July 1958 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
The proper care and feeding of vinyl records was - and still is
- a big topic amongst audiophiles. As with so many things, phonographs
and platters have experienced a resurgence in popularity in the
last decade or so as the world gets nuttier and people crave for
a simpler, saner time - imagined or otherwise. I remember back in
the barracks at Robins AFB, GA, where there was always at least
one guy who would have a very extensive (pronounced "expensive")
stereo setup complete with an equipment rack, reel-to-reel tape
player, dual cassette tape deck, super-sensitive AM/FM receiver
with a huge tuning knob on the front, a turntable with a precisely
balanced and weighted tone arm (with a stylus that cost two month's
pay for an enlisted man), a multi-hundred watt power amplifier that
never had the opportunity to put out more than a small percentage
of its capability due to barracks noise rules, a patch cable panel
for routing signals, and monster speakers that could scarcely be
contained within the allotted floor space of about six feet by ten
feet (smaller than a typical prison cell). The pièce de résistance
and ultimate sign of a true music aficionado was an AC power regulator
and filter to assure that no hint of distortion ever crept into
Hi-Fi Record Care
By Arthur A. Hundley*
Your records need babying for their longer life and your continued
the advances in sound recording and reproducing techniques of the
past few years, a whole new field of opportunity for electronic
sales and service has opened up. High fidelity is a definite part
of the electronics business and the term "hi fi" is a household
word. Improved equipment and know-how have given us the finest facilities
for the reproduction of recorded music, but to maintain this superb
quality all equipment must be cared for properly. There is one item
which can be performed only by the owner - taking care of his records.
The recording companies record music much as it is played in
the concert hall, and record players, amplifiers and speakers reproduce
this sound with a lifelike brilliance never before known. However,
records not properly cared for lose their fidelity, acquire increased
noise and cause general dissatisfaction all around. Regardless of
how good the equipment is, it will never sound any better than the
A good record collection represents a sizable monetary investment
and it is up to the purchaser to protect it, both to save money
and to gain longer-lasting enjoyment. Record care should be a common-sense
item, but seeing how some people abuse their recordings leaves no
doubt that instruction in basic care is needed.
Anyone engaged in the hi-fi field - either sales, installation
or servicing - can help both himself and the customer by telling
him the basic facts of record care. Often this can result in a satisfied
customer because then the enjoyment of hi-fi is a long-term process,
rather than existing only when new records are played. A more satisfied
customer can mean increased profits from the business, so proper
record care is of benefit all around.
Most of the newer records are made of vinylite, a plastic, and
are unbreakable in normal use. But, however, unbreakable they may
be, the grooves which make up the musical portion of the disc can
be damaged easily. Each groove is only 1/1,000 inch wide and it
doesn't take much of a scratch or abrasion to cut that far into
the material, and the disc can be damaged by even smaller cuts.
This surface damage causes noise and often distorts the music.
The hints given here are aimed at reducing noise and distortion,
and increasing the useful life of a record, thus adding to the listener's
enjoyment. Properly cared for, discs can be kept noise-free for
a long time.
Most long playing records are packaged in a cardboard envelope
open on only one end, and many of the companies are additionally
enclosing the discs in a plastic or paper container which fits inside
the cardboard cover. The first rule in record care is always to
store each record in its own jacket and, if an inside envelope is
included, don't throw it away - use it! Where only the cardboard
jacket is furnished, it is wise to buy a cover made of soft plastic
into which the record can be placed before insertion into the jacket.
These plastic covers are made in 10- and 12-inch sizes and can be
bought from record dealers or radio supply houses. The current retail
price is about 10 cents each for the 12-inch size and somewhat less
for the 10-inch ones. This price is low compared to the cost of
replacing the record.
These covers accomplish a twofold purpose: they keep the records
clean (more will be said about that later) and decrease surface
damage. The inside of the cardboard containers is not completely
smooth and as the disc is slid in or out of it; abrasions may occur.
The inside cover eliminates this possibility. (Never stack records
one on top of the other without first placing them in their containers.)
Additional care is required in removing the record from the envelope
and replacing it if an inside cover is not used. The best system
is to press slightly at both ends of the jacket opening so that
the sides are slightly bowed out. The record can then be taken out
without too much rubbing against the container. It can be replaced
the same way.
One of the worst enemies of long-playing records is dust, the
ordinary kind which accumulates to some degree regardless of all
the means taken to prevent it. When dust has settled in the grooves,
background noise and distortion occur whenever the record is played.
The dust does not allow the needle to follow properly the groove
variations which constitute the recorded sound, and noise is produced.
Storing the records in plastic or paper covers prevents much
of the dust pickup which otherwise would occur. Dust can enter into
a record cabinet, even with closed doors.
