They may be made from diamonds, the hardest substance known to man, but the needle on your record player is far from impervious to damage.
They’re not as fragile as some make them out to be, so if you make a mistake or fumble when setting the tracking weight, don’t sweat it. A small amount of rough and tumble won’t break them.
It is important; however, that you’re as gentle with them as you possibly can be in order to extend their service life. The diamond will eventually wear out in the grooves of your records anyway, but you want to enjoy as many of your favorite records as possible before that happens.
If you want to treat your record player needle with respect, you can…
- Always use the cueing lever instead of your hands to place the stylus on the record.
- If your record player doesn’t have an automatic return function, ensure that the tonearm is returned to its rest once a record has finished playing.
- Give your needle a good clean with a fantastic Boundless Audio Stylus Cleaner Brush.
- Be gentle in fitting it into the cartridge when replacing your old stylus.
- Make sure the records you’re spinning are as clean as can be. If you don’t have any vinyl cleaning equipment, you can’t go wrong with the Record Washer System by Spin-Clean. This is the most popular manual record cleaning system available, and it’s no surprise. It’s affordable, easy to use, and offers a deep-groove clean.
- Buy quality. If you just want to kick back and enjoy some music and forget about replacing the stylus for a while, throw some more money at it. It’s worth it!
Can a dirty record damage the stylus?
We all love happening across a box of dusty vintage vinyl in our grandparents' attic, but as excited as you are to hear some warbly old tunes, it’s important that you hold off spinning those relics.
The truth is that dirty records - new or old - will damage your stylus. The film and all that debris that builds up on records causes premature wear, taking hours off your needle’s service life. It’s also common for your needle to drag up this dust and dirt and cocoon itself in it.
Eventually, you’ll notice that your stylus is jumping up and down. The excessive force of the impacts will also reduce its lifespan significantly.
Furthermore, your stylus works by translating the shape of your record’s grooves into vibrations that the cartridge then turns into a voltage. Should the grooves of your records be caked with grime and dust, you won’t be hearing the sultry sounds of Thelonious Monk, you’ll be hearing the static mayhem of his dusty coat.
On the other hand, your stylus won’t particularly mind scratched records, so once you’ve got those attic finds cleaned up, feel free to enjoy your grandparents’ old slaps!
If you have no idea how to clean your records, there are a number of options available to you. If you have a small collection, you can play it simple with either the Record Washer System by Spin-Clean I suggested earlier or this Big Fudge Record Cleaner Kit.
Should you want to invest in something more advanced for a large collection, I’d go with this Pro-Ject - VC-E Record Cleaning Machine or perhaps even this epic iSonic-P4875II-MVR10-Ultrasonic cleaner capable of cleaning ten records at once.
Can old needles damage records?
Old needles can indeed damage our pride and joy record collections, so letting them spin on is simply not an option.
As your needle wears, the tip dissipates and the edge sharpens to a point. It’s like running an axe head over a whetstone; it gets sharper and sharper.
Eventually, it will become so sharp that it will start gouging the groove walls of your favorite records, changing their sound forever. Any needle you choose to replace this shiv of an old one will pick up on these new tracings in the record, which is why it’s essential to keep up with stylus maintenance and replacement.
If an old needle has become drastically misshapen or bent, it will also damage your records by jumping. Your stylus is harder than the vinyl it’s resting on, so when it bounces, not only does it sound awful, it comes down like a tiny pickaxe leading to scratches and possibly even tiny dents.
How do I know if my record player needle is bad?
The problem with record needle maintenance and replacement is that when you get bitten by the vinyl bug, you’re not really aware of what the symptoms of a bad needle are. Not to worry, though, vinyl-heads, we’re going to discuss the warning signs in some detail right now!
- If you’ve just treated yourself to an awesome second-hand record player or turntable, unless the seller specifies otherwise, that stylus is probably going to need a change. It could have been working four hours a day for the past five years for all you know.
- The most common symptoms of a faulty or old needle are artifacts in the audio, by which I mean hissing and pops. A lot of people think fondly of these aspects of vinyl playback, but they’re not actually meant to be there. Some may also erroneously ascribe this issue to the record itself, but it’s almost definitely your stylus. Excessive sibilance on the vocals is another red flag. If you’re noticing any of these sonic artifacts for the first time, it’s likely because they weren’t there before, and your needle’s on the way out.
- If there’s significant physical damage to a needle, it won’t be so hard to figure out it’s time for a change. I’d recommend giving your needle some attention at least once a week, checking for bends, jagged edges, and that the cantilever grip is secure.
- If you paid attention to the shape of your stylus when new, you can compare it to its current shaping in order to ascertain whether it’s time for a change. For example, if you bought a conical needle, and now it’s more pointed than rounded, it’s definitely time to buy a new one.
- If your needle sounds like it’s playing hopscotch on your records, skipping and bouncing all over the place, it’s a sure sign that something’s not right. It may be due to a dirty record or a loose cantilever grip, but the chances are that your needle isn’t what it used to be.
- If you notice a build-up of black residue or fluffy debris on your needle, it may not be bad, it might just need to be cleaned. However, if it has been left to accrue this much grime, its service life will definitely have already taken a hit, so you should look into replacements sooner rather than later.
How do I know if my record player needle is too heavy?
Getting the tracking force of your record player needle just right can be extremely tricky, partly because every record player is different, but also because it can be difficult to determine when a needle is set too heavy in the first place.
When the tracking of your tonearm is set too light, it’s a breeze to diagnose as the needle will be jumping all over the place, unable to anchor itself to the grooves of your records.
When the tracking of your tonearm is too heavily set, the needle tracks fine, playing your records seemingly as usual, but there is one tell-tale sign something’s not quite right. If you listen closely, you’ll notice a slight increase in distortion, a lack of clarity which normally indicates it’s time to lighten things up.
My advice to you is to always study up on your record player user manual. It should be full of useful tips and tricks when it comes to setting the correct tracking weight. You’ll also need something to test the tracking force as you calibrate your record player, so I recommend adding this Neoteck Digital Turntable Stylus Force Scale Gauge to your maintenance kit.
How do you clean a record player needle?
With the correct equipment, cleaning your record player needle couldn’t be easier. All you’ll need is a stylus brush. I can personally recommend this Boundless Audio Stylus Cleaner Brush, as it’s kept my needles on top form for years now, but there are simpler more affordable options out there that can work just as well such as this kwmobile Carbon Fiber Stylus Brush.
Once you’ve brought a brush into the fold, you’ll need to consider stylus cleaning technique. The good news is that there’s really only one thing to remember.
The one rule is that you brush the needle gently from back to front, mimicking the clockwise force of a record spinning beneath it. Brushing it from side to side should always be avoided, as should brushing against the grain of the needle, so to speak.
A couple of strokes will do. It takes about five seconds, so feel free to give your needle a once-over after every record if you like.
What does a bad turntable needle sound like?
It’s not too hard to identify a bad turntable needle as it will cause a significant amount of sonic artifacts such as hiss, pop, and crackle. I know that sounds like some sort of breakfast cereal spiel, but it’s actually the death rattle of your stylus.
If a needle has fallen into severe disrepair, you may even notice it has started skipping and jumping frequently, lending to a very disjointed and unsatisfying listening session.
Ideally, you’ll have replaced your needle long before this starts happening, but if not, don’t worry too much, just make sure you switch it out ASAP. In the meantime, you’ll need to take a break from playing your records as the needle could end up damaging them.