What Is Off-Center Pressing?
Off-center pressing is essentially when the spindle hole in the center of the album is not properly aligned to the center of the grooves. Not all records are produced to equal quality standards. Without proper alignment, the needle is unable to track in the grooves and may cause it to wobble back and forth between the groove. Depending on how skewed the center hole is, the music will sound odd, compared to how the artist intended, or worse, unplayable and could potentially damage your stylus over time. If you are unable to return your LP, there are some potential fixes.
What Happens if your Record is Pressed Off-Center?
Essentially, it can make the tones rise and fall from the standard 440 “A” tuning most people are used to. Some say it makes them feel a bit seasick. People familiar with an electric guitar effects loop might describe it as having excess reverb or the familiar but unwanted “underwater” sound of a chorus or echo effect. The difficulty of the description is because people have different musical abilities, so someone hearing the music for the first time or without formal training might not notice a flaw.
Determining How Your Record Is Aligned
To determine how can you tell if there is off-center pressing, a close inspection of the contact between the cartridge and needle with the record, can make the problem obvious. It will wobble back and forth, left and right between the grooves if the pressing isn’t properly aligned. If the record is working properly, the cartridge should remain in the same place as the record spins underneath it. If the center hole seems to be perfectly centered you should check for any warping, as that could be a likely cause in abnormal sound.
A common fix is to use a file or small razor knife to lightly enlarge the hole, allowing the record to be manually centered each time it is played. Once it is playing properly masking tape can be used to mark the proper alignment for ease of setup the next time the album is played. It’s certainly not ideal and the record shouldn’t be traded or resold to an unsuspecting person after such a fix, but it does at least make the record usable. A better solution, unfortunately, is to buy from somewhere with a good return policy and get another copy of the record. Just hope it wasn’t part of the same batch.
The good news is that off-center pressings are rare enough that most people even with really large collections, don’t have many if any off-center pressed albums. Although it’s frustrating to get one, it’s important to remember why vinyl is used. The sound quality is amazing and more importantly, it provides an intimate relationship with the music and makes a memorable experience of every song played.
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