Most true music connoisseurs will agree that vinyl records are far superior to any other music format. But if you don’t know how to use a record player, you’ll be missing out on all that musical awesomeness.
Luckily for you, using a record player doesn’t require advanced DJ skills — anybody can do it!
In this article, we’ll go over the basics of using a record player and some more in-depth knowledge that even the experts will appreciate.
The Record-Playing Basics
Here are the basic steps to take if you’re at a loss about how to use your shiny new record player:
- Connect the speakers, if necessary.
- Adjust the turntable to the right size and speed.
- Carefully place your record on the platter.
- Drop the needle on the starting groove.
- Enjoy your music!
Connect the Speakers
Most record players have built-in speakers. If yours do, congratulations! You’re ready to start listening to your records.
However, if you’re the sort of person who needs or wants to use external speakers, fret not. It can be a little tricky, but it’s doable.
Record players use a preamp to convert phono signals to a form that will work well with your speakers. This device is built in for entry-level speakers, so you’ll only need to plug in the red and white RCA cables.
If your record player uses an external preamp, you’ll have more control over things like equalization and tone. However, this means more cables to fuss around with, so be careful not to ruin your audio experience with messy connections.
Some record players use a 3.5mm line jack to connect directly to your headphones or speakers. Some even provide Bluetooth connectivity! Simply fix up the settings to connect your turntable to your speakers, and you’re all set.
Adjust for Size and Speed
Vinyl records come in two main sizes: 12-inch full-length records and 7-inch singles. Vinyl can also be played at three different speeds, depending on how many times the disc rotates per minute: 33⅓ RPM, 45 RPM, and 78 RPM.
Full-length, long-playing records, or LPs, have a diameter of 12 inches and are usually designed to be played at 33⅓ RPM. Most record players have this speed as the default setting, so you don’t need to make any adjustments if your records are full-length albums.
For extended play (EP) records that usually hold singles, you’ll probably need to adjust your turntable speed to 45 RPM. Discs containing singles typically have a diameter of 7 inches, although there are 12-inch singles as well. Be careful; 12-inch singles play at 45 RPM, not 33⅓ RPM.
Records that run at 78 RPM are entirely vintage. Though they may be easy to come by in second-hand record stores, these records’ production ended in 1955. Modern turntables don’t usually have the 78 RPM speed built-in, but no worries, since most of the records you’ll be playing will be at 33⅓ RPM or 45 RPM.
Place your Record on the Platter
Ah yes, the part where you feel like a real music aficionado. You probably already know the platter is the centerpiece of your turntable. It’s not uncommon to see that the metal bar in the middle pokes through the disc’s central hole. However, if your turntable is vertical, you’ll need to make some adjustments for your record to be stable.
What you need to be especially careful about is how you handle the vinyl. Use gloves or tissue paper. If it’s a 7-inch EP and you have big hands, place a finger in the hole and your thumb on the edge. Whatever you do, keep your fingers off the vinyl surface.
Vinyl is very fragile — and quite expensive, too. That’s why most turntables have a felt or plastic mat on the platter to prevent your record from touching the metal. If yours doesn’t come with a mat, you might want to invest in one or improvise by cutting cloth in a round shape.
Drop the Needle and Play
With the record on the platter, all that’s left is to move the needle to the starting groove of the album, usually the outermost groove for the very first song, and then use the lever to lower it onto the record carefully.
Here’s what you should consider: the turntable arm is the most crucial piece of your record player. It contains the needle for picking up vibrations and the cartridge that converts vibrations to electrical signals. Replacement of these items can be costly.
So if you’re going to be forking out some money for a diamond stylus — yes, the needle tip is made from an actual diamond — you might want to take a few precautions when using it.
For instance, don’t do any back-and-forth movements with your records in an attempt to mimic old-fashioned hip-hop sounds. Not only will it wreck your vinyl records, but it’ll also ruin the needle.
The contact between the needle and the disc must be firm but not too heavy. If the contact is too heavy, your needle will suffer. If it’s too light, the needle will have free rein bouncing on the disc, which will damage the record.
It would be best if you kept dust and liquids from the needle and cartridge. A wrecked needle means you’ll have to live with less-than-perfect sound from your record player, and your records will develop static that’ll render them unlistenable.
But enough doomsday news. If you’re careful with that all-important needle and don’t try anything crazy while playing your records, you can begin to enjoy the incredible, unadulterated sound of vinyl.
Caring for Your Record Player
If you want to be able to enjoy your vinyl for a long time, you’ll have to do certain routine maintenance tasks for your turntable. It quickly gathers dust, and certain parts might need replacing at some point. A dirty turntable will ruin the quality of sound in even brand new records.
Here are some tips you can work into your routine to keep your record player at the optimal performance:
- Dust the turntable and needle after each use.
- Thoroughly clean the stylus once or twice a month.
- Regularly check the condition of the belt.
Clean Your Turntable
As your turntable spins records, it generates static electricity, and this attracts dust and debris. Over time, this can severely impair the quality of the sound produced. Your record player needs dusting regularly to avoid the hissing and skipping of a dirty turntable.
It’s recommended that you dust your record player after each use, but you may decide to do this twice or three times a week. Use a microfiber cloth to dust all the surfaces, from the platter’s center to the outer edges.
The needle should also be dusted often with a special cleaning brush. You can improvise with a paintbrush as well.
If you haven’t cleaned the record player in a while and you’ve started noticing skipping and hissing sounds, you may need a deeper clean. A cotton cloth moistened with some rubbing alcohol can be used to wipe the surfaces of your turntable, and you should leave it to dry before use.
Wash the Stylus
A dirty stylus can also contribute to the hissing sound that ruins the audio experience of your vinyl. To prevent this, properly wash the arm every couple of weeks with rubbing alcohol or a vinyl cleaning solution.
