Whether you're a first-time vinyl newbie or seasoned platter-player, it never hurts to discuss the care and maintenance of our records and turntables.
Since the popularity of vinyl – once thought to be a medium whose time had come and gone – is in the midst of a renaissance, we sought out an expert for advice. Pro-Ject Audio System's National Sales And Marketing Director and in-house vinyl expert, Jeff Coates, took time to discuss some of the company's vinyl and turntable maintenance products and gear, and how to keep your records spinning sweet tunes for years to come.
JEFF COATES: Absolutely! I clean every new, and "new-to-me" record that comes across my turntable. It's not at all uncommon for there to be residue from the manufacturing process in the grooves (of new records), and with used records... let's just say some of them have led very interesting lives.
JEFF: I'm a big believer in a thorough wet cleaning before the first play, and at least a quick brush for dust before every subsequent play. After a party or after a record's been in heavy rotation, I'll often do another wet cleaning on a vacuum cleaning system before putting it away.
JEFF: It's not a bad idea to gently clean your stylus whenever you see a "dust comet" trailing the stylus, or every 20 plays or so to get any small particles you might not see. Remember, though, that the stylus is fragile. Don't use a rag or the top of your finger! A soft, short bristle stylus cleaning brush should be used, and it should be pulled gently away from the front of the cartridge.
JEFF: Absolutely! It's always a good idea to lubricate your turntable's main bearing every year or so to make sure the platter rotates freely with minimal friction. For most turntables that use a recessed, stainless-steel main bearing, a drop or two of machine oil such as the Pro-Ject Lube It will do the trick. For turntables with a more sophisticated ceramic bearing, a lubricating paste such as the Pro-Ject Grease It is recommended.
JEFF: The biggest mistakes I see experienced vinyl owners make come down to carelessness, catching a loose sleeve on the tip of a stylus and damaging the cartridge or dropping a record while changing sides. Like any mechanical system, a turntable requires your attention and has a way of reminding you if you're not being careful. That said, most turntables are pretty robust, so you don't need to be scared, just take your time.
JEFF: I use a very simple biodegradable detergent cut 10-to-1 with distilled or double-osmosis filtered water. A gentle scrub with a soft bristle brush (Natural fibers work great here!) will release any debris caught in the groove, and then a few spins both clockwise and counterclockwise on my vacuum record cleaner result in clean, quiet, records that are ready to play.
JEFF: Let's remember here that the same basic vinyl record format has been with us since 1948, and there are plenty of records still out there in the wild from the early days of LPs that play beautifully today. In other words, records are durable if treated with respect. Keep your collection away from excessive heat, direct sunlight, and moisture, and store them vertically in a quality paper sleeve (bonus points for nicer "archival" sleeves") and your records will last for generations.
JEFF: I'm a bit biased of course, but you simply have to own one of our Debut series of turntables at some point. Seasoned audiophiles and newbies alike will love these 'tables. We absolutely make higher performance models for the aficionado – such as the X2 reviewed in HTR in 2019 – but there's a reason the Debut has been the choice of tens of thousands of music lovers since its introduction in 2012.
Pro-Ject Phono preamps are also a huge upgrade for many music lovers. They are fantastic, fully discrete, European-made preamp that will make any MM or MC cartridge sing and can be had for less than $300. Even our sub-$100 preamp models will blow away the basic offering built into most modern AV receivers, powered speakers, and integrated amplifiers.
JEFF: Pro-Ject products are consistently effective because we focus on what is required to produce great sound at a given price point and not on a bunch of features you'll never use that don't result in better sound. Our T1 turntable is a perfect example. We spent every dollar on high-performance parts, not on a plastic chassis and a clunky auto-return mechanism.
JEFF: Even with a mature technology like the LP, there are always new tricks and technologies being introduced. I'm especially heartened by the enhanced focus in recent years on vinyl care and cleaning, and the rise of super-effective, affordable cleaners. Combine this with the range of affordable, high-quality phono cartridges available today, and true high-fidelity analog playback is possible at prices that would have been unimaginable in the early '90s when Pro-Ject Audio Systems was founded.
JEFF: Do the math. You're going to spend hundreds of dollars on even a very modest collection of records, so play them on something worthy of their value. You don't have to go crazy, but a really basic turntable with a cheap cartridge, two-piece plastic tonearm, and a lousy drivetrain is going to perform poorly, and damage your records in the process. Invest in a decent deck with a quality cartridge and a solidly built, smooth-tracking tonearm. Connect it to a decent amplifier and a pair of speakers, and you'll leap beyond the crackling nostalgia so often attributed to records and into a world of truly immersive sound that you might just want to revisit for the rest of your days. To sum up: Have fun, explore new music, and support the music-makers and the independent dealers. They need us now more than ever.
• Visit the Pro-Ject website for more information.
• Pro-Ject Audio Systems MaiA Integrated Amplifier Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Pro-Ject X2 Turntable Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.