Modern Dust and Vinyl Records

by Stephen Price on September 09, 2020

Writing in The Times and recently republished in The Australian, Ben Webster’s article “How Hitting Brakes Melts Polar Ice Cap” makes for thought provoking reading.

What would melting the polar ice cap have to do with vinyl records, you ask? The article describes how microplastic particles are shed by modern tyres and brakes during braking and are swept by winds to remote areas including the Artic where they darken the surface and hasten the melting of ice. 

The researchers estimated that about 426,000 tonnes of microplastic particles are shed each year from tyres and are a source of air pollution as they are at least 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair or 1.7 µm to 18 µm. At that size these particles, like mould spores, are small enough to comfortably settle in the groove of a vinyl record. Anybody living within a modern metropolis has seen the evidence of this modern dust on window sills (and those are the larger particles).

The finest dust does not manifest as clicks and pops during playback. Consider the infinitesimally small peaks and troughs on the record groove wall in the scanning electron microscope photo; minute dust particles would act to fill the troughs thereby eliminating detail as the stylus would effectively skate over that detail.

Harold Weiler’s study of the vinyl record in 1954, which identified dust as the major enemy of the stylus and the record, would not have had to deal with this unwanted additive to the atmosphere and by extension the record groove. All the more reason why a record should be protected against static, resleeved after use, new records cleaned before use and a regime of periodic maintenance cleaning adopted.

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