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December 2009
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
Nitty Gritty Model 2.5Fi-XP Record Cleaning Machine
A Surprise Favorite!
Review By Nels Ferre

 

Nitty Gritty Model 2.5Fi-XP Record Cleaning Machine  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.

 

Flashback
It seems like only yesterday. I was sixteen years old and driving Mom's '75 Dodge Dart home from wherever it is that I was coming from and I caught a handmade sign by the side of the road that said "Used Record Store". The Dart handled like mush, but I swear it cornered like a Porsche that afternoon as I jammed the brakes, cut the wheel and nearly slid that sled into a parking spot. It was there that I found heaven: a used record store tucked away on the second floor of a dilapidated old office building located in a less than desirable neighborhood. I came to know the owners, brothers named Ted and Clete, quite well. It was great- they had a lot of fantastic albums in my budget: three to five dollars each. I bought many albums from them until I moved from Virginia to Florida.

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.

 

Choices
There are countless different methods of cleaning records, all the way from those who believe that records do not need to be cleaned as the stylus "cleans" the grooves of the record as it is played (hogwash) all the way to a Keith Monks machine (if you have to ask the price, you cannot afford it.) In between the two extremes are a number of different companies that manufacture record cleaning machines and Nitty Gritty has been offering the machines as well as the cleaning fluids to use with them longer than most, since 1981. Nitty Gritty also offers replacement and repair parts, as well as complete refurbishment services at extremely reasonable costs.

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.

 

Upside Down Makes a Difference
Upside down also stopped me from lusting after the far more expensive British made Loricraft machine. Let me explain. When a record is placed upon the Nitty Gritty 2FiXP (or any Nitty Gritty machine for that matter) the underside of the record is the side getting cleaned. The side you can see from above is the dirty side. When the record is flipped to clean the dirty side, the clean side is now facing up. The Loricraft (and VPI) machines clean from above.  This makes it far easier to see what is happening, but as soon as the record is flipped over, you guessed it- the clean side is now laying upon the platter where the dirty side was just seconds before.

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.

 

The Fluids
Nitty Gritty shipped the 2.5Fi-XP with two types of fluids: their popular Pure 2 and the new PUREnzyme+. (Both are available in various sizes.) Nitty Gritty recommends a pre cleaning with PUREnzyme+ and a second going over with Pure 2. I tried each fluid separately and in concert, and cannot say that I can tell the differences. PUREnzyme+ is the stronger of the two fluids, and has no alcohol in the formulation. Pure 2 has ten percent alcohol, which according to Nitty Gritty's Chief Record Washer Gayle Van Syckle is no reason for concern for those who may be "alcohol phobic." Ms. Van Syckle states that it is perfectly safe in small quantities and will only be on the record for a very short period of time in any event.

For those who "love the shellac", Nitty Gritty makes Pure 1, specifically formulated for 78s.

 

I Ruined It
I was thirteen years old when it came out. It was, and remains today, the absolute worst record I had ever heard. It was so bad that it was nearly good. Anyone who has ever heard the Flying Lizards covers of "Money" and "Summertime Blues" knows exactly what I mean. If you haven't heard it, search it out and listen in total disbelief. Anything that bad I had to have, so I rushed out and bought a copy, my first 12-inch single. [Virgin DK4809] I ruined it shortly thereafter.

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.

 

Clean an Album and Find a Treasure
Anyone who has read my reviews through the years knows by now that I am a big fan of Les Paul and Mary Ford. Apple's iTunes shows a couple of compilation albums plus the excellent box set The Legend and The Legacy, which is usually my "go-to selection " for listening enjoyment. Last night, I grabbed a stack of vinyl off the shelves for a cleaning session. (I have still not managed to clean my entire collection- I buy sleeves in lots of 50 and clean as I go.) In the stack was a Les Paul and Mary Ford LP which I had played but had never machine cleaned called The World is Still Waiting For the Sunrise [Capitol SM11308] Yet another compilation LP released in 1974 and in fantastic condition, I cleaned it with the 2.5Fi-XP and put it on the SOTA. Side one was very nice, but from the opening notes of side two, I knew I had a treasure on my hands. I was stunned- of all of their LPs and CDs that I own, the 15 minutes or so that make up side two are by far the best sounding. And to think the LP has sat ignored upon my LP shelves for years- the shame!

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.

 

The 2.5Fi-XP versus the KAB EV-1
Although the 2.5Fi-XP and the EV-1 use the same Vac Sweep setup and one can use the same fluids with both, I feel that the 2.5Fi-XP cleans discs more thoroughly. First, the 2.5Fi-XP has a dedicated vacuum system; the EV-1 relies on one's home vacuum cleaner for its suction. The other difference is speed. Because the capstan driven EV-1 rotates the LP at a slow consistent speed (more consistent than can be done by hand) I feel it does a better job.

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.

 

Take Care
I do have a couple of caveats. First, the Vac Sweep lips must be kept clean at all times, to avoid any trapped dust or grit damaging the records. (Included is a small brush designed to clean the Vac Sweep lips.) Secondly, the waste fluid tray is shallow. I found myself dumping out the biodegradable fluid after every few records. A couple of times, I did forget to dump out the tray, and ended up spilling the fluid on the floor as I moved the 2.5Fi-XP to its spot on a nearby shelf. Because fluids are involved, I recommend using the Nitty Gritty away from the hi-fi. I used it on the kitchen counter.

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)

 

The Lead Out Groove
Fate sucks. I really enjoyed my time with the Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi-XP, but sadly it must soon come to an end. My aging BMW decided it needs a new air conditioning compressor, and coincidentally a rebuilt compressor costs the same $899 as the 2.5Fi-XP. On top of that, Leslie's equally aging Honda's "cool breeze" is not so cool either. I fear that one day in the not so distant future, instead of spinning "Dueling Banjos" I will be juggling "Dual Car Payments." Let's not mention that the turntable on our microwave oven quit turning the other night. Please.

When I can get Mr. Murphy (he of his own law) out of the house- I know the first thing I want to buy- a large pile of used vinyl, and a Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi-XP.

 

 

Specifications
Type: 12-inch vinyl record cleaner 
Price: $899

 

Company Information
Nitty Gritty Record Care Products, Inc
650 Arrow Hwy. #F4,
Montclair, CA 91763

Voice: (909) 625-5525
E-mail: gayle@nittygrittyinc.com
Website: www.NittyGrittyInc.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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