What exactly causes clicks and pops on vinyl?

Hello All,

I'm sure that this topic has been discussed before but I am a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information here in the forums.

Can the Illuminati tell me what exactly causes clicks and pops on vinyl? Is it static, dust, soiled grooves or a combination of the three?

How do you go about eliminating most, if not all of the noise? I have a very limited budget now (recently bought a home) and cannot afford exotic record washing machines - even the KAB device is a bit out of reach at the moment with yet another interest rate hike here in AU.

Budgeteers, I would love to hear your solutions.

Thanks in advance.


The surfaces of vinyl records are fragile. Many people simply will not admit this simple fact. When the surface is damaged from physical contact with anything, including a stylus, it will have scratches, gouges, indentations and such. If you consider that a great many records are not pressed very well to start with and are otherwise mishandled at the factory (glue from the sleeve finding tis way on to the record is one such example), you have another bunch of LPs with noise issues.

The other source is something you can do something about to a certain extent and that is dirt. I include in "dirt" the oil from finger prints. A simple solution there: never touch the surfaces with bare hands, always handle LPs by the edge and by the label.

Audiophiles have now accepted that vinyl records must be washed with some sort of solution and scrubbed by some sort of contraption.

I still believe in cleaning records with a carbon brush only to avoid a chemical deterioration of the vinyl.

If silver discs are not starting to look more attractive by now, you are a committed vinyl freak and very trendy person!
dust, and inclusions in the vinyl when pressed, and scratches across the surface.
The inclusions get there from poor quality recycled vinyl being used to make the record.
The dirt gets there deep in the grooves from improper handling and poor maintenance.
The WORST possible cleaning sprays the surface of the record, then wipes off the surface, without drying, or deep cleaning the grooves. Then, all the crap in the grooves that cound have been removed easily, turns into a compressed hardened layer of difficult to remove crud.
Playing a record in this condition makes the stuff even harder to get out.
Clicks and pops heard during playing vinyl record are caused (beside factoy defects in new vinyl) by (1) "added portions" in the record groove (dust, dirt particles) or (2) "missing portions" (scratches). In the first case cleaning (dry with carbon brush or washing) would avail, in the second case there's nothing to be done.
Some (two to five) sudden louder pops are as often as not caused by stucked particle of dirt, which can be removed (by wood toothpick, for example).
To Pbb - sometimes record washing is unavoidable, mostly with second hand records (from careless owner).
Jan, if you can not afford a record cleaning machine, hand wahing is still at yous disposal.
At the time of pressing, release agents are used that can/will collect dirt from the atmosphere and the cheap paper liner records come in. That's why it's good to use one of those nice record cleaning machines before ever playing the disc(bought my VPI back in the day for $325.00). When your stylus winds it's way through the groove, it actually melts the surface just as skates do to the surface of ice(just talking a few molecules here). If not cleaned prior to play- particles of dirt will be welded to the groove walls. These of course make noise and wear your stylus. Before I ever played a record(usually tried to find virgin vinyl pressings, MFSL, Crystal Clear, Sheffield Labs, Telarc, etc), I'd use the VPI, treat the record with L.A.S.T. after drying, let that sit awhile and finally: use my Discwasher brush on it. My records are stored in rice paper liners. Cleaner than paper, and they don't leach the elastomers out of the vinyl. Sound anal? The records I purchased over twenty eight years ago are still pristine, and I've gotten excellent mileage out of my styli. At very least: find a Discwasher brush and liquid, clean your discs b4 each playing, and don't scratch(OUCH) or touch the grooves with your fingers as Pbb said.
i have an extensive collection of albums, many 30 and 40yrs old. i clean my records and experiance very few infact almost no pops or clicks. i suggest you invest in a quality RCM you will never look back, the only reel tweek that works every time(assuming the record is not damaged).
Agree w/most of the above. So with your budget, here's what you do"

Buy good liquid cleaning system from either Walkeraudio or Audio Intelligent. Get good velvety-surfaced cleaning brushes(Disc Doctor or Mobile Fidelity).
Buy a couple of large white thick cotton bath towels.
Buy a plastic dish drying rack from Target/Walmart.

Place the clean towels on a large table. Clean by hand per intructions. Air dry in the dish rack. You can clean about 10 LPs at a time, in about 15-20 minutes, and they will dry in another 15 minutes. Place the clean LPs immediately in a brand new good sleeve(search archives or just go to Elusive Disc).
When about to play LP, swipe it with an Audioquest Carbon fibre brush to remove static and stray debris.

This isn't perfect, but it will get you surprisingly far until you can get a vacuum cleaning machine. Cheers,
The above comments pretty much explain why you hear clicks and pops and sometimes a continuous "swish" when you play a record. But it is wrong to attribute it all to careless manufacture and sloppy user practices. The origin of the problem really lies in the technology itself. Recording of sound by mechanical grooves engraved in wax (by Edison) or vinyl today requires incredible precision, and the result is fragile and subject to contamination. Any technology which is so dependent on perfect execution is undesirable. Good technology works well even when you abuse it.

