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What Is Vinyl? This Is What Records Are Made Of

Every time you play a record, have you ever wondered exactly what the disc in your hands is made of? Sure, a big clue is in the name of a vinyl record, but it’s got to be more complex than just a flat plate of plastic, right? What is vinyl?

I wanted to know what the make-up of a vinyl record is, so I went about finding out what goes into them, and why.

The resin mix which is used to create a vinyl record is made up of a blend of the following materials:

  • Polyvinyl Chloride, more commonly known as PVC.
  • Polyvinyl Acetate (PVA).
  • Colorants.
  • Heat Stabilizers.
  • Plasticizers.
  • Lubricants.
  • Fillers.

The above ingredients are combined during the production process to manufacture the discs we listen to on our turntables, and every ingredient listed above has a variable but important role to play.

As well as looking at what each ingredient is, we’ll also understand what each of them actually does and why it’s included in the mix.

What Is Vinyl? These Are The Main Ingredients Of a Vinyl Record

So, let’s break it down and take a look at each of the ingredients we listed above.

First up, the Polyvinyl Chloride and the Polyvinyl Acetate, or what we know in everyday terms as PVC and PVA (yes, the glue we used to end up gumming our fingers together with in school!).

To try and keep things as simple as possible, here’s a diagram with an overview of how PVC and PVA are created, and then combined, to form the base of the thermoplastic resin that will make the vinyl record.

How PVC and PVA are made, to form the base of a resin mix for vinyl records.

Now, let’s look at those extra additives that go into the recipe for making a vinyl record.

Heat stabilizers are a key ingredient and serve an important function in this whole process. They are usually the metal salts of fatty acids, with the metals often being tin or lead, and usually more than one type of stabilizer is added to the mix.

Plasticizers are thrown in too, and these range from phthalate esters (stick with us here!) to epoxidized soybean oil. While PVC itself already has a good measure of the properties that plasticizers add (we’ll get to this a little later), it often receives a boost from this supplement.

Colorants usually come in the form of carbon black, which has a carbon content of 95%, and when filler is used in some resin mixes for records it will most commonly be recycled vinyl.

Finally, lubricants that go into the pot are typically hard waxes, either natural in the form of Montan or synthetic in the shape of Stearamide type waxes.

With the menu of these ingredients, manufacturers find their own balance and mix to form the resin for making vinyl records as they implement their own touch.

PVC blends are complex mixtures of PVC particles, fillers, lubricants, stabilizers and plasticizers. Manufacturers often must modify these recipes due to technological advances, cost pressures or regulatory requirements.

Matthias Jaehrling, ThermoFisher Scientific

Here’s a table that shows the approximate ratio of ingredients in a typical resin for a vinyl record, allowing for the variation from manufacturer to manufacturer, as resin mixes are unique to each factory:

PropertyPercentage of final record weight
PVC/PVA polymer96%
Heat stabilizers<1.5%

What Does Each Component of a Vinyl Record Do?

Now that we know exactly what goes into the vinyl record, we can discuss the specific purpose that each ingredient brings to the party.


PVC has been the base material for records for a very long time because it provides a few essential properties that make it so suitable. Its structure is anywhere between 10-20% crystalline, which makes it strong enough to support a groove being hollowed out of it and at the same time take a turntable’s stylus ploughing through without sustaining damage.

Other benefits of PVC is that it provides a quieter surface, is less brittle than previous materials which were used such as shellac, and it is able to store a substantial amount of music. Being cheap is also an important aspect in a business-driven music industry.


The fact that PVC can be plasticized also makes it ideal, and the plasticizers play an important role in the formation of the record. They alter the PVC resin mix’s viscosity which improves its flexibility, and this makes it easier to match the microgrooves in the master disc during the pressing process.

This flexibility that the plasticizers bring also makes the finished product more resistant to breakage.

On its own, the PVC-PVA mix in the resin already has a decent degree of flexibility, but the additional flex brought by the plasticizers can increase the disc’s durability significantly.


PVC has low thermal stability and being exposed to heat, pollution and UV leave the PVC open to degradation and breakdown. We all know how vulnerable our records are to heat and direct sunlight after all, and this is where the heat stabilizers come into play as they help to make the resin mix more robust.

