What is "groove wear"?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Evan, Oct 17, 2002.

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  1. Evan

    Evan Senior Member Thread Starter

    What is groovewear?

    Could some one please explain what exactly groovewear is and how do you identify it? Also, how do you prevent your LPs from getting it? Thanks!

  2. jeff e.

    jeff e. Member

    This may sound like a non-answer, but basically it is excessive wear of the LP grooves. It is typically caused by sub-standard equipment or even good equipment that is not set up properly. One of the main culprits is the use of a cartridge with a dirty, worn-out stylus, which deforms the grooves and permanently alters the sound. An improperly aligned cartridge or improperly set antiskate controls can also cause it. The damage can occur to one or both sides of the groove wall.

    Unfortunately, in some cases LP's with worn grooves may still look normal to the naked eye. If there is any way that you can actually listen to the LP before buying, you can easily catch it. It will sound distorted, especially in the high frequencies.

    Avoiding excessive wear on your own LP's is very easy. Just be sure that you are always using a "fresh", clean stylus and check all of your settings (antiskate, tracking force, VTA, etc.) very carefully.
  3. Stax Fan

    Stax Fan Forum Resident

    Not to sound too obvious, but groove wear is any wear in the grooves. It isn't always visible, though. It's generally caused over time by the friction created as the stylus tracks the groove, but can also be caused much faster by a worn stylus...which I suppose would probably be better described as groove damage. Groove wear appears as a graying of the grooves. Examine the record under good lighting. Visible groove wear will appear throughout the track in question, or over the entire 45. This is important to remember as heavily modulated grooves in particular sections of some songs will sometimes appear a bit gray before ever being played. It's typically seen at the innermost tracks of an LP or throughout a 45. Also, if a particular track on an LP was overplayed regardless of location, it can show there as well. Once it's visible, the damage is done. Higher frequencies such as vocal "S" sounds and cymbals will distort. Bear in mind also that worn grooves will also wear your stylus, so it's best to just ditch a worn record and locate a good replacement.

    As for groove damage, I've never seen any. I've only heard it. A badly worn stylus will eat a record, causing audible damage as quickly as one play. I've heard groove damage that sounded like the distorted higher frequencies of groove wear. It can also manifest itself in excessive surface noise, but that's hard to pinpoint unless you know the record SHOULD be a quiet pressing. Afterall, surface noise has many causes.

    Given a properly aligned cartridge, clean stylus (clean the stylus for every side of an LP), and clean records, your LPs and 45s are quite durable. With the variance of cartridge tracking weights, some will wear records slightly faster than others. But under the mentioned circumstances, your lightly played records have plenty of life. I have a few records I've played around 100 times with properly maintained equipment, and I still can't detect any audible damage. I would, however, play sparingly those records that do not yet have visible groove wear but which you either know or suspect might have been played quite a bit. IMO, I would also avoid playing records multiple times in one sitting...but you'll get varying opinions on that. Hope this helps. :)

    Apologies for any redundancy with the above post, I was fiddling with this while that was written. ;)
    Heckto35 likes this.
  4. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    :p A bad needle--or a good needle with the tonearm pressure too heavy--causes grooveware. As DJ's will tell you, 'cue burn' is the same thing, only at the beginning of the record, where the DJ holds the table until he wants the song to play, then releases it. He rotates the table back and forth until he can hear sound, then slightly reverses so the music will start the split-second after he stops yakking. Some vinyl is more prone to this problem than others: a 180g pressing will probably take a better beating than, say, lesser vinyl, and we all know polystyrene 45s will wear quicker than regular vinyl does. Bottom line: Get a really good turntable, cartridge and stylus, make sure the weight setting is heavy enough to stay in the grooves but not so light as to risk flying out of them. And make sure your cartridge and stylus are aligned properly, the table's level, etc. All sounds obvious--and it is--but in collecting you'll come across worn vinyl anyway; depending on the quality of your equipment, the record may play well enough despite its previous owner. But groovewear, bad enough, will make the sound too screechy and noisy to be worth the trouble.

