray and a final wipe with a microfibre cloth.
There are numerous different brands on the market, but they all function in the same way, and the above process is very effective. You might not need to spray your records with solution every time, as long as you give them a wipe with the brush before or after each play.
Antistatic carbon-fibre brushes are generally the best singular cleaning method for your records.
When you use one, brush your records in a circular motion (in the direction of play), which will prevent dust build-up on the stylus and sucks up most of the dust and particles from within your disc.
Make sure you run the brush to the centre, otherwise it can deposit all the collected dust on your record!
However, if you’re really serious about preserving your records in bulk for a really long period, then you might want to consider investing in a vacuum-based record cleaner. The way one of these works is by inserting the record into a container, while a liquid cleaning fluid is applied, soaking up the dirt.
Then the vacuum power sucks out the liquid, along with every particle of additional grime your record has accumulated. This process, it’s claimed, returns your records to a state of near straight-from-the-factory cleanliness.
Keeping Them Clean
1: Keeping your records clean is a vital part of ensuring their longevity. It’s often an idea to clean the records while they’re sitting on your turntable, turning the record in the cleaning direction
2: Here, we liberally apply some record-cleaning spray before drying with a microfibre cloth. Ensure that the record is dry before playing, as otherwise, it can embed deep-seated dust and dirt even more
3: It’s also wise to keep your player itself as dust-free as possible. When you’re giving your records a clean, make sure the area in which they’re going to sit is as free of dust as possible
4: Here, we’re cleaning our stylus with a very small, fine brush – this should be done regularly, as the act of playing a record, particularly an older one, causes dust to be collected by the needle
5: Here’s our Stylus Clear stylus-cleaning fluid, ordered from www.vinylclear.com. Perhaps the most readily available is made by Hama, which makes a range of useful cleaning products
6: Our Acc-Sees Velvet Antistatic Brush that we use to clean the fine grooves of our records. This not only attracts deep-seated dust to it, but also prevents dust sticking to the stylus
If you’re a collector rather than a player, then you may think your records are safe and sound if you just don’t play them – think again! How and where you store your records has a massive bearing on their sound and lifespan.
It’s usually recommended that you store your records vertically and not horizontally, to prevent leaning and eventual warping. However, if your records are stored vertically without considerable lean, then it’s okay for the immediate future.
Temperature, too, plays an important part. Keep them in a cool area and away from direct sunlight and/or extreme humidity, as over time, the effects of heat can loosen the plastic and cause it to warp irregularly, which results in groove issues.
After each play, remember to put your records in their sleeves and inside the cover. A no-brainer, you might think? Yet it’s amazing how many people, particularly newcomers to vinyl, leave their records on the turntable for days on end.
This is just asking for a dirty, dust-filled record, and if you have a closeable plastic lid on your record player, then it should be closed during the playing process.
On the same note, we should stress that you should always handle your records by the edges and not touch the inner area containing the grooves, you’d be amazed by how much grease and dirt are on your hands – even if you’ve just washed them.
Change the Record
So, let’s just go back through what we’ve discussed here and break it down into several easy-to-recall vinyl care bullet points:
● Take good care of your player, tonearm and stylus, cleaning and replacing as necessary
● Make sure your individual records are periodically cleaned with the appropriate tools and using the methods we’ve discussed
● Return your records to their sleeves immediately after play
● Store your records in a cool environment, (preferably) horizontally and (certainly) in their sleeves
That’s a very brief summary of the fundamental processes that you’ll need to religiously follow if you want a healthy and clean record collection which you can enjoy for years.
In future issues of Long Live Vinyl, we’ll take more in-depth looks at each of these processes – but for now, we’ll let this guide to keeping your record collection happy sink in…
1: This stylus has worn down a little over the last few years and needs to be replaced. It doesn’t matter how frequently we clean it, the accumulated (and visible) gunk is causing poor sound reproduction and hiss. Time to buy a new one
2: When ordering a new stylus, make sure it meets the exact specification for your record player. If not (or even if it’s just slightly too heavy), it can cause all manner of issues
3: Here, we’ve (carefully) affixed our new yellow stylus. Don’t immediately throw out your previous stylus, as you’ll need to guarantee there’s nothing amiss with the new one
Vinyl Care – A Buyers Guide
1: This Vinyl Revival all-in-one cleaner package contains two separate 250ml fluids for cleaning and rinsing your records, as well as two microfibre cloths, and costs around £15
2: The Spin Clean will set you back around £150, but it contains a basin to house your record and two brushes, which give your record a mechanical clean. A good purchase if you’re cleaning up a lot of older, neglected records
3: The VPI HW-16 is a piece of kit that’s been around for around 30 years. Containing vacuum tubing and a suction motor, this is a professional cleaning machine that’ll have your records back to pristine condition in no time. They’re worth around £650
4: Here, we have the KLAUDIO KD-CLN-LP200 which, using the same advanced technology used to clean circuit boards, generates high-frequency ultrasonic waves which can dislodge every particle of foreign matter from your record.
It’s possibly the best system you can get to return your records to better-than-brand-new condition… If you’re got a spare £4,400, that is