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How to Play Vinyl Records Without Pops and Cracks

Nothing is more confusing for vinyl lovers than when our favorite records sound like an ocean of cracks, pops and clicks. And the music we looked forward to listening to is totally ruined by all kinds of noises that literally put the music in the background.

Trust me, I’ve been there!

But luckily, these noises can usually be eliminated. Or at least, significantly reduced.

In this article, we will look at the main causes that make vinyl records crack, pop and click. And how to fix them.

So what are the main causes why vinyl records crack, pop and click?

The main reasons why vinyl records crack, pop and click are:
1. Dirty/dusty records
2. Dirty/dusty stylus (needle)
3. Static electricity
4. Bad record pressing
5. Wrong tracking force
6. Worn stylus
7. Low-quality cartridge
8. Unrealistic expectations

Let’s look at each of them in detail and how to fix them.

1. Dirty/dusty records

In any environment, there will be dust and particles in the air that ends up in the grooves on our records. Left outside its sleeve, a record will usually collect dust pretty quickly. This is especially true if the records are a bit charged with static electricity as well. (We’ll look at that issue later.)

Also, dirt and grease from our fingers will stick to our records and cause problems.

Records need to be clean from dust, particles, dirt, and grease to sound good. The cartridge that transforms the tiny grooves in the record to a music signal is super sensitive and will pick up on any “hostile” object it encounters on its way through the grooves.

The solution to this problem is twofold.

First, we need to prevent out records from getting dirty in the first place.

We need to make sure that our records are stored in good inner sleeves that reduce static and cover them from dust and particles. And we must make sure that we do not touch the grooves with our hands and fingers when handling the records. Only touch the label in the center of the record and the edges.

And second, we need to clean our records using the right gear for the job.

A carbon fiber brush is the best tool to remove dust and particles from our records. A good habit is to give our records a quick dry clean with a carbon fiber brush before every play.

Also, wet cleaning our records by using a velvet brush and a proper record cleaning fluid should be done from time to time. This is not something we need to do before every play but should be done if a record starts to sound noisy and/or when we can visually see dirt and fingerprints on the record.

Go to Amazon or your local record shop and buy a carbon fiber brush, a velvet brush, and a record cleaning fluid. It is not a big investment and something you can’t be without if you want to make sure your records aren’t sounding bad due to dust and dirt.

Here are two good and affordable options on Amazon:

Carbon fiber brush (Amazon link)

Velvet brush with record cleaning fluid (Amazon link)

There are more sophisticated and expensive record cleaning tools available on the market, but these two tools will get you a long way as a start.

Also, pick up a package of high-quality inner sleeves. These from Mobile Fidelity is a very popular pick among vinyl enthusiasts:

Mobile Fidelity inner sleeves (Amazon link)

2. Dirty/dusty stylus/needle

The stylus (needle) picks up dust and dirt from the records as it glides through the grooves. If you play a record full of dust and particles you will often see that the stylus tip is covered in it afterward. If you look closely.

The solution to this is simply to give the stylus a quick clean with a stylus brush. Ideally before every play but at least if you visually see that there is stuff hanging from the stylus or when records pop, crack and sound noises.

If you buy the velvet brush I recommended in the tip above, you will also get a stylus brush included in the package. Also, there are other stylus brushes available on the market. A quick browse on Amazon or a visit to your local record shop will likely give you several variants to choose from.

3. Static electricity

If the indoor air gets too dry, stuff will start to get static because there is not sufficient humidity in the air for the static electricity to discharge. Clothes, sheets, furniture and (worst of all) our vinyl records start to build static electricity.

Static electricity stored in our records causes pops and cracks because the electricity is picked up by the cartridge and amplified by the amplifier.

And as an unwanted bonus, static records attract dust and particles like a magnet. Which make the problem even worse.

Static electricity can, unfortunately, be quite hard to prevent. If you live in a geographical area where the indoor air gets dry seasonally (like I do) it is quite hard to significantly increase the humidity. Boiling water, drying laundry and buying a high capacity humidifier all works, but it takes a bit of effort to use these remedies consistently over time to keep the air humidity from dropping too low in the dry air season.

There are however two products that I personally have good experience with when it comes to fighting static electricity in my records.

The first one is using high quality ant-static inner sleeves. As a replacement to the paper sleeves that usually comes standard with the records.

These ones from Mobile Fidelity seems to be the best and most popular ones, as already mentioned in the first tip above (Amazon Link)

The second one is using an anti-static device like this one from Milty. (Amazon Link)

Giving the record a squeeze or two with this device before it is put on play seems to reduce noises caused by static electricity quite significantly.

