By Jack Sharkey, February, 6, 2016

Back in the 90s, around the time Smashmouth was all that, the running joke was that the kids had no idea what records were supposed to do or how they worked. Well, now those same kids are driving the incredible vinyl resurgence.


Call it nostalgia, call it a desire for a more organic experience, or call it a new-found way (for some) to enjoy music – replete with subtlety, nuance and background noise.


Everyone knows how to take care of their digital music collection: don’t delete the files, and most everyone knows how to take care of their CD collection: write [insert name of current crush] Mixtape – Summer 2015 on the dull side of the CD not the shiny side. Pretty much, if you understand those two rules, you’re good to go in the digital age.


Vinyl is different.


Vinyl requires you put in some effort. First of all, you have to get up like every twenty-two minutes to flip the record over, but there’s more to it than that.


Using Your USB Turntable

Okay, this one isn't really a rule for protecting your vinyl collection, but it is kind of a rule for listening to it.


USB turntables are fun and all, but you do realize that as soon as you digitize the music coming off of your turntable you remove some of the components that make listening to vinyl so rewarding, right? I’m not talking about the pops and crackles, I’m talking about the fatness of the bass and the gentleness of the higher frequencies. Basically, what makes vinyl so pleasing to listen for some people is lost when you run your turntable through an Analog-to-Digital Convertor so you can turn right around and run the music through a Digital-to-Analog Convertor to listen to it. You can do what you want, but as for me, I like my analog music to stay that way.


A Clean Record Is A Happy Record

That little spinning vortex of plastic, otherwise known as a vinyl record, is an electrostatic collector of dust. Dust that piles up in the grooves of your records and makes them sound flat and non-descript. Not to mention that big chunks of dust are a leading cause of all those noises you hear when you play a record. Get yourself a decent cleaning kit and clean your records before every spin. Don’t think of cleaning your records as a chore, think of it as a way to get completely in touch with your music – an enhancement of the overall experience you might say. A decent record cleaning kit will have a bottle of fluid, a microfiber cloth and a brush with harder bristles to clean the microfiber cloth.


How About Under the Faucet Washing?

Many people wash their vinyl under the faucet of the nearest sink before playing with years and years of good results to report. Here’s where a little common sense comes in handy. Avoid tap water at all costs because of the chemicals that may be present or deposits like iron and calcium – that stuff could build up on your records like it does on your coffee pot. Distilled water and a gentle soap like blue Dawn with a soft cloth (rubbed in the direction of the grooves) is okay, but a quality record cleaning kit will do fine without the added worry of chemical breakdown of the vinyl or deposit build up on the grooves. Some people use Windex and paper towels to wash their records. I don’t, but some people do. At least Windex won’t leave a chemical build-up, but I’m kind of leery of paper towels.


Regardless of what wet cleaning method you choose – make sure your records are completely dry before playing them.


A Clean Stylus Is A Happy Stylus

If your house is particularly dry and prone to static, dust buildup on your stylus is unavoidable. Most people just pull the dust glob off the stylus with their fingers, but in spite of how clean you think you are, you’re going to leave a little bit of grease behind when you touch the stylus. Do that enough times and you’re going to get a build-up of dirt. A nice soft brush or a bottle of compressed air (my preferred method) work quite well.


There are parallel brushes that you can attach to your tone-arm that clean the record in advance of the stylus reaching the groove, just make sure you have compensated for any excess pressure on the record, and do keep in mind there may be speed variations as well depending on the type of turntable you are using. Plus, a brush is going to add low frequency rumble so on second thought, skip the attached brush. Bad idea.


Put Your Records Away & Do It Properly

This will not only make your mom/roommate/spouse happy it will also protect your records from dust and other things.


Put the record in the paper sleeve and then put the sleeve back in the jacket with the open side facing up (toward the top of the jacket). This will keep the record from falling out of the jacket accidentally and it will also prevent you from dropping it the next time you take it out to play it.


Store your records vertically, but make sure they aren't leaning too much. If they lean too much, the poor last record on the shelf will bear the weight of all the other records and it will eventually lose its shape.  


Keep your storage area dry, but not too dry. Avoid direct sunlight or heater vents and the like that may cause your records to warp.


Use Your Dust Cover

When the turntable is not in use, put the dust cover on so the turntable will be not become covered in dust.


Some people insist on playing records with the dust cover on, but that’s not really a great idea. Vibrations and unwanted noise will be magnified with the dust cover in place, so there is a certain amount of electrostatic dust collection that’s unavoidable when you’re spinning your disks. A little micro vacuum will work just fine to keep your turntable as dust-free as possible.


Keep Your Hands Off The Important Parts

Avoid touching the grooves as much as you possibly can. Master the art of removing your disks by taking your middle finger and placing it on the spindle hole and placing your thumb on the edge of the disk. Do this a few dozen times and you’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes. Remember: Everything that touches the record’s grooves that isn't a stylus will not enhance your music listening experience, and in fact will most likely diminish it.  


Remove the Shrink Wrap

Every person born between 1942 and 1970 knows that the rise of the Warped Vinylpopularity of denim is directly related to how easily you can open the shrink wrap of an LP by running your new album back and forth a few times on your Levi’s-clad thigh. Regardless of what method you use to open your vinyl, remove the shrink wrap after opening. With today’s heavier records (180 gm +) this is not a major issue, but on standard thinner vinyl the shrink wrap is going to want to – wait for it – shrink once the seal is broken and that might cause your records to warp, especially in a hot environment. If you want to preserve the jacket artwork get yourself some heavy plastic sleeves designed and built specifically for LPs.


Every vinyl enthusiast loves to brag about how old their vinyl is and what great shape it’s in. To be honest, I have loads of vinyl that’s not a lot younger than me that’s in a whole lot worse shape than I’m in. I do have quite a few that sound really good in spite of their geriatric status, and that’s not just because they were crappy albums that I didn’t listen to that much (although that does help). At some point in my audio journey I became aware of how important my vinyl was to my enjoyment of music so I took care of it accordingly.


It’s kind of what happens to us vinyl people.