In addition to this, the heat stabilizers also help to neutralize the hydrogen chloride gas which is generated at the temperatures reached during production. This gas can cause further breakdown, so the stabilizers help to combat this effect too.


On to the colorants, and the use of carbon black doesn’t just give the record its distinctive black finish, although that is the most easily seen impact it has. The addition of carbon black as a colorant allows the surface of the record to be more easily observed, and thus the detection of defects such as scratches to be spotted.

Carbon black also brings a touch of extra durability to the resin mix, and serves one other important purpose in that it helps to distribute and dissipate electrical charges, thereby reducing the build-up of static charge on the record.


Finally, lubricants in the mix help ease the flow of the resin during the production and processing stages of manufacture. They also help to reduce friction on the record’s surface which has multiple benefits such as a reduction in heat and disc degradation, as well as a smoother contact between the record and the stylus.

Are Vinyl Records Bad For the Environment?

With all the ingredients we’ve discussed above, it’s a valid question to ask. In a word, yes, vinyl records are bad for the environment purely by virtue of what goes into them.

Vinyl records aren’t biodegradable. PVC comes from refined oil and can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. One saving grace for vinyl records is that they usually last generations and are passed down and recycled amongst record lovers, instead of ending up in landfills.

That may not offset the carbon footprint of the production processes and ingredients that go into making a vinyl record, but there is certainly a much longer lifespan of vinyl records as a consumer product, and they are re-used and passed from one user or generation to another.

Why Do Vinyl Records Crackle, And How Can You Stop It?

Listening to vinyl records is an experience like no other, and gives many of us a great deal of pleasure in the way not many other audio formats do. However, the constant strive for audio nirvana means there’s always some level of sound interference we’re trying to fix! Yes, we’re talking about audible crackle.

I wanted to know why crackle happens and what can be done to at least minimize, if not completely stop it. Hopefully what I found out will help you understand where crackle comes from, how to eliminate it on your own vinyl records, and enjoy a better listening experience because of it.

Vinyl records crackle for many reasons, the principle ones being:

  • Static build-up.
  • Embedded “organic” material, such as dirt and dust.
  • Damage to the surface of the record grooves, including scratches.
  • Pressing flaws during the creation process.

There are other contributing factors that cause crackle on records during playback, but those listed above are the major and most frequent reasons.

We’ll discuss these and some other causes of crackle on records below, and will also look at the best ways to help to minimize it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that for many vinyl lovers, a little bit of crackle just adds to the experience too!

What is Crackle on Vinyl Records?

First, it’s important to understand exactly what crackle is. Simply put, the crackle you hear through your speaker is the amplification in sound of an impurity or obstruction on the record surface. When the stylus encounters one of the above-listed issues the result will be either a crackle or a pop.

The Main Culprits of Crackle on Vinyl Records: Why Does It Happen?

We listed out the main reasons behind crackle on vinyl records above, but in order to understand how best to try and minimize crackle as much as possible we first need to understand what the causes of the above-mentioned issues are.

A dirty record is one of the most common reasons for crackle. Dust and dirt lodged in the record grooves act as an obstacle for your turntable’s stylus, and when the stylus hits one of these microscopic particles it will jump and create that popping sound associated with crackle.

Static build-up on the record is another very common cause of crackle. Vinyl tends to produce a fair amount of static electric charge, and that charge remains locked to the surface of the record until it can discharge itself (via your turntable’s stylus).

Static happens for two main reasons. The first is due to the friction between the turntable’s stylus and the actual groove of the record. The second frequent cause of static charge occurs when records are removed from their inner sleeves, which are made of plastic.

The static charge that accumulates in both these cases then translates into crackle when the record is played. As the disc spins a tiny, microscopic spark will pass from the record’s surface to the stylus as an electrical discharge. This is picked up by the turntable’s cartridge, amplified many times over by the preamp and then played out through your speakers. The result: crackle.

Another cause of crackle is the cleanliness, condition and set-up of the turntable’s stylus. As the stylus is the main contact point with the record’s surface, any dirt or dust on it will act in the same way as it does on the record itself, and cause more friction.

The stylus’ set-up is also important, as too much pressure on the stylus will drive it into the grooves of the record too heavily, damaging the groove and also resulting in crackle. Too little pressure will result in the stylus hopping out of the groove and can contribute to crackle. Always make sure your tonearm is well set-up, and if you’re experiencing issues check out our troubleshooting guide.

