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From Hi-Fi World - June 2010 issue

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Wash And Go

Hi-Fi World’s vinyl washer in chief Paul Rigby shows the best way to care for your prized black plastic...

 

There are no two ways about it, vinyl has to be looked after. Being the most successful analogue music carrier the human race has ever seen, there are hundreds of millions of households around the world that have found out what happens when caution is cast aside. Warped discs, noisy surfaces and damaged styli are all things you can expect if your prized LPs aren’t stored and cleaned properly...

clearaudiolgebursh


Trouble is, there are as many theories about analogue ablutions as there are Long Playing records; there are umpteen ideas about cleaning vinyl dry, wet, with or without a machine, with or without one of dozens of cleaning liquids, cloths, brushes, sprays...


carbonfibrebrush


Thousands of Internet-based dealers and self-appointed experts have sprung up, with countless ‘right ways’ of doing it. Some are sensible, others involve the peddling of coloured waters, while some words of ‘wisdom’ supply a useful shortcut to trashing your entire vinyl collection. Who and what should you believe? That’s the purpose of this feature, to separate the wheat from the chaff and to do it no-matter what your budget.


pixallroller

THE BASICS

Let’s start with the basics and some free advice. When playing your vinyl, never eat food. Sounds obvious but I’ve heard of people breaking off from gorging sticky barbecue spare ribs to turn over their records. Food and drink, via greasy and sticky fingers, can contaminate your vinyl so, ideally, wash your hands before you approach your turntable!


miltyzerostat

 

Vinyl users tend to shun dust covers during play, to improve sound quality, so there is an increased possibility that dust will be picked up by the stylus while it is in contact with the record. A stylus cleaning brush, to prevent distortion caused by accumulated stylus dust, is useful, therefore. Origin Live stocks a quality Clearaudio stylus bush (£12) that will do the job [pictured top right]. Speaking of the turntable, take note of the oft ignored platter. Dirt here, will contaminate a record lying upon it. It you have a felt mat and a mini-vacuum cleaner, give the mat the once over. If you have a solid surface or a leather mat, use a big soft brush to flick the dust away.

 

There are two basic methods of cleaning a vinyl record: dry or wet. For a dry clean, I would recommend two methods. First, the good old carbon fibre brush – Pro-Ject sells a recommended model for £10 [middle left]. The alternative is the Pixall Roller from Milty [bottom right]. Musonic stocks the rollers for £20 while refills are £8 each. The Pixall Roller features a roll of paper with a sticky surface that, when rolled, picks up any piece of dust or gunk on the vinyl surface. The dirty paper is pulled and discarded like a piece of Sellotape to reveal a fresh piece. Once the surface is clogged, pull off the old layer to prevent recontamination. In conjunction with the Carbon Brush and the Pixall Roller, consider a Milty Zerostat [overleaf, top left], a gun-like gadget which reduces the amount of static in the area meaning that your record will not attract as much dust. Hard To Find Records sell them for £49.

 

Wet cleaning gives you the option of getting deeper into the grooves to expunge more dirt and gunk from down below. However, this is where problems occur and old wives' tales, or rather, ‘some bloke on the internet’-tales can cause problems. Don’t use basic soap and water on your records, it creates a nasty deposit, don’t use household cleaners either. You really don’t know what sort of chemicals are in these things, they may even aggressively attack the vinyl itself. As will other harsh liquids like lighter fuel – avoid.

 

Do not play your records wet. Some users believe that playing a record with a coating of water will improve sound quality but all it does is lift low-lying groove dirt which is then bonded, further up, on the groove, by stylus friction meaning that you increase surface noise later on. It’s not exactly great for your expensive stylus and cantilever either; kind of like tapping at the keyboard of your expensive new notebook PC with wet fingers, some of that moisture is bound to work its way inside and cause problems later...


loricraftprctwo

 

You also have to be aware that some manual, wet-cleaning systems rely on evaporation of the treated vinyl surface to dry the vinyl. This may result in chemical deposits that may take one or two full plays on your turntable to clear. The stylus being used as a plough to scoop up the deposit itself. Using an otherwise recommended Knosti Disco Antistat system results in this problem, for example. Audiodestination sells the system for £55.


