Records are essentially plastic. Plastic is not at all rugged. The temperature range for the vinyl/plastic that records are made out of are malleable at low heat. Something as simple as being too close to the radiator on a shelf for years and years can seriously warp the record, but believe it or not, regular indoor room temperatures have enough heat to simply warp the record just by expanding the plastic. In fact, the manufacturers say it’s safe up to 70 degrees, but how often do rooms without air conditioning go above that in the summer months?
So what if they are warped? Will it impact playback? Yes. However, very slight variation in the record that does not allow it to sit perfectly flat are not uncommon and may not effect the playback. In fact, sometimes brand new records may not be perfectly flat. But there is a threshold that can’t be overcome. The needle on the play arm needs to properly stay in the audio groove. Depending on the quality of the overall payer, the balance of the play arm and the needle will determine how well the record will or will not play back.
Storage of the records over time is also important. Horizontal storage has been found to be poor and records laying flat tend to warp more frequently. Vertical storage has been proven to be the best way to keep your records in good condition.
Just like CD’s, not only heat, but also dust and scratches can be the end of an LP. Dust covers are important for storage of Records. Dust causes crackle and if bad enough, can damage the record as the needle passes by. Scratches will also cause crackle and pop sounds, but once deep enough can cause the needle to skip or jump.
Are there solutions to fix problems? There are techniques and products out there that can un-warp records. I would say they are only somewhat reliable. If the warp is not too bad, the likelihood is the fix will work better then severe warps. Most of the methods consist of re-warming of the record and flattening between glass. Keep in mind that the integrity of the sound may very well not return to its original state. There are also cleaners that help remove dust. Some are simple and others are as elaborate as $200 machines.
For the most part, commercial records from the 1950’s and on have already been made available on CD or for download. Clearly, there were records from earlier and of off-brand artists that were never made available. Getting your records transferred is an easy process.