By: Ringo Bones
Even though some of them may fetch thousands of dollars if their cardboard box are in pristine condition, have you noticed that original pressings – i.e. those run-of-the-mill original standard pressings sold in record stores all over – of 45 RPM vinyl singles and EPs from the 1960s tend to not sound as they are cracked up to be from an audiophile perspective, although there are exceptions like those from Capitol Records were assured of better sound quality than most competing products. While 45 RPM vinyl reissues of 1960s era music that were released during the 1990s more often than not sound much better than Redbook Specification CDs – even better than HDCD and Sony Super Bit Mapping Redbook Specification CDs – an overwhelming majority of 1960s era 45 RPM vinyl singles and EPs sound terrible and if you don’t completely know what you are doing when you are setting up your turntable, could end up irreparably damaging the stylus assembly of your 1990s era 500 US dollar moving coil vinyl cartridge. But why do most of them sound bad?
During the 1960s, many 45 RPM popular music singles – and even some 33 1/3 RPM LPs – were cut “hot”, as in at highly modulated levels. It almost seemed as though there were a contest among the major record labels / major record companies to produce the loudest sounding records. Some original pressing vinyl discs of the era will never sound good because the signal level is so high that the cutting stylus actually damaged the very grooves it was producing via overmodulation. Fortunately during the 1990s, conscientious vinyl mastering / cutting engineers with an eye for sound quality had noted the excesses of 1960s era vinyl mastering and cutting to produce a way better 45 RPM vinyl reissue since then in comparison to the overmodulation plagued 1960s era original pressings. And better still, if you own original 1960s era 45 RPM vinyl pressings, there are ways to make them sound better on your current turntable set up – and without damaging the stylus of the vinyl replay cartridge you currently have.
To cope with such discs, set the tracking force for your cartridge a bit heavier than that recommended by the manufacturer. Too light a tracking pressure will result in mistracking of highly modulated vinyl discs. Mistracking means that the stylus, rather than following the undulations in the grooves, will tend to take shortcuts. It will bang against the groove walls, etching the distortion permanently into the walls. Tracking at a somewhat heavier stylus force will produce less damage in the long run than using too light a force.