How to Tell if A Vinyl Record is Warped?


how to tell if a vinyl is warped

Despite the modern advancements of digital audio and music streaming services, collecting vinyl has re-emerged as a popular way to buy music. There is simply no replacement for the warm, subtle tones of a real vinyl record, but if you are new to collecting vinyl, you might accidentally end up buying a warped record, which completely ruins the sound quality.

How to tell if a vinyl record is warped. There are several simple ways to tell if a vinyl record is warped, such as holding the record flat at eye level to see if any warping is apparent or simply by playing the record to see if there is any variation in the wow and flutter. If the record is warped enough, the distortion of the audio will be obvious and you will know that your record is warped.

Fortunately, most second-hand shops antique stores will check to make sure a record is of decent quality before selling them. However, if you are just rediscovering your parents’ old vinyl, or if you are treasure-hunting at garage sales and flea markets, you’ll want to know how to check them yourself. We’ll show you how. 

What Causes Record Warping?

In almost every case, the cause of a warped record is simply improper storage, which can manifest in various ways and which usually results in extreme temperatures or imbalanced pressure being applied to the record. Below is a list of some of the most common ways you can avoid storing your vinyl improperly.

How to Properly Store Your Vinyl Records

  1. Store your records vertically: The most common mistake made by beginner collectors, and even a few experienced ones, is storing your records horizontally in a stack. 

While keeping a few records lying on top of each other is fine, if you continue to pile them on top of each other, it is inevitable that uneven pressure will build up and cause warping. Avoid warping by tightly storing your records horizontally on a shelf.

  1. Keep your records at a controlled temperature: Just like humans, vinyl does not exactly enjoy extremes in temperature. Vinyl records much prefer the climate-controlled conditions of a 60 to 70 degrees (15 to 20 Celcius) house.

    Which means storing your old records in your attic, garage shed, or greenhouse is not an option if you want your vinyl to remain flat.
  1. Keep your records indoors: While this should already be quite obvious, making sure your records remain out of the elements is crucial for their longevity and playability. 

The constant changes in temperature and exposure to UV radiation will cause irreparable damage and warping, even in a short period of time. In general, it is best practice to keep your vinyl dry and comfortably warm, somewhere on a shelf or in a box.

Needless to say, it is fairly easy to keep your records in good condition. 

So if you are a new collector, or if you are the type of person who keeps a lot of records out for frequent use, consider taking the time to store your vinyl records properly when they are not on the turntable, and you will reap the benefits. It only takes a moment to put your record back in its sleeve and onto a shelf. 

How to Repair a Warped Vinyl Record

While several different ways for unwarping a record exist, the two easiest and most common methods for flattening a record are done by applying the very forces that warped them in the first place: heat and pressure

However, these methods are by no means a guaranteed fix and may even result in the destruction of your vinyl in some cases, so take care to consider your options before attempting these.

Method 1: Pressure

The simplest and safest way of taking a warp out of a vinyl record is to apply pressure to the disc for an extended period of time. The most common way of doing this is with a flat surface and a heavy object.

  1. The first step is to lay your bare record flat on an even surface between two towels
  2. Next, place on top of your vinyl a small sheet of plywood or any other flat object that large enough to cover your record.
  3. Take a stack of heavy, preferably hardback books and place them on top of the record as well. Other weighted objects will work too, as long as they are not overly heavy.
  4. Wait several days and allow for the weight of the books to flatten out the vinyl

This process is not perfect, but it should work just fine for any small warps or dishing. Just don’t expect to fix anything major or repair edge warping, which is much more difficult to reverse.

Method 2: Heat, Pressure, and Your Oven

Before even considering this method, you should probably just consider buying a new copy or having it professionally dewarped. If you are willing to sacrifice a cheap vinyl to chance, make peace with the fact that you may effectively destroy your record in the process if it is performed incorrectly, or occasionally even when it is done correctly. 

This method is similar to the last but utilises your kitchen oven to provide heat in order to soften the vinyl.

  1. Purchase two tempered glass sheets that cover the entirety of your record. About 13×13 inches (33x33cm) in length will do. 
  2. Once you have your tempered glass sheets, sandwich your warped record between them.
  3. Preheat your oven to around 178 degrees Fahrenheit (80 Celcius).
  4. Place your record and glass sandwich into your oven and wait anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes, or potentially longer if need be. Be watching your vinyl the entire time.
  5. Take your record out of the oven and place it on a room temperature table to ensure the glass won’t suffer temperature shock and shatter from being placed on a cold surface.
  6. Place 3 to 6 large, heavy books on top of the record and glass sandwich.
  7. After two or three hours, your record should now be cooled and sufficiently dewarped. At this point, you can remove it from between the glass sheets.

Note that even if the vinyl now appears flat, flattening of the previously warped parts of the vinyl may have caused deformation of the record grooves in the process. 

It is also worth mentioning that kitchen ovens are not the most precise things, and it is very easy to end up applying too much or too little heat , resulting in deformed records or a lack of change.

Method 3: Buy a Record Dewarping Device

The last real option for flattening your warped records aside from having them professionally dewarped, is to purchase a device purposefully built for record flattening, such as the Vinyl Flattener, which uses a similar concept as method 2, sandwiching records between two metal plates which can be heated if desired. 

The Vinyl Flattener is relatively affordable, but there are plenty of alternatives out there, both cheap and expensive. If you have a lot of warped records for some reason, it might be worth picking one up.

No More Warping

For the most part, if you find yourself in possession of a warped record, purchasing a new copy will be a far more effective use of your time. 

While getting small warps or dishing out of a record is simple enough, using DIY methods to flatten out anything more severe or difficult to fix, such as edge warping, is simply a waste of time. If buying a new copy just isn’t an option for some reason, there are alternatives.

If you are willing to spend somewhere between £1,000 to £2,000, you can purchase a professional record dewarping machine, which is guaranteed to do a much better job than your oven. 

But assuming you don’t have that kind of money or an oddly extensive collection of records that need flattening, you may consider calling up your local record shop to see if they have a record flattening machine of their own or if they know someone who does.

Alternatively, depending on where you live, you can also go online and ship your warped LPs off to a record flattening service, such as Analogue Seduction, which offers services throughout the United Kingdom. For a small fee of £5.75, you’ll be able to have your warped records flattened. 

However, if you live outside of the U.K., there will be the cost of shipping to consider, as well. 

No matter how you look at it, a warped record is not always irreversible. At the end of the day, however, all this hassle can be avoided by simply storing your records correctly in the first place.

Related Questions

Is a warped vinyl bad?

Yes, a warped vinyl is bad as the audio quality that the turntable picks up will be impacted negatively. A warped vinyl is identified by poor audio quality and visually the vinyl will be out of shape.

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