Why Is My Record Skipping?
Whether you’re already a vinyl veteran or a newcomer to analog audio, chances are you’ve heard the expression, “you’re like a broken record.” For decades, this phrase has been used to refer to a person repeating the same behavior over and over again without changing. So, where did this idiom come from?
In reality, the “broken record” phrase alludes to the way that a malfunctioning, or “skipping,” record will keep repeating the same section of recorded audio, ad infinitum. Hearing a record skip can drive you crazy, and it’s also often a sign that something is seriously wrong with that particular vinyl.
In this post, we’ll be covering an indispensable piece of vinyl knowledge – what skipping means and how to fix it. You’ll learn everything from how records generate sound to DIY fixes for scratches and scuffs.
Let’s get started!
First Off: How Does a Record Make Sound?
To understand why records sometimes skip, it’s essential first to know how they generate sound in the first place. Before we start discussing skipping specifically, let’s briefly cover the source of a record’s sound.
The Sound of Vinyl, Explained
The process of getting sound from a record is absolutely fascinating, and every vinyl enthusiast should know how it works. Below is a quick explanation of how a spinning record can play music.
- Each vinyl record is etched with tiny grooves, which, when read by the stylus (AKA the needle) on your record player, generate vibrations at specific frequencies. Without amplification, these vibrations are almost too quiet to hear. However, once amplified, the vibrations created as your turntable’s stylus reads a record’s grooves reproduce a recording.
- The stylus on your turntable is attached to the cartridge, one of the most important components in any record player. The cartridge contains a tiny coil, which generates an electric current as the needle picks up vibrations from a record.
- This current is then carried by the tonearm, the extending rod that holds the cartridge over a record as it spins. The tonearm then sends the signal from the cartridge to your turntable’s preamp, which allows it to be amplified and become loud enough to hear.
With that, you’ve got that great warm, analog sound that so many record collectors and audiophiles love. It all starts with the tiny grooves etched into your favorite records.
Why Records Skip
Records are fascinating little pieces of technology, and so are the turntables that they play on. However, given the intricate nature of the vinyl format, there’s always the risk that something can get damaged and throw your listening experience off course.
One of the most common issues that record collectors run into is simple – damaged vinyl. This is especially an issue if you’re a fan of buying used records, which often come with their fair share of cosmetic flaws. Pre-owned vinyl can often cause problems for record collectors, especially if a used record is severely scratched or warped.
In addition, your turntable can cause problems with skipping as well. Each of the components in your record player works with the others in perfect harmony to get great sound from your records. However, when one of these components gets thrown off course, you can end up with a skipping, malfunctioning record.
Let’s dive into these two major causes of record skipping – issues with your records and issues with your turntable.
When Things Go Wrong With Records
As you might imagine, if something obstructs the path of your stylus as it reads the grooves in a record, the sound that your turntable produces can get seriously messed up. Scratches, dust, dirt, and other forms of damage and debris can all interfere with your stylus’ smooth journey through a record’s grooves.
If a record is scratched, dirty, or warped, it is far more likely to produce inferior sound – and to skip. Skipping typically occurs when your turntable’s stylus gets stuck or thrown off course by some form of cosmetic damage to the record you’re listening to. The main culprit here is scratches, but just about anything can obstruct the stylus’ path and degrade sound quality.
Is It My Turntable or the Record?
While dust, dirt, and damage are some of the primary causes of record skipping, there’s also another important factor to consider – your record player. If there are issues with the way your turntable is set up, your stylus may not be able to maintain its steady course as a record spins.
There are several common turntable configuration issues that can leave you with a skipping record. Below are some of the key culprits.
An Imbalanced Tonearm
The tonearm holds the cartridge over a record, allowing the needle to stay in place and wobble as little as possible. If your tonearm is not properly positioned, you can quickly start dealing with sound quality issues and skipping.
Balancing your tonearm can be tricky, but we’ve got an entire article devoted to the process. There, we cover everything from anti-skating mechanisms and tracking weights to what else you can do to make your turntable sound great. Give it a read!
A Low-Quality Cartridge
Subpar cartridges are the scourge of every audiophile’s existence. The cartridge might have the biggest impact on your vinyl listening experience of all the components of your turntable, so it’s always worth it to invest in a good one.
Many low-end record players come with cartridges that are unstable and wobbly, meaning they’ll add distortion and noise to the signal you get from a record. In addition, an unstable, cheap cartridge can increase the risk of skipping.
Can I Fix a Skipping Record?
In many cases, the cause of the skips you’re hearing when you spin a record is remediable with some hard work and the right tools. Skipping records are often fixable if the cause of the problem is primarily debris like dust and dirt, which can easily get stuck in the grooves of a record.
Cleaning Up Dirty, Skipping Records
If you’re dealing with skipping due to a dirty record, the best solution is typically a set of specialized vinyl-cleaning tools. These include a brush, a cloth, and a cleaning solution that are gentle enough to get out that grime and gunk from your records’ grooves without causing more damage.
To learn more about cleaning up dirty, dusty records, check out our article on what to do with a broken vinyl record.
When Can’t a Record Be Fixed?
In some cases, cracks, scratches, warping, and other forms of serious damage can leave a record unplayable. When a record is stored incorrectly or handled improperly, it can be difficult to undo the damage it’s been dealt.
While a warped or severely scratched record isn’t always ruined, it can take a lot of hard work and skill to remedy these types of issues. DIY fixes exist for warping and scratching, but they sometimes run the risk of leaving a record even more damaged than before. If you’re unsure about your ability to tackle an at-home fix for a messed-up record, it’s usually best to lean towards leaving it alone.
Want to learn more about how vinyl records work and how to take great care of your collection? Make sure to check out the Sound of Vinyl blog for tons more info.