I occasionally see posts online that go something like this "Hi. My name is Bob (names have been changed to protect the innocent.) I've just spent three months of my salary buying a Fantassimo Model 1 turntable, the Sound Wand arm, a GoldenRuby Type 3Z cartridge, and a GoldenEarz phono stage. My wife isn't speaking to me. By the way, do I need a record cleaning machine?" I never respond to these questions. See, I'm a bit of a smart ass. I always want to answer something like this: "Bob, you are an idiot. You made a big mistake. See, if you aren't going to get laid anyway, you should have bought the Fantassimo Model 2, the Sound Wand Special with the 4Z cartridge. And as far as the record cleaning machine- do you want to get the most musical enjoyment out of that rig? Let me put it this way, Bob- you wear clothing, right? Do you think a washer and dryer just might be a good idea? Do not be stupid Bob- get the machine! What's another week without female companionship?" I told you- I can be a jerk.
Despite the resurgence of new vinyl today, I still frequent used record shops both online, mainly at Euclid Records, (thanks to fellow reviewer Scott Faller who lives locally for the recommendation) as well as here in Orlando (Rock and Roll Heaven gets my nod.) Why? Because I can buy a whole lot more music for the money buying used versus new. And while I was originally apprehensive buying used vinyl over the Internet, I have been very fortunate, even on eBay. Locally, I learned to stop inspecting the vinyl at Rock and Roll Heaven: if it is in the bins, it is in NM (Near Mint) condition.
I hear the objection: "But the new audiophile editions are better." That is generally true: most are better. (Let us forget imports, early stampers and the like and let me make my point.) While I can appreciate a better phono stage or cartridge, amplifier or pair of speakers, and recommend them (or not) to potential buyers, these are items that will be purchased occasionally. LPs are another story. Music collecting can become an addiction. Depending on the severity of one's affliction, it can become a weekly expenditure- or worse. I recommend balance. It is not economically feasible to buy only new vinyl at $10 (if you are lucky) to $40 a pop. One could take my approach, buy mostly used-saving the purchase of expensive new "audiophile grade" vinyl for favorites. At the end of the day, you have spent the same money but your record collection will have far more variety and depth- do not forget that there are countless wonderful LPs that will never be reissued on "audiophile grade" vinyl, CD, or available for download.
Here's the fly in the ointment: to get the most out of those used records one needs to clean them. Own a record cleaning machine, and you will find yourself not only frequenting used record stores, but also record fairs, estate sales, and junk shops. Those who do have the recreational income to splurge for new vinyl also need to care for their pricey purchases. Even though there will be no "mystery crud" to remove from the grooves, record cleaning machines keep new records sounding like new.
One thing I like about the Nitty Gritty machines is while they are available in a wide range of prices from the manual 1.0 ($389) to the top of the line fully automatic Mini Pro 2 that cleans both sides simultaneously ($1179)- they all clean the exact same way. Theoretically, one who may not be able to afford the top of the line model does not end up with records that are any less clean than those who can- it just takes a bit more time and effort to get there. With the Nitty Gritty line, time is money.
Also deserving of mention is the unit that I personally own, the KAB EV-1 ($159) licensed by Nitty Gritty exclusively to KAB. It is basically a Nitty Gritty 1.0 without built in vacuum as it connects to one's home vacuum cleaner.
And while I may own a Nitty Gritty based unit, it was only meant to be a stop gap until I could afford to buy the machine I really wanted- one of the Loricraft models. I liked the fact that the only thing that comes in contact with the vinyl is a single strand of thread. I finally realized something that I should have years ago while using the brand spanking new 2.5Fi-XP. ($899) I no longer lust after the Loricraft. Read on.
The 2.5Fi-XP is positioned as the next to top of the line model in Nitty Gritty's lineup. It features (like their other models) Vac Sweep cleaning lips with thousands of microfibers, and a high quality vacuum motor. Fluid application is via a pump, and disc rotation is automatic, making for a nearly fully automatic record cleaning experience. (Fluid must be manually pumped to the record surface.) Exclusive to the 2.5Fi-XP is that it has two fluid containers. One can be used for cleaning solution, and the second for rinse water. Or, one could use two cleaning fluids independently, a pre cleaner in the first container, and regular cleaner in the second container. One could also apply pre cleaner manually, and remove it with the 2.5Fi-XP's vacuum, then apply and remove a second cleaner, and then apply and remove a rinse. I have found that record cleaning regimens are a personal thing- and the 2.5Fi-XP is flexible enough to adapt to whatever one's regimen may be. Me? I used the 2.5Fi-XP a couple of different ways- in both two-step (clean-rinse) and three step (pre clean, clean rinse) methods. I cannot say that the three-step method was superior, either by visual inspection or by listening. Either way, records cleaned and rinsed were spotless, shiny, and beautiful.
All cleaned records were placed in brand new poly/paper sleeves. Just as I take a shower and put on a fresh pair of skivvies, or change the oil filter in my car when changing the oil, for me, cleaned records must go in new sleeves. Not only does this stop dirt from being re deposited on a clean records, it also helps to identify what LPs have been cleaned and what albums still require cleaning.
