If you keep up with stereo trends, you are probably aware that sales of LPs are on the rise. Rise might not be the right term - they are through the roof! Vinyl sales for 2014 showed a 52% increase over 2013, and 2015 saw a 37% increase in the first three months over last year. With all this, here at Audio Advice, we've seen a huge increase in turntable sales, especially entry level models. Heck, we sold more in 2014 than I can ever remember selling, even when there was nothing but turntables!
It occurred to me that many of you may be getting into vinyl for the first time and may not be aware of the best practices to keep those precious 12” discs in good shape. It all comes down to preventing wear on those tiny record grooves. With proper care, your record collection will last you a lifetime. However, without it you may find those great sounding records changing from great sound to okay to bad.
Set it up right
The relationship of the tiny diamond stylus on the end of your cartridge cantilever to the grooves of your LP's is critical to get right. When you get a turntable (or even a new cartridge) from Audio Advice we will align everything properly, calibrate the tonearm height and set up both your tracking force and anti-skating. This is one of the most important things to get right: if any of this is off, you will wear out your records prematurely. Tracking force is also an interesting aspect. You would think that the lighter the tracking is set that the less record wear would occur. Well, just the opposite is true! Most cartridges give a narrow tracking for range, and it is always best to be at the very top of this range. The reason is: the worst possible thing for your record grooves is a stylus not properly seated in the groove. If you set the tracking too light, the stylus will literally bounce around in the grooves and put lots of undue wear and tear on your vinyl. So please don't think you are improving things by reducing the tracking force!
Keep things clean
Two things must be kept clean: your records and your stylus. There are a variety of ways to keep your records clean. These range from cleaning machines, to fluids, to dry brushes. Ideally we would like to see you use a record cleaning machine like the VPI cleaning models HW 16.5 and the MW1 Cyclone, then for everyday use, an anti-static brush like the one from AudioQuest. If a record cleaning machine is out of your budget, we suggest Last cleaning fluids. After you have cleaned a record, you can maintain it with a dry brush like the AudioQuest.
As your stylus tracks through the grooves, it will pick up a lot of tiny bits of residue. If you do not clean this off, eventually it builds up and changes the shape of your stylus tip. This in turn is no good for your records at all. We recommend cleaning your stylus for each play of every side of the record. Our favorite cleaner is the Last stylus cleaning fluid (coupled with their stylus brush). You can use wet cleaner every three or four records, and use the dry cleaner on every side. It only takes a few seconds and works wonders to keep your stylus in good shape.
An annual check up is critical
This is what actually made me want to share all this. I expect that many getting into vinyl for the first time think a turntable is just like any other component they have bought in the sense that you can just use it till it stops working. The fact is, you must get your stylus inspected for wear. A typical stylus is good for about 1000-1500 hours of playing time before it wears to the point it will start cutting up your record grooves. If you keep both your records and stylus clean, you can extend the life to about 1500 hours. After that, you should have it inspected to make sure it's not worn out. The only way to do this is with a microscope designed for this purpose and a set of trained eyes that know what to look for. We can help you with this at Audio Advice. When you think about all the money you may have invested in your vinyl, it makes sense to keep using a stylus that is in great shape. And most cartridge manufacturers have a trade up program so when it's time to replace your stylus, you can move up to an even better cartridge!
We hope this has been helpful. Please feel free to contact us should you want to learn more about the wonderful world of vinyl playback! At Audio Advice we've got turntables that include a cartridge starting at about $450 with replacement cartridges starting around $60. We have years and years of knowledge and know how that will help you choose the best cartridge for your turntable/tonearm combination.