Scratched Records sound

February 5, 2017
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Dirty records can be cleaned, but damaged records will still sound terrible no matter how much you clean them. The first image is a microscopic view of a scratch across Skeeter Davis' "End Of The World"... Appropos for 2012, don't you think?. When a record player gets bumped or someone gets careless, the needle skips crosswise over the grooves, literally carving a path through the soft vinyl.

The vinyl being cut away has to go somewhere. Some of it ends up on the needle, some of it ends up as crud at the bottom of the groove and some of it is pushed out of the way, piled up like snow in front of a plow. It's pushed above the surface of the lands and the side walls of the grooves. This is what causes the "tick, tick, tick" you hear after a record has been scratched. The needle is bumping into these deformations and serenades you with it's rhythmic beat a little over 33 times a minute.

The second microscopic image shows a smaller scratch as well, but it also shows many deformations on the edges and sides of the grooves. Back when this album was popular, tone arms and needles were both heavy and large. As they ran through the grooves, the needle would build up up heat, softening the plastic, making the vinyl more prone to damage. A large needle can't fit all the way into the groove, so it rests in part, on the outside edges of the groove.

The edge is the weakest part of the groove, so when a needle vibrates back and forth, it slams against the warm edge, wearing it away, pushing and deflecting vinyl into small mounds above the record surface. The vinyl that's pushed up and out, leaves a pocket behind, and the edge eventually becomes lined with pits and piles of vinyl. The edge begins to take on a new shape as the needle wears away at it, distorting the sound as well as adding pops, clicks and ticks.

Today, needles are smaller, lighter and go deeper into the groove where the vinyl of these old records is still virgin. With a good cleaning, the sound will be rich and pure... Unless your record is still making popping sounds, has visible scratches and glitters like a field of diamonds under a microscope.

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