If you ask any vinyl enthusiast why they enjoy records, most will mention its “unique sound” as a major reason. Vinyl is generally considered the best medium for audio quality, allowing listeners to experience recorded music in its most immersive form.
However, given its analog nature, vinyl can inadvertently produce a lot of unwanted sounds. Snaps, crackle, pops, you name it … and we’re NOT talking about rice crispies here!
Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that even the best vinyl records will produce subtle noise. Usually, it’s a warm white noise, which is referred to as “surface noise.” It’s actually one of the pleasures of vinyl.
However, sometimes surface noise can escalate to distracting, annoying disturbances. Thankfully, it’s almost always an easy fix. In this article, we’ll look at all the reasons it happens, — and more importantly, how to fix it!
Table of Contents
- Crackles, Pops, and Buzzes: Funny Sounds and How to Fix ‘Em
- The Dreaded “60 Cycle” Hum and How to Fix It
- Squeaks: I Bought a Turntable, Not a MOUSE!
- Static Electricity: I Bought a Turntable, Not a Ham Radio!
Crackles, Pops, and Buzzes: Funny Sounds and How to Fix ‘Em
Most annoying vinyl noises can be described as “crackles,” “pops,” and “buzzes.” In general, all these sounds can be caused by any of the reasons listed below.
However, each reason is listed with the sound it produces the most often. You’re welcome to troubleshoot any sound with any of the solutions, but hopefully, this categorization will guide you in the right direction, a bit faster.
Crackles: The Obnoxious Sound that Never Stops …
Crackling records sound like a fireplace. Granted, crackling can actually be a very pleasant sound. But when all you hear is your favorite music being burned alive in a blazing inferno, it definitely kills the joy.
Crackling occurs when there is excessive dust and gunk buildup in your disc’s grooves. In fact, dust and dirt are some of the top causes for all noise problems.
The easiest way to prevent crackling is to clean your record before every listening session. At its simplest, you can use a fine cloth (like a glasses cleaning cloth or a dedicated vinyl cleaning cloth) to gently wipe down both sides.
You can also use distilled water to gently rinse them off. As long as you’re not dunking them in vats of water, you’ll be just fine. Just make sure they are dry before you start spinning.
You can also invest in a vinyl brush like this one. I’m a very frugal person, and I don’t buy accessories if I don’t have to. However, a vinyl brush will solve many noise problems AND will keep your records in good shape for years to come.
For these reasons alone, I think they’re worth investing in.
Besides cleaning records, there are other common reasons for crackling.
First, your tonearm’s “tracking-force” could be too strong. Tracking-force refers to how hard your tonearm and needle are pressing into your disc.
Ideally, it should be between 1 and 3 grams. If your tonearm has a counterweight dial on the back end, you can use that to adjust the overall pressure.
Second, various connections in your audio change could be causing interference. You can check for faulty cables by gently turning each jack in its socket, or turning various dials. Just tinker around and see if it cuts or adds any unnecessary crackling sounds.
Pops: Those Sudden Jump Scares That Ruin Your Relaxing Time …
Pops occur when your needle temporarily jumps out of a groove. They sound like that obnoxious sound when you unplug an electric guitar from a live amp.
Pops are technically miniature skips. This means that you can troubleshoot pops in the same way you troubleshoot skips. I wrote another article specifically on this topic, so check that page out if you want!
Buzzing: That Moody Drone That Slowly Drives You Crazy …
If you’ve ever been on an airplane – especially in a seat by the engines – then you know that subtle yet annoying drone that underpins everything you say and hear. It’s not the worst noise you can have with vinyl, but it still messes with lower frequencies and a song’s overall sound.
Thankfully, it’s one of the easiest problems to fix. Usually, buzzing happens because there’s an excessive amount of electric buildup that has nowhere to go. As a result, it jumps right out of your speakers.
Many quality turntables come with a built-in grounding screw, usually located right next to the RCA/stereo outputs. Along with the grounding screw comes a grounding wire, which has funny-looking metal “forks” on each end.
To use the wire, you simply stick one fork on the screw and the other to a screw on your external preamp. If you don’t have a preamp, or don’t know what that is, you can get a ‘grounding box’ or ‘ground loop isolator’ to do the same task.