  5. Sckott

    Sckott Hand Tighten Only.

    Sagamore Beach, Ma
    The pressure of a stylus to a groove is something amazing like 12 tons per square inch. I forget (and kick myself @the same time) who said that.. but the potential for a groove to get wear from a bad stylus is actually quite common. Mis-tracking, and that cue burn comment is also right on (Ed).

    However, vinyl can take quite a bit of plays before audible wear can set. If you care about your records and your vinyl chain (pre, cart, table) worn vinyl can only exist if you buy a used record already like that.
  6. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    :rolleyes: Exactly. If everything else in your system is okay, the needle is the big one to keep an eye on. I have an old Bell & Howell projector lens that doubles as a magnifying glass(actually, almost like a jewelers' lens)and I can see enough to know if the needle's worn enough to merit replacement. Point well taken, though, is that if you buy new records, or the used ones show no visual evidence of groovewear(oh, you'll know it when you see it, believe me)there shouldn't be any problem. If one of those does start to sound kind of scratchy at the high end of funky at the bottom, change that needle pronto!

  7. Metralla

    Metralla Joined Jan 13, 2002

    San Jose, CA
    Flares, really wide belts, tie-dyed shirts, Western jackets with fringes, Carnaby suits, paisley ties, cowboy boots, scarves, mod hats, miniskirts, thigh-high boots ...

  8. Larry Naramore

    Larry Naramore Bonafied Knucklehead

    Sun Valley, Calif.
    Well you beat me to it.

    Groovewear - What I put on Saturday night's when I go clubbin!
  9. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host

    To everyone who has not read this, parts of it are very useful to know:

    Kevin Gray on disc mastering in the digital era:

    THE following was written to aid engineers and producers who wish to release vinyl records. It is especially important for those who may be well versed in recording, but have not released vinyl records before. The paper is mainly about "pop" music , but the principles apply to all others. It was written to explain a complicated transformation in as simple terms as possible. To some it may seem very technical, to technical types it will seem simplistic. It was written for the "middle ground".

    (or Why Records Don’t Always Sound Like the Master Tape)

    BY: KEVIN GRAY 5/3/97

    The phonograph record is a marvelous medium for storing and reproducing sound. With frequency response from 7 Hz to 25kHz and over 75 dB dynamic range possible, it is capable of startling realism. Its ability to convey a sense of space, that is width and depth of sound stage, with a degree of openness and airiness, is unrivaled by anything but the most esoteric digital systems.

    That having been said, it is important to understand the limitations of this medium in order to make great sounding records. The first limitation is recording time and level (volume). The amount of time possible on a record side is entirely dependent on the cutting level (volume) and the amount of low frequency information (bass). Bass uses more space than treble.

    The record groove is an analog of a sound wave. Try to picture looking down on a narrow river or stream. The left bank is the left channel and the right bank is the right channel. Your turntable’s stylus is a wide round raft that is going to travel that river. For simplicity, imagine that the banks stay parallel, (left and right the same) which means the sound is monaural. The louder the sound and or the heavier the bass, the wider the whole river (and your boat) wiggles side to side. The higher the pitch (frequency), the closer together the wiggles get. In other words the sharper the twists and turns, the higher the pitch. Obviously, everything from bass to treble is happening at once, so the gently sweeping wide curves (bass guitar and bass drum) have smaller, more jagged wiggles (vocals, guitars, keyboards, cymbals, percussion etc.), superimposed on them. It should be mentioned here that if the bass information is too loud, your raft gets thrown over the embankment (skips). So now you should be able to see that the louder the music is cut, the wider the groove wiggles, and the less time can fit on the side. Or looking at it the other way around, the longer the side, the less room for wiggles (volume and bass).

