By Brendon Stead, SVP of Product Development & Engineering at Sound United (parent company to Denon)
Record Store Day 2019 is upon us and the idea of “Spring Cleaning” definitely applies to your turntable and vinyl collection to ensure you’re maximizing fidelity. It’ll take you a long way as you celebrate this musical day and the many others to follow.
First, it’s important to recognize your turntable as a precision instrument. It requires consistent maintenance, just as any precision device does. This is true for all Hi-Fi systems, and especially true for those higher-end ones, whose meticulously crafted parts require the utmost care.
The result is always worth it — amazing sounding music. But, to achieve that, be sure to follow these six pro tips 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 turntable and records are spotlessly clean every time you play them. The scratch and pop associated with listening to records is actually distortion caused by debris and buildup on the record and turntable components. It may be a sound of nostalgia to some, but if you’re not about the romance and want the absolute best listening experience, you’ve got 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 deeper clean.
To properly clean your records, use 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 offers 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 another great video on how to clean that very sensitive instrument.
2. Store your records with love
Realistically, you should be cleaning your records before playing them, and storing each one properly to ensure they sound great every time you listen and so they last a lifetime. It’s easy to do and over time becomes second nature.
Make sure you always store your records vertically on the album cover’s outer edges, not horizontally on their flat surfaces. Vinyl will warp over time if stored horizontally. And don’t stack records too close to each other, either — 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 help keep your records extra clean every time they’re played.
3. Achieve perfect stylus pressure
The way your turntable’s 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 in every turntable. In most cases, 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:
This video also provides a great tutorial on the above 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 they set their stylus for ideal listening. But if you’re looking for the absolute best fidelity, you may want something a little more precise.
To do this, it’s recommended you invest 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.
Here’s another video to help you with the stylus protractor tool.
5. Dictate imaging with tone arm positioning
The angle of your stylus to the record affects the stereo image (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 on the tone arm to see if you can better hear the images moving through space.
6. Turntable isolation is critical for pure playback
Too many people place their speakers on the same surface as the turntable, which is not recommended if you want a high-fidelity listening experience. Why? 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 bad.
To avoid this, it is recommended that you invest in a sturdy Hi-Fi rack, or that you place your turntable on a separate surface than the other components in your system.
With these easy — albeit meticulous — tips, you’re sure to have a superior listening experience with your turntable and vinyl right away.
And remember to check out the Record Store Day 2019 website for additional information on deals and updates from your local record store, as well as all things Denon turntables for the latest offers. Happy listening!