In a perfect world, our records would play flawlessly from start to finish, with only the occasional tick and pop marring our enjoyment of the sublime experience of vinyl LP records. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and a favorite cadenza, vocal passage, or guitar riff can be ruined by one or more grooves being skipped.
The worst part is knowing that it’s coming every time you play that record!
And below, if you’re also interested in purchasing a brand new record player, please take a quick moment to view some of the more popular turntables available on the market:
|Pro-Ject X1||$$$||Extended 9" carbon fiber for better tracking|
|Rega Planar 1 Plus||$$||Plug and Play Audiophile Turntable in White|
|Marantz TT-15S1||$$$||Includes Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony MM Cartridge|
|Clearaudio Concept Black||$$$||Comes with pre-installed Moving Coil cartridge|
|Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC (Red)||$$||Red Gloss Finish|
|Music Hall MMF 5.3||$$$||Premium 9” Alloy Tonearm|
However, unless a record is truly damaged, it doesn’t have to be this way. Through thoughtful turntable purchase, installation, and adjustment, records don’t have to skip.
Lend us an ear, and we’ll give you some hints about how to make sure your record playing stays as smooth and skip-free as possible.
Why Do My Records Skip?
There are a variety of reasons that a section of a record might always skip a groove or two.
- Footfalls – heavy footsteps near the record while it’s playing are a frequent cause. Try moving the turntable to another shelf or place it on a heavy slab. Never EVER operate a turntable on the floor.
- A worn stylus is guaranteed to cause skips. A quality diamond-tipped needle can last for 300 hours of play – or even more. If you’re in doubt about a stylus’s age, replace it. But it’s quite possible that you have damaged the stylus structure without even knowing it. Using a magnifying glass, see how it looks. If in doubt, hunt down a replacement. Replacing a stylus is much cheaper than sacking the entire cartridge.
- Dirty stylus? While you’re eyeballing that stylus, could it be coated with crud that’s not visible to the unaided eye? Try gently cleaning it with a small toothbrush.
- Is your turntable on a perfectly level surface? It might appear to be, but you’d be surprised (in fact, our entire listening room slopes down to the right a few degrees). A simple and inexpensive carpenter’s bubble will tell the tale. A matchbook or the required number of playing cards can serve as instant and unobtrusive fixes. Also, the four “feet” of your turntable might be individually adjustable.
- Static. Records are naturally staticky, and static absolutely can cause skips. Anti-static cloths are quite cheap (sprays and devices less so) and can do the trick in many cases. They are a valuable maintenance tool, skipping or not.
- How close is your turntable to your speakers? Speaker vibrations (especially booming bass notes) can cause skipping, especially at high volume. Move the speakers farther away, or turn the music down a tad. Want loud? Use headphones.
|Best Selling Turntables|
|1) Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO|
|2) Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT|
|3) Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC|
A Question of Balance
One overriding issue here is the absolute need to have the cartridge properly mounted and aligned and the tonearm perfectly balanced and adjusted. These necessities are viewed as daunting by many vinyl “newbies,” but that needn’t be the case.
For one thing, many turntables come with cartridges already pre-installed and well-aligned. In fact, the least-expensive turntables are set at the factory and don’t allow for any adjustments whatsoever – and they often track surprisingly well. It’s always a good idea, however, to make sure the cartridge’s headshell is firmly seated in the front of the tonearm.
More common is the need to balance the arm and accomplish a couple of other settings when the new turntable first comes out of the box. The act of tracking record grooves requires great precision, and even the slightest variation from factory specifications or recommendations can make a big difference, both in terms of playability and record wear.
Here’s where we introduce the concept of RBM Read the Bleeping Manual. Whether your table’s brand new or a Craigslist pickup or a hand-me-down, there are instructions for it somewhere out there. There are videos all over the Internet to help. The principals are the same, but the locations of the adjustments can vary from model to model and manufacturer to manufacturer.
Generally, we’re concerned about three things – balance of the arm, stylus pressure, and antiskate compensation. Balance comes first. Twist the counterweight at the rear of the tonearm until the arm floats freely (being very careful not to let the stylus make contact with the platter or base of the turntable). This effectively sets the tracking force at “0.”
