There’s a pretty good chance that many people who are visiting this site have never before touched, used, or even seen a vinyl record player. So if you have decided that you are interested in getting one, now is a good time to learn how this delicate machine needs to be operated.
One of the big advantages of CDs is that you can treat them pretty roughly and, unless they are deeply and very badly scratched, you’ll hear no degradation in the music playback. That’s because usually nothing ever touches the CD other than laser light and the actual music data is sandwiched on an aluminum platter deep between two clear plastic discs.
A vinyl and a record player are very much in contact with each other. The stylus (or needle, as it’s also known) traces a groove within which the sound’s waveform has been physically engraved. This means that not only does the needle itself wear out from friction, the vinyl itself degrades slightly with every playback.
If the player is operated improperly you stand the chance of damaging the record or even the player, so let’s go over the right way to work with your record player. I have also written a separate article on how to properly take care of the vinyls themselves, which I recommend you read directly after this one.
Before you even switch your turntable on, you have to make sure that it is in an environment that ensures it won’t malfunction or get damaged. It should be on a level surface and, if possible, on something that will dampen shocks and vibration. You can buy special anti-vibration stands and I have reviewed a few here that you can have a look at.
Wherever you place your record player, it should not be near water or where it might suffer from high humidity. Moisture can quickly cause serious problems with the various components of a turntable. You should also try to put the equipment in a place where there is not excessive dust.
Now let’s look at how you would actually go about playing a record.
Place Your Bets
Many turntables have a plastic dust cover either as a hinged attachment or as a completely separate piece. Before you begin you need to either lift up or remove the dust cover in order to access the turntable itself. After playback has started you can replace it if it is a hinged type, but do so carefully so as not to induce needle skipping, which can damage both the needle and record.
If it is the separate type I recommend that you don’t try to put it back once playback has started, since you run the risk of damaging both the record and the player itself if you place it improperly.
Some turntables have a circular dust cover made of felt on the platter itself. Also remove this before going any further. Make sure that the platter is not revolving before you place the record on it. Some players have a manual switch to start the turning motion of the platter, others are linked to the tone arm being lifted. If the switch was in the on position when the turntable was turned off it may spring to life when the power is connected. Regardless of your situation, do not put a vinyl record onto a revolving platter.
Remember to have the turntable set to the correct RPM setting for the type of record you want to play.
Start Your Engines
Once you have the vinyl safely placed on the platter you can start it up by flipping the rotation switch or lifting the tone arm.
Some models have a “cue” switch which lifts the tonearm a set distance above the spinning record. This allows you to position the tonearm exactly above the spot where it should be to start the music.
If your turntable does not have a cue level then you may have to manually lit and place it on the vinyl. Some fully automatic turntables will place their needle themselves, so that you don’t have to worry about this.
If you do have to place the needle, do it smoothly and precisely. Do not let the needle drop onto the record. You should hear a minimum of popping and hissing.
Shortly after the needle has been placed your music should start. You can then listen to that side of the album. On most record players the tonearm will automatically lift and replace itself. Rarely, a model will not do this automatically and you will have to manually replace the needle or risk the tonearm bumping against the end of its range and scratching your vinyl. It’s very unlikely however, since such turntables are not commonly sold.
Remember to stop the turntable completely before flipping the record over to the other side. Then repeat the above process.
Once you have finished listening to your music, store the vinyl in its sleeve, making sure everything is back in place and that all the switches are off and all dust covers are back in place.
A Pound of Cure
If you want years of great listening then there are a few maintenance tips that are worth following in order to keep your turntable in top condition.
Dust and moisture are two of your greatest enemies. The needle itself can collect dust and negatively affect your sound quality, so if it comes with a dust cap be sure to always have that on the needle when not listening to music. You should also buy a good needle cleaning kit, which will have the right tools to clean the needle without damaging it.
Keeping the entire turntable clean and dry is an important task. If your turntable is built into a wooden cabinet you can also use a good quality furniture polish to keep the wood dust-free and protected from moisture. Just be careful when using the spray-type polishes since you don’t want to get those chemicals on the needle.
You should also never pick up habits of impatience. Do not brake the spinning platter with your hand for example, or push the needle across the vinyl. Never play a vinyl that is still moist from a cleaning either.
If you treat your record player with respect and stick to these basic rules, there is no reason why you should ever have an issue with your music playback. Of course, even the best maintenance won’t stop a mechanical failure or some other unforeseen problem, but at least then you’ll know it wasn’t something you were responsible for.
It may all seem tedious, especially in an age of digital convenience, but in the long run the benefits are worth doing things right.
Now I would suggest you move on to my article about how to properly handle and maintain the records themselves.
Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews
If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.