33 RPM Vinyl Record Care & Handling
Here are some hints and tips to help keep your vintage vinyl collection in tip top shape.
Handling Records: Always handle your records along the outer rim and label. Never handle your vinyl by touching the surface. Your fingers contain oils that will transfer to the record surface. The oils will act as a magnet pulling in contaminents which in turn will degrade sound quality during playback. Also, the oils from your hands if not cleaned from the record, will permantently set to the vinyl's surface. If you have ever seen a record with a finger print that will not come off after cleaning your vinyl, it is the result of the oils having set in.
- If you receive a record that is dusty or has a lot of surface dirt, I have found that initially cleaning the record with a Swiffer duster works great. The Swiffer duster is anti-static and picks up dust and dirt very well.
- After dusting off the record with the Swiffer, I then clean the record with a cleaner specifically designed for vinyl records. One such product that I found works extremely well is Phoenix Spray Cleaner. The kit comes with the spray and a special micro-fiber cloth designed to pick-up fine dust particles.
- Of course the ultimate record cleaning technique is to invest in a vacuum cleaner like the Nitty Gritty machines. They are a bit pricey but if you have a large vinyl collection and are looking to optimize playback, then the investment will be worthwhile. Think of the machine as a wet vac for records. I have literally increased the playback grade a step (e.g., VG to VG+) on many of my records. No record cleaning technique will repair audio defects which are the result of scratches or groove wear since these are defects in the vinyl itself.
- After cleaning my records I store the vinyl in a new anti-static poly inner sleeve and store the LP jacket in a new outer sleeve. For the outer sleeves, look for 3 mil thickness or greater. I would recommend not storing the vinyl inside the cover but slipping the vinyl (protected by the poly inner sleeve) behind the cover with both protected by the 3 mil or better outer sleeve. Why not store the record inside the jacket? Well of course you can, but if you are looking to preserve the LP jacket, storing the vinyl inside the cover may eventually create seam and/or spine splits. Over time the weight of the record will cut through the binding.
- Always store your records upright (vertical) at a 90 degree angle.This signficantly reduces the risk of your records warping. Storing your records horizontal with other records piled on top will over time create stress warps. Ditto for storage where the records are leaning against each other (e.g., 45 degree angle). If you have ever seen a record where the label portion protrudes to one side, this is the result of improper storage. This type of warp is commonly referred to as "dishing" since the record when looked at vertically has the appearace of a dish. Slight dishing will not impact playback. However, signficant dishing will cause playback issues such as tonearm skating (where the tonearm slides across the record), skipping or distortion.
- Storing your records in crates specifically designed for record storage is ideal. This includes the heavy plastic "milk" crates which are designed for vinyl. These types of crates are relatively cheap and durable. Look for crates which are 14" x 14". This ensures a great fit. One of these plastic crates can house up to 70 albums and are stackable. Of course shelving is great as long as the records are stored upright at 90 degrees.
- Always store your records in a climate controlled environment out of direct sunlight. Avoid high humidity, high temperature environments. For example, do not store your collectible records in an attic. Direct, intense sunlight will cause heat warps which are impossible to repair (contrary to techniques found on the web to repair warped records).
- Invest in a good turntable. There is little sense investing in collectible records and then playing them back on a cheap turntable. There are many vintage turntables for sale on eBay. Look for a turntable with adjustable tracking and anti-skating. All will play 33 and 45 RPM records. Some will play 78 RPM but that is only relevant if you have a 78 RPM collection.
- Set your turntable's tonearm tracking between 1.25 - 1.5 grams. The tracking represents the amount of weight applied to the stylus/needle when it sits on the record. Too little tracking and your playback might skip and / or distort. Too much tracking and your stylus is eating into the vinyl's grooves which over time will degrade and distort playback (e.g., groove wear). Remember that a HiFi turntable is very different than DJ turntables. DJ units are intended for scratching and therefore require higher tracking weights which will damage a HiFi record. If your turntable has an anti-skating adjustment control, set your anti-skating equal to your tonearm tracking. For example, if you set your tracking to 1.25 grams then set your anti-skating adjustment to 1.25 also.
- Invest in a decent cartridge and stylus. You can find affordable and worthy cartridges priced anywhere between $40 - $150. Look for brands such as Stanton, Shure and Audio Technica. Be sure the cartridges / stylus are for HiFi playback and not scratching. I point this out because companies that make cartridges do so for both applications. A cartridge should last you a very long time. The only component that needs replacement is the stylus (needle) after 300 hours or so of playback (or if you hear degraded playback).
- If your turntable mat is hard or brittle, it needs to be replaced. A good turntable mat (like a Herbie's) will further optimize playback.
- Once you are done playing your record, slip it back into its protective sleeve and store upright. Leaving them out will only increase the odds of damaging the vinyl via scuffing, scratching, etc.