    Next limitation: treble. You can put as much treble on a DAT or CD as you want. Unfortunately this is not true on a record (or analog tape for that matter). Although 25kHz response is possible, excessive transients are a problem. There are several reasons for this. It was decided with the advent of the first electrical transcription phonograph record, to reduce bass and boost treble in the cutting of the master record. This reduces bass wiggles and makes treble louder. And we aren’t talking about a little bit of cut and boost here, we’re talking about a 40 dB change from bottom to top! Without the bass cut, you’d only have about 5 minutes on your LP side. Without the treble boost, you would hear mostly surface noise. You don’t have to worry about this drastic cut and boost sounding funny, because the phono preamplifier in your amplifier or receiver has an inverse curve which boosts the bass and reduces the treble by the same amounts used in cutting, so the whole process comes out linear. This was standardized worldwide in 1953 and is called the RIAA record and reproduce curves.

    I said you don’t have to worry about the RIAA curve, but the cutting engineer sure does! Power amplifiers (100 to 400 plus watts) are used to drive the tiny coils (one for each channel) in the cutting head. They’re like miniature speakers which instead of just moving air, push the stylus that etches the groove in your record. With 20 dB of treble boost, you can only imagine the beating that the cutting head takes from cymbal crashes and the like. The coils are helium cooled but still can reach 200 degrees Centigrade. A circuit breaker is used to prevent catastrophic destruction. This doesn’t all add up to the limitation it seems, because it is still possible to cut levels higher than can be played back.

    Let’s take a look at cymbals and vocal sibilance (those loud ‘S’ sounds). "Why", do you ask, "Do they sound OK on the tape but sometimes so awful on the record?" The answer is twofold. First, the problem is aggravated by the high frequency boost we just discussed. Further excessive boost in your mix makes it that much worse. Unlike a cymbal crash in which the impulse is short (the actual hit of the stick on the cymbal), the duration of an ‘S’ is considerably longer, so it is even more pronounced. And second, the worst part: Remember the river? Suppose the river’s twists and turns are actually tighter than your raft? Ever watch a raft attempting rapids? Well, that is exactly what your stylus is doing when it hits a loud cymbal crash or a loud ‘S’ in the record groove. At the instant that the curvature of the groove is tighter than the tip radius of your stylus (raft), it goes over instead of through ‘the rapids’, and you have 100 percent distortion. The higher the frequency and or level, the greater the curvature and distortion.

    The cutting engineer can usually tell if treble peaks are going to ‘break up’ on playback, by the amount of current drawn by the cutting amplifier. This is measured by current meters on the amplifiers. If the current is excessive, the only way to prevent this is to use a very fast-attack treble limiter to reduce the intensity, and therefore, the groove curvature.

    While we’re on the curvature subject, it is necessary to explain one more thing. Ever wonder why outside diameter cuts on a record sound clearer and cleaner than inside ones? Unfortunately it’s a fact. Why? The answer is geometry, curvature again. One turntable revolution at 33 1/3 rpm on an LP takes 1.8 seconds. That 1.8 seconds is spread over a circumference of 36 inches on the outside of the record. At the minimum allowable inside diameter that same 1.8 second revolution would only cover 14.9 inches. You can see from this, that a gentle wiggle spread over 36 inches would get quite ‘scrunched’ over 14.9 inches. A jagged groove at 36 inches would get really scrunched at 14.9 inches (remember the rapids). Excessive treble can even cause the cutting stylus to accelerate so fast that its back edge wipes out what the front edge just cut! It’s unfortunate, but treble rolls off, and distortion goes up as you approach the center of the record. It is quite gradual, but if you compare the source recording to the disc, this actually starts to become noticeable after the second cut or so. Any attempt to compensate for this by boosting the treble, only makes the problem worse (greater curvature remember).

    I’ll discuss stereo very briefly. If the sides of the river don’t stay parallel, it’s stereo. In other words, any difference between the two channels causes the stylus to move up and down in addition to sideways. As the stylus digs deeper, it is using more precious disc space. The moral for engineers is: If you are looking for hot levels or long sides, don’t pan instruments like drums and percussion hard left and right. Keep the bass and bass drum in the center, and keep everything in phase. An out of phase snare or bass drum can wreak havoc. Use an oscilloscope if possible!