Vinylite has the characteristic that a static-electric charge
is developed on the surface when it is rubbed with anything. The
charge is strong enough to attract and hold particles of dust which
may be lurking near the record. These static charges may be eliminated
by spraying the surface with an anti-static fluid or by wiping with
a rag which has been treated with the same type of liquid. Both
are available at record dealers and supply houses.
These accumulated charges also cause some noise when the record
is played, sounding like loud pops. Eliminating the static charge
also reduces this type of noise.
The application of these anti-static compounds does not merely
eliminate the dust present at that time; it effects last for many
months and, after being treated, the record actually repels dust.
Once the dust has gotten into the grooves, the pressure of the needle
forces it deeper and it becomes all but impossible to remove.
Proper handling can also help to prevent dust in the grooves.
Our hands have oils on them in varying amounts, and when the grooves
are touched with the hands a film of this oil is deposited on the
record. This tends to hold any dust which is picked up. To prevent
this, the hands and fingers should never touch the grooved area.
The disc can be removed from the jacket and placed on the turntable
by touching only the edge and the label area in the center. The
user must be careful in doing this, but it pays off in increased
record life and enjoyment. If the hands do touch the grooves, the
residue can be wiped off with a clean, soft rag.
It is good practice to replace each record in its individual container
immediately after playing, to prevent any damage which could occur
if it is left out in the open. And of course, be careful never to
drop a record or scrape it against some hard object which could
cut into the surface.
If your turntable is not exactly level, the pickup arm may jump
grooves and scratch the record. Or, if the record player is mounted
or placed so that vibration can shake the tone arm, similar results
The stylus exerts a great influence on the amount of noise and
distortion produced and also on the usable life of the disc. Three
general types are in use: metal, sapphire and diamond, with the
purchase price and dependability of operation increasing in that
As long as the stylus retains its roundness it wears the walls
of the record grooves very little. But during use the stylus and
disc are in constant contact so some wear occurs on both. The same
stylus is used for all records, so any wear affects the stylus much
sooner than an individual record. The sides of the stylus become
flat and it eventually acts like a chisel, cutting into the record
Stylus wear begins to manifest itself through noise and distortion
and, if allowed to continue, a disc may be ruined in one playing.
It is true that some people buy a phonograph and never bother to
change the stylus for years, and maybe the gradual increase of noise
and distortion seems like a natural thing to them. If these same
people were to hear a new recording played with a new stylus, on
their own equipment, a valuable lesson would be learned. That is
learning the hard way (also called the expensive method).
Metal styli usually begin to show signs of wear after only a
few hours of playing. Sapphire needles last considerably longer
and diamonds wear much longer than sapphire. If used regularly,
a metal needle should be replaced every few weeks, a sapphire every
few months and a diamond after several years. There is no such thing
as a permanent needle, regardless of what the ads say. Of course,
these rules have no great accuracy because the actual playing time
varies considerably. One person may play records less than an hour
a week, while others may play them for several hours each day.
As a general estimate, a metal needle should be replaced after
about 20 hours of actual use and a sapphire after about 100 hours,
and a diamond should last at least 10 times longer than the sapphire.
So for long-run economy a diamond stylus, although its initial purchase
price is higher than the others, outwears a large number of the
other types and gives maximum protection to the record collection.
It is poor economy to save a few dollars on the cost of a new stylus
and waste many dollars in damaged records.
Keeping the stylus clean is also important. A small camel-hair
brush will do a good job. And don't forget the stylus pressure.
Too much and the stylus will dig into the groove, bringing the disc's
life to an early end; too little and the stylus will skip, leaving
scratches on the record face. If your pickup arm can be adjusted,
keep stylus pressure between 2 and 8 grams. Check this frequently.
Records should be kept in a closed cabinet, where dust entrance
is kept to a minimum. And, if at all possible, the container should
be in a comparatively dry place where heat is not allowed to become
excessive. Moisture and heat are injurious as either can cause warping.
Slight warping may show up only as small variations in record speed,
called wows. If the warped condition is serious enough, the disc
becomes unplayable because the needle will not stay in the grooves.
To minimize these possibilities, discs should be stored in an
upright position, and preferably held together by other records,
books or cabinet dividers. This insures that all the records will
be straight and will be kept that way because of no room for bending.
Laying them flat in piles is not as good as the upright position
because, although the bottom ones are held down tight, those near
the top could warp.
These rules sound like common sense, but a surprising number
of record owners violate them consistently. By following them, the
listener can get the most value for his record dollar, listening
will be more enjoyable and free from noise and distortion, and long
lasting. Dealers and technicians who instruct their customers in
these basic facts will then enjoy the results of having customers
who are more satisfied and, most likely, will receive increased
business as a result.
*DeVry Technical Institute. Chicago, Ill.