4. Bad record pressing

Unfortunately, some records will never ever sound perfect no matter how much I clean them or threats them with anti-static measures.

Even new records straight from the factory can sometimes have pops, cracks and click that I will never get rid of.

I actually bought a remastered version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on 180 gram vinyl recently.

Brand new. Straight from the shop.

And, shockingly enough, it does not sound good at all. Lots of pops, clicks and cracks.

It just seems that some records don’t have the desired quality from the factory. It is hard to believe that this is the case in today’s high-tech modern world, but it is. I have done a fair bit of research on this and it seems to be accepted in the vinyl community that some records will never sound good. Even brand new ones.

The solution is to buy your favorite records from a label that is known for high quality-pressing. Analog Productions and Mobile Fidelity are two labels that seem to be regarded as the ones that deliver the best quality. Might be a solution if the records you are looking for is available from these labels.

Fortunately, most records sound good. So there is no reason to be too paranoid about bad pressings. But it is frustrating when you put a brand new record on the spindle, place the tonearm gently in the starting groove, and the music sounds like crap from the first note. But this is the exception, not the rule. It happens, but not often.

5. Wrong tracking force

The turntable cartridge/stylus (needle) is designed to work with a specific tracking force. This is usually around 2 grams but varies slightly from cartridge to cartridge.

Incorrect adjustment of tracking force can cause the cartridge to move incorrectly in the record grooves and pick up more noise than ideal.

There are also other settings, like alignment and anti-skate, that can increase noise, pops and cracks when not adjusted correctly.

The solution is to make sure that the tracking force is correctly set. The best way is to get a Digital Turntable Stylus Force Scale Gauge and adjust the tracking force precisely in accordance with the cartridge specifications.

Here is an affordable scale that will do the job perfectly (Amazon link)

Also, make sure that the cartridge is aligned correctly. We do this using an alignment protractor. These can be downloaded for free from vinylengine.

If your turntable has other adjustments beside tracking force and alignment (like anti-skate and height adjustment), make sure to have it all adjusted in accordance with the specifications to minimize unwanted noises. And to make sure that you get out all the sonic potential from your turntable.

6. Worn stylus

After about 1000 hours of use, the stylus is usually worn out and needs to be replaced. At this stage, the tip will have deteriorated so much that it won’t fit in the record grooves as intended. This will cause noise, pops and cracks as well as an overall reduction in sonic performance. It will also cause more wear and tear on the records when played.

The solution is to buy a replacement stylus. As the cost of a replacement stylus (needle) is often quite close to the cost of a complete cartridge, this might also be a point in time where you want to consider upgrading the cartridge as well. We’ll look more into that in the next tip.

7. Low-quality cartridge

Budget cartridges (that usually come as standard on affordable turntables) are usually not as good trackers as their bigger and more expensive brothers.

It is a fact that some cartridges are better trackers than others. Which means less unwanted cracks, pops and clicks from our records.

The Ortofon 2M Bronze is, as an example, considered to be a better tracker than the Ortofon 2M Red that comes standard with the Project Debut Carbon and the AT95E that comes standard with the Audio Technica AT-LP120.

This is probably not the fist measure to take to reduce pops, cracks and click from your vinyl records. But for the more advanced vinyl enthusiast, and when the time is right, upgrading to a higher quality cartridge can be an effective way to reduce unwanted noises. The main benefit will, however, be the overall increase in sonic performance a higher quality cartridge will give.

For a more detailed introduction to the benefits of a cartridge upgrade, please take a look at this article.

8. Unrealistic expectations

To conclude this list of problems and fixes to unwanted noises from our vinyl records I want to touch on the topic of expectations.

Vinyl records have the potential to reproduce fantastic neutral warm sounding authentic high fidelity sound.

That is a fact and the reason why so many Stereophiles (Hi-Fi enthusiasts) love the format.

But as a very old invention that has a lot of mechanical parts (as opposite to digital music streamers), a tiny bit of noise should not prevent us from enjoying our vinyl records as much as humanly possible.

Noise, pops, cracks and clicks should in no way put the music in the background. That is not cool at all.

But if there is a tiny bit of noise appearing sporadically, let’s embrace it as a charming imperfection of the music reproduced from vinyl records that we love so much.

Think about it. Everything in life worth loving has flaws. It gives it soul. And character. It is a part of the charm.

And that includes vinyl records.

Vinyl records can and should sound very good. And I hope this article will help every reader achieve that.

But it will never sound absolutely perfect 100% of the time. And that is just fine!