The best, and the most expensive, way to clean vinyl is via a Record Cleaning Machine (RCM). These things come in all shapes and sizes but the best budget design is the Moth which can be bought for £500 but also comes available as a kit for just £295. It, like the others in its price bracket, may be as noisy as a hoover (because that’s where the motor comes from) but it offers decent build quality, a reverse platter action plus minimal recontamination due to the spindle design. The best RCMs in the world are surely the Keith Monks RCM (from £3,300) and the Loricraft RCM, priced from £1,420. I prefer the Loricraft, not because it’s cheaper, but because it’s lighter (the Monks comes with a free hernia), it’s simpler and more practical to use, has a smaller footprint and is slightly quieter. The Monks though is iconic, has an amazing pedigree and some think it’s still the most effective, by a narrow margin.

 

RCMs encourage wet cleaning and they have the advantage of sucking up all the liquid and the muck suspended within it. They are not only able to extract dirt from deeper into the grooves but, uniquely, will remove the mould release agent that is left on every piece of vinyl that has ever existed because of the ejection process from the original vinyl pressing plant. MRA has caused much debate amongst vinylphiles over the years; many (including this magazine’s editor) think LPs sound better without it; more defined, powerful and detailed; but there’s a school of thought that it’s better off left in because this waxy substance protects the inner groove against wear.

 

Investing in and taking time to properly clean your vinyl before play may seem like a chore but doing so will not only improve the sound quality of each cleaned LP it will also extend its useful life. Vinyl's special, and often irreplaceable; look after it and it will look after you!

INNERS & OUTERS

Maintaining the condition of your record sleeves also aids long vinyl life. To keep clear plastic LP covers clean try Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze, Clear Plastic Cleaner (£9 per bottle). Created to make car-related plastics shine, it is excellent at removing sleeve grease and grime.


plasticpolish


Non-plastic sleeve surfaces are, of course, paper-based so apply caution as they will rip, scuff and absorb liquid. Dirty surfaces can be cleaned by the gentle application of a soft eraser. A pliable ‘putty’ artist’s eraser, via Amazon for 99p, is best. Also, to remove troublesome price/offer stickers or adhesive residue, check out Betterware’s Sticky Stuff Remover (£5).


putty

 

Once done, you need to consider inner and outer record sleeves to keep everything clean. I personally recommend no-brand, polythene coated inners and thin, soft outers. They are cheaper and just as effective as the more expensive variants, although I do have a soft spot for Mobile Fidelity inners. Buy them from Russ Andrews, they’re sheer luxury.


stick


recordsleeve


One additional point, I would recommend that you do not buy the high quality, thick outer plastic sleeves which, over time, tend to bond with sleeve art, ripping it off when you pull the sleeve out of the cover. Covers 33 features a wide selection of no-brand inner inners and outer sleeves for 12”, 10” and 7” vinyl at varying prices.

 

CLEANING LIQUIDS

Most cleaning liquids currently on sale shun isopropyl alcohol, which was once the staple of anything involved with cleaning hi-fi, from tape head cleaning fluid to stylus cleaner. You can still obtain isopropyl readily, so how does it stack up against the new breed and, in use, what’s the best water/alcohol ratio ‘recipe’ for our flammable fluid friend?


loricraftprc


 

For this test, I grabbed a batch of Barry Manilow records from my local charity shop which had been handed in by the one owner and so, more than likely, would have encountered the same play, cleaning and atmospheric conditions...

 

To begin, I mixed varying batches of isopropyl alcohol and pure water to find the best ratio, ending with water-only and isopropyl-only solutions. Incidentally, priced at 50p to £1.50 per litre, pure water is often sold as deionised water for use with household irons or car batteries – check out your local hardware shop or Halfords. Utilising a Loricraft RCM, here’s the test results:

* Pure water-only: Some reduction in surface noise, increase in size of soundstage.

* Pure alcohol-only; enhanced detail and clarity but an increase in surface noise! Lots of deep-seated gunk was brought to the surface and left there as the alcohol evaporated before the Loricraft could pick even half of it up.

* 1:2 alcohol/water ratio; reduction in surface noise, broader sound improvements including sparkling brass and piano.

* 1:3 alcohol/water ratio; greater noise reduction, generally improved sound but slight blooming to the upper midrange.

