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The Care and Preservation of
Phonograph Records
On a Budget
by Pat Swayne
Copyright © 1998 by Pat Swayne. All Rights Reserved.
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    If you are a fan of one of the singers I have done pages on, then you are probably aware of one thing they all have in common. They have all recorded songs on records that are now out of print, and that have not been re-released on CD. If you have or intend to get some of these records, how can you preserve the sound on them? 
    If you have an unlimited budget, you can get an ELP Laser Turntable. This is a device that plays records without a needle, but instead uses a laser beam to track the grooves. You can play your records in infinite number of times on one of these without any wear. The only problem is that they cost $14,000 and up. 
    You are probably going to have to play your records the way I do, on a normal turntable that uses a needle, which means that you should get the best turntable, cartridge, and needle you can afford, and that you should only play your records to record them onto something else. 
    For a turntable, any good direct drive or belt drive manual or semi automatic turntable will do. I have a Techniques SL1500 direct drive turntable that I found for $10 at a thrift store. That, by the way, is a good way to find hi-fi bargains, but you have to check the store fairly often, because most of the time the stuff they have is junk. You also need to be able to tell the good stuff from the junk if you shop that way. If you can't find one at a thrift store, try surfing. There is an online store called Audio Advisor that regularly has closeout specials. You might be able to find a good turntable there. They are a top of the line store, though, so even their closeout items may be a bit expensive. A good place to check is Johnny B. Goods. Their on-line store is currently closed as I write this, but check from time to time. If you can't find a good turntable on-line, check your local audio stores for sales, closeouts, etc. 
    Once you have a good turntable, you will need a good cartridge. Even if your turntable comes with a cartridge, you may want to get another one, because this is the most important component. I recommend the Grado ZF3E+ cartridge. Many experts recommend this one as the very best low cost cartridge you can buy. I can tell you from personal experience that it sounds noticeably better than a Shure M75E,  another highly recommended cartridge that I have. You can get one at Audio Advisor. (That link takes you directly to their ZF3E+ cartridge page.) And if you need a needle (stylus), you can get one at Garage-A-Records or Audio Advisor. 
    Before you tape your records, they need to be as clean as you can get them. The best device for cleaning records is something called the Nitty Gritty record cleaner. (I know the name sounds hokey, bit it's real.) There are several models of these, priced at $200 and up. If that is out of your budget, get a Discwasher D4 cleaning system (a special brush and some cleaning fluid), for about $30. You can get either from Garage-A-Records, and you can also get the Nitty Gritty at Audio Advisor. If you get the Discwasher, be sure to follow the directions that come with it carefully. Here's a hint: Don't use too much cleaning fluid. If the record is still wet after you use the dry side of the brush, you used too much fluid. It cleans better if you go easy on the fluid. 
    Now here comes the good part. Since playing records with a needle wears them out, you need to record the sound onto something else. Ideally it should be a digital device, such as a Digital Audio Tape recorder (DAT), a recordable CD, or a mini-disc. But we are doing this on a budget, and all of those choices are expensive. However, you may already have a digital quality recording device in your home that you aren't even aware of. It's a stereo VHS video recorder (VCR). These record audio with digital quality. If you have one of these connected to your hifi system, and have played a Dolby or THX movie on it, you know how good they sound. And they make recordings that are just as good -- full frequency and no background noise. But it must be a stereo VCR. It will have two audio inputs and two audio outputs if it is. 
    Some stereo VCR's can record audio only, with no video input. However, if you play a tape made this way on another VCR, you may have trouble getting it to track. Most VCR's have a mode in which you can record audio from an external source and video from the internal tuner. On my VCR, this is called the "simulcast" mode. You need a stable video source that will not change its "synchronization source" while you are recording. If you have cable or satellite, the preview channel is probably the best video source to use. 
    To record a record, connect your VCR to your audio system so that it can receive audio when you play a record. One way to do this is to use the tape connections (you would normally have a cassette tape deck connected to these). Put the record on your turntable, and put the tone arm on without the motor running. Turn it by hand until the music starts, and then back it up two turns. Make sure the recorder is set to SP speed (for best quality). Start it recording, and then press the pause button. Start the turntable, and press pause again (or whatever you press on your recorder to quit the pause mode). When the side of the record ends, you can press pause again, turn the record over, and repeat the previous manual start procedure. You will have a recording which, when played, sounds identical to the record. 
    You can also use a stereo VCR to record rare CD's. The recording will be so good that I doubt if you can tell the difference. If something happens to one of your CD's, you will at least have the sound backed up.