Getting the best possible sound from any vinyl record collection requires a significant amount of discipline.
Unlike digital music, it requires lots of time and maintenance to keep the music flowing and the sound quality sharp.
As vinyl collectors, we like to think we possess the patience necessary to reap the rewards – but come on, be honest, you’ve been guilty of at least one of these bad habits… at least once…
1. Touching the record surface
Let’s start with the basics: touching the record surface is a big no-no. Our hands contain natural oils, grease, and dirt – none of which we want anywhere near our records. This grime builds up over time, compounding dust and dirt while also contributing to stylus wear.
Always handle your records by the outer-edge. If you do accidentally touch the record surface, it’s best to clean the record immediately before playing or storing. Cleaning by hand using a record cleaning solution will suffice for minor record handling; if you suspect the record was handled quite a lot, you might want to use a record cleaning machine or repeat the hand cleaning process a few times for the best results.
2. Stacking your records
Stacking records horizontally is a common bad habit that, in extreme circumstances, can render a record virtually unplayable. Horizontal record stacking applies excess weight to your records that can lead to warping and damage to the record sleeve (anyone who’s ever purchased used records will recognize the all too familiar sign of ring wear that occurs from horizontal stacking).
Always store your records vertically and avoid any excess pressure from leaning or over packing.
To learn more about storing records correctly, check out our previous article on how to store vinyl.
3. Leaving your records out
This one should be a given, but we all know someone guilty of this one. Ideally, the only time your record should be out of its sleeve is when you’re playing the record.
Any extended time outside the sleeve — be it left on the platter, or worse still, on a side table — will subject the record to dust and significantly increase the risk of damaging the surface…. Come on, you know this one really — just put the record back, it only takes a few seconds.
4. Carelessly returning the record to its sleeve
When putting your records away, it’s often tempting to let records drop as they enter the sleeve, but this can lead to damaging both the record and the sleeve.
At best, you’ll quickly punch a hole in the bottom of the sleeve – rendering it useless.
At worst, you’ll scratch and scuff the surface. Always open the sleeve wide enough to reduce contact with the record and gently feed the disc in without touching the grooves.
5. Bad cleaning practice
Search “how to clean vinyl records” on YouTube, and you’ll quickly encounter some questionable methods.
From using household cleaning products (such as Windex) to advocating highly abrasive home-made concoctions (the infamous wood glue method comes to mind), there are plenty of recommendations that will quickly render your precious records useless.
Vinyl records are delicate products made from polyvinyl chloride (essentially posh plastic). Any change to the material’s surface (either chemically or through physical abuse) will have a huge impact on those tiny microscopic grooves.
If you really must make your own cleaning solution, be sure to use only clean, distilled water as your primary ingredient. (Better still, use a tried and tested record cleaning solution).
Tap water contains impurities that will quickly build up in the record grooves. The area I live in is particularly bad for lime-scale — if I were to use tap water to clean my records, it wouldn’t take long before they were about as useful as my lime-scale ridden kettle!
Check out our guide on how to clean vinyl records for further advice on this topic.
6. Cueing up records with your hand
You should always use the cueing lever to lower and raise the tone arm – particularly when lining up tracks mid-way through a side. If you skip this step and go straight in with your hand, it’s only a matter of time before you slip and damage your records or stylus shank.
In an ideal world, you should play the entire record from start to finish to avoid potential damage when cueing up individual tracks. However, using the cueing lever will help minimize risk by allowing you to lower the stylus in the silence between each track gently.
When the track ends, it’s important to wait until the track completely stops before gently raising the stylus with your cueing lever.
7. Not waiting for the record platter to STOP
Picking up your records from the turntable platter before it stops spinning is a sure way to scratch the other side of your wax.
You might be eager to flip your favorite album and continue enjoying the music, but a little patience goes a long way. Good things come to those who wait, as Guinness once proclaimed.
8. Not Changing Your Stylus Regularly
Nothing will destroy records faster than a worn or damaged stylus. Despite most styli being made from diamond (the hardest surface known to man). They do wear out and need replacing periodically.
If you keep your records and stylus clean, they can last quite a long time. On average, a turntable stylus/needle will last up to 1000 playing hours. For the average listener, this equates to around 1500 album plays.
Failing to replace the stylus regularly will result in poor sound quality, but worst of all, the mis-shaped stylus will cause groove wear and predominately damage your records. I make a habit of changing my stylus once every year as a matter of caution.
Got a bad vinyl habit bugbear you’d like to add? Pop it in the comments below.