Many Acoustic Sounds' customers have spent big money and countless hours tweaking their analog front-end, but there is one critical area that is often overlooked the importance of record cleaning. The old-school regime of breaking out the walnut-handled Discwasher may have seemed like a good idea when records were $4.99 and phono cartridges were typically "thrown in" with the purchase of a turntable. But today's high performance analog software and hardware demand a more effective method of cleaning.
The sonic effects of a pristinely-cleaned LP extend beyond the obvious benefit of less background noise. Typically, after a proper washing many customers report a "more-relaxed" and "less-mechanical" presentation. Instruments take on a more three-dimensional feel with better spatial definition. In addition, the original acoustic of the recording venue is more perceptible and palpable. And it's not just used vinyl that will benefit from proper cleaning; new LPs are often improved as well.
A Two-Step Process
While the washing of a visually-clean LP can be performed solely by the machine, most used records or those with obvious grime require a two-step process. The idea here is to first pre-clean the record by hand with the brush or pad using a dedicated fluid and then a record-cleaning machine for the final rinse. At Acoustic Sounds we typically use a cleaning kit such as the Allsop "Orbitrac," the "Disc Doctor" system or the LAST Power Cleaner to first break up the undesirable material in the record's grooves. This may include old cleaning fluid that has dried and settled into the grooves, dust and dirt or the mould-release agent that is employed to prevent the freshly-pressed LP from adhering to its stamper. Once this is done, we use a record-cleaning machine with distilled water to completely rinse the LP. These machines (by Nitty Gritty and VPI) contain powerful internal vacuums that fully remove the liquid from the LP. Once cleaned, we store the LP in a non-abrasive, rice-paper sleeve until it is ready to play.
In addition to the benefits of markedly-improved sound quality and prolonged record life, there is another reason to keep your records spotless. The reduction in friction during playback greatly benefits the longevity of your cartridge stylus. This perk alone will help offset the investment in a record-cleaning machine.
It is possible to clean a record without the aid of a record-cleaning machine. Disc Doctor, for instance, has developed a very effective method for use with their fluids. The main drawback is the time required to complete the process. The records must be patted dry after the final rinsing step and then be allowed to fully air dry. We prefer to use the record-cleaning machine for this final step. This greatly expedites the rinsing and drying process.