Despite being one of the most durable physical music formats around, neglect your records and you risk introducing surface noise, scratches, even warping. With these perils in mind, our tech guru Paul Rigby outlines how to store a record collection properly.
Words: Paul Rigby
For many years now, the top issue brought up by the anti-vinyl brigade is the noise that vinyl makes when it is playing. The snap, crackle, pops, the background hiss, the clicks and more. People who dislike vinyl point their fingers at this issue as if its a design flaw.
It’s also an old chestnut that ignores many factors which largely result from a lack of basic cleaning and proper storage. If you don’t store your vinyl properly, then it will affect playback sound quality very quickly. Its easy to prove the point yourself. Just buy yourself a clean, new vinyl record, hear the silence from the first few plays then leave the record, out of its sleeve, open to the elements, pick it up with dirty fingers, use it as a frisbee and a beer mat and, well blow me down, you’ve got yourself one noisy record. It’s not rocket science, is it?
That’s not all, of course, if you don’t store your records properly, you also open up the possibility of excessive wear, warping and abrasion. The record itself is not the only target. Part of the joy of buying vinyl is the sleeve, often holding beautiful artwork plus readable and informative sleeve notes. Without correct storage, your sleeves can be bent, creased, affected by scuffing, water damaged and more.
You pay a lot of money for a new piece of vinyl. Take care of it and it will reward you with a lifetime of pleasurable use. So how should you store your vinyl?
The inner sleeve is the only item listed here that will regularly come into contact with your precious vinyl. Hence, it is absolutely essential as a storage medium. The worst kind is made from pure paper. Move your record in and out of a paper inner and, over the years, it will act like a fine grain piece of sandpaper, adding surface noise to your record. Recommended inners arrive in two flavours, either as a delicate plastic liner within a paper inner or as a round-bottomed plastic-only variant. The latter is useful because you don’t have to struggle to get the corners of a paper inner into the card sleeve, which causes folding and creasing.
You will need an outer covering to accompany the inner. This will protect your vinyl’s card sleeve but will also prevent dust finding the record (and abrading it over time). Be careful here. Don’t buy the heavy gauge plastic samples and feel smug about it. When compressed, these thick plastic covers can eventually stick to the record sleeve and pull the artwork right off. Stick to the soft, roomy and much cheaper sleeves. You can find outers for both 10” records and 7” singles too.
While we have talked about the outer plastic sleeve for your record protection, we have yet to mention a new variant on that theme. The vinyl bag. Made from high quality 2mm thick Myler, it fits snuggly like a standard outer sleeve but the top of the bag has a large flap and an adhesive strip on the outside. So, while a standard plastic sleeve remains open on one side, the Mylar bag protects the record but also keeps the air and any airborne rubbish out.
Now that your record is encased, where do you put it? A shelving system is essential. One of the best, in budget terms and flexibility, is the IKEA KALLAX. It can be bought in varying sizes – the illustrated example seen here is the largest model available – while variants have insets to hold baskets and boxes or space for a TV. This model holds around 2,300 LPs. Great value for money. One thing, though, if you buy this model and pack it full of records, the accumulated weight will make it lean to one side and collapse like a pack of cards. You need to add strength so invest in metal brackets of some sort to firm up the overall structure. For example, L-shaped brackets to strengthen each shelf which can cost a couple of pound for a pack of two or even fit metal cross bars on the rear.
Once you have stuffed your IKEA shelving with records, you probably won’t have a clue where anything is. The classic solution to that is a set of cheap plastic record dividers on which you can scribble the alphabet or music genres, to provide a sense of cataloging. Cheap but messy and definitely tacky. Kate Koeppel is a US-based designer who has launched a collection of restrained, high quality, laser cut wood record dividers as an alternative. The collection of typographic wood panels include: two tab styles, horizontal tabs for shelving and vertical tabs for record boxes; two sizes for 12” and 7” records; two typographical versions, a full twenty-six panel A–Z set for large record collections and an abbreviated six panel set (A-D, E-H, I-L, M-P, Q-T, U-Z) for smaller collections and two lettering styles: engraved or stencilled.
If you are looking to store your vinyl in an archive for long term storage and stacking where quick access is not a priority then a top down box (as opposed to a side storing shelf) is the answer. Cardboard boxes are not strong enough. Heavy duty plastic is the answer. The Really Useful Box range is ideal. This illustrated 19 litre model stores around 50 records, making easy transport possible. Vinyl can become too heavy for safe lifting beyond that. The handles are strong with a pattern on the lid that allows for sturdy and stable stacking with other boxes of this type.
Storage doesn’t have to be for static purposes. You can store records for mobile reasons. What happens if you want to transport vinyl? How do you protect them? This Citronic box is just one of many ‘flight cases’ out there. You may have your own favourite. This example is a strong, aluminium variant that holds up to 50 LPs. It arrives with internal padding while, on the outside of the case, there are chrome plated steel corners giving additional strength and protection. You also get a padded carry handle and lockable lid catch.
The record bag is another type of mobile storage but is distinct from the flight case type. This example offers a main compartment that can handle 40 vinyl albums. It’s useful for vinyl fans or DJs who might want to keep their precious or valuable discs close to them at all times or for transporting discs to a friend’s house, for example. More expensive models feature additional pocket and storage options, while their larger wheelie bags for DJs with more time to fill are also a solid choice.