Damage to the surface and grooves of the record is another causal factor in record crackle, and one of the most common too. Even the best-cared for vinyl records are susceptible to some form of damage, such is the vulnerable nature of a disc, and scratches, groove malformations and other defects caused by wear and tear all contribute to a record surface that produces crackle when it comes into contact with a stylus.

Pressing flaws during the creation of a record – which are completely beyond a collector’s control – are also a potential factor. These can include a worn stamper, which results in a sub-par pressing of the record.

Contaminants mixed into the PVC – the base ingredient material of the vinyl disc – itself are also a potential cause of sound impurities that manifest as crackle, and in such cases it is even possible to see discolored oil streaks or fragments of paper in the actual record.

Impure, poor quality or recycled vinyl is also another reason, as the amount of impurities included in the finished disc result in a defective record surface, which in turn leads to reduced sound quality. Some records are just made to a better finished quality than others. It really can be that simple.

Is It Possible to Eliminate Crackle on Vinyl Records?

Due to the fact there are so many contributing factors to the cause of crackle on records, it’s practically impossible to eliminate it completely.

Therefore, managing the situation through some easily implemented preventative measures is the best way to deal with it, and thankfully the minimization of crackle is possible by following some easy steps.

Some Tips on How to Minimize Crackle on Your Vinyl Records

1. Store your records in anti-static inner sleeves. With static being one of the principle causes of crackle, a cheap, fast and effective method by which you can reduce its build-up is by using anti-static inner sleeves to store your records.

I recommend these as a great, affordable option – I use them myself and they do the trick.

2. Use an anti-static brush to clean your discs before playing them. A good cleaning routine is one of the foundations of a well-maintained record collection, and using an anti-static brush to clean your vinyl before giving it a spin will also help to remove the built-up static that’s ready to discharge itself via your stylus.

3. A deep clean goes a long way. A more thorough clean of your records will help to remove that nasty residue of dirt, dust and whatever else manages to find its way into the grooves of your vinyl. You’d be surprised just how dirty a record can get, so a deep clean is a great way to ensure minimal crackle and pop when you want to enjoy your music.

4. Clean your stylus and ensure it’s properly adjusted. It’s not just your record that will attract dust. As stated, your stylus can easily gather unwanted fluff and dirt, so be smart in keeping it in tip-top condition. Make sure it’s calibrated to the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure you’re getting the sweetest possible sound, and of course avoiding any unwanted crackle. And when it’s time to change the needle, get on it!

5. Prevent any avoidable damage by treating your records with some TLC. This one goes without saying, but it’s always worth repeating as it’s easy to fall into some lazy habits when handling records. Transferring your records to their covers as soon as you’ve finished with them and returning them to their place of storage is a practice that will minimize any risk of being scratched, dropped or stacked incorrectly.

How Vinyl Records Get Scratched, And How You Can Avoid It

Every record collector’s worst nightmare is a damaged disc. It’s always been a real concern of mine, especially knowing that vinyl records are easily scratched and that once it has happened it’s impossible to fully repair.

Therefore, avoiding exposing your records to such a risk in the first place is essential. So how do vinyl records get scratched and how can it be avoided?

Vinyl records get scratched due to the following:

  • Mishandling when being removed/replaced in sleeves.
  • Incorrect storage, including stacking.
  • Cueing up records and changing tracks without using the cueing lever.
  • Being dropped or placed on surfaces.
  • Dirt and dust in the grooves of the record.

There are many ways to avoid scratching a record, and all methods are simple and effective if followed carefully. Below, we’ll get to discussing some easy-to-implement steps you can take to ensure the preservation of your record collection through avoiding scratches.

The Main Causes of Scratches on Vinyl Records

There are many causes for the appearance of scratches on vinyl records, and they are often easily preventable if you develop and straightforward and methodical approach to how you treat your discs.

One of the main causes of scratches on records is mishandling, and this often takes the form of careless removal and replacement in record sleeves and covers. Records can pick up tiny surface scratches when they are slid in and out of their cardboard cover, and it’s really important to handle them with the proper care and attention.