    All else being equal (bass, volume and depth of cut), by allowing the end of the record to finish farther out from the label, instead of spreading the grooves farther apart to fill all the space, will actually make the record sound better. However, I understand the concept of making the record look ‘full’.

    So much for the primer on record cutting. Now let me give you some additional tips on making your record sound great. First, keep it as short as possible. I know this isn’t always possible, but particularly if hot levels are important, keep it short! How short? As a general rule an LP should be under 20 minutes and 24 minutes maximum. 16 to 18 minutes is ideal. Also, try to balance the side times, preferably within one minute. If one side has to be longer, put more of the quiet material on that side. This will insure even levels. If the sides are long, remember that the more bass, the lower the cutting level (volume). It is possible to squeeze 30 minutes on a side but the level will be so low you’ll have to crank it just to hear it, and you will hear the surface noise!

    A hot club record should be under 12 minutes, 8 to 10 minutes is ideal. Some of the top club DJs tell me they won’t even play records that are over 12 minutes long because they know the levels will be low and don’t want to adjust gain.

    Watch excessive treble boost in the 8 to 16 kHz range in mixing, you won’t get it back on your record. You can’t break the laws of physics, sorry. A good idea is to check your mix against a record you like with lots of cymbals. If you hear a lot more sizzle on your tape, chances are it won’t make it to the record. Particularly watch those ‘S’s. Use a de’esser on vocals. I don’t do endorsements, but dbx makes a great one. This will give you more overall treble because in cutting your record, the treble limiter won’t be chomping on your cymbals too.

    Put your hottest, brightest most dynamic mixes on the beginning of the disc and they’ll stay that way. If possible keep the quieter material on the inside tracks.

    A word about comparing DATs and CDs to a record; digital levels do not bear any relationship to analog levels. We’re talking apples and oranges here. The analog output level of a CD player or DAT deck can be anything the manufacturer wants it to be, but it is generally higher than a phono preamp output. There are two reasons for this. First the digital equipment manufacturers want CDs and DATs to sound better (translate Louder) than records. If the DAT or CD is fairly wide dynamic range, a record can be as loud. HOWEVER, there has been a trend in the last few years to compress digital tapes almost to the point of the level display not moving from the beginning to the end of the song (second reason). This started with rap, filtered through to dance and club mixes, and finally to most new commercial pop releases. The result is that what used to be the peak level is now the average level and we’re talking 6 to 8 dB louder than is physically possible to put on a phonograph record (or analog tape). Remember that the groove can only move so far before the playback stylus mistracks or skips, and magnetic tape can only be driven so hard before it saturates. At any level, a digital recorder is only printing ones and zeroes. There is no digital counterpart. The bottom line is that a really compressed CD or DAT is going to be 6 to 8 dB louder than your record. This is not a defect, it’s a FACT OF LIFE. I prefer to think of the digital compression as a defect and a scourge to anyone who appreciates dynamic range, but now I’m editorializing.

    If the levels are not matched in one of these comparisons, the compressed digital source (6 to 8 dB louder) will sound like it’s got more of everything. I’ve heard the record described as sounding like it’s under water. If the levels are matched, suddenly they sound almost identical. If you are trying to accurately compare a record with a digital source, use a mixer or preamp to raise the level of the record or lower the level of the DAT until they sound very similar and then compare.

    While I’m getting things off my chest, how about making the cutting engineer’s job easier. Analog tapes are easily timed when rewinding, and have visual clues such as leaders and splices. DATs and CDRs do not. When supplying DAT tapes or CDRs for record mastering, always provide three things, please! One: Start IDs for each song, not just each side, sometimes it’s hard to tell where one song ends and another starts. Also, they’re handy for checking each song. Two: Note accurate timings for each song AND total side time including pauses. This is particularly important if your DAT deck doesn’t print absolute time on the tape. So much time is wasted by the cutting engineer having to figure out times and it’s imperative to know before cutting. Three: Any level or EQ (tonal) changes you want made. One thing to be aware of is that just because all the songs peak at zero doesn’t mean they will all be at the same apparent volume. This is also true with analog tapes, but to a much lesser degree (remember the digital level tutorial). This is where good old VU meters (with 6 dB pads) come in handy when you are assembling your DAT or CDR.

