Once thought to be a dying medium, the use of vinyl records has seen a comeback of late. It was once thought that CDs and digital downloaded music would signal the end of LPs and singles, and for a while it looked as though that was indeed the case. However, the humble old record seems destined to live on.
Two main groups of users are responsible for this. The disc jockey and club market has always preferred vinyl records. Although difficult to handle and transport, and prone to damage, DJs still like the ‘feel’ of vinyl records and things like mixing and scratching are far easier with records that with digital sources. The other major group consists of hi-fi enthusiasts, many of whom have long suggested that the format is capable of extremely good quality. In fact, CD is technically capable of higher standards of reproduction, nevertheless most vinyl records these days (and many old ones too) are quite simply produced to higher standards than CDs are, they are also ‘mastered’ in order to get the very best out of the format, whereas CDs are often produced with a view to being played on relatively poorer equipment. There is also a strong suggestion that vinyl has a sort of sound that is subtly different.
The market for vinyl records among enthusiasts has grown in recent years, rather than contracted, and there is also a subcategory of very serious record collectors. Some older LPs are now highly prized pieces and extremely valuable, which in some ways is a shame as they are now never played! Most companies selling high-end audio equipment have a range or two of turntables in their products and there are also an increasing number of manufacturers producing record decks, ranging from the relatively low cost up to some models with incredibly high standards of engineering, and incredibly high prices to match.
The record to has changed a great deal over time. Originally known as the 78 (because of its playing speed) early LPs, standing for Long Playing, were made from compounds like shellac. Brittle and very fragile, these early discs also wore out quite easily, not least because of the mechanically crude record players of the time. In the middle of the twentieth century, the American company Columbia Records is believed to have been the first firm to market the LP in the format that remains the standard today. Manufactured from a vinyl compound that has changed little in the following decades, this construction was much stronger as less prone to damage than earlier records. Much of the change was the result of improvements to record playing equipment, which started to use a much narrower stylus enabling records to be manufactured with a smaller groove, thereby enabling a much greater playing length.
Although significantly better, wear still remained a problem with vinyl records and remains so to this day. The design of playing equipment has radically improved over the years, and these days the styli fitted to most equipment is far less damaging than it used to be. Nevertheless, one major issue remains, which is dirt. Because of the way a record works, the ‘groove’ is prone to collecting microscopic particles of dust and harder grit, which can wear both records and the stylus. The manufacturing process is also prone to leaving traces of the chemical that is applied to the mold to stop the record sticking when it is made. This is known as ‘release agent’ and even carefully manufactured records of high standards can still carry traces of this. All these factors add up to produce the clicks and popping noises that are familiar to listeners.
Even people with just a few records in their collection need to look at this and some sort of Record Cleaning is all but essential. A quick brush with a suitable device should always be carried out before playing, but every now and then, a deeper clean should be considered. When record cleaning equipment first began to be produced, it was aimed at the professional user, such as radio studios and record libraries. Large and extremely expensive, these were outside the range of all but the most serious collector. However, today there are a number of alternatives, ranging from small hand-powered devices to quite sophisticated equipment that uses chemical solutions to clean and then a vacuum device to remove dirt.
Whatever your investment, if you have even just a few records in your collection, then a record cleaner is all but essential. Record cleaning will preserve the life of your vinyl, and enhance your listening pleasure too!