The vinyl record is a unique and beautiful storage medium for music and other sound. Vinyls are certainly lovely artifacts, but they are not nearly as robust as CDs or digital music stored on solid state memory or mechanical hard drives.
The hiss, scratch, and pop have all become synonymous with the sound of vinyl records. The truth is that this is the result of improper handling and maintenance. A properly treated vinyl record will experience not much, if any, audio artifacting; since we are once again in a position to buy brand new vinyls, there is no excuse to let them reach the point of being scratchy messes.
So in this article I am going to outline a number of tips that will help you preserve the clean sound of a fresh new vinyl.
A lot of the damage that happens to vinyl records happen when they are NOT being played. How you store your vinyl records is just as important as how you handle them. One of the big dangers and a real catastrophe is the warping of your record. Once the record is no longer flat and is severely warped you can kiss your music goodbye.
How do we prevent this? Always store your vinyls vertically, do not stack them on each other, since the weight will warp them over time.
The same goes for heat and moisture. Do not store them close to heating or in direct sunlight. Places with high humidity are also a no-no.
Dust to Dust
A lot of the scratchiness that you hear on vinyls are not actually scratches on the vinyl, but dirt and dust on the surface of the record. You can prevent this from happening in the first place by storing your records in a place that does not suffer from excessive dust. Records come with an inner sleeve and outer cover; if you record is not in the turntable being played, it should be in its sleeve.
Why? Simple. The air is full of dust, hair, and other crud you don’t want on your record. The less time your record spends exposed to the air, the less time it spends collecting all that nastiness.
Nothing Up Your Sleeves
There is, however, one rather big issue with vinyl and that’s the buildup of static electricity. Once your record has built up a charge it will attract dust and other particles like an old CRT TV. How does it get this charge? Well, ironically one of the main ways it does this is by getting inserted and removed from its paper inner sleeve. If you want to go the extra mile you can buy anti-static inner sleeves lined with polyethylene. They are soft and don’t cause as much static, which saves headaches down the line.
Unfortunately, the dirtiest things likely to ever touch your records are your own hands. Even if you wash them regularly, oil and grime from your skin can wreak havoc on vinyl. This is why you should only handle a vinyl by its edges. Never touch the surface where you can leave fingerprints. Even if there is no actual dirt on your fingers, the oiliness of the fingerprint will capture dust.
A Brush with (Musical) Death
You’ll definitely want to invest in a carbon fiber brush, which you should use to remove surface dust both before you put the record on the turntable and before you put it back in its sleeve.
If you have a hinged turntable dust cover, you can safely close it during playback, further limiting how much dust can get on the record’s surface.
At some point you are going to have to wash your vinyls, despite all the precautions. This is not nearly as scary as it sounds and there are a couple of ways to actually go about it. Some of them involve buying special products and some are a bit more home-made.
If you are a collector that buys used vinyls, knowing how to clean them and undo some of the damage of mishandling and age is very useful.
Be sure to clean the worst of the dust and dirt from the record with the aforementioned carbon fiber brush first. Then you’ll be ready to commence with a so-called “wet” cleaning that usually involves water or another liquid cleaning solution.
The best way to clean records is also the most expensive way – vacuum cleaning systems. These machines do most of the hard work for you and suck the cleaning solution and dirt out of the grooves of the record. That gets around many of the dodgy cleaning methods that end up pushing that dirt deeper in the grooves and ruining the soundwave. Apart from being pricey, these vacuum systems also need maintenance of their own, so unless you are a professional collector (I hope you like my site!) that’s not going to be a realistic option.
That leaves you with using either a manual spin cleaner or just cleaning them by hand. Spin cleaners are not that expensive and help keep parts that should not get wet, like the label, dry.
If you do clean the record by hand then you can make use of an approved vinyl cleaning solution and a good quality microfiber cloth. It takes a bit of elbow-grease and care to not break anything, but if you aren’t too clumsy it should turn out just fine.
Food for Thought
If you follow the basics I have outlined here then you should be in a good space when it comes to caring for and enjoying your vinyl collection. There are a few tips you can try over and above what I’ve listed here; tips that can help while not being a strict requirement.
If you have the space, it may be worth installing some special shelving for your records. Many places sell items designed specifically for this. It makes for a nice display and also makes it easier to find the music you are looking for.
If you have records that you listen to infrequently or are rotating out of your in-use records, consider storing them in an airtight or sealable plastic tub. These are not very expensive and you can buy them at places like hardware stores.
Don’t use cardboard boxes. They lack handles and weaken over time, so when you pick one up you may find that your whole collection drops to the floor, likely irreparably damaging many of the records.
Let the Music Play
That should be it! You are now armed with enough knowledge to be a responsible vinyl keeper. So get to my turntable review page and get started on your new audio voyage of discovery.
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.