    I hope you find these tips and suggestions helpful, and apply them. You may have guessed from this, that records were not originally intended to store the kind of energy today’s music contains. It’s true, but if you mix with the limitations in mind, it will make a huge difference in the final product. It’s unfortunate, but the approximately 10 year lull in the production of phonograph records, from the mid 80s to mid 90s, caused a lot of engineers to forget these limitations. In the meantime, a whole new generation of engineers has come along who never dealt with record production before. This is for you! Make some great sounding vinyl!
  10. Ronflugelguy

    Ronflugelguy Resident Trumpet Geek

    Steve, this just verifies what I hear on LPs. The first two cuts or so sound the best, then it goes downhill from there! But, I still like LPs!
  11. Todd Fredericks

    Todd Fredericks Senior Member

    A New Yorker
    Steve, thanks for posting this very well-written piece....
  12. Todd Fredericks

    Todd Fredericks Senior Member

    A New Yorker
    IMO, vinyl can be played many, many, many times without record wear interfering with the music & enjoyment. I have tons of old records that my dad played billions of time on the radio and they still smoke (thankfully not while spinning with the needle dragging in the grooves). I find that surface noise will increase as wear does but it seems to be different than groove damage. Damaged grooves are very annoying because the static/noise modulates with the musical information. It's almost like a shawdow following the sound (instead of "reverb" we have a new effect called "static"). Sometimes it's especially annoying when there is little surface noise (in general) but this static only increases with the rise in volume of the music info. Groove damage from a cart (damaged, misaligned, excessive VTM setting, etc.) digging into the grooves like a Miner 49'er digging for gold (chips and debris everywhere)....

    I'm pretty happy that as the years have gone by I seem to be getting less bothered by surface noise (in general). I kind of just mentally filter it out or accept it as part of the medium. I still (sadly) get peeved if I spent a few dollars on a brand new album or a "NM" rare album and it's noisy. I guess that's the American in me (there's hope for me yet). I'm getting better at hearing through noise and really "touching" the music. I do find it kind of sad that a lot of CD's (because of the mastering, etc.) do not have the same "life" as a lot of vinyl I'm fortunate to own (a lot of people don't know what their missing I guess). I don't mind flipping sides and using my AQ brush (and stylus brush) before placing the needle down (it's a thoughtless, no problemo habit now).
  13. Evan L

    Evan L Beatologist

    Ahhh, Todd....You're such an American(U-S-A! U-S-A!).:D
  14. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    :D With new vinyl, and especially rap and hip-hop that are so bass- heavy, what would fit on one slab(albeit compressed to death)is pushed to two and sometimes three Lp's. You may not like the music, but the vinyl does sound pretty good and probably a match for the CD editions. Indeed, to get the vinyl sound to match the CD, every release probably needs at least 2 Lp's, which is what you usually get.

  15. Evan

    Evan Senior Member Thread Starter

    Thanks for the answers guys!! Unfortunately the cheap turntable I have does not allow one to adjust any settings (antiskate, tracking force, VTA, etc.). The reason I asked about grovewear is that I have a Y&B Beatles for Sale that sounds fine for the first couple of tracks, but is distorted, especially in the high frequencies, on the last couple of songs on each side. At first, I thought it could be my cheap turntable (I am looking into upgrading). I guess that the record is damaged (grovewear) and on its way to e-bay (not sure what else to do with it). Shame. Nice copy otherwise :(
  16. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    :sigh: Well, needless to say, Evan, you could use a new TT...but barring that, try the obvious: a new stylus, even a better cartridge. A brand new needle can make up for some sonic problems, but a misaligned cart and needle will inevitably not only cause groove wear but wear out the needle well before it should happen. The good news is turntables are still being made, and some inexpensive models will have the necessary adjustments to allow you to hear things at least close to what you should expect. But you won't know whether any of your vinyl is truly 'worn' beyond repair until you get that new machine....

