10 Essential Tips To Care for Your Vinyl Records 

Listening to your favorite vinyl records is incredibly rewarding. In exchange for meticulous attention to your equipment setup, you get a listening experience that makes even the most devoted Spotify addicts melt with sonic envy.

However, if you are new to all of this – and hey, we were all new at one time– you’re probably wondering how to achieve the best possible sound from your equipment. From the stylus to your speakers, the following ten tips are designed to help you optimize your setup and enjoy music to its fullest.

We’ll show you the best ways to select and clean your vinyl records, too.

1. The better the setup, the better the vinyl records will sound.

There comes a point in every enthusiast's journey when cheap, all-in-one equipment just doesn’t sound good enough anymore. Maybe you listened to a vinyl record through a friend’s more elegant setup and just couldn’t get over the improved fidelity and wide range of sound. Or, maybe you remember listening to records through classic equipment when you were a kid.

Whatever the case, you know a better setup can give you the sound you crave from vinyl records. But where do you start?

For just under $329, the U-Turn Orbit Plus is an excellent starter turntable. It comes with the great value Ortofon OM5e cartridge, and it has a very quiet motor. It was assembled in the US with about 90% of the parts sourced here as well, so you’ll get great sound and performance from this table.

The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evolution is one of the best turntables we have ever seen for under $600. This turntable has some serious tech in it that allows it to rival some $1000 tables. You’ll get a carbon fiber tonearm, damped adjustable feet, a ThermoPlastic Elastomer (TPE) damped motor and platter, and an amazing cartridge for the money with the Sumiko Rainier. Plus, there are many options to upgrade it in the future.

If you are ready for an even more serious turntable, check out the Rega Planar 3. This is regarded by many reviewers to be the best value in turntables out there. It comes with the excellent RB300 tonearm, a very well isolated motor, a heavy float glass platter, and with the Rega Elys cartridge, it's still under $1300. All Rega tables are made in the UK, and they have been in the business of producing super high-value tables for almost 5 decades.

2. Optimize turntable placement.

Turntables are sensitive instruments, and your equipment was built to function on a level surface. The flatter the better, so take advantage of those adjustable turntable feet if you have them!

Proper placement also helps you avoid feedback when you rock your vinyl records. If you position your turntable too close to your speakers, you’re going to hear feedback. The same goes for subwoofers – position the turntable away from these system components. Larger speakers capable of really deep bass can cause real trouble if your table is too close to them as well. You will know it if you have feedback, though, so feel free to experiment with placement.

3. Make sure your cartridge is lined up

Every tonearm has some variance as to where the cartridge mounts to account for different types of cartridges. Your turntable will usually come with a setup gauge to help you get the stylus tip in just the right spot. This will allow the cartridge to track in the grooves at the right angle. 

This adjustment is both front to back and left to right. If your table came with a pre-mounted cartridge, you are probably ok. However, if you change or upgrade, make sure you use the setup gauge, or if you do not have one, the Geodisc is a great universal one.

4. Tracking lightly doesn’t prevent vinyl record wear – it causes it.

Similar to the point above, the stylus needs to make appropriate contact with your records. For obvious reasons, it shouldn’t be too heavy. But, it shouldn’t be too light either. If you are tracking too lightly, the stylus will bounce around inside of the grooves in odd ways and this is not good.

You want to track at the top end of the recommended tracking force. That way, the stylus is always "seated" inside the grooves. Tracking lightly will wear out your records just as quickly as tracking too heavily. Ortofon makes a great little stylus pressure gauge to confirm the correct pressure.

5. Manual turntables usually sound better.

To produce an automatic turntable, manufacturers add a lot of extra components. The additional parts and gears control the motion of the tonearm and introduce points of failure that don’t exist in manual turntables. In some cases, they also impact sound quality – and not in a good way.

That doesn’t mean all automatic turntables are subject to sound deficiencies. It just means there is greater potential for an automatic turntable to underperform. Manual turntables don’t have these issues, and they tend to sound better.

Think of it this way – if you're considering an automatic turntable, you are probably going to pay extra for a feature that doesn't improve sound in any way. Why not use that money for a manual turntable that does offer better sound for your vinyl records?

6. Used vinyl records are usually ok.

Save some money – buy used! The big exception to look out for are records with visible gouges or big scratches. If a record looks ok, it probably is.

Think of it this way – if you invest in a really nice cartridge, that stylus tip is going to contact the record in places that no stylus has ever ventured before. In all likelihood, you’ll crank more high-fidelity sound out of that old record than the previous owner.

In this sense, most “used” records are only partially used. Just be sure and clean them well with a wet cleaning system of some sort.

7. Clean records are good. Dirty records are bad.

Hiss. Crackle. Pop. Many people think these sounds are a normal part of the vinyl experience. In reality, these sounds usually indicate that a record is dirty.

If you really want your records to sound great, there's nothing quite like a wet cleaning system. These can be as simple as something like the Spin Clean – or for an automatic record washing and drying system – the new Pro-ject VCE is fantastic. It uses a special cleaning fluid and brush designed to get deep down into the grooves and leave you with pristinely clean vinyl. Your records will be bone dry in under a couple of minutes!

If you do not want to invest in a wet cleaning system, try the Last Power Cleaner which does a good job of removing residue – and for everyday use to get the dust off – use a carbon fiber brush like the Audio Advice Carbon Fiber Record Cleaner.

8. Cleaning the stylus is important, too.

A dirty record only affects the listening experience of that record. A dirty stylus, on the other hand, makes all of your records sound bad.

The solution? Clean the stylus! MoFi Stylus Cleaner comes with a stiff brush, which you can use to remove dirt that your stylus picks up from the record grooves. The brush alone is sufficient for everyday use, but be sure to apply cleaning fluid every now and then to be sure your stylus stays clean.

Your records might be dirtier than you think, and the stylus is dragging all kinds of gunk around inside the grooves. The longer you go without cleaning it, the more gunk sticks to it. Eventually, the dirty stylus has a negative impact on the sound.

9. Be prepared to listen to a whole album.

There’s something about vinyl that makes you want to listen to an album from beginning to end. And it’s not even because changing tracks is more laborious than with iTunes, streaming services, or CD players. The sound from vinyl is so good, you just don't want to quit listening!

So, be prepared to listen to an album from beginning to end. After all, it’s how most artists want you to experience their music. The magic of albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Willie Nelson’s Red-Headed Stranger lies in their unspoiled completeness. You’re supposed to enjoy them in their entirety, and vinyl helps you do just that.

10. The longer you listen to vinyl, the more you learn.

Wisdom accumulates as the years go by.

Over time, you’ll start to notice the different sounds you can achieve from different cartridges, speakers, and preamps. You’ll develop equipment preferences, make tweaks to hear music in new ways, and continuously “move up” to even better setup components.

To get started, invest in a quality turntable or go all-in with a complete vinyl package! That way, you will have everything you need to get the best possible sound from your favorite albums. Remember that it can take years to build a "perfect" vinyl setup. You'll always second guess your decisions and experiment with new equipment and techniques. Vinyl is a journey.

So, sit back, listen closely, and enjoy the tunes! Getting started with vinyl is fun. The longer you listen, the better it gets.

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