Keep Your Grooves Smooth: Essential Maintenance Tips for Your Record Player

Keep Your Grooves Smooth: Essential Maintenance Tips for Your Record Player

Vinyl records have made a comeback in the past few years, with people buying $1.2 billion worth of them in 2020, a 20% leap from 2019. In fact, vinyl sales surpassed CD sales in 2022, something that hasn’t happened since 1988.

As aesthetic and charmingly old-school as they may be, record players that play these vinyls require proper maintenance to stay in top condition. As a leading HiFi brand owner, Eastwood HiFi’s expertise makes us the right candidate to provide maintenance tips for your record player.

Keep reading to learn how you can experience top-notch sound quality and extend the life of your record player.

Understanding Your Record Player

First, you need to identify which type of turntable or record player you own. The three main types are:

  • Manual: You have to lift the tonearm manually, place it on the record, and then repeat the process when one side of a disc is finished.
  • Semi-automatic: The tonearm automatically lifts when one side of a record ends. However, you have to put it back on the support yourself.
  • Automatic: Everything is automatic; you simply press a button.

Next, learn about the components of a record player to understand how it works. The main components are:

  • Turntable Platter: Where you place the record.
  • Tonearm: The part that carries the cartridge (which reads sound information) and stylus (the needle).
  • Cartridge: The component that turns mechanical energy (vibrations) into electrical energy (sound).
  • Stylus: The needle that runs on the grooves of a record.
  • Counterweight: Adjusts the force that the stylus exerts on the record.

Daily Maintenance Rituals

You’re now familiar with the main parts of your record player. Follow these turntable maintenance tips to keep these parts in good shape.

Clean the Stylus

The tools you’ll need are:

  • Stylus brush
  • Isopropyl alcohol or distilled water
  • Cotton swabs.

To clean the stylus:

  • Use the brush to remove stray dust from the stylus.
  • Dip the stylus brush in alcohol or water to remove grime.
  • Gently wipe the needle with a cotton swab that’s been dipped in your chosen cleaning solution.

Dust the Record Player

Use a microfiber cloth to dust the record player’s exterior and interior parts.

  • Be gentle around the tonearm and stylus.
  • Remember to dust underneath the platter, too.

Handle the Vinyl Records Carefully

Follow these tips to prevent scratches on your vinyl records:

  • Store the records in their jackets or sleeves.
  • Keep the records away from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid touching the grooves. Instead, hold the record by the edges.
  • Remove dust from the records with a carbon fibre brush.

Weekly and Monthly Maintenance Checks

Here are some checks to make every week (for frequent players) or once a month (for occasional players):

  • Check the stylus and cartridge alignment: The stylus should be perpendicular to the record’s surface. Your stylus cantilever should be at an optimal angle (25 degrees for most cartridges) to the surface. It’s called the Stylus Rake Angle. Use an alignment protractor to check this.
  • Balance the tonearm: Start by rotating the counterweight until it reaches the zero mark. Then, check the manufacturer’s instructions to adjust the stylus tracking force. Set the value of the anti-skate (near the tonearm’s base) the same as the tracking force.
  • Maintain the platter and motor: Check these components regularly and adjust the belt tension if needed. Lubricate the motor bearings periodically and dust the platter with a microfiber cloth.

Seasonal Deep Cleaning

Every few months, it’s good to give your record player a deep clean. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Disassemble the player carefully and clean each part separately with an appropriate cleaning solution.
  • Lubricate all moving parts (motor bearings, tonearm, etc.) with a light oil.
  • Check the electrical components and connections, such as the stylus and cartridge, for signs of wear or damage. The stylus may need to be replaced after a certain number of hours of use, usually 800 to 1,000 hours.

Upgrading Components for Improved Sound Quality

Sometimes, a cleanup doesn’t fix the problem. That’s when you know it’s time to upgrade. Some signs that it’s time for an upgrade include:

  • Excessive surface noise
  • Skipping during playback
  • Discoloration of the vinyl record after playing
  • Distorted sound
  • Jumping records

As mentioned, you can replace the stylus every 1,000 hours. Another common upgrade is a platter mat, a thin rubber or cork mat that sits between the platter and vinyl record. The material can improve sound quality by reducing vibration and static.

You may also upgrade the cartridge, which holds and reads the stylus. A high-quality cartridge can improve sound quality and prevent damage to your records.

If you have prior experience making upgrades to electronics, you can do this part yourself. Otherwise, it’s best to get professional assistance.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Here are some common turntable issues and their fixes.

Skipping Records

Your turntable may be skipping records because of the following:

  • Dust or dirt on the record
  • Misaligned tracking force or anti-skate settings
  • Worn stylus
  • Imbalanced stylus/cartridge

The solution is to clean the records before playing them. Also, adjust the tracking force and cartridge balance. Make sure the platter is properly aligned.

Distortion or Static Noise

The distortion may be due to dust on the stylus or loose cable connections. Here’s how to troubleshoot the issue:

  • Clean the stylus.
  • Ground the turntable to prevent static noise.
  • Check the RCA cables connecting the turntable to your sound system or speakers. Secure loose connections.

Speed Inconsistencies

If you suspect speed inconsistency, check the speed accuracy using a strobe app or disc. Notice the pitch variations and see how the platter rotates. If it’s off, here’s what you can do:

  • Clean the belt or change to a new one if worn out.
  • Lubricate the motor if it’s making noise.
  • Adjust the speed control on your turntable.
  • Check the platter and its alignment.

The Importance of a Proper Setup

Sometimes, the issue isn’t with the turntable but with the setup. For example, the room acoustics affect the sound quality. You should keep the record player away from anything that can cause distortion or interference, such as speakers.

Some ways of vibration control include:

  • Isolation pads: You can place them under the turntable to reduce vibrations.
  • DIY: A common DIY fix is to use rubber or Sorbothane balls to isolate the turntable from its base.

Once you’ve perfected the setup, calibrate your turntable to achieve the best sound quality. Some tips include:

  • Using a stylus force gauge to determine the ideal tracking force
  • Finding the right cartridge alignment using a protractor
  • Using an anti-skate mechanism to prevent distortion

 

At the end of the day, proper turntable maintenance is mandatory for a stellar audio experience. Spending time and effort on calibrating and setting up your turntable will pay off in the form of crisp, clear sound quality and the possibility of passing on your beloved records for generations to come.

If you have any tried and tested maintenance tips, share them with us in the comments. For more updates in the HiFi world, check out our blog or sign up for our newsletter today.

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