Here is another round of killer Review-O-Rama festivities. Attention all readers (and manufacture of cool stuff), if you know of other great goodies please send us an e-mail and tell us about it.
In February we did a whole shootin' match on CD tweaks that work, but now it's time for analog vinyl junkies to take over. Yeah, that's the ticket! First we will start with cleaning your vinyl. While there are many different ways to clean vinyl, if we are going to use machinery then my fave is my prized Nitty Gritty 2.5 FI ($579). Of course they make more basic units starting at only $250, yet since i was trading a Rolex in this swap years back the 2.5 FI was the deal.
The Nitty Gritty 2.5 FI is of the semi-automatic variety. You simply push down a few times to have cleaning fluid plunger. This sucks your cleaning fluid out of the reservoir and wets the Vac-Sweep cleaning applicator on the top of the machine. Then with a flip of the switch a motor automatically rotates the vinyl over the moistened cleaning applicator which scrubs the vinyl. After about 45 seconds i then flip the switch to the other direction and a vacuum sucks up the dirt and grime off the record. The dirty fluid is whisked away to a waste fluid tray located at the bottom of the machine.
Maintenance needed during the cleaning of 8,000+ records? Well, every 500 records (1,000 sides) i change the Vac-Sweep pad. After having to clean over 8,000 vinyl records i simply needed a few Vac-Sweep Replacement Kits which set me back $13.95. Each kit comes with four of the Vac-Sweep pads which are good for 2,000 records in my case. i know others change their Vac-Sweep every 1,000 records (2,000 sides). To each their own. So how good is the Nitty Gritty?
On it's own it cleans records very well. In fact i prefer it to the VPI because i do not like the idea of putting my just cleaned record on a dirty cork surface. The one thing i felt made the Nitty Gritty better was in using the bristled scrub brush from the VPI and using it in concert with the Vac-Sweep when cleaning records on the Nitty Gritty unit. While Nitty Gritty suggests using their fluid (which i use from time to time), there are many other fluids which can be used in the reservoir. This brings us to our next Review-O-Rama which is awesome cleaning fluid for cleaning your prized albums.
While may home-brew formulas include anything from tile cleaner to good ol' Photo-Flo and the likes. Meanwhile the chemists at Record Research Lab (RRL) have their own solution. For the main fluid, they use not just regular water or standard dionized water. Instead they use quadruple deionized water from a special, purpose-built copper distillery. While some of this is above my head, i shall simply quote from their website.
"The active portion of the solution is a low level surfactant that is effective at lowering the surface tension, penetrating and lifting grease. This surfactant is both alcohol and phosphate free. Alcohol permeates the vinyl surface and “leaches” out essential oils from the jagged groove walls. Vinyl life expectancy may be reduced by alcohol based cleaners due to the heat created by the stylus in the groove without necessary lubrication. Phosphates can bond to the surface of the record and are environmentally damaging. Trisodium EDTA is added to the surfactant as a preservative, greatly reducing bacterial growth with no sonic signature. Carboglycinates are added as a vinyl lubricant, again chosen for its lack of sonic signature. Both compounds are vinyl and environmentally friendly." All that is well and good, but how well does RRL products work?
Very well thankyouverymuch. RRL offers a standard Vinyl Wash fluid (32 oz. bottle - $25) and a Deep Cleaner (2 oz. bottle - $25). The standard cleaner did very well and i would say it is on par with other better cleaners such as those by Nitty Gritty. i would be hard pressed to say either one was a winner over the other. The jewel is their deep cleaner and stylus cleaner (the latter we will get to in a moment). If you are like me you tend to scrounge around at garage sales and flea markets looking for vinyl. Anyone who has done this knows that sometimes you get lucky, other times a record that looks good but plays badly. It generally comes down to either groove damage (for which there is no cure) or you hope it is years of funk which have attached themselves to the grooves. While i love funk music, funkin' on my groovin' just aint a ticket to happyville. Enter RRL's Deep Cleaner.
