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Product: Cleaning solutions for vinyl records and cartridges
Manufacturer: Chisto - Estonia
Recommended Retail Price: Summit 99€, EasyGrove 49.90€, SCS Sutairasu 65€
Reviewer: Piero Canova - TNT Italy
Reviewed: December, 2022
The first time I tried something to clean my records we have to go back to the mid-seventies. At that time, aside from the usual velvet brushes, some new products started to appear to perform a well-known operation: cleaning our records. So I started using the well-known Lencoclean with its original liquid or with homemade recipes, pistols to reduce static electricity and the like. Then it was the time of carbon fiber brushes and small brushes attached to the cartridge. More recently, Kosti cleaning system, washing machines with aspiration, and finally ultrasonic machines. During the last ten years my cleaning procedure consists of first wash for some 3 minutes in an ultrasonic bath, then aspiration with the vacuum side of the washing machine and finally drying to eliminate the last drops of moisture. Here below you will see the equipment I use for this.
I am a great fan of ultrasonic cleaning systems; I have used them in several very sensitive industrial applications, where an aesthetical finish was a must, with great success.The negative side is that cleaning record takes approximately 5 minutes so it is an activity that I leave for the very rainy days. You must be very "zen" to spend many hours on a repetitive operation. This means also that if you buy a new record, either you set up the whole circus for just one record, or you wait to listen to it until you have a few records to wash. The result is that you listen to a record as is which several times isn't a very good thing for the listening experience and your stylus. So, when I was offered the opportunity to test a new line of products that could do an excellent cleaning job saving me some serious time, I welcomed it with some high expectations.
Chisto is a company based in Estonia that produces a wide range of cleaning products for both analogue and digital reproduction. I have tested the following ones: SCS Sutairasu, which is a cleaning system for the stylus of your cartridge, Summit, which is a ready-to-use cleaning liquid for vinyl records, and Easy Groove Concentrate, which needs to be diluted to produce one liter of cleaning solution. You can find a review of CD-devoted Chisto products here at TNT-Audio. To assess how it works I took three records from my collection:
The first one on the left is a present from my friend Piero who gave it to me as he has a second copy. It is a good example of a record bought secondhand without any special care from the previous owner. The second is a copy of "The Dark Side of the Moon" which I bought in 1976 when the "Quadraphonic Sound" was considered the best quality available. I did clean it more than a year ago so it is, for me, a good example of a record used, but well kept and cleaning is more of a maintenance operation. The third is a brand new record never used before, that shows the quality of what we buy and the need to clean brand new records.
The pressing of records is made using molds where to facilitate the detaching of pressed vinyl, some surface agents are sprayed on the mold before the pressing phase. These agents are transferred to the surface of the record and they are sticky viscous polymers that immediately contaminate the stylus. To have some evidence of the cleaning process I have used a digital microscope trying to get a picture of the same spot for every treatment. The listening test has been made after treating a side of the same record with the treatment being tested. The pictures on the left are always the record "as is", the middle is after Chisto treatment, and the last is with ultrasonic cleaning. Here are the results.
This record hasn't been treated very well. There are many small scratches, the disk surface is dull and in the bottom of the groves, there is plenty of visible dirt. The treatment with Chisto Summit shows a dramatic improvement, even if it isn't their best product for the treatment of very dirty records. Ultrasonic washing seems to remove some more dirt. The absence of the small scratches is partly due to the washing but mostly to the better condition of the section photographed.
The first picture shows that this record has been cared for much better, but still some dirt is visible; cleaning with Chisto Summit and with Ultrasonic washing look very similar with a very small difference in favor of Ultrasonic.
Despite being brand new, this record shows a sizable amount of dirt on it. The vinyl compound shows some inclusions that aren't dirt, but in general, the ranking is the same: ultrasonic slightly better than Chisto Summit but not by far. Here probably the dirt is glued in the surface agents and they are tough to remove without the use of some detergents.
Listening tests confirm what the microscope says: if you have never listened to a seriously cleaned record please try immediately to get one. The quality of the improvement is much greater than if you change the cartridge or arm.
If you look after your records with a good cleaning you can get to the level of the record when you bought it and sometimes even better. Every parameter of the reproduction is improved: sound stage, highs, voices, detail, etc., You name it and it will be much better after cleaning. In my listening tests cleaning with Summit was very close to cleaning with ultrasonic for most of the time; only the first record that was very dirty showed a clear advantage forthe ultrasonic cleaning, but here, the quantity of dirt was so big that having 2 liters of water with which to dilute it was a plus. My conclusion then is that Summit is a perfect product for the maintenance of your records and an excellent product also for your new purchases If you use it, together with a vacuum disc cleaner, the results are even better and much better than if you use just de-mineralized water or other cleaning products.The same tests made using the Easy Groove Concentrate showed results equivalent to the Summit ready-to-use product. The best results overall were achieved using the Easy Groove Concentrate in low concentrations (2% of Easy Groove per liter) in the Ultrasonic machine.
The evident effect is that it takes much less time to remove the oily coating from a new record; after few spins of the record in the machine the surface is uniformly wet which means that the hydrophobic coating is completely removed. On top, after finishing you have a nice anti-static effect that helps in maintaining clean records.
The cleaning of the stylus is a complex subject; being the only contact between the record and our system, to keep it clean is mandatory to get the best results. On the other hand, it is a super delicate process and demands cleaning with the right tools and procedures. In the package are supplied a small bottle containing the cleaning liquid, a small magnifying lens , and two cleaning pads
To test the effects of the treatment I have, at home, a Denon DL103 S that I had re-tipped two years ago with a new boron cantilever and an elliptical stylus. The cartridge has been used for approximately 250 hours and the cleaning was always made mechanically with a small carbon fiber brush. In the pictures below, the left one is the stylus as is, while on the pic below it is after cleaning.
I think the images are self-explanatory. The cleaning process is quite easy: put some cleaning liquid on the stylus using the brush in the cleaner bottle and then use the brushes on the tip of the pads to gently rub the stylus. As pads are made of a very flexible material you don't run the risk of applying too much force to damage the stylus. You can see well how much dirt was on the diamond; from dark and opaque it has returned to be transparent and shiny. The listening test shows a cartridge that, from muffled and dull, has returned to being bright and crisp as it should be.
I have made the same test with other cartridges I have with the same results; in particular, I was curious about the ZYX since it has a hollow cantilever, but the listening test confirmed that the reproduction had improved and that no problem had arisen. The cleaning can be made with the cartridge installed in the arm, but for better handling and safety, doing it with the cartridge dismounted is a much better option.
Cleaning records is an endless battle where it is difficult to find a perfect solution, but for me from now, while I will stay with ultrasonic cleaning for the heavy tasks, together with some Easy Groove in the bath, for maintenance, the Summit is a perfect option and the SCS Sutairasu is a must every 50 hours for maintaining a clean stylus. Quite a nice improvement and well done Chisto.
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© Copyright 2022 Piero Canova - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com
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