Hi-Fi Record Care
July 1958 Radio-Electronics[Table of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the Radio & Television News magazine. Here is a list of the Radio-Electronics articles I have already posted. All copyrights (if any) are 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 the music.
See all available vintage Radio-Electronics articles.
By Arthur A. Hundley*
Your records need babying for their longer life and your continued enjoyment
With 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 record itself!
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 can occur.
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 order.
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 grooves.
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.