5 Pro Tips To Tune Up Your Record Player For Record Store Day

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Record Store Day 2019 is right around the corner and "Spring Cleaning" has never seemed more relevant than now, at least for your record player and vinyl collection. The avid listener should employ these steps on a regular basis to ensure you're maximizing fidelity.

It's firstly most important to recognize your record player as a precision instrument. It requires consistent maintenance, just as any precision device might. This bodes true for affordable systems and especially true for higher-end systems, whose parts are finnicky at best, and downright needy at their worst.

The result is always worth it-amazing sounding music-but, to achieve that, follow the five tips below on a regular basis and you'll be rewarded with the music the way the artist intended.

1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness

You need to ensure your record player and records are spotlessly clean every time you play one. The scratch and pop associated with listening to records is actually distortion caused by debris and buildup on the record and record player components. It may be romantic to some, but if you're not about the romance and want the absolute best listening experience, you need to clean that up.

Start with a record cleaning kit the includes a velvet bush, antistatic cleaning fluid and a carbon fiber cleaning brush.  If your records are clean, use the carbon fiber brush to clear away dust prior to playing your record.  If the record is dirty, use the fluid and felt brush for a deep clean.

To properly clean your records, using a cleaning brush and gently brush with the grooves, never across the grooves. Make sure you're handling your records appropriately by grasping the center of the record with your forefingers and the very outer edge with your palm. This video is a great tutorial.

Also consider purchasing a stylus brush, which is a precision instrument intended to clean micro hairs, fibers and debris from your very sensitive and fussy stylus. Here's a great video on how to clean that very sensitive instrument.

2. Store It Like You Love It

Alongside keeping your record player components clean, you will need to ensure your records are also just as unblemished. Realistically, you should be cleaning your records before every use, and storing them properly to ensure they sound great every time and last a lifetime. Here are a few quick tips:

Always store your records vertically, not horizontally. Vinyl will warp over time if left sideways. Also, don't stack records too close  to each other, give each record a little room to breathe.

Invest in archival sleeves to reduce the amount of dust and particulates that accumulate on the record's surface; also consider investing in a platter mat to ensure you're not dirtying your records every time they're played.

3. Pursue Perfect Stylus Pressure

The way in which your stylus actually contacts the record is incredibly important. In general, you want to ensure the stylus pressure precisely matches the requirement of your cartridge. The process for setting stylus pressure varies from record player to record player. Generally you have a counterbalance at the end of the tonearm, which will enable you to set pressure. Here is an easy way to ensure you're adjusting pressure correctly:

Take a stack of business cards and a gram scale (you can get these on Amazon for less than $15). Set the gram scale on top of the stack of business cards at the same height your record sits on the platter, then lower the tonearm until the stylus rests on the gram scale.
Every cartridge has a specific contact weight associated with it, signifying the ideal stylus pressure. Generally, the lower the weight, the better the cartridge.
Adjust the counterweight until you've achieved the stylus pressure as signified by the gram scale, and you're done. This video is a great tutorial on how to execute this process.

4. Cartridge Alignment Ensures Fidelity Across the Record

Something you may not notice right away, but is also hugely important is the angle at which the stylus meets the record. Typically companies have specific angles at which they set their stylus for ideal listening, but for folks looking for the absolute best fidelity, you may want to prescribe to something a little more precise. To do this, we recommend investing in a stylus protractor tool. This ruler-like mechanism provides two separate grids that ensure perfect alignment with the center of the record. This way, your stylus is contacting the record at the ideal angle from the first song at the outer rim of the record all the way to the last song at the inner-most rim.

We found this video to be helpful in using a stylus protractor tool.

5. Dictate Imaging with Tone Arm Positioning

The angle of your stylus to the record affects the stereo image (aka, where specific instruments are located in space). This phenomenon occurs because the z-axis-or vertical motion of the stylus-contains information allowing us to extract a stereo signal from a single groove. If the angle is incorrect, the location of the stereo image will be off-center.

To tune this, you'll need to use your ears and do some critical listening.  Generally a good vocal track is located precisely in the middle of the image. If your tone arm is too low, often the image will also be too low. Try a few adjustments up and down to see if you can hear the images moving through space.

6. Record Player Isolation is Critical for Pure Playback

We see a lot of people placing their speakers on the same surface as the record player, which is an absolute non-starter if you want a high-fidelity listening experience. Why? Well, your cartridge is an extremely delicate device specially designed to translate vibrations into amplifiable sound. Any vibrations felt on the surface of the record will be picked up by the cartridge and sound disastrous.

We recommend investing in a sturdy Hi-Fi rack or placing your record player on a separate surface than the other components in your system.

With these few easy-and not so easy-tips, you will have a superior listening experience with your record player and records right away. Remember to check out the Record Store Day 2019 website for additional information on deals and updates from your local record store. Happy listening.