* 1:4 alcohol/water ratio; noise reduction somewhere between 1:2 and 1:3, superior, clean, transparent sound.

* 1:5 alcohol/water ratio; beneficial effects start to recede.

The final test involved comparing 1:4 alcohol/water with what in my view is the best non-alcohol product on the market, L’Art du Son. The results were diverse, as the 1:4 alcohol/water sounded like it had cleaned deeper and more thoroughly, featured a slightly increased gain compared with L’Art du Son, a greater degree of transparency and clarity but was not quite as controlled or balanced. Sometimes, the alcohol/water produced rather wayward frequencies. L’Art du Son was also warmer.


lartdusonrecclnfluid

 

Alarmingly, the best sound, at least on my system, was found when merging the two. Using the 1:4 alcohol/water first provided a deep, more complete clean. After the alcohol/water mix was hovered up, I then cleaned again using L’Art du Son. A calmness and structure was provided to the sound but the transparency of the alcohol/water remained, inspiring the final presentation, adding startling detail, dynamism and power to all frequencies. Sound quality was not as effective using the applications vice-versa.

 

I’ve found my cleaning Holy Grail but I urge you to fully demo both individually, for your system, then try the alcohol/water first followed by L’Art du Son on the same record, then vice-versa. The results may surprise you. And as for Barry Manilow? I never realised that he’d written so many excellent songs. Or was that the fumes from the isopropyl alcohol? [Yes, highly likely - Ed.]

THE PERILS OF ‘PROPYL

It’s all very well testing isopropyl alcohol to find the right ratio with purified water but have you ever tried to buy the stuff of late? In these post-9/11 and 7/7 times, every chemist who hears a customer asking for isopropyl alcohol wonders if he’s off to make a home-made bomb. Good luck if you dare to ask for some wearing a long beard! I do wonder if caution has been taken to extremes in this particular case?


biostain

 

Nevertheless, as part of my research for this feature I trekked down to Boots plus other, independent, chemists in the area, asking to buy a bottle of isopropyl alcohol. I was received with a mixture of confusion, “What’s that, then?”, to outright suspicion, “So, what do you want it for?” Boots said they don’t stock it and, “We’re not allowed to even order it.” while the three independent chemists all denied stocking it. Two tried to order it and were refused delivery, despite one chemist declaring rather bravely and with a furrowed brow, “I’ll take responsibility.” while the third reported that the product was, “out of stock, but we’ll keep trying.” I’m still waiting for an answer.

 

In the end, I had to purchase the isopropyl alcohol online, as a 1 litre bottle. I tried two avenues and successfully bought a bottle from both suppliers, so I can personally vouch for each. The first, Biostain, is resident as an eBay retailer. It supplies reagents for the medical laboratory industry. They supply their isopropyl alcohol in a tough, plastic bottle for £5.20. The second supplier, CFS, supplies their 1 litre bottle for £3.85 (+ VAT). It arrived in a metal container. Both required additional P&P.


isoproponol


Important: When using isopropyl alcohol, take extreme care! Never breath in the fumes, never drink it, never get it on your skin (some people come out in a rash), and be careful not to generate a static charge or put it near a naked flame as it is highly flammable!

CONTACTS:

Origin Live

+44 (0)2380 578877

www.originlive.com

Pro-Ject

+44 (0)1235 511166

www.henleydesigns.co.uk

Musonic

+44 (0)20 8950 5151

www.musonic.co.uk

Hard to Find Records

+44 (0)121 6877777

www.htfr.com

Covers 33

+44 (0)1422 822679

www.covers33.co.uk

Russ Andrews

+44 (0)1539 797300

www.russandrews.com

Loricraft

+44 (0)1488 72267

http://loricraftinternetshop.co.uk

Moth

+44 (0)1234 741152

www.britishaudio.co.uk

Audio Destination

+44 (0)1884 243584

www.audiodestination.co.uk

Meguiars Mirror Glaze

+44 (0)844 884 5940

www.performancemotorcare.com

Sticky Stuff Remover

+ 44 (0)845 128 4650

www.betterware.co.uk

Biostain

+44 (0)161 3360093

http://stores.shop.ebay.co.uk

CFS

+44(0)1209 821028

www.cfsnet.co.uk

Analogue Seduction

+44(0)1733 344768

www.analogueseduction.net




 

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