Your vinyl record’s grooves magnified 1,000x under an electron microscope. Way cool.
But, have I simply gone too far to prove a point?
Maybe. But still, I think you’ll agree that the results are stunning. I’ll won’t comment too much, because these pictures really do speak for themselves. There’s a lot more to cleaning and removing static from your LPs than meets the eye, as you’re about to find out.
Oh, and right now I’m giving you the abridged version of the story. If you want to really go down the rabbit hole with me, I’ll show you how you can access DAK’s full report (for free, of course). Download
Before we take a microscopic look inside the grooves, you do have to know the following about how records are made:
To the naked eye, the grooves look like thin, even lines, but that’s not the case as you’ll see below. Your LP’s music is physically stored on the walls of the groove. Exact images of soundwaves (or undulations) are cut and imprinted on both sides of the groove wall. When your stylus drags across the groove, it reproduces those undulations, bringing the “fossilized” sound back to life.
Since it’s analog, all of this is happening in real time. So if you record a 20,000hz sound, you will get 20,000 soundwaves in the wall per second.
There’s a lots more to say about this, but I won’t send you down the rabbit hole unless you want to follow me down. The important thing to know is that your stylus MUST maintain complete contact with the undulations to correctly reproduce your music.
Naturally, that’s why keeping your records clean are the key to making your music sound its very best.
All those signature pops, clicks and ticks associated with playing your records are just dust particles getting in between your stylus and the grooves. You’re literally listening to dirt.
We’re just about ready for the photos, but first, a disclaimer about our methods
- These are actual photos of my records. When you see dirt, that really is the dirt, dust, and micro-dust that was there. I did not add any dust or dirt to these records—not even to make a point! This is really the way my records were. For the dirty record shots, I used a record that I had left out. Unfortunately, that’s not unusual for me. Keep in mind that it didn’t look bad when viewed with the naked eye.
- These can’t really be called true before and after shots in comparison for clean and dirty shots. This is because I had to break the records into tiny pieces to get them under microscopes. Even when a shot is from the same record, it’s not the exact same groove because there’s no way to brush the records after they break into tiny fragments when viewed under a microscope. This is to be expected, but it’s not technically an A/B test because there’s no way to really do it.
- Unfortunately, records were both hurt and injured during the making of these microscopic pictures. But I’d already copied them to my computer using, what else, DAK’s incomparable LP to MP3 system.
OKAY. LET’S GET MICROSCOPIC!
Here’s one of my dirty records. It really doesn’t look that bad, but I wanted you to see what we were using for the shots. Good thing I converted it to MP3 because it’s now in tiny little pieces. Now, let’s see what our grooves really look like.
Here’s the dirty record at 50x. It’s a lot dustier than you could see with your naked eye. Even at 50x, you still can’t see much of what is going on in the grooves where it really matters.
Here’s the cleaned record at 50x. The color looks a little different, but that’s just the lighting. Anyway, as you can see, keep your records covered, sleeved, and clean them frequently. Oh, and it gets worse…
Now we’re moving up to 400x magnification. This is that the dirt and dust particles look at 400x. Amazing how much of it is all hidden from the naked eye. I was embarrassed at first when I saw how bad these records were, but I do take pretty good care of my vinyl. I’ll bet yours look like this too.
Again, at 400x you can see all the way into the bottom of the groove. When it’s clean, it’s great. But do you see just above center, about the third groove down? You can see the undulation waves. That’s your music! It’s normally hard to see because by the time you magnify the album enough to see the waves, you’re looking at such a small section that it’s likely to be only one wave. This must be a very high frequency section because you can really see the waves. I can’t play this particular record because, as I said at the beginning, you’re looking at a small, broken fragment of the record, and it will never play again.
Here’s another dirty section at 400x. This time we are looking vertically into the grooves. There’s so much dirt it’s a tribute to LPs in general that this could play at all. And let me assure you I did play this record before it went under the microscope.
Oh, and do you see how uneven the grooves are? There’s nothing wrong with this picture. That’s the way grooves are cut. All records look like this once you can see them fully magnified at 400x.
Here’s the clean 400x vertical shot. Back in 1895, when the first groove recordings came into being, I doubt they could ever take such a good look at their work. But we can. It’s a stunning level of detail to witness, what I’m calling, “fossilized sound”.
The more you magnify, the more light you need. When looking at a single groove magnified at 800x, you can see that your grooves are so crooked that an orthodontist couldn’t even fix this. This is as bright as we could get it. But it’s clear how dirty the groove is. So, you can imagine like I have how the needle will ever track through it to create your sound.
Here’s the clean 800x groove shot. The white part is glare from the light, not dirt. You really can see the groove shape. It sort of reminds me of going down a water slide in Maui. The needle sure does thread an interesting path. But as you can see, a clean groove really helps. You don’t get much closer than this.
LET’S USE THE SCANNING ELECTRON MICROSCOPE
Here’s the clean LP under the electron microscope. It gives you a different perspective than the metallurgical optical microscopes. It just costs much more.
**Side point, so you know: a metallurgical optical microscope (and there are more, but this is the main difference) looks down on the subject and the light is shown from above or at an angle from above. A biological microscope, the kind we are used to from school, looks through the subject slide and the light shines up from the bottom.
So for looking at the record, everything is from the top. That’s why we use a metallurgical microscope. Back to the pictures.
Because records are so dark, they absorb light. So we switched to the Scanning Electron Microscope.
I was going to buy one to do this, but when I found out they cost about $250,000, I decided we’d use the Lab’s. Anyway, here on the left you can see a dirty record, compared with a clean one right above. The electron microscope uses electrons rather than a light, so that’s why all electron microscope pictures look silver or gray. They’re the same records, just different technique.
Here under the electron microscope again, you can see just how the small carbon fibers can reach all the way to the bottom of the groove. Here you see 3 in the groove. But remember there are over 1,000,000. And as you can see to the left, they really do attract the dust right off the record. Then you just clean the brush against the handy mount and do another record. But the main thing is that they are small enough to get into the groove and there are a million of them to remove the dust, dirt and micro-dust Plus of course since they drain the static electricity, the dust isn’t immediately attracted right back.
OK so now we are back to cleaning your grooves. Here you can see one of the reasons why carbon fiber is so much better than traditional brushes. It’s so much smaller. On the left is a human hair. On the right is the carbon fiber. Of course size is just one reason to use carbon fiber. But you can clearly see how much smaller carbon fiber really is.
The stylus picks up the waves. Remember it gets the sound from the sides of the groove and you can see up close thanks to the electron microscope just what your stylus sees. And now you’ve completed your trip down the microscopic rabbit hole to see just how your records store and reproduce all that great music. I sure hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it for you. And, now you know just what your new Carbon Fiber Brush can do to help your sound be the best ever by thoroughly cleaning deep, deep, deep into your grooves.
Get DAK’s Carbon Fiber Record Brush