How to Optimise the Sound of your Turntable and Records



In This Series

If you’ve just purchased a turntable, or are looking to optimise an existing system, there are a great many tweaks and products which claim to improve the sound of your records offering varied results. The first thing that you can do is to Set Up your Turntable, correctly setting the tracking force, anti-skate and in many cases the cartridge alignment. A digital tracking force gauge, available for under £20, is a must-have accessory and will allow you to verify the vertical tracking force of your cartridge, achieving accuracy far beyond that achievable using the dials on most tonearms.

Accurate cartridge alignment is a must too, though the difference between alignment methods with an accurately aligned cartridge isn’t always as night and day as some would have you believe. In general, sticking with the alignment specified by your manufacturer is the best option.

Record Care

Storage

Correct storage of your records is imperative to keep them in good condition. Improper storage will cause your records to warp and may even cause damage to the outer record jackets. Records should be stored vertically, standing on their edges either in cases or on suitable shelving. If you’re using shelving be mindful that the weight of a shelf of records can quickly add up, and it’s important to ensure that your shelf system is capable of supporting the weight of your collection. A collapsed shelf can destroy all or part of a collection in a matter of seconds so don’t overlook this important step. Fortunately record storage need not cost the earth. Record cases are fairly cheap and will hold 50-60 12” records which amounts to a manageable weight. Ikea’s Kallax shelving range is ideal for vinyl storage, as was the Expedit range that proceeded it.

Cleaning

The condition of your records will have a profound effect on the sound of your turntable. It is vital that your records be kept in clean condition not only to improve the sound but also to reduce the wear to both record and stylus. As the stylus tracks the record, dirt particles berried within the grooves collect on the stylus, and in some cases are pushed deeper into the groove of the record. At best, the result will be a dirty stylus, at worst a skipping or damaged record.

Several devices exist to clean your records. If you’re on a tight budget, an anti-static record brush is a must-have accessory and will allow you to brush the surface dust from your records prior to playback.

If you have a larger collection, a cleaning machine is an invaluable tool. Manual machines such as the £40 Knosti Disco Antistat are a great place to start, brushing the dirt from the grooves as the record is manually rotated within a bath of fluid. Such machines can however have trouble reaching the dirt berried deep within the grooves, and the records must be left for several hours to air dry.

A vacuum machine such as Pro-Ject’s £299 VC-S will attack deep groove dirt, lifting it from the groove by way of a powerful vacuum leaving your record spotlessly clean. If you’ve thousands to spend, ultrasonic cleaning will achieve the best results, though eh vacuum machine will get you most of the way there.

Sleeves

Whether cleaned or brushed, records should be placed in anti-static inner sleeves, as opposed to the paper or card sleeves in which most are supplied. Paper and card sleeves cause static buildup on the records, causing them to attract dust which has the potential to scratch the record as it is slid into and out of the sleeve. Poly-lined inner sleeves don’t suffer from these issues and are a great way to preserve the condition of your records. They can be slid into the record jacket along-side the original inner sleeve, meaning that the original can be retained for its artwork and to retain the record’s value.

Many record collectors also choose to place their records into polythene outer sleeves. These thin plastic covers contain the outer jacket of the record, helping to prevent seem splits, creasing and damage to the record cover. Avoid the heavyweight PVC sleeves as they have a habit of sticking to the record sleeves over time, causing damage to the artwork. The light gauge polythene sleeves are however perfectly safe and will keep your record covers looking like new. I purchase mine from Covers33 who offer a great range at excellent prices.

Stylus Care

Just as keeping your records clean is important, so too is care of the stylus for it is that which interfaces with the record groove. Even when playing clean records, a stylus will collect all manor of dirt from the groove, which distorts its shape hindering its ability to track the record. There are many methods for cleaning a stylus, including the use of a brush, cleaning fluid, and even an ultrasonic stylus cleaner.

A brush works reasonably well though involves a certain amount of risk. You should only brush the stylus from back to front following the cantilever. Fluid is risky too as many stylus cleaning fluids contain alcohol. Application of too much fluid can damage the cartridge as the excessive fluid creeps up the cantilever and dissolves the rubber suspension holding it in place.

The safest methods are those that do not require the user to come into contact with the stylus itself. Ultrasonic cleaners use a vibrating pad which vibrates the stylus at a high frequency dislodging the dirt. However such devices are expensive at around £120, and have been known to damage the fragile internal wiring of some cartridges.

By far the safest and most cost-effective method is the £21 Vinyl Passion DustBuster. This tiny pot of polymer gel is specially formulated for the purpose of stylus cleaning and it couldn’t be simpler to use. Dropping the stylus into the sticky compound and then raising it up again causes the dirt particles to stick to the compound, leaving the stylus microscopically clean. When it gets dirty, the DustBuster can be washed under warm water and left to air dry.

This article is part of our Guide to Turntables and Vinyl series. Continue reading: Part 9, How To Purchase a Used Turntable.

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About Ashley

I founded Audio Appraisal a few years ago and continue to regularly update it with fresh content. An avid vinyl collector and coffee addict, I can often be found at a workbench tinkering with a faulty electronic device, tweaking a turntable to extract the last bit of detail from those tiny grooves in the plastic stuff, or relaxing in front of the Tannoys with a good album. A musician, occasional producer and sound engineer, other hobbies include software programming, web development, long walks and occasional DIY. Follow @ashleycox2

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