Owning a vinyl record player is something special. Listening to recorded material in an analog decoding fashion adds an extra dimension to the music-listening experience. For some, it’s the warm, natural, and high-fidelity audio that just can’t be replicated using digital emulations, while for others, it brings about a nostalgic sensation. The fact that you have to build a collection of records, carefully load it onto the player and align the needle yourself makes the entire process far more interactive and personal than simply pressing play on Spotify.
Because of the interactive nature of vinyl listening, special care needs to be taken, and the material must be respected for it to last as long as you want it to and ensure top-quality sound and performance consistently. Regular maintenance and proper equipment handling are essential, as neglected gear gathers dust, impacting sound quality. Even a regularly-used system will face some wear and tear over time. Proper maintenance should be afforded to all vinyl players, even the more affordable vinyl players.
Here are our tips for keeping your vinyl player and record collection healthy, ensuring long-lasting and satisfactory performance.
Keeping your vinyl system clean
When a vinyl record spins, it creates static electricity. This electricity collects dust, dirt, and other unwanted materials, damaging both your player and your records. Some of these particles can be seen by the eye, especially if left unmaintained for a while, but the real hazard is the microscopic particles, which are responsible for the popping and hissing sounds you may hear.
We recommend cleaning your player after each use or, if you’re listening fairly regularly, twice or more per week. This can be done by wiping down all surfaces with a microfiber anti-static dusting cloth, or if there’s a build-up of dirt and dust, a small spritz of rubbing alcohol will help loosen it- just be sure to get all surfaces completely dry before using the player again. Some record players come with dust covers; if you have one, using it will save plenty of cleaning time. Keeping the actual records clean and dust-free will also save you loads of time and effort at later stages.
The stylus also needs to be cleaned regularly. Many users wipe it down with their fingers, which isn’t recommended as it’s incredibly fragile, and too much accidental force can cause the stylus to bend. Blowing on it is also a common tactic; however, tiny spit particles can be accidentally transferred to the stylus, which isn’t ideal.
I use the EVEO Premium Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit. It’s an inexpensive purchase and has all the correct tools and materials for proper vinyl care.
Keeping your record disks clean will also reduce the number of times you need to clean your player and lengthen the lifespan of both. Using a record brush, sweep the record to remove dirt and dust from the grooves, and use a record cleaner or cleaning solution to remove fingerprints. If it’s really dirty, you can rinse it in water (not hot or cold, and just avoid the center label), then dry it with a microfiber cloth. Storing records in their sleeves also goes a long way.
Set up your record player parallel to the floor
Keeping your vinyl record player on a completely flat surface helps preserve your records. If your machine is sitting at even the slightest angle, this can fluctuate the tracking force, damaging your records. Some record players have adjustable feet to ensure the player is flat on its surface, but I recommend using a spirit level to be 100% sure.
Keep your record player far from speakers
Because vinyl players work by reading tiny ridges in the disk, which causes vibrations that are detected and converted into electrical energy, any unwanted or foreign vibrations can degrade sound quality. If you’re running your system at louder listening levels with your record player nearby the drivers, you may experience some unwanted audio artifacts. Placing your record player behind or in line with the speakers is mostly fine, but try to keep them at a reasonable distance from each other.
Also, avoid placing your speakers on the same surface the player rests on, as this will cause vibrations to resonate through the surface and back onto the disk. Investing in a pair of speaker isolation stands not only combats this but also improves the sound quality as a result and allows for a more easily adjustable listening angle and position.
Maintaining the stylus
Since it is made from diamond, it generally lasts ages but is still not immune to wear and tear. A worn-out stylus tip can degrade audio quality and damage the record’s grooves. An easy way to tell when your stylus tip is on the way out is when you notice a lack of high-end definition.
The stylus can be kept in a healthy condition by keeping your records clean and dust-free, ensuring your tracking force is correct (more on this shortly), and proper needle placement technique.
How long should my stylus last?
If you’re using your record player one hour a day, your stylus should be good to go for 3 years, but keep an eye (and ear) on it because if improper cleaning practices haven’t been implemented, the stylus won’t last nearly this long.
Can I use a toothbrush to clean the stylus?
If you don’t have a stylus brush, I’d rather suggest using a thin, soft-bristled paintbrush to clean the stylus since a toothbrush is generally too firm and will damage the needle. Stylus brushes usually come included in record cleaning kits or can be purchased separately for less than $10.00.
Adjusting tracking force and speed
The tracking force on a vinyl record player is essentially the measure of the force applied to the record by the stylus tip. While this is an adjustable parameter, and some users have certain preferences, your record player should tell you what tracking force is appropriate for your system. There usually isn’t a specific figure to aim for, but rather a range, often as big as 0.5 grams, where you have room to experiment with different force settings. Within this range, you’re welcome to fiddle around, as tracking force does affect audio qualities, so as long as you stay in the recommended range, experiment and find what sounds best to you.
The speed setting refers to how fast the vinyl spins. This generally isn’t an easy mistake to make, as an incorrect RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) will result in songs either sounding sped-up or slowed down. The record itself should tell you the recommended speed. However, you can generally set it to 33rpm for standard-sized, full-length albums and 45rpm for 7-inch EPs and singles.
Be sure to check your tracking force now and then, as it can warp over time. To do this, simply lock the tonearm and remove the needle’s cover, then release the arm’s clamp and adjust the counterweight until the arm looks and feels balanced. Once you’ve reached this balancing point, simply lock it back in place.
Make your own modifications
Aside from sound quality improvement, many people enjoy record players for their customizable nature. If you’re taking care of and cleaning your record player regularly enough, there is plenty of experimentation to be done to help you find your ultimate sound.
This can include experimenting with different speaker configurations and different power amplifiers and using in-line processing to further craft the sound to suit your room a