The instructions on the bottle say "Apply 4-6 drops, spread with applicator brush to moisten record for 3 revolutions. Vacuum dry..." While this indeed helped with a few records, i knew there were a few other record in my collection which were going to be a true challenge of RRL's Deep Cleaner. When i first tried to clean these hard-to-clean albums, i heard some improvement on two of the three, but not as much improvement as i had hoped. So i e-mailed Brian Weitzel, Mater of Record Cleaner Solutions at RRL, to see if he has some advice. His reply to me was:
"To answer your question as to the proper use of Deep Cleaner, in this situation, I would liberally use the deep cleaner only, wet the entire groove surface, and walk away for a few minutes. Next I would carefully scrub the record, following the grooves. Vacuum this solution off, and repeat. Follow this up with a cleaning of Vinyl Wash, and you should be set. This is the procedure that I take if I just "garage saled" a nice 1500 series Blue Note, you know, where you're trying to resurrect a $400.00 record.
To make a long story short, Brian was of course 100% correct. One of the three came back from the dead to once again live to sing the groovy glories of vinyl. The second album also did well, yet due to the previous owner's abuse there are still some pops and tics but the background noise is much lower. Sadly, with the third album there was no change. Must be groove damaged for which there is no cure. The Deep Cleaner is now my super secret weapon of choice for bringing back those great garage sale and flea market finds. A must have! Of course all that is well and good, but we also have to clean our cartridges stylus', right? Enter RRL's LP#9 Stylus Cleaner (0.5 oz. bottle - $25).
First let me say that you best not smoke which using this stuff. Cohiba lovers best leave it by the listening chair as this stuff is flammable. The LP#9 Stylus Cleaner comes in a glass bottle with an applicator attached to the cap (much like nail polish). You simply gently brush using a rear stylus to front stylus action to clean your cartridge. As someone who dismounts their cartridge every few months for inspection and cleaning under a microscope (yes, i am that retentive), i can confidently say that the LP#9 is the best fluid i have used to clean my stylus. It seems to really remove all large, as well as the hard to clean microscopic gunk that builds up on a stylus' needle. Therefore both Record Research Lab's Deep Cleaner and their LP#9 Stylus Cleaner is a must have in my humble opinion. Worth their weight in vinyl gold!
Clearaudio turned me on to their new Exact cartridge downforce measuring tool during the Milan Italy show. The Clearaudio Exact is for measuring the downforce you needle exerts onto your vinyl record. Too light a tracking force and the needle could jump around and be damaged while too heavy a force and you may as well be grinding down your grooves with a chisel. Ok, maybe it is not that bad, but why chance it? The Exact is accurate to within 0.1 grams and always recalibrates itself upon turn on. This recalibrations insures a true reading each time you use it. You simply put your cartridge's needle on the top left flap as seen in the picture above and read the weight on the digital readout to the right just above the two circles. Simple, easy, and almost as much fun as a barrel of homeys. The Exact retails for $375 and is a lifesaver for dudes like me who are always concerned with having the proper downforce. Next up we have a free goodie to align your precious cartridge.
For those of you unfamiliar with Enjoy the Music.com's longstanding free giveaway, let me be the first to turn you onto it. Everyone knows you need to have your cartridge properly positioned on your tonearm. To do this you need some type of tool which is specifically made to assist you in finding the proper alignment point. Since this tool is really nothing overly special that a properly engineered printed sheet of cardboard can accomplish, we decided to have thousands of these alignment protractors made to give away to out worldwide friends! That's right, give away, as in free, gratis, on the house. Our tool is printed on a high quality cardboard sheet 4 inches wide by 7 inches long. All we ask is that you send your request with a self addressed stamped envelope that will fit the protractor to the dude nearest to you. Please click here and see the bottom of the page for our most up date listing of worldwide distributors. That's all there is to it my friends.
Well, that is all for this months Review-O-Rama folks! Thanks for coming and drive home safely. Remember to keep your cartridge and vinyl clean and the turntable spinning. Until we meet again...
Enjoy the music,
Steven R. Rochlin