The correct storage of your records is another key area to pay attention to, as incorrectly stored records often lead to scratched discs. One of the fundamentals of record collecting is that you don’t stack your records. Stacking records can warp and even crack them, but it can also lead to scratches as any surface dirt on the vinyl is easily turned into a point of friction which can lead to irreparable damage.

Placing records on surfaces is also a sure-fire way to scratch them, as they will attract all manner of dirt which will then act as an accelerant for scratches and scuffs.

Another cause of scratches and gouges on records is failing to use the cueing lever to raise and lower the tonearm on a turntable. A lot of people lift and place the needle onto a record directly using their hand, and this lack of steadiness and failure to delicately apply pressure to the surface of the record by using the lever can cause damage.

Once a Record is Scratched, It’s Scratched Forever

Once a record is scratched, that’s permanent. Understanding and differentiating between various kinds of scratches will help you to understand if the effect of the damage is bearable, or if it’s going to affect the sound quality of the record too much.

You can attempt to repair a scratched record, but it’s not possible to fully repair it.

How to Know if a Scratch on a Record is Serious or Not

The seriousness of a scratch can be measured by the impact it has on the sound quality of the record.

Deep scratches that can be felt by your finger are usually the kind that have permanently ruined the sound quality, and won’t be able to be rectified. They affect the integrity of the record and usually manifest themselves as a strong audible click on each revolution of the record.

Minor surface scratches, hairline scratches and scuffs, while also unable to be fixed, often cause much less of an impact when listening. With some care and attention in the form of a few cleans of the record, the audible impact of these much less grave scratches can be greatly reduced. These kinds of scratches are extremely common.

It is always advisable to exercise extreme caution when cleaning your records though, as there are plenty of DIY-style methods and cleaning solutions online which can cause further damage if not followed with great care.

Steps You Can Take to Avoid Scratching Your Vinyl Records

Having understood what the main causes of scratches to vinyl records are, that the damage is permanent and that there are different kinds of scratches that can result in varying levels of detriment to sound quality, it’s worth taking extra care to protect your record collection.

Here are some clear steps that you can take to ensure you minimize the risk of scratching your records.

1. Take great care when handling your vinyl records. Firstly, it’s important to remember to never touch the surface of your records. Smudges from your fingers and the transfer of any form of dirt to the disc is a main cause of debris on its surface, and that leads to scratches. Handle a record by only touching the label and very outside edge of the disc to reduce the risk of surface contamination. Check out our full guide on how to handle vinyl records properly.

2. Be careful when taking records in and out of their sleeves. A lot of records pick up tiny surface scratches when being taking out of their cardboard jackets, as they brush the cardboard. A best practice to always undertake is to remove the record from its jacket while still in its inner sleeve, and then remove it from its inner sleeve. Replace the record in the same way, and never drop a record into its sleeve! If you have records that don’t have inner sleeves, invest in some. They are cheap, but will help to preserve the lifespan and quality of your records.

3. Store your records correctly. As previously mentioned, stacking records causes all manner of damage to them. Store your records upright, and always in a low humidity environment. Keep the area where you store your records well ventilated and clean from a build-up of dust or fluff, as any lingering dirt in the area where you store your records will always find its way to the surface of your discs!

4. Always have a cleaning routine for your records. Get into the habit of cleaning your discs before you play them. Use an anti-static record brush to remove any dust and dirt before you place the record on the turntable platter, and that will ensure that you’ve minimized the risk of any surface debris causing damage to either the record or your player’s stylus. A more thorough clean with a solution is also advisable on a frequent basis.

My cleaning kit of choice is this one from KAIU – it’s very affordable, does a great job, and is great value considering everything that’s included in the kit.

5. Cue your records up using the lever. The cueing lever on a turntable is there for a reason. It raises and lowers the tonearm in a manner which limits potential damage to the record, as it applies the correct pressure when bringing the stylus into contact with the record groove. Freestyling with your own hand means you’ll quickly wreck the grooves on your records.

6. Never leave a record on the side. As soon as you’re done with a record, place it back in its sleeve and store it, no excuses or distractions! Placing a record down on a side table, chair or anywhere else, even just for a few seconds, can result in the disc picking up grime, dirt, dust and other particles that will then embed themselves in the grooves. From there, it’s a slippery slope to not only scratches on your record but a host of other issues.

