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12 Jun 2020

6 expert tips for taking care of your record player

Keep your turntable looking and sounding its best, and protect your precious vinyl collection in the process

You might have spent some of your time in lockdown nostalgically fanning through your vinyl collection and digging out some classics. But if your turntable isn't sounding as soothing as it once did, it's probably time to give it a service.

A build-up of dust will ruin the turntable's audio quality, while a worn-down stylus will potentially damage your precious records.

Below, we've rounded up some expert advice on maintaining your record player, including some tips on what to look for if your system has had its day.

Best Buy record players - treat your ears and records to a top-notch turntable

Common record player and turntable questions answered

1. What's the best way to clean a record player?

There are a couple of ways to clean your record player effectively. A simple fix involves wiping your record player gently with antistatic cloth - this will remove any dust or debris that has gathered on the machine.

But if you're willing to spend a little more money on maintaining your record player, consider investing in an antistatic gun. Static is bad news for your records, as it attracts dust, which spoils your favourite tunes with unwelcome 'crackle' and 'pop' noises.

You can pick up an antistatic gun online, like the Milty Zerostat 3 pictured above, which was recommended by our lab. It will emit positive and negative ions when you pull the trigger, getting rid of any static - simply place your record on the platter, pull the trigger and then finish up with a wipe using a brush or antistatic cloth.

You can make sure the record player stays dust-free by buying a dust cover if your turntable is missing one. You can expect to pay around £10-20 for one of these.

If you're unsure on the best way to clean your record player, check the instruction manual that came with the product or visit the brand's website. We've listed all of the popular brands' support pages below.

2. What's the best way to clean a record?

To clean the record itself, use a record cleaning brush - the most popular type is a velvet antistatic vinyl brush. These aren't too expensive (usually less than £20) and keep your records dust-free.

Rotate the record on the turntable and gently apply the brush for a couple of revolutions. You can add some vinyl cleaning fluid to the brush, but don't soak it.

3. Why does my record player sound bad?

Your first mission should be to find out whether the fault is with your record/s or the record player itself. Play a selection of your records and pay attention to the quality of the audio. If it's consistently poor, the issue is probably with your record player.

It's also worth checking to see if the stylus on your record player is out of position or flattened out. A new stylus will have a rounded tip, but over time this wears down and falls further into the groove of your records. If this is the case, it's time to replace your stylus (see point 5 for more details).

If you have access to another record player, try playing your dodgy record on that model and see if you experience the same issues. If you do, it's a fault with the vinyl. If not, you might need to look into getting your record player repaired professionally or replaced entirely.

Cheap record players are often let down by heavy tracking weights, which puts extra pressure on your records every time you play them.

If you've got some complaints about a new record player you've just set up, we've got some bad news - it might be one of our Which? Don't Buy record players. Consult our expert record player reviews for confirmation.

4. How do I fix a record player that doesn't spin?

For starters, check the power supply. Are there any lights on your model that are meant to activate when you flip a switch? It's worth plugging the record player in at a different point in the house to check.

If you own a belt-drive turntable and know that the power supply isn't at fault, make sure the belt hasn't separated from the pulley.

In most cases, a record player that refuses to spin will have some kind of mechanical fault. You might want to remove the turntable mat and peek inside the machine to check the belt and motor wheel are still connected correctly. If everything seems as though it's in the correct position, you might need to consult the manufacturer or an audio professional.

5. When is the best time to replace the stylus on a turntable?

This will vary depending on the model you own, but generally, manufacturers recommend replacing the stylus every 1,000 hours or so. You should get a couple of years from your stylus before it needs swapping out.

To check the condition of your stylus, grab a magnifying glass and look for signs of wear on the needle. Jagged edges in the needle head can damage your records, so this is something to look out for if you want to preserve your collection.

You can buy stylus cleaners online for fairly cheap. These are designed to reach difficult spots without causing damage to your record player. Don't use your fingers to wipe down the stylus.

Crucially, the cartridge on your record player needs to be aligned correctly so that the stylus sits neatly in the groove. Good alignment can make a world of difference to sound quality.

6. What's the best way to store records?

Storing your records in a safe space ultimately means you'll get better sound quality when you play them.

Make sure your records are stored vertically, ideally in antistatic sleeves. If you stack your records flat on top of each other, the weight of the pile will affect the shape of the records over time.

You'll also want to make sure your record collection isn't sat in direct sunlight where they could warp.

Manufacturer support pages

The major record player brands listed below have support pages on their sites which explain how to care for your specific model.

To help you make sense of the terminology used in these support pages, we've put together a handy record player jargon buster.

Buying a record player: features to look out for

If you're constantly having to repair your record player to keep it sounding its best, you might be due an upgrade.

When shopping for a new record player, make sure you're paying attention to some of these key features:

Cartridge type

The stylus (or needle) of your record player is kept in position by the cartridge. There are two main types of cartridge - ceramic and moving-magnet.

A ceramic cartridge is probably the more tempting option if you're on a budget, but it's important to note that these generally produce a lower-quality signal compared to a moving-magnet cartridge.

Manual or automatic?

If you really want an authentic record player experience, you'll enjoy a manual record player. These require you to lift the tonearm onto your record while it's spinning.

But if you'd prefer to enjoy your music without much of a setup process, go with an automatic machine. Automatic record players will place the stylus into the groove of the record with a simple button press.

Built-in speakers

We've tested a range of record players with built-in speakers, which save you from having to hook up the model to a hi-fi. However, we've rarely found models with built-in speakers to be of good quality, and you need to be careful if listening at a high volume as the vibrations can affect the path of the stylus.

Make sure you pick a reliable, feature-packed record player for your living room with our guide on how to buy the best record player or turntable.