Now, find the mechanism that sets the pressure and set it for the proper number of grams. This can vary widely from cartridge maker to cartridge maker. Finally, locate the antiskate control and match its number up with the stylus pressure.
Here’s where an inexpensive stylus-pressure gauge can be used to make sure that you’ve done the job properly.
Keep in mind that too much pressure causes undue record wear, and too little just invites skipping. Incorrect antiskate compensation can be even worse, allowing the needle to “skate” across the grooves, almost certainly causing serious damage.
Keep ‘em Clean
Simply eyeballing a new or used record can’t give you the full story about what’s going on down there in the grooves. You need to use a magnifying class to zero in on that section of the side where the skipping is occurring.
The odds are that you’ll find a tiny deposit of some type of “ick,” perhaps leftover residue from the manufacturing process itself. A bit of distilled water and a microfiber cloth can then be used to remove the contaminant. Gently rub in the direction of the grooves, never against them. Allow the vinyl to dry before playing. There are also commercial solutions designed to accomplish this task, but many veteran vinyl fans believe that they can do more harm than good.
And speaking of cleaning, why not use the opportunity to clean the whole record? We’ve heartily recommended the Spin-Clean Record Washer (about $70 for the basic setup) as a competent and budget-friendly solution.
Keep in mind, though, that the best way to have clean records is to keep them from getting dirty in the first place; always use your turntable’s dustcover when a record’s playing and return it to its jacket when you’re finished playing it.
It should come as news to no one that DJs are, by nature, really rough on records. Thus, the
turntables that they favor tend to track more reliably and consistently. There are a number of reasons for this.
One, they’re more substantial in construction and sheer weight, often made of metal. Two, the cartridges are designed to track heavier, placing the stylus lower in the grooves. Keep in mind, however, that heavier tracking can cause premature record wear.
For industrial-strength record playing, try these on for size:
- Audio-Technica AT-LP120 ($300): This extremely popular, direct-drive DJ-style table is a solid-as-a-rock entry at more than 23 pounds. It also boasts ancillary features like pitch control and USB connectivity.
- Audio-Technica AT-LP1240 ($449): A truly professional turntable, the 1240 is a genuine heavyweight that will take a full measure of punishment and still reproduce authoritative sound time after time. You’ll need to purchase the cartridge separately.
- Technics SL-1200GAE ($4,000): A legendary turntable that has just gotten new life from Panasonic/Technics, this lovely-but-hulking machine is the Bentley of DJ turntables.
A Solid Foundation
If you’re not into the DJ “thing” (maybe you just don’t like the looks of such machines), there are other tables with heavy plinths and more solid overall builds. They do tend to lean toward the upper price strata, however:
- Thorens TD 350 ($5,000): Switzerland-based Thorens has been making solid tables for many years, and the 350 is particularly noted for producing smooth, consistent play because of its heavy platter and proprietary Independent Double Damping suspension system.
- Linn LP12 (around $4,000, depending on configuration): The venerable Linn, with its aluminum sub-chassis and wood plinth, tracks solid as a rock and is a gorgeous thing to behold. Vinylphiles have been known to hang on to these beauties for decades.
Finally, a few words about warped records – discs that aren’t perfectly flat. Sadly, even new vinyl LPs can come with some degree of warp. Most often, records with minor warpage should play fine as long as the cartridge is properly aligned and the arm faithfully adjusted. The only caveat is to make sure that the vinyl is only coming into contact with the stylus, not the body of the cartridge itself.
The most severely warped records can cause something even worse than plain old skips, and that would be flagrant mis-tracking, when the tonearm jumps and bounces around like a cowboy on a bucking bronc. This can be disastrous for that precious slab of vinyl, not to mention delicate styli.
Try increasing the stylus pressure to the maximum recommended by the manufacturer. You can also experiment with a record clamp, but make sure that use of such a device is recommended by your turntable maker.
If those steps don’t do the job, then the bolder among us might take a stab as flattening the record. Otherwise, it’s likely time to relegate that platter to LP heaven.
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