  17. Evan

    Evan Senior Member Thread Starter

    Yeah, I have records that are worth much more than my turntable. Heck, maybe all of my records are worth more than it is worth. :sigh: I could probably get another TT like it for about $30. I have to get a good turntable by my wife somehow....
    "Why no, honey, that turntable is not new. I've had it for years. Been keeping it in the attic and finally decided to hook it up. Yeah, that's it " ;)
  18. nin

    nin Forum Resident

    The phonograph record is a marvelous medium for storing and reproducing sound. With frequency response from 7 Hz to 25kHz

    I wonder how far up today's top cartridge's can reproduce sound?
    I know that they have a "Frequency range" from maybe 10 Hz to 50 Khz.
    But can a great cartridge reproduce 20Hz-20kHz/25kHz within (+-3db) or is it falling before that?? Anyone???

  19. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff

    I'll take a stab at it. ;)

    A stylus with a narrow profile (Van den Hul, MicroRidge, etc.) can track at higher frequencies just due to that narrow profile--the high frequencies create tighter waveforms on the vinyl, which the narrower profiled stylii can track much easier. This goes back to the days of quad. Anyone can correct my terminology here...but one of the quad LP systems (I want to say CD4--RCA's Quadradiscs used this system) used to hold the additional rear channel information on a subcarrier that was up around 40kHz or 50kHz. And for that, a Shibata (?) stylus with a narrow profile was required to track that high signal and decode the quad.

    So, as long as the signal is there, the better cartridges can retrieve it. I think even Grado claims up to 30kHz on their cartridges.

    (Now, who's going to clean up my message and correct all of my over-tired fuzzy-memoried recollections...? ;) )
  20. sgraham

    sgraham New Member

    That's pretty much right, though the correct term here is "trace" rather than "track". Tracking ability has to do with being able to stay in the groove in the presence of high modulation, tracing has to do with being able to "fit" into tight high frequency groove modulations.

    In actuality the highest frequency will be limited by the "narrowness" of the stylus plus the linear speed of the groove, which means you can get higher frequencies off the outside of the record than you can off the inside, and you can get higher frequencies off a 45 than off a 33 at any given diameter.
  21. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host

    The deal is, most of the recorded "music of our life" goes up to about 15-16k on a good day. Higher than that, bias noise and other stuff we actually DON'T want to have reproduced.

    Ya dig?
  22. RDK

    RDK Active Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    Records? Oh, I thought this topic was gonna be about this...


    or this...




    (Cute!) SH
  23. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff

    Shoot, we're lucky if we can HEAR anything above 15kHz on a good day! (I'd swear there are days my tweeters have gone dead...)

    Guess those mega-decibel car rides have to stop...
  24. nin

    nin Forum Resident

    Thank you all for that!
    So the cartridge specs are usually right? If the vinyl has good frequency energy up to let say 18kHz, a good cartridge WILL track it and reproduce it without any problem, right?

    Steve, yes, I can think so too. Do you use any Eq or some filters to filter out that noise? Or do you and Kevin cut the vinyl only to reproduce up till 15-16kHz?

    Shoot, we're lucky if we can HEAR anything above 15kHz on a good day! (I'd swear there are days my tweeters have gone dead...)

    Well, but are it not so that those high frequency will be heard because the will make impact on the lower frequency, or something like that?? That's why SACD/DVD-A sound more open, right?
  25. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host


    I never filter ANYTHING or do any kind of EQ stuff to get rid of top end extension or anything like that. We just run everything full bandwidth. The cutter head rolls off where it does automatically; when the limits have been reached, well out of audible hearing range. The cutter amps would blow up if they didn't....
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