As an interesting sidenote: you know those electric plugs that have three prongs? Two of them are small and silver, while the third is big, round, and copper. This third prong accomplishes the same task as a grounding wire; it takes all the excess electricity from your devices and gets rid of it in a safe way.
Buzzing can also occur from interferences in your audio chain, just like I mentioned in the “crackles” section. If you can find any components that cause this problem, you will want to replace them with newer, quality ones.
Most annoying vinyl sounds can be fixed with the methods I just listed in this section. “Crackles,” “pops,” and “buzzes” will make up most of the sounds you hear.
However, occasionally you’ll get other wacky sounds as well. I will talk about them below.
The Dreaded “60 Cycle” Hum and How to Fix It
Sometimes you’ll get a buzzing sound that won’t be fixed with the above methods. This buzzing will sound more like a “hum,” and is the same sound you get when an electric guitar amp won’t stay quiet.
In this case, the “60-cycle hum” is most likely caused by the socket you’re plugged into. To troubleshoot this, try plugging your turntable into another outlet.
Jimi Hendrix chased the feedback. The Jesus and Mary Chain built their signature sound on it. Kurt Cobain used it for punk sound textures.
But man, oh man, when it’s happening to your vinyl records, it’s the absolute WORST!
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to explain feedback. It occurs when a microphone, or any form of audio recording, ends up hearing and repeating what it just recorded.
The result is a nasty loop. You make a sound; the mic hears it. The mic hears the sound it just heard, so it repeats it. Only to hear it again and again and again … all the while getting louder and more distorted.
So, how do you fix this with a turntable? Well, it’s happening because your speakers are too close to the needle and platter. Just move them farther away so the soundwaves and vibrations don’t interfere.
Squeaks: I Bought a Turntable, Not a MOUSE!
Believe it or not, sometimes your needle and speakers can pickup squeaks and creaks. Most often this comes from the body of the turntable, not anything on the disc. Usually, there is something loose, vibrating, or dirty that’s causing this problem.
First, try tightening any screws on your turntable. Make them secure, but don’t make them excessively tight. If a screw or two is loose, it gives room for parts of the turntable to wiggle around with the audio waves.
If that doesn’t work, try using lubrication. Just like lube makes a car’s engine run and trumpet valves push, it helps keep the turntable’s parts moving in tandem. Make sure to use a silicon-based lubricant, and be very careful when handling your turntable.
Static Electricity: I Bought a Turntable, Not a Ham Radio!
Lastly, we come to static electricity. I’ve had more problems with static electricity than anything else. In my humble opinion, it’s the worst noise out there because it combines all of them together like Godzilla on a stomping spree.
Despite this, there are some very simple, concrete steps you can take to eradicate static electricity.
First, if you buy a vinyl brush, get one that also gets rid of static electricity. Many of them do this already, and it is a godsend.
I like to make my disc start spinning, then I’ll gently press my brush against it for several spins. This picks up dust, but also absorbs all the static into itself.
I also highly recommend investing in paper sleeves for your records. Not only do these sleeves protect from unnecessary scratches, but they will “collect” all the static from the record as you slide it out.
When you use paper sleeves, you may notice them clinging to the records as they slip out. This is a good sign, since it means they are grabbing every last bit of static from the vinyl surface.
Lastly, here’s a quick, fun tip for you: before you even touch your record sleeve, gently tap the spindle with your index finger.
This will get all the static electricity out of your body before you come in contact with the record. Sometimes records can get all their static from you, so you can avoid doing that with this simple trick!
Vinyl records are imperfect, in an endearing way. Analog surface noise is part of this imperfection, and it gives vinyl a special charm. But in excess, it can turn a relaxing activity into a frustrating disappointment.
Hopefully these tips gave you plenty of practical, actionable tips for reducing the audio interference you get with your records and turntable system.
In conclusion, I’ll say this: the best way to fix audio problems is to take preventative actions to avoid them in the first place. While problems can’t always be avoided, you can take practical steps to minimize their potential.
Most importantly, set up your sound system in a good environment, and storing your records correctly. Keep them both far from humidity, direct light, extreme temperatures, and lots of movement. When storing discs, keep them upright.
Lastly, make sure to clean them both regularly. With all that advice, you should be well on your way to a pleasant experience with vinyl! Until next time, enjoy the journey, and always, ALWAYS have fun!