The clicks and pops were never an issue when records were played with acoustic gramaphones (those things with big horns) or early electronic players. The sonic quality was so bad for other reasons, that the clicks and pops were the least of the worries. Today the playback equipment has vastly improved, and every little defect in the groove is faithfully reproduced. Also our expectations regarding sonic quality are much higher. We have taken Edison's invention to its ultimate limits, and the defects which reamain are inherent to the technology.

An analogy might be the typewriter. Over more than a hundred years typewriter machines were vastly improved, perhaps culminating in the IBM Selectric with the type ball instead of levers. Typewriters could go no further. Then came word processing on the computer. The old mechanical character striking device was obsolete in a decade.

Sic transit gloria.
As an addendum to all the truths above, if an LP has occasional, RANDOM clicks or pops then a wet cleaning/vacuuming that includes an enzyme soak step will usually remove most of them.

The enzyme solution from AIVS is very effective. MoFi has a new one in beta testing and my early results seem good. The older Buggtussel Vinyl-Zyme solution is effective, but less so.
Hi Eldartford, Was that Scotty or Spock that said:

"Any technology which is so dependent on perfect execution is undesirable. Good technology works well even when you abuse it."


Amazing with all the above descriptions the simplest one was skipped... Static
Static control is one of the biggest factors, no doubt I agree that the particles on the surface or welded into place from debree is just as much an issue, normally once cleaned and stored correctly 95% of this disappears in my experience.

If you have a lot of LOUD pops its most likely static, little surface noise and clicks is normally Debree which is only sticking to the surface due to Static holding it there in the first place.

So I guess containing your turntable cartridge in a low static environment, treating the vinyl storage with care, humidity, and possible little tricks like the Milty Zerostat guns etc... Sometimes will come into play for some peoples situations.
"When about to play LP, swipe it with an Audioquest Carbon fibre brush to remove static and stray debris." I'd almost say create static instead of remove it. How do you make a balloon stick to the wall? Those brushes create less static but not zero static. Seriously, try playing the record first then rub it to find out what it is doing. If you've never played a record without using the carbon brush, you really should try it. I'm sure I'll get a response about using it properly as to be grounded, etc. but it is very much like using a broom without a dust pan. Also, by the edge we mean not touching the surface at all, not picking up the LP with your finger and thumb. I think an earlier poster did not grasp the concept of the "edge".
Acoustat6...I am not a Trekie, so I never heard the Scotty/Spock statment. But it's so true.

This axiom was promulgated back in the 50's by a Japanese engineer, Tagushi, who was a disciple of the great American QC expert Dr Edward Deming. Post war Japanese industry, notibly Toyota and Sony, had adopted the philosophy, and look what it did for them. In practice I learned this lesson in my work on missile guidance systems. Back in the 60's our electronics had lots of precision components, many selected-value components, and even a few pots. Over the years, as performance requirements on the GS tightened up it became evident that, cost asside, it was simply impossible to meet them by using more and more precise (exotic) components in the circuitry. Today it is a requirement on the design of the GS that it not rely on components of unusual precision, and have no selected components or pot adjustments. This puts an additional burden on the designer, but in the end it results in a system having superior performance, and reliability.
Something else that helps is to avoid phono sections that employ any sort of loop feedback. A zero feedback (passivly equalized) phono preamp will tend to make less of the ticks and pops fed into it. I have seen it be the difference between 'annoying' and 'nearly silent' (in extreme cases). BTW most zero-feedback phono reproducers will be vacuum-tube.

There is another thread on Audiogon that talks about record cleaning rituals that includes a lot of different ideas about how to get a record clean.

The most deadly kind of click or pop is due to a scratch on the record, meaning the physical surface of the record has been gouged or damaged, most often by some wayward or accidental bumping or moving of the stylus ( the tip of which is much harder than the material that the record is made of and hence scratches it upon contact). Of course there are many other ways to scratch a record as well. A scratch of this nature will often be evident upon close inspection as a sharply formed linear feature on the surface at some angle to the direction of the grooves. Stay away from used records that evidence scratches of this nature because there is not much you can do to fix it once damaged.

Defects in the cutting of a record (defective grooves) often manifest themselves in the form of other types of undesirable noise or distortion. These are generally harder to detect upon inspection, but with some practice and trial and error, it is possible to spot many vinyl albums with groove damage in advance.

Foreign material on the surface of the record also produces noise of course, and can also accumulate in denser clumps that manifest themselves sonically as a pop or click, though not a visible scratch. A good cleaning can usually put an end to this kind of problem.

Hope this helps.
What I would add to much that has been said is that on top of the various sources of foreign material and defects is that when the stylus moves across the record it is putting a great amount of force on the vinyl that in fact heats each grove in the vinyl to hundreds of degrees for an instant. So on top of all the stuff on the record the environment on the record is pretty harsh.