You knew when you bought your record player, that its sound quality would be better than most other musical devices you can listen to. But something’s gone wrong. You might be experiencing blips in sound, noise distortion, hissing sounds or skips. All this trouble you’re having is making you wonder why you bothered to turn to vinyls in the first place.
Why is the sound quality of vinyl actually better than other audio players? Put aside other specs that you might consider when purchasing audio equipment. For instance, the sound quality attributed to record players has nothing to do with speakers. In this case, speakers are the icing on the cake.
The value of a record player’s sound quality comes from its fully analog mechanical system. No equalizers are involved in the final play of the music, coming from the tonearm to your ear. Most importantly, there is no digital sound conversion involved in playing a record. Digital sound conversion, such as what’s involved in burning CDs and loading files onto .MP3 players always force their audio files to undergo a quality loss.
In other words, you bought this record player for its lossless sound. What do you do when that sound quality is jeopardized by noise and skips? Your first troubleshoot should be to check that your record player is clean, including the record you are playing. You can find a tutorial on cleaning your record player stylus here.
Okay, so you’re sure that your stylus and records are clean, but you’re still getting skips. Here are 8 troubleshooting measures to help you fix your skipping record player.
1. Keep your turntable on a solid surface, to make sure it’s not catching stray vibrations
Do you notice that is skips when you walk around the room? Is there some motion that you might make somewhere in the room that might cause it to skip? If so, then the record player is not on a stable enough surface. You’ve probably heard that you should never put your record player on the floor. The vibrations in the room, as well as the players own vibrations, could be causing the needle to move out of the groove.
This could also be a problem if your record player is located in or on a media cabinet containing other electronics. Other electronics could cause the cabinet to vibrate, thus disturbing the needle’s ability to track the record’s grooves. This is especially prevalent with electronics that contain built-in fans, speakers, or cd-inputs.
This can also be a problem with the turntable’s own speakers. While most models with built-in speakers are made in a such a way that their speakers are in no danger of interfering with the steadiness of their needle, these all-in-one record players do not always have the best quality speakers. If you intend to connect your record player to external speakers, in order to optimize the output quality, you must make sure that the vibrations of your external speakers will not interfere with the movements of the tonearm.
For optimal tracking, the turntable should be situated on a hard, stable surface, that will isolate it from other vibrations in the room. It’s worth it to take some time while setting up your record player to make sure that the turntable is positioned where it will not have trouble from external vibrations.
2. Make sure the turntable itself is level
Chances are everything in your house is a slight slope. Nothing, from your floors up to the top of your cabinets, is built perfectly, and your record player may feel that subtle tilt. You can check it with a simple leveler from your toolbox. Is the bubble in the center? If not, you might need to make some slight adjustments.
Maybe the feet of your model is adjustable. Some spin in and out of the body like screws, giving you the ability to make slight height adjustments on two of the feet, depending on the tilt of the machine. If the feet of the record player is not adjustable, thin cardboard or even cardstock under two of them can do the same trick.
3. Watch out for staticky records
Due to the material and movement of your records, it is natural for them to become staticky very easily. Records with too much static can easily cause noise distortion and skipping. You’ll want to make sure to have an anti-static cloth handy for everyday maintenance.
The anti-static cloth is useful for cleaning records and for getting them playing ready. While you will not want to use a spray cleaner every time you play one of your records, running a brush across it to remove dust, and then using an anti-static cloth before playing is a good measure to keep your sound quality crisp and free from skipping.
4. Check stylus pressure
Stylus pressure indicates the force that the tonearm, and therefore the needle, exerts on the record. It is good to read manufacturer’s recommendations on what this pressure should be, before adjusting it. Each model will have some kind of knob for setting this adjustment.
If the stylus pressure is very low, your record may be skipping because there is not enough contact between the needle and the grooves of the record. You can increase the stylus pressure to allow better contact and keep your needle from skating across the record.
While some manufacturers might recommend that you automatically put your stylus pressure to the highest manufacturer recommended setting, it may be good for you to experiment. Adjusting your stylus pressure incrementally. Listening to the difference in sound quality and play will help you to get to know your own machine.
