Do vinyl LPs wear out? The Audiophiliac takes on that myth
Don't be scared off by the old bugaboo about record wear, says the Audiophiliac.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
I still own and enjoy LPs I bought decades ago, and even ones I've played hundreds of times still sound perfectly fine. I'll go further back, to original pressings of 50-plus-year-old Beatles and Rolling Stones LPs that have survived many hundreds of plays, and they also still sound great. I'm not claiming they're 100 percent noise-free, but they weren't dead quiet when they were brand spanking new.
Record noise -- occasional clicks and pops - are part of the sound of vinyl, but with an LP played on an audiophile-grade turntable those noises recede into the background. They really do.
You don't need to spend a lot of money to get a decent turntable to enjoy LPs -- the Audio Technica AT LP60 would be a great place to start.
Some of those noise is caused by dust and dirt lurking in the LP grooves, so a quick bath and rinse in distilled water can reduce the noise level to a degree. I don't use a fancy record cleaning machine or expensive liquid cleaners. When I need to clean a record, I do it by hand with distilled water to wash away dust and other crud. I described my disc-washing method in a previous blog.
It's no secret that LPs are delicate and can be easily scratched and damaged, but I've always taken good care of my records. "Good care" means I never left naked LPs sitting on the floor or handled them with dirty hands, and I always put them back in their sleeves after playing them. Those are hardly heroic measures, but they allowed me to assure that my many thousands of LPs are still reasonably quiet.
As for wear-induced noise, most of that comes from playing records with a worn-out or damaged stylus (aka needle) that's literally gouging the grooves with each play. Any decent cartridge will play records without damaging the groove. Just make sure the stylus tracking force is set to the cartridge manufacturer's recommendation. A force setting that's too high or too low can accelerate record wear and noise.
I still think that LP noise and wear are over-hyped, because even when I listen at home with high-resolution speakers that are much clearer than what most people have, record wear and noises are minimal. As always, I'd love to hear feedback from readers: what's your experience with record wear? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.