First, thanks for taking the time to read this. My name is Matt Lehman and I own Spatula City Records. We are an online record store, but I did have a brick and mortar for many years. I have used every product mentioned in this blog post and have purchased all of them on my own. I am NOT affiliated with any of them nor have I been paid to plug any of them. These are my experienced with flattening records for the last 10 years.
There are many ways and products to fix warped, cupped, dished, waved, and sometimes rippled records, but it is important to know that not all records can be fixed. If there is heat damage or the grooves of the tracks are out of line or wavy, they cannot be fixed. Some gently heat damaged records can be flattened and will play without skipping, but they will usually track weird, meaning the needle with swerve back and forth, usually with some sort of distortion or noise.
The absolute worst way to try and repair a warped record is with 2 pieces of glass put in an over or direct light for several minutes to several hours. This technique does work, but it takes a lot of time to master and I can guarantee you will damage more than you will fix. It is important to remember that all vinyl pressing plants use their own formulas to make their vinyl, so can actually have 2 of the same records that were pressed the same year, but at different plants that will have different mixtures of vinyl and other ingredients. That means they will have to be 'cooked' differently. The larger problem with this technique is that it is very hard to keep an oven at the recommended temperature. It needs to be about 125-140 degrees and most ovens cannot regulate temperatures that low. So you will constantly have to keep turning it on and off for the 2 hours most records require. Another problem is that this technique almost always flattens the groove, causing distortion or the tell-tall low-end "whooshing" sound as the record goes around. I do not recommend this technique for anyone.
Next up is the Vinyl Flat. It is basically two piece of steel with a bolt in the center and it comes with felt pads and you can purchase the addition heating bag if you don't want to use your over. This product does work, but it is tedious and you really have no way of monitoring or controlling the temp. It comes with a probe thermometer, but do you really want to watch a bag cook for 2 hours to keep the temp correct? I originally loved this product and I used it 24/7 for several years and had pretty good success. I did have a log of record weights and temps and that helped tremendously, because you're constantly trying a record at 2 hours then 2:15, then 2:30 and so on. I can say that it destroyed every Doors Elektra record I ever put in it. Every. Single. One. I don't know why. The heater bag eventually wore out and i purchased a new one that was "improved", but it was horrible. At that point, I owned two vinyl flats and I compared them to each other and the 'improved' bag was wildly inconsistent with heat and it destroyed about 75% of all records I put in it.
The Record Pi is a newer product on the market and it is competing with the Vinyl Flat. It has a heater bag, 2 metal plates, and felt pads. Where it differs is the control. It has a box that gives you the internal temp and you can control it to within a quarter of a degree or so. It is also Wifi compatible so you can monitor it from anywhere. It has a few drawbacks that they're working on and their customer service is amazing. This product does work and you have to work really hard to destroying a record with the Record Pi. It suffers the same problems as the Vinyl Flat though, It can be tedious as you try to guess the correct time and temp of a record. The one thing I absolutely HATE about this product is the cords. There are probe cords, heater cords, power cords, etc. It's a mess to look at. There is only other issue that I'll get to in my next product review.
The last product that I know of on the market to fix warped or damaged records is The Orb. This beast is from Japan and looks like a giant Panini Maker. The record goes in warped and comes out flat. It is very hard to damage a record more with this product. The orb is amazing. I have used it for year 24/7 and it has a fantastic repair ratio. I think I've damaged 2 records in that time and 1 of them was my fault. It is completely hands off. There are 3 settings for both 45s and 12" records. The drawback is it costs about $1200 US dollars. In my mind, it is worth ten times that, but I own a record store and realize it's not for the average collector. The one thing that I think helps this product over the other two is its composition. The other 2 have a screw that goes thru the spindle hole and tightens down. The Orb sandwiches the record in the back and clamps down on the front, so it gets even pressure on all outside edged. I personally think that the first two don't have enough pressure around the outer edges and that hinders them. I know that when I was using the first Vinyl flat, I would put 4 binder clips around the outside and that really seemed to help with common dish warps and cupped records. If you try this, make sure the binder clips are larger clips. If you use the ones that fit "perfectly, but tight" on the metal plates, those sections will get hotter and damage the record.
I've heard of other techniques, like blow dryers, candles, etc, but I honestly don't think they're worth the time to discuss here.
Unfortunately, most of these cost prohibitive for most collectors. I would recommend checking with your local stores and see if any of them offer a service. I did when I have the brick and mortar, but I didn't announce it because it could have been a full time job! If they do, don't abuse it by bringing them a box of warped records and don't waste their time with cheap $3 records. Well, I guess that depends on what they charge. I didn't charge for it so I wouldn't waste my time on cheap records, but if you want to pay to have cheap records repaired more power to you! There are some people that offer these services on ebay and on the web.
Thanks for reading!