There Are Six Elements to Vinyl Record Care
- Cleaning the Vinyl Record Surfaces
- Cleaning and Repairing Damage to the Album Cover
- Applying a Proper Clear Outer Sleeve Over the Album Cover
- Using a Proper Inner Record Sleeve
- Caring For the Vinyl Record Before it is Played
- The Proper Kind of Vinyl Record Playing Equipment
Begin with a Good Quality Record
One of the most important elements of vinyl record care is to begin with your records in good condition. The easiest way to achieve that is to buy new sealed records. There are many NOS Sealed Records available on eBay, just search in the Classical Records sub-category with "sealed" in the search box. Be aware that records "still in plastic" are NOT the same: this means the plastic is around the album, but it has been slit open and the record has been played, so is used. I have purchased more than 100 "sealed" records, and have never received a bogus, used and re-sealed record. Not to say that it can't happen. It is usually easy to tell that the plastic is original, because it is old, fragile, and has some yellowing.
Evaluating Used Records
Used records can be in excellent condition, a close look at the record surface can tell you how much wear it has. If the surface looks pristine, then it is likely that the record has been taken well taken care of. If it has been overplayed, or played on a low-quality system, there can be a lot of distortion even if the record was handled well and cleaned. Let the buyer Beware!
Cleaning the Vinyl Record Surfaces
Your first step in proper vinyl record care is keeping the vinyl surfaces clean. There are many devices available to clean the vinyl, at all price levels. Some styles, like the "As Seen on TV" Spin-Clean, are inadequate for proper care. At the other end of the spectrum are expensive heavy machines with multiple motors/pumps to turn, spray, and vacuum the record; costing $1,000 or more. For non-professionals, this is probably overkill.
I recommend the EV-1 entry-level system, based on the "Nitty-Gritty" brand of automatic cleaners. You can find it at KAB record cleaning site, which also sells the Nitty Gritty. The EV-1 uses your home vacuum cleaner connected to the unit. You manually rotate the record, apply the solution with a brush, and then vacuum it dry. You are in control of each cleaning step, which is an advantage. Some very dirty records will need two cleanings or more. But the difference in sound can be amazing.
Where to Buy
Here is a link to KAB. On their website, click on "Nitty Gritty" at the bottom of the page, and Select the Model EV-1, which is currently offered at $169.00 (price subject to change). KAB sells great cleaning fluids too, both for vinyl and for 78 rpm shellac records. They also have an Enzymatic Formula that removes Protein (food and body secretion) residue. Replacement brushes and pads are easy to get. KAB has no affiliate program and we receive no commission for recommending them.
Cleaning and Repairing Damage to the Album Cover
Although not strictly vinyl record care, you may find that cleaning and repairing your album covers makes them more appealing. I use a damp washrag to clean the surfaces of the album cover. Then I used a large set of colored pens to touch up the colors. I use a wide black permanent marker for areas of black. Once the chips, scratches, and tears have been repaired for color; then apply Elmer's glue to tears and close them up, then you can apply weight to the cover while it dries. Use some books as weights, with wax paper over the tears to keep any glue residue off your books. You can go deluxe and order a library-quality adhesive, which is also better for book repair - see the Amazon links below. This dries clear and is pH neutral. After everything is dry, spray a little "Pledge" furniture polish on the cover and polish to make the colors pop.
Applying a Proper Clear Outer Sleeve to the Album
Another important aspect of vinyl record care is protecting the record when not in use. This requires good quality sleeves for both the album cover and the record itself. A clear outer sleeve is important to prevent abrasion and water damage to the album cover. Tape the two edges of the sleeve to the inside of the cover (see the photo above) so that it doesn't show from the front. KAB also sells sleeves; but I use Sleeve City, which sells on their website and on Amazon. I like purchasing from Amazon because of the convenience, Free Shipping, and fast delivery with Amazon Prime membership.
Using a Proper Inner Record Sleeve with Polyethylene Lined Paper Sleeves
Sleeve City (through Amazon) also has the best inner sleeves that will protect the vinyl surfaces when inserting and extracting the records from the album. For your best vinyl record care, I recommend replacing your paper sleeves with new polyethylene ones. Old paper-only sleeves let more dust in, and the surface of the paper can wear the vinyl more than polyethylene, which is extremely smooth and slippery. You can get them through the link above.
Care For the Vinyl Record While it is Being Played
There are three elements of vinyl record care that I do regularly before I play a record:
(1) Use a DiscWasher Brush and their D-3 cleaning fluid.
The original DiscWasher brush is the best option for this if you can get one. The original padded DiscWasher brush had a fabric on it with gentle bristles, that had a nap with one direction. I keep a clean washrag folded twice to first clean the brush by wiping it "with the nap". I then put a few drops of the fluid across the brush, where it contacts the record. Then, with the record turning, I hold the brush lightly over the record "against the nap" for several revolutions, rotating the brush a little to pull dust off the record.
Original vs. New DiscWasher Brush
The original DiscWasher had an arrow engraved into the wood to show you how to orient it with respect to the record, turning towards the nap. The DiscWasher model currently being sold is not made with bristles but with a fabric similar to corduroy which simply does not get down into the grooves. To get the proper cleaning quality for vintage records, I recommend an original model Discwasher, which you can sometimes find used on eBay or at a garage sale.