The review sample was fitted to clean twelve inch records exclusively. For those who have seven inch or ten inch discs, the 2.5Fi can be fitted with one of two adaptors. (The three way adaptor is required to clean 7, 10 and 12 inch records. On all models, the capstan height can be adjusted to rotate albums of various thicknesses all the way to super thick slabs of 200 gram vinyl.
Makes a Difference
Combine that with the fact that the Nitty Gritty machines do not have a proper platter at all: they have a spindle with label support. The right side of the LP rides atop the Vac Sweep lips; the left side of the LP floats in free air. This makes the 2.5Fi-XP more compact than competing machines.
For those who "love the shellac", Nitty Gritty makes Pure 1, specifically formulated for 78s.
I Ruined It
Even at thirteen, I had a fairly good-sized record collection. I delivered newspapers, mowed lawns, shoveled snow, sold magazine subscriptions- whatever I could do to get my next musical fix. Some things never change.
I was good about keeping my records in their sleeves. I stored them properly (vertically, on a closet shelf, away from any type of sunlight.) Even though the Garrard and B.I.C. turntables that I owned throughout my teenage years (with a variety of cartridges) could be used as record changers, I never did. I always used the single play spindle.
But I never cleaned them. It started to bother me. Both of my older brothers owned Discwasher cleaners (I remember the D2 formulation, but when I was in the market, they had changed to D3.) Even back then, it was $15 for the brush and a small bottle of cleaner. Using the recommended 3 drops per side, that small bottle would not last long. The refill sizes, in comparison to my measly barely teenage sized wallet were horribly expensive.
And then I saw an ad for a record preservative. I think it was called "Permastat" or some such nonsense. That's what I wanted to do- preserve my record collection. As far as the ad copy went, it was the best thing since sliced bread. It not only preserved the records, it also reduced static build up, making the records "sound better." Combine that with scientific looking pictures of a stylus playing an unprotected record- it reminded me of my grandfather's Roto Tiller plowing up his garden. The protected record, as expected, looked pristine. It was far cheaper than the Discwasher, and came with far more solution. According to the ad copy, records only needed to be protected once. I was sold. And it may have worked had the instructions or the ad advised that the records needed to be cleaned before sealing in all the musical goodness under whatever that gunk really was. But it didn't, and I didn't. Fortunately, it only took treating a couple of albums before I realized that I had made a mistake.
Because Nitty Gritty PUREnzyme+ is recommended for the grungiest albums (but is safe for new vinyl as well) I knew the first record I would clean with the 2.5Fi-XP. Off to the shelf I went and dug out that Flying Lizards maxi single, which had been treated with the "wonder sealant." Since Leslie was out I decided to clean one side only and leave the other side dirty- this way I could show her what this machine did. (While Leslie is a trooper, and appreciates good sound, I think she thinks a lot of audio freaks are off their rocker, and the prices we gladly pay for gear absolutely ridiculous.) Before she came home, I lowered the needle onto the freshly cleaned side, and got silence- pure, dead silence. Gone was the Snap, Crackle, Pop (Rice Krispies!) that had previously been embedded in the grooves. As far as I am concerned, the Enzyme Cleaner is fantastic. When Leslie came home, I played the intro of the dirty side and flipped the record to demonstrate the difference. Then I cleaned the dirty side, and played it again. Her comment was "Holy cow! That's pretty significant. I'm surprised that record could be salvaged." I agree.
Album and Find a Treasure
What differences did I hear after cleaning LPs with the Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi-XP? The first thing is a drastic reduction, and in most cases elimination of surface noise, this not only makes LPs more enjoyable to listen to, but also increases dynamics and retrieval of low level information. On the source side, it is the same concept as using a choke on a power supply to reduce or eliminate power supply noise.
The other thing that I have noticed is that the cleaned records have noticeably more extended high frequencies and much better midrange definition and clarity. In the case of The World is Still Waiting For the Sunrise, it sounds as good as the best audiophile pressings in my collection. Looking at the sleeve, I see that the LP had a list price of $3.98 when it was new. I am sure I picked it up in a cut out bin somewhere. Price is not always a reliable indicator of quality.
Clean albums not only sound better, but also last longer. Expensive styli should also have a prolonged life due to lower friction.
2.5Fi-XP versus the KAB EV-1
Do not misunderstand- I recommended the EV-1 years ago when I wrote for another publication, and I still recommend it today. At $159, it is impossible to beat at the price, and does a far better job than any cleaning brush, broom or wand that I have used. The comparison is not even close, the EV-1 is wonderful, and if $159 is all you can swing, by all means get one.
Back to the 2.5Fi-XP- it turns cleaning (a chore for me) into a hassle free experience. Nine bills isn't exactly chump change, but for those who have large record collections (or plan to) and can afford it, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
I also found that far less fluid was used when doled out by the 2.5Fi-XP than when I applied fluid manually, either performing a pre clean using the Nitty Gritty Bristle Brush ($22.95) or using the EV-1.
I made sure to protect the Vac Sweep lips with a lint-free cloth when it was not in use. Those who choose to purchase a 2.5Fi-XP will want the optional (vinyl only) dust cover. ($28.95)