You never want your stylus to be too heavy on your record, so do not go above the manufacturer recommendation. A stylus that is too heavy will begin distorting the sound again, this time by rubbing the grooves too much so that the over-the-top vibrations block out a lot of sound contrast. More importantly, though, too much pressure on your stylus will cause the needle to wear the record very quickly and cause irreparable damage to the record.
5. Check anti-skating pressure
The anti-skating mechanism can be different depending on the model. It is often some kind of spring, and it helps to hold the arm in place. Due to the motion of the turntable, the arm would naturally move around the record, as the record spins. The tensions provided by the anti-skating mechanism is necessary to keep the tonearm in place.
When the anti-skating pressure is functioning properly, the tone arm will be angled outward toward the edge of the record.
If the pressure is too loose or too tight, it could cause the arm to move one way or the other. This would mean that the needle does not remain in the record groove, thus causing skipping. Make sure to read your manufacturer instructions and recommendations on proper adjustments to the anti-skating mechanism, before you begin to change it. Each model will have its own knob for this adjustment.
6. Align cartridge properly
You should be aware of the alignment of your record player’s headshell and cartridge. If these are misaligned, they will not only cause skipping, but they may also cause damage to the record, depending on the needle pressure.
The headshell is the part that attaches the cartridge to the tonearm. The needle or stylus locks into the cartridge. The cartridge is where the magic happens, as it converts the vibrations created by the record grooves into electronic signals that can then be picked up by speakers. The top of the headshell should be aligned parallel with the record surface.
When you set up your record player, it is a good idea to make sure the tone arm is balanced. Again, you should follow factory specifications in your manual here, because any misalignment or imbalance that alters the intended function of the record player could give bad sounds quality and put wear on your records.
To balance the arm, put it in complete suspension, by twisting the counterweight until the arm is able to float up. The stylus pressure at this point is 0. Then find the setting for the stylus pressure and adjust it to the proper setting for your machine, following the user manual’s recommended pressure. Make sure that the anti-skating pressure is set to the same weight.
7. Check for stylus age and wear
In terms of your stylus, age and wear are two different factors. An old stylus that has not been played frequently may not be worn, but will still need to be changed. The record player stylus can harden with age, so a stylus that is more than a few years old will probably have lost all of its flexibility, and it will not be able to track as well as a new stylus can. A newer stylus that is used very frequently, may need to be changed based on the shape it’s in.
Your stylus will last you an average of 500 hours of play. Say you listen to about a record a day (about 1 hour), that would mean that your stylus would last you almost a year and a half. If you listen 4 hours a day, you might need to change it every 125 days. But, then, if you listen to your record player daily for 4 hours, it would most likely be more cost effective to upgrade to a really good full diamond stylus that will last you a long time.
Stylus wear is difficult to see with the naked eye. Chances are your neighborhood record store has a good magnifying glass for you to look at your stylus with, though these days digital pictures can do the same thing. You’re looking for places where your needle looks dull, jagged, uneven, or overly worn on one side.
Changing your stylus when it’s worn like this is extremely important because this measure protects the longevity of your records. Even if your record player is top of the line, playing with a damaged stylus could damage your records. And when you only have damaged records to play, then you’ve already lost the battle for good sound quality.
8. Watch what you play
It can be heartbreaking to accidentally damage one of your favorite records or to come home with a record from a second-hand store and find it to be badly warped or scratched. Chances are, you’ll want to play it anyway, to test just how bad it is. Do yourself a favor, when that really bad scratch makes your needle skim the surface, or when that bad warping causes your needle to bounce out of the grooves of the record, and take it off the player. Playing a badly damaged record can damage your stylus and cost you even more.
There may not be one cause for your record player skipping. unless you have a real hunch that it’s your stylus, it’s probably best to start with the least drastic fixes and work from there.
- Keep your records and stylus clean
- Make sure your record player is on a stable surface where external vibrations won’t bother it
- Keep the turntable level
- Eliminate static from records with an anti-static cloth
- Check the stylus and anti-skating pressure
- Align the cartridge and headshell properly
- Look for wear on stylus or signs of the stylus hardening from old age
Ultimately, you’ll want to maintain your entire record playing system as often as you can. This does not necessarily mean buying new parts. Just taking care of the parts that you have, by cleaning, paying attention to play pressure, and making sure to cover your records and the player when you are done playing.