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Take a look at your phone. The screen is perfectly clean at this moment, right? No smudges?

Yeah, right. I spend half the day putting smudges on my phone and the rest getting them off. I know I’m not the only one.

Something that interacts so closely with the human body, like a phone, will eventually show signs of that proximity to a living being. In no time, you’ll see moisture, oil, dirt and, as I like to say, good ole schmutz accumulate on the device. Hopefully you’re not eating while you read this.

Last week’s column on the magic of vinyl records provoked an awesome response that made me think I should spend a little more time on the subject. While I mercifully held off from the techno speak in that column, I think it would be cool to start a discussion about vinyl that aims to make the technological points of record players easy to understand and clear as a bell.

The only way to start a series on vinyl properly is to talk about the careful cleaning of records and why that’s so important. In doing so, we’ll also go over the basics of how it all works, so strap in.

As I’ve learned from observations of my smudgy cellphone glass, my fingers and hands can transport plenty of schmutz.

And as you can see from quick observation of a vinyl record, the disc is etched with countless minuscule grooves, inside of which the music is represented by countless bumps and troughs.

Think about how hard it is to activate the fingerprint recognition on your phone when your finger is dirty. To say that clean hands touching a record — or hands not actually touching the grooves at all — is ideal is an understatement.

But it’s not just finger schmutz that fills in those grooves and takes away from the music experience. In the short time a record is spinning on the actual player, it can collect dust from the open air.

A record needle moves along the inside of a record groove to make music. The needle is attached to a simple electromagnet, where a common arrangement has the magnet moving along with the needle to create the varying electrical signal of music.

We all kinda know this already, right? Well answer this: If there’s one groove, how do we get two channels of stereo music?

The fact is, there are actually two electromagnets above the needle. The record’s groove is etched with a deep V trough, and left channel music is represented in grooves on the left side of that V, and the right channel on the right side. The needle moves up and down at angles so that both channels are added to that electrical signal.

If you’ve got dirt, oil or general, all-purpose schmutz down there at the bottom of the groove, you can imagine that things can get messy quickly. More and more subtle music information is lost completely the more dirt is in there.

When your parents give you their record collection, you gotta clean ’em. Buy a record at a garage sale, and you better clean that puppy if you want to really hear it. More vinyl madness next week — stay tuned.

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