7. Always allow a record to stop spinning before you take it off the platter. By letting a disc finish completely and only taking it off the turntable platter when completely stopped, you’ll avoid scratching the reverse side of the record which is in contact with the platter.

Cleaning Vinyl Records with Alcohol: Is it Safe?

When it comes to cleaning your vinyl records, you want to get it right. I know I do! The fear of damaging your precious collection is a real one for many vinyl enthusiasts, and there is an overwhelming amount of conflicting information on the internet about whether alcohol is a safe solution to use.

Cleaning your vinyl records with pure alcohol is not safe and you should never use undiluted alcohol to clean them. Some commercially available record cleaning solutions do contain a small concentration of isopropyl alcohol, but this is mixed with other ingredients.

Caution should always be used when considering the use of alcohol to clean vinyl records, and it is always better to err on the side of caution when cleaning discs by avoiding the use of alcohol altogether.

However, in some instances individuals at home and brands making record-cleaning products for sale do use alcohol as part of the content of their solution, to produce a diluted and specialized mix.

For a full guide on how to safely clean your records, check out our detailed step-by-step walkthrough with photos.

Can You Clean Vinyl Records with Alcohol?

The short answer to this question is yes, you can use alcohol to clean vinyl records, but there are two key caveats to this answer.

The first is that the type of alcohol to be used needs to be carefully selected and diluted.

The second caveat is that there is no guarantee that you will not cause damage to your vinyl record when using alcohol, so it is not possible to confidently say that it is safe to clean your records in this manner.

Except in emergency situations, one should avoid cleaning fluids containing alcohol for all recordings. In any case, alcohol should not be used on shellac discs, since various kinds of alcohol dissolve shellac. Although alcohol does not dissolve polyvinyl chloride, the primary ingredient in vinyl discs, some experts caution against its use on LPs because of the threat of the loss of plasticizer or stabilizer. Also, because of the wide variety of materials used in their manufacture and the possibility of a breakdown of the bond between their surface and base, alcohol should not be used.

Gerald D. Gibson, Conserving and Preserving Materials in Nonbook Formats

The general consensus amongst record collectors, and my own personal opinion, is that extreme caution should always be exercised around the use of alcohol as a cleaning agent for vinyl records, and avoided completely if at all possible.

How Vinyl Records React to Alcohol

As outlined by Gibson previously, nearly all records are now made from a base of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is a robust material that has strong resistant properties to solvents. As such, the PVC which forms the base material of the record is not especially at risk when exposed to alcohol.

The risk, or reaction, can be perceived to come from the additives which are in the PVC. These plasticizers, stabilizers and extenders help to give the vinyl some flexibility, and are bonded into the solid material.

Small reactions of these elements of the record to alcohol are what can affect the integrity of the disc, and the risk of an adverse effect on their bonding to the surface and base of the PVC is what makes alcohol a less than desirable cleaning solution for vinyl records.

In cleaning solutions that do contain isopropyl alcohol, it is often in such a small quantity that the exposure of the vinyl to the product would have to be for such a prolonged period before any degradation of the record could occur.

Isopropyl alcohol is widely accepted as the least aggressive form of alcohol for the purpose of cleaning records. However, it is worth restating that the use of any form of alcohol is best avoided, and that isopropyl when used is always used in very small amounts, as it is also considered abrasive when not carefully controlled.

Types of Alcohol and How They Can Affect Vinyl

There are a few different types of alcohol which have either been tried out, or proposed, as possible cleaning solutions for vinyl records.

  • Pure alcohol does an excellent job of stripping away all the kinds of debris, dirt and dust which build up in record grooves, but it is the side effects it has which make it so damaging. As well as removing dirt, pure alcohol also strips a vinyl record’s protective coating which guards the inside of the grooves. Once that coating has been damaged or removed, the recording can lose its warmth and sound quality. It should be avoided at all costs.
  • Methyl alcohol, or methanol, is another alcohol that you may see referred to online as a potential cleaning solution. This too should be avoided, as it is toxic and will cause damage to any discs it comes into contact with.
  • Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, has been used in a denatured format to clean records but can also be corrosive if not diluted correctly. Again, avoid!
  • Isopropyl alcohol, as previously mentioned, is the most common and frequently used alcohol in vinyl record cleaning solutions, but always in small, diluted quantities.