Original DiscWasher brushes last for years if taken care of. It is unlikely that a used one will show any wear on the bristle fabric unless it has been misused. If you cannot get original D-3 fluid, the D-4 fluid now being made is probably okay but you can use the KAB cleaning fluids too. The D-3 fluid contains distilled water, some alcohol (to help it dry), and a drop or two of dish soap (to "wet" the water so it will easily go into the grooves). [I know, there is only one groove on a record side, but it sounds funny to say groove] Our link to eBay doesn't completely filter out the undesirable new DiscWasher items, but if it is new at $10-$15, RCA branded, or has D-4 fluid, it is the newer wrong DiscWasher.
(2) Spray the record with a Zerostat Antistatic Gun.
These guns generate an ion spray to neutralize the electric static on the record, which is generated by taking the record out of the sleeve and handling it. Remember in Science class how you would rub an acrylic rod with furry fabric to make the rod attract small pieces of paper? This also happens to a vinyl record, causing it to attract dust in the air while the record plays.
The Zerostat gun was great back in the 70's and early 80's. That version was red, and it is being manufactured again in blue. The trick is to pull the trigger slowly in one direction and then release it slowly in the other direction. This neutralizes the charge: one or two cycles of pull-and-release. You do this as the record is spinning, and it should be done AFTER the Discwasher cleaning. Don't put your finger into the end of the gun unless you want a big shock. The gun uses no batteries. It often comes with other DiscWasher accessories on eBay. The old red gun is fine if it has not been misused; it will last for years if taken care of.
(3) Clean the Cartridge Stylus
I clean the stylus of the cartridge Monthly, using a good Stylus Cleaning Brush and the either Discwasher D-3 or KAB fluid. The trick is to pull the brush straight toward you from the back of the cartridge to the front. Use enough upward pressure against the stylus so that it buries into the brush. As long as there is no sideways motion, it will not damage the stylus and shank.
A Stylus builds up dirt more slowly when you perform steps (1) and (2) above each time you play a record. You can also get an original DiscWasher Stylus Cleaning Brush off eBay. It is made of wood, and the brush folds into the wooden handle to protect it. In fact, the original DiscWasher came in a nice walnut stand that held all accessories, including a ZeroStat gun.
The Proper Kind of Record Playing Equipment
Last, but not least, proper vinyl record care requires that you play your records only on good quality equipment. I do not recommend getting a new record player from a retail or wholesale store which sells other kinds of products than audio equipment. Those low-cost turntables in retro-styles of the 30's, 40's, 50's use ultra-cheap turntable systems from China.
Problems with Cheap Turntables
Cheap turntables have significant Wow and Flutter. Wow is lower frequency speed variations caused by poor quality motors, belt, bearings, and light weight platters. The human ear/brain is very sensitive to this, which has a peak sensitivity at 4 Hz, that creates a "sourness" in sustained chords. Flutter is higher in frequency, up to 300 Hz. This can also be audible to even untrained ears when they hear the same music played on an excellent turntable.
A second important defect that is found in cheap turntables is Rumble. This is more important in these days of Sub-woofers than ever. I love Sub-woofers; I wouldn't be without one. But I don't want to hear a low rumble sound from the speakers that you can only hear from playing vinyl records. You will not hear significant rumble from a good quality turntable that is in good condition. That means with good bearings in the platter and the motor, a good rubber belt (if it has one), and good lubrication, particularly with a rebuild record changers.
Economical Used Turntables
The most economical turntable with adequate quality may a used "belt-drive" or "DC direct-drive" turntable. You can find them on eBay, Craigslist, or even a garage sale. Yes, you might get a dud, but it won't hurt much financially. Look for good cosmetics, no damage or missing parts, and a recommendation from the seller who knows that it has been well-stored, and working with no issues. I would replace the cartridge. The above turntables should not have problems with dried out lubrication because little lubrication is needed. If the above is Greek (or Geek) to you, locate someone knowledgeable you can trust to help you find a turntable.
Buying Good Quality New Equipment
The very best way to acquire an excellent turntable is to visit an audio dealer, not a car stereo dealer or large-box electronic store that doesn't have knowledgeable sales help. High-end turntables can cost as much as $10K+ today, yet the typical retail price for an excellent turntable is around $1000. You may hear "Back in my day you could get a good turntable for $100." When you compare prices of products between 1970 and today, $1000 is not unreasonable.
But audio dealers who specialize in good components won't stay in business if they don't have good low-cost units to sell, so tell them you are on a budget and take their recommendations. You can find something acceptable for $500, maybe less, and it will run rings around those cheap Chinese turntables.
Testing Your Equipment Quality
I have been an audio enthusiast since I was about 15 years old (that was 1965) and I know what I'm talking about. I've had many good systems over the years, all acquired for their excellent value. I currently use a Miracord 50-H record changer, which I got off eBay and rebuilt. I have a changer so I can play the "Standard Treasury" records properly. Old record changers need complete rebuilds due to their complexity and hardened lubrication, but I think they are coolest machines!
If you want to research new turntables for yourself, I suggest Stereophile Magazine. Their website has reviews of most current turntables. YouTube has videos on how to select a turntable, as well as reviews. If you want to test the quality of your turntable, watch this site! I will be soon manufacturing a small hand-held Flutter meter that meets the latest 2008 International Standards. I'll update this page when it is available.