Undeniably, vinyl records offer an audio experience like no other. However, records, turntables, and various other pieces of equipment can deteriorate over time, resulting in audio crackle. But what are the causes of vinyl crackles, and how do you fix them?
What are the causes of vinyl crackle, and how to fix them? There are various causes of vinyl crackle, including the dirtiness of a vinyl record, static build-up, cleanliness of the stylus, and the overall record quality. Each occurrence can be radically reduced by implementing correct maintenance to your audio equipment.
In this article, we'll be discussing the main culprits of vinyl crackle, along with fixtures to ensure the maximum longevity of clean audio.
The 4 Main Culprits Of Vinyl Crackle And Fixtures
As mentioned, there are four leading causes of vinyl crackle: dirtiness of a vinyl record, static build-up, cleanliness of the stylus, and the overall record quality. Each can be reduced by following the maintenance techniques we explain below.
But you must understand that vinyl crackle cannot be eliminated entirely. Records, turntables, styluses, and various other audio equipment can become damaged for different reasons throughout their lifespan.
However, you can prolong their quality by implementing the below fixtures so that you can listen to clear audio for longer.
Let's consider the four main causes of vinyl crackle and how to fix each of them:
The most prominent reason for vinyl crackle is the physical dirtiness of the record. Even in the cleanest environments, records can attract dust, dirt, skin oils (from handling), and various other debris. If left unchecked, these can begin to fall into the record's grooves, compress, and eventually interfere with the operation and tracking of your turntable's stylus.
When these microscopic particles build up, the styluses' trackability decreases, resulting in crackle, skips, or unclear audio. An easy preventive action and/or fix for this issue is, undoubtedly, to clean your records. Luckily, this doesn't require a high-level sound production degree, only that you'll follow the below how-to guide:
- Wipe gently – Begin removing all large debris and static with a microfiber cloth. When doing this, apply only a tiny amount of pressure to guarantee you don’t force the particles further into the record’s grooves.
- Rinse – With another clean microfiber cloth, dampen it with water (preferably distilled water), and lightly wipe around the record in a circular motion that follows the grooves. Note – avoid the center label at all costs because it can ruin the adhesive.
- Apply solution – Afterward, apply a record cleaning solution like the Audio-Technica AT634a to the microfiber cloth and repeat the same process as above. The solution is scientifically formulated to remove hard-wearing dust and other particles.
- Damp-wipe clean – Now, you need to wipe the solution away with a clean cloth.
- Dry thoroughly – With another cloth, ensure the record is completely dry from the water and cleaning solution.
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Following the above primary cleaning technique will ensure dirt-free records. However, for more straightforward cleaning, you can use a record washer system like the Pro-Ject VC-S2 ALU. Notably, this doesn't offer a deeper clean than the hands-on method shown above, but it'll undoubtedly save you some time.
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The materials that records are created with are non-conductive, meaning you'll never receive an electric shock from them. However, it doesn't mean a vinyl record cannot build up a significant static charge.
Unfortunately, a static build-up can cause several issues, such as directly affecting the sound quality, presenting crackles or pops, and more. Additionally, dust and other microscopic particles love static energy, making the record a magnet for these types of debris.
But how does static become an issue with records?
Static can get generated from various things such as the record's production, the way it's been packaged, and even removing the vinyl out of the sleeve, which all add extra electrons onto the record.
Although you can't eliminate static from a record, you can reduce it with various tools. Use a fibre brush and anti-static gun, and by all means, don't use felt vinyl mats. Instead, consider using cork, rubber, or genuine cowhide mats because these don't charge vinyl records with static energy.
Cleanliness Of The Stylus
A turntable stylus is located on the phono cartridge. It's a small sharp-pointed pin that tracks the record's grooves and reads vibrations that can later be converted into electrical signals. This small, innovative component is why we can extract sound from records.
As you can imagine, the cleanliness of a stylus will significantly affect the audio quality produced. It can cause skipping in the sound and most importantly, crackle. Therefore, similarly to a record, you'll want to guarantee you perform adequate maintenance to your stylus. Here's how you can accomplish this:
- The Magic Eraser – A Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is commonly used to clean a stylus. To effectively clean your stylus, lift your tonearm upwards and repeatedly stab the stylus in and out of the pad. By doing this, small unwanted particles that have built up will be detached.
- A Stylus Brush – Additionally, a stylus brush with the appropriate cleaning solution is also ideal. It’ll remove any unwanted debris while reducing the static energy built up on the stylus.
- Record cleanliness – Lastly, the overall cleanliness of a stylus is a direct representation of the maintenance performed on the records themselves. With clean records, a stylus cannot become dirty.
Including the above, the quality of the records could be causing vinyl crackle. As records become older, they deteriorate. It's a challenging situation that's hard to avoid because of the materials used. Damage can occur on the surface or grooves as they become older, causing crackles, skips, and other unwanted noises.
When records encounter severe damage to the integrity of the vinyl, it's almost irreversible. Some professional specialists can unwarp, de-scratch, and repair your vinyl records, but they're hard to come by. Therefore, to guarantee you aren't confronted with this, ensure you perform adequate maintenance on your equipment.
After reading this article, you should have a more comprehensive idea of what could potentially cause vinyl crackle and how you can determine and appropriately act on the issue to reduce its occurrence. Undoubtedly, it's a very frustrating situation, but it can be reduced radically with a bit of extra care and attention.