Alcohol Content in Ready-Made Record Cleaning Products: An Indicator as to the Safety of Using Alcohol

By far the easiest approach, especially if you lack the confidence and experience to try and make your own cleaning solution, is to buy a ready-made vinyl record cleaning solution. It is the more expensive option, but the cost is not exorbitant and it provides peace of mind.

Some enthusiasts swear off ready-to-buy solutions as they prefer to mix their own according to years of experience and their own tried and tested mix. I respect that level of dedication and knowledge, and of course I respect everyone’s own individual approach.

Personally, I prefer to avoid the use of any form of alcohol as much as I possibly can, and have found that some ready-to-buy solutions do a great job while at the same time leaving me reassured that I haven’t exposed my records to any unnecessary risk of damage.

I also believe that a good indicator of the safety of the use of alcohol to clean your vinyl records is whether a brand (that invests R&D into the most efficient and safest methods to clean records) does or does not include alcohol in its specialist cleaning solution.

Interestingly, and to underline the industry caution around the use of alcohol in the cleaning of discs, many products that are available to buy ready-made do not include alcohol.

Here is a useful table of some of the best known and reputable products, and whether they use any form of alcohol:

ProductSizeApproximate number of records cleanedDoes it contain any stated alcohol?Link to purchase
LAST Power Cleaner22ml/0.75 fl oz88No
LAST All-Purpose Record Cleaner22ml/0.75 fl oz88No
GrooveWasher G2 High Tech Record Cleaning Fluid236ml/8oz944No
TergiKleen Record Cleaning Fluid Concentrate30ml/1 fl oz120No
RCA Discwasher D4+ System (Pad, Brush & Solution pack)50ml/1.69 fl oz200Yes (isopropyl)

For me, the fact that the majority of these brands don’t state the use of alcohol in their ingredients is a clear indicator of the general industry consensus on the safety of the use of alcohol in cleaning vinyl records.

Cleaning Records: Related Questions

What else should I avoid using to clean my vinyl record collection? Household cleaning products such as window cleaner or dish detergent, vinegar and regular tap water should all never be used to clean your records. Yes, some people do try to use these!

How can I care for my records on a more low maintenance basis? Removing dust and static before each play of your vinyl record is less effort than cleaning with any kind of a fluid solution, and will help to keep it in good condition. Of course it’ll also improve your listening experience. However, a proper clean on a regular basis is important if you want to preserve the quality and lifespan of your vinyl!

Cleaning your brand new records before their first play is also a good practice to get into.

How Many Times Can a Vinyl Record Be Played In Its Lifetime?

A vinyl record can last for many decades when cared for properly, but how many times could you reasonably expect to be able to play the same record before it’s no longer usable? It’s a question I’ve asked myself more than once, so I decided to find out.

A well-cared for record can be played more than 100 times, with only minor audible sound degradation. If carefully maintained the same disc could be played many hundreds of times in its lifetime. A record played on poorly set-up equipment can be destroyed in just one spin.

There are many things that can determine the number of plays you can get out of a record. Your equipment tuning and optimization, the cleaning routine you have for your records, the way you store them, the previous wear and the existing condition of the disc are all important influencing factors.

The Number of Plays You Can Expect to Get From a Vinyl Record In Its Lifetime

An experiment by Swiss scientists F.A. Loescher and F.M. Hirsch in the mid-1970s, as part of their development of a revolutionary new cleaning system for vinyl records, proved that the maximum number of times a disc can be played can reach the thousands in some circumstances.

They set up a controlled environment in which a record player’s stylus was cleaned after every 20 plays, and the dust cover of the record player was in use every time the disc was spinning.

The record itself was washed after 500, 1000 and 2000 plays to eliminate any dust that was collected during the experiment.

In a comparison test … 1200 [plays were achieved] for the conventional dry technique before any audible sound deterioration could be detected.

Harry Maynard, Popular Science (June 1977)

Let’s be honest, we’re not all going to be able (nor want!) to recreate the controlled environment of Loescher & Hirsch’s test when caring for and playing our precious vinyl collection! Their experiment did however prove that a new record can be played over 1000 times without such a level of decline in sound quality that would detract from the pleasure of the listening experience.

With a more realistic cleaning routine for your records and an attention to detail with the set-up of your turntable, you should be able to enjoy at least 100 spins without noticing any level of degradation in sound.