The arm should be wiped with a moistened microfiber cloth from back to front. Do not try top-to-bottom; else, you risk bending the needle.
Check the Belt
The belt is responsible for spinning your turntable. If your record player ever stops spinning, there’s a good chance that the belt is withered. Instead of waiting for this to happen, frequently check the state of the belt.
If you realize the belt has over-expanded or needs replacement, get a compatible belt from a store using the manual’s guidelines. Switch off the record player and unscrew the clip holding the platter. Flip it upside-down and carefully slide the belt into the circular lid underneath.
After the belt snaps into position, place the platter in its correct orientation on the turntable and turn it to expose the motor. Using the access points, pull the belt over the drive motor and push the platter back into place. Reattach the C-shaped clip and try spinning the platter in both directions to see if the new belt works perfectly.
Caring for Your Records
As said earlier, vinyl is very fragile. It can easily be corrupted by anything on its surface other than a well-crafted turntable stylus. Dust can also go a long way to mess with the record, and the same goes for water or any other liquid.
You can’t be too careful with caring for your records if you want to enjoy their music forever. Some tips for this include:
- Keep records in their sleeves when not in use.
- Store in a shelf or crate — do not stack.
- Store in a cool, dry place.
- Use a microfiber cloth or carbon fiber brush to clean the vinyl surfaces.
- Don’t use water or liquid apart from designated record player cleaners.
- Hold records by the edge and avoid touching the surface with your fingertips.
- Always play from the starting groove.
Mind the Sleeve
You might think returning records to their sleeves after playing should be a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many people leave the record on the turntable or, worse, store it naked without the sleeve, how they can still expect to hear that smooth vinyl sound is just mind-blowing.
Dust is the enemy of your records. It lines the grooves, creates static, and ultimately ruins the sound. To keep your record away from dust, always return it to the sleeve after use. Please don’t leave it on the platter, and certainly don’t keep it anywhere without the sleeve. Enough said.
Store Records Properly
Storing your precious records in tidy stacks may look efficient, but it isn’t good for the vinyl. The cumulative weight of the records not only tends to wreck the surface of the records placed lower down, but it also warps the records and can render them completely unplayable. This can happen even in the sleeve.
To properly store your albums, keep them upright in storage crates or racks. Record frames that hang on the wall are sometimes used, but these are primarily decorative long-term storage solutions. It isn’t easy to open up the frame to access the record if you want to play it.
Picture ledges are also a good but slightly more expensive storage option. Originally meant for storing pictures, these stylish racks can only hold a few discs apiece, so get ready to buy a ton of these if you happen to have a ton of records. Picture ledges also expose their contents to dust, which means records will require frequent cleaning.
Keep in a Cool, Dry Place
It’s important to keep records away from heat and humidity if you want them to be playable. This means storing them away from direct sunlight and any other sources of heat. Crates and other storage options usually have open vents for air to keep the discs cool. However, this isn’t enough if you keep the crate in the boot of a car when traveling.
If you’re moving and you have to take your record collection along, store them vertically in an open box and keep this box with you in the car. If it’s a hot day, turn on the air conditioner or choose the coolest hour of the day to drive. Do everything possible to keep the surrounding air cool and dry.
Clean with the Right Tools
Maintaining your records in good quality means you’ll have to clean them often. It’s important to avoid using your handkerchief, towel, or T-shirt to wipe the surfaces of your discs. The fiber creates scratched records, which will create scratchy sound, making an audiophile cry.
A pure microfiber cotton cloth is a good choice. Even better is a record-cleaning brush.
If you’ve been carefully collecting records for some time, you should own one of these carbon fiber brushes. The hairs are optimized to clean dust and silt while minimizing scratching. It’s recommended that you always brush records after playing them, just before they go into their sleeves.
Twice or three times a year, you might want to clean your discs beyond mere brushing. This helps if you want to maintain that shiny vinyl look and sound of your records.
Use a dedicated vinyl cleaning solution to spray the record’s surface, leave out the label, and carefully wipe with a cotton cloth. Take care to follow the disc’s circular curve when wiping, and don’t wipe across it.
Make sure that you’re using a designated vinyl cleaning solution and not any other liquid. Certainly not water!
Keep Your Fingers Off the Surface
Touching the vinyl surface of your record is an absolute no-no, especially with your palm and fingers. Oils from fingertips can easily ruin the sound quality of a vinyl record. This might not be equal to the permanent damage caused by scratches, but over time, the records will no longer sound as good as you’d like.
There are other methods of carrying a record. Try holding the disc by the edge and use the hole. Use both hands for 12-inch LP records. If, for any reason, you can’t rely on the edges for a firm grip, then wear felt gloves or use a microfiber cloth.
Always Play from the Beginning
What? All the time? Yes, always use the starting groove.
It’s the safest place to place the needle without risking any scratches on your disc surface or compromising the needle. Trying to start the record anywhere other than the outermost groove is an advanced technique and requires special training.
If you really want to hear that particular song on the album, and it isn’t a single, start the record from the beginning and wait for your song to come on. Patience is a virtue.
Perhaps this one is the hardest to do in this day and age of instant coffee and instant entertainment. But unless you’re very experienced, the chances of putting the needle in the wrong groove are quite high.
This practice might create negligible scratches at first, but much worse ones later, and can potentially destroy your precious records.
Digital music has its place. We can’t do without our Spotify lists. But no one can call themselves true connoisseurs of music and rely solely on digital sources for their rhythms. Once you’ve heard your favorite albums on vinyl, you’ll be able to appreciate the warmth and true feel of the music. And the very first step to getting there is learning how to use a record player.
So go forth, and pump out the jazz.