When you listen to a record, you may notice a lot of hisses and pops, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In reality, this type of surface noise is usually preventable. The first step is to ensure that you know how to clean vinyl records. Do you usually clean your records before you play them? Records can be easily cleaned using a carbon fiber brush, and this should be done before and after you play a record, every time.
But if your records are clean and you’re still experiencing surface noise, then we also recommend you learn how to clean the record stylus.
Surface noise can also be caused by damage to the vinyl, static, or a dirty platter.
The diamond stylus tip is the only portion of the cartridge that touches the vinyl, so debris or dust on the stylus will have a major impact on the quality of sound.
Why Cleaning Your Stylus Matters
Regularly cleaning the stylus will not only ensure a better listening experience, but it can also mean a longer life for your records. By practicing appropriate stylus care, you’ll be able to avoid the following:
• Playback problems: No cartridge sounds good once it has accumulated a layer of dust. For accurate sound reproduction, there needs to be close contact between the record grooves and the stylus. Dust tends to interfere with this contact and can cause a scratchy or muffled sound that will lack in detail. A stylus that’s dirty will be more likely to jump out of the grooves. Actually, a dirty stylus is one of the most common mistracking causes.
• Vinyl damage: Dirt, dust, and other types of debris can act as abrasives when they’re caught between the record groove and the stylus. Each time you play a record, you’ll end up wearing it down a little. A dirty stylus can also speed up this process, leading to clarity loss.
Getting Your Stylus Clean
There are many techniques and products available that can get your stylus squeaky clean. Here are three simple methods that are cost-effective, fast, and simple. When following these techniques, keep in mind that the stylus is very fragile and should be treated with care.
Stylus cleaning products: Stylus cleaning products are typically easy to use and come in the form of a gel pad. To use, you’ll just lower the stylus onto the gel pad, lifting it in and out until the stylus tip is free of dirt and debris. These gel pads last forever and can be cleaned by rinsing them off in warm water. Simple enough, right?
Brush: A stylus brush is probably the most traditional method used and it’s often the method most cartridge manufacturers recommend. To use a stylus brush, just move the brush back and forth across the stylus in the same direction that a record spins. Some models will even come with cleaning fluid, however, we don’t recommend using liquid products to clean a stylus. Using a liquid cleaner can end up dissolving the adhesive that binds the cantilever to the stylus and it can also affect some of the interior parts of the cartridge.
Magic Eraser by Mr. Clean: This DIY method is inexpensive and has become a popular choice used by audiophiles. All you’ll need is a Magic Eraser, which you can find in pretty much any DIY supply or hardware store. To use, begin by cutting off a couple of inches of the eraser. Next, place the small portion of the eraser on the platter or on the plinth. Basically, you can place it anywhere that the tonearm can reach easily. Next, carefully lower the stylus onto the eraser. Continue to do this until the stylus doesn’t leave any residue behind.
Some types of Magic Erasers have one side that’s blue, as opposed to the traditional all-white eraser. The blue portion of the sponge is treated with chemicals that will harm the stylus. Make sure you don’t use that portion of the eraser, and instead stick to the white portion of the eraser only. Never wet the eraser before use.
Routine Stylus Maintenance
If you listen to your records often, you should clean the stylus at least once a week. While opinions tend to vary in terms of how frequently a stylus should be cleaned, the rate of dust accumulation on the stylus can depend on how clean your records are and how often you use your turntable. Regularly cleaning your vinyl before you play them should be your first line of defense against a dirty stylus. If your vinyl is older and has several layers of dust in the grooves, then you may need to invest in a vinyl record washer.
Make sure you keep a close eye on the stylus the next few times you listen to your records in order to get a better sense of how fast dust builds up and where it tends to accumulate. You should also beware of any dust accumulation located directly behind the tip of the stylus. This is actually very easy to miss and can cause distorted sound.
Stylus Life and Care
On average the stylus can last between two to three years or up to three thousand hours of play. But the truth is, this figure can easily be doubled if you follow a proper maintenance routine.
Remember, the thing that causes the stylus to wear down is dirty records. Dirt acts as an abrasive. A stylus that’s well taken care of and used on clean vinyl can last for several years with very little wear.
If you take good care of your stylus, or you’ve tried everything to improve sound quality including cleaning your turntable, vinyl, and the stylus and you’re still experiencing popping, hissing, and mistracking, then it may be time to replace the stylus. This is actually an affordable option and the stylus is easy to switch out. We recommend the 1byone turntable stylus needles.
However, while replacing the stylus can be an easy fix, it’s important to learn how to care for your stylus and records in order to avoid any unnecessary repairs and expenses, not to mention doing so will significantly lengthen the life and preserve the quality of your records.