Some specialist record preservation products – such as LAST – claim that a new record which has been kept clean, stored caringly and treated with its Record Preservative “can be played a minimum of 200 times without discernible wear”.

A link to LAST’s Record Preservative on Amazon can be found here (link opens in Amazon).

These are good examples of the number of times a record can be played without either audible sound deterioration or significant notable wear, but when cared for in an exceptional manner.

What about if you are taking care of your record collection in a sensible way, but not going to such extremes as those mentioned above?

It is wholly conceivable that you could enjoy hundreds of plays of your vinyl record and only notice a very marginal drop-off in audio quality if you handle your records with care, if they are in excellent (or brand new) condition to begin with, and if you do clean your records on a regular basis before playing them.

How the Set-up of Your Turntable Affects the Number of Times a Vinyl Can Be Played

The set-up of your turntable is critical to how long you can expect to be able to enjoy the best possible sound from your records and, by extension, the total number of plays you’ll get from them in their lifetime.

One of the most important aspects is the quality and condition of the stylus, or needle. A clean, unworn stylus will help to preserve the quality of the record whereas a worn stylus can destroy a record in just one play.

The tracking weight of the stylus is also a fundamental factor, and should be adjusted correctly on turntables that have an adjustable tonearm. If the pressure is too heavy, the record will damage quickly. If it is too light then the stylus may jump when there is a lot of vibration due to a loud section of the track you’re listening to, and the damage is caused when the stylus resettles in the groove of the record.

Another very important area to pay close attention to is the levelling of your turntable. By checking that the actual platter of the turntable (the part on which the record sits when spinning) is completely level and stable, you are ensuring that along with the correct set-up of the stylus the contact with the record is optimized.

Set-up pointers to consider:

  • A stable, vibration-free and level surface for your turntable.
  • Double check the levelling of your turntable’s platter.
  • Ensure the tonearm is properly calibrated and that the stylus pressure is just right (according to manufacturer guidelines).

100 plays can cause only minor degradation if your turntable set-up is on point.

How the Cleanliness and Storage of a Record Can Impact Its Lifespan

Cleaning your records carefully before playing them minimizes the degrading impact that dust and dirt can have. Any dirt or dust which sit within the record’s grooves will damage the record and reduce its lifespan.

Protecting your records when storing them with proper sleeves and covers, stacking them upright and in a low-humidity environment will all contribute to a longer life and higher number of plays. I recommend these inner sleeves as an affordable, but really effective solution (link opens in Amazon).

Unavoidably a record is damaged every time you play it, such is its delicate nature, but the damage is subtle and can be greatly reduced with proper cleaning and storage.

How the Frequency of Use Can Affect How Many Plays You’ll Get Out of a Record

It’s logical that with more frequent use, a record will degrade faster, but the proximity in time between plays also counts.

If a record is played more than once in quick succession heat builds up from the friction that’s created between the stylus and the groove of the record, and this can accelerate the wear of the record. This greatly reduces the longevity of your disc and will mean that you’ll get even fewer spins out of it.

So avoiding repeat plays of the same disc or one specific track on a disc in quick succession is strongly advised, and will help to prolong the life of the record.

Check out this neat experiment that compared a record’s frequency response (sound quality) before and after 100 plays:

What Will the Degradation of a Vinyl Record Sound Like Over Time?

Records, while fragile, are also durable when cared for properly and before you’re able to note any significant wear or detriment to the overall sound, you will start to hear pops and clicks when listening to your discs.

Those pops and clicks you’ll hear will be due to dust and dirt build-up in the record’s grooves. The actual degradation of the record will be much harder for the “naked” ear to hear, so you are far more likely to note discrepancies caused by the build-up of matter on the surface and grooves of the record.

One way to track the degradation of your record over time is to make a high resolution digital recording (at 48 kHz/24-bit, for example) of your vinyl record when you first buy it, and then use it as a basis for comparison with your vinyl record over time.

By comparing the quality of sound between the digital recording of the vinyl record, and the quality of sound on the current playing of the record, you should be able to note any minor discrepancies.

I have records that I have played more than 100 times since they were brand new, and which I cannot note any significant detriment in sound quality. These are records I have followed the above advice on with regards to their caring and storage. If you do too, you’ll be able to enjoy a significant number of plays from an individual record in its lifetime!