The Technical Elements of Vinyl Record Cleaning

To understand how the new vinyl record cleaning solution, VRC Easy Spread n’ Peel, will eliminate the pops and crackles from your vinyl records (and how that saves you money) we need to understand the record itself and what happens when it is played.

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The Microgroove

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The microgroove record (what it was originally called when first produced in 1949) is played by placing a stylus, a highly polished and specially shaped piece of diamond mounted on the end of a fine rod called the cantilever, into the record groove.

The vibrations — caused by the force developed between the stylus tip and the three dimensional engravings on the sidewalls of the record groove — travel up the cantilever into the tonearm cartridge are turned into minute electrical impulses, which are then transformed into sound by the system amplifiers and speakers.

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The Wear and Care of Records and Styli by Harold D. Weiler was a study conducted to determine the effective life of phonograph styli and the effect of worn styli and dust on record life and quality of reproduction. The work remains the pre-eminent study on the topic. Check out the original study by clicking the link at the bottom of this section.

In Weiler’s words, the proper relationship between the stylus tip and the record groove is extremely important. The impressions on the walls of the record groove are microscopic, three-dimensional duplicates of the sound waves which created them. The pickup stylus must follow with extreme exactitude the variations of these impressions. This can only be accomplished if the original shape of the stylus tip is maintained. Anything that comes between the stylus and the groove walls will degrade the sound.

Writing about the new technology, Weiler observed that the new microgroove was so small that brushes and cloths would be ineffectual in properly cleaning the tiny depression. Worse, cloths were simply likely to push particles deeper into the groove with damage the likely result.

The Stylus

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The stylus is a very small artefact, its tip typically measuring about 25 µ (microns) or one thousandth of an inch at its tip.

The groove opening itself measures 100 µ tapering down to its basein a V shape.

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It is important to note that the stylus sits against the walls of the tapering groove barely touching each and slightly above the groove’s bottom. Material at the base of the groove therefore passes underneath the stylus. When a cleaning fluid lift this very fine material into suspension it is paramount that all of that created slurry be removed else it will be deposited on the groove walls where it will degrade the sound.

Stylus Wear and What it Does to Records

Stylus Wear And What It Does To Records

A brand-new stylus will sit in the groove touching each wall at opposing microscopic points. The effective pressure at these two points is something like 8 tons per square inch (80MPa) so it is no wonder that the stylus wears.

This is also the reason why abrasive dust must be eliminated from the groove else flat spots develop at each contact point. Should this wear be allowed to continue the leading edges of the flats will damage the groove walls.

The stylus tip is made of diamond and is polished to an extreme degree of smoothness to eliminate friction. Even though diamond is the hardest material on the planet, it still experiences wear, making its dust highly abrasive.

A brand-new stylus will sit in the groove touching each wall at opposing microscopic points. The effective pressure at these two points is something like 8 tons per square inch (80MPa) so it is no wonder that the stylus wears.

This is also the reason why abrasive dust must be eliminated from the groove else flat spots develop at each contact point. Should this wear be allowed to continue the leading edges of the flats will damage the groove walls.

The stylus tip is made of diamond and is polished to an extreme degree of smoothness to eliminate friction. Even though diamond is the hardest material on the planet, it still experiences wear, making its dust highly abrasive.

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1

Contaminants

Weiler’s analysis of dust removed from stylus tips used on dirty records revealed:

  • 12% jagged silica particles
  • 35% osmium, sapphire or diamond dust
  • 40% miscellaneous particles including soot, grit and particles worn from the record groove itself, and
  • The remaining 13% consisting of flocculated fibres and lint

In other words, over 60% of dust is harder than the vinyl record

2

Wow and Flutter Increased by Dust and Dirt

The term “Wow and Flutter” refers to changes in the speed of the media during playback which is a source of distortion. A constant turntable speed is imperative for high fidelity playback. Dust and dirt impeding the easy passage of the stylus through the groove represents a changing frictional load and increased wow and flutter.

3

Static Electricity

The friction created between the stylus tip and the groove accelerates the generation of static electricity. Even the friction generated by slipping the record into its jacket may induce static electricity. The bond created by static with dust and dirt is incredibly strong and until it is broken these contaminants cannot be removed.

4

Record & Stylus Maintenance

Restoring your records with ESP will ensure longer life both for the tonal qualities of LPs as well as for the effective life of the stylus. Regular use of the VRC Stylus Tip Cleaner will help ensure the removal of microscopic dust particles.

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For more on LP technical information,
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