Product: The Disc Doctors Miracle Record Cleaner
Company: Lagniappe Chemicals Ltd
Approx. cost: Cleaning Brushes (set of 2) $34.95 USD/Euro
One Pint of Cleaning Solution $ 21.95
Reviewer: Scott Faller
Reviewed: December, 2001
If you are one of the many people who subscribe to our online discussion group, no doubt you remember the great debate we had a few months back regarding the cleaning of vinyl. It seems that the argument went on for the best part of a solid month.
Well if you weren't aware, H. Duane Goldman A.K.A. The Disc Doctor, is one of the many unnamed manufacturers that lurks in the shadows on our (not so) little discussion forum. When the discussion first started online, The Doc didn't jump in right away. See, Lucio doesn't like manufacturers pimping their products free of charge via our list server. So The Doc held back as long as he (thought he) could, then jumped in with both feet. He tried to keep the conversation as clinical and non-Disc Doctor specific as possible, to his credit.
Well this sparked my curiosity. I'd known Doc had been lurking for some time. In fact I noticed a post or two from him a couple of years ago and had struck up an "offlist" conversation about record cleaning.
I saw this latest "heated" discussion as a perfect opportunity to review his product to see if his claims were true. So I did and here's what I found.
First, you have to understand the ways I have cleaned vinyl in the past. More years back than I can remember I started cleaning my vinyl by using warm tap water and dish soap. Don't laugh, a lot of people did (and still do) it this way. I would make sure that the water was just warm enough not to warp the record, I'd dip it under the tap to wet it, then Id lay it on a dish towel and spread dish soap on the playing surface. I'd use a very fine dish rag to do the cleaning of the grooves. Now this wasn't the best way in the world but it sort of worked, kinda. Sure I've tried the Disc Washer products but I really didn't get any better results, so I stuck with the old tried and true Joy dishwashing liquid.
Little did I know, what I was doing was just getting rid of some of the surface dirt when I washed with dish soap. Actually what I was doing was driving the dirt and dust even farther down into the grooves where I was assured of never getting it out again. Deep down I really new this but just didn't want to admit it because I had no idea how to clean my vinyl better.
I also had tried some of the DIY record cleaning solutions like we have listed in our Tweaks and DIY section. They seemed to work better than Dishwashing liquid but I kept using my wife's distilled drinking water as a rinse and she didn't care for that too much :-) So it was back to the old trusty dishpan hands.
Well a couple of years ago, Nels recommended Kevin Barretts KAB EV1. This little thing is great. It's an economy version of the bigger, powered, Nitty Gritty record cleaners except you use your own household vacuum cleaner and takes up much less room (HA!! See the pic and description below for what I ended up building). When I bought mine, I purchased the Nitty Gritty II solution with it. When I first got it, I cleaned the hell out of everything! It really did a bang up job compared to the kitchen sink and that lemony fresh scent.
Enter our online discussion.. It started way back in September 2001 with the simple question "Any of you out there have a record cleaning machine? ". What ensued turned into nothing short of a flame war (well almost). At our list server, we are normally a peaceable group but sometimes (not often) the hair on the back of our necks stand up.
Well, I finally decided, enough was enough, I contacted The Disc Doctor and purchased (yes purchased) some of his Miracle Record Cleaner to see what all the hoopla was all about.
If you know me well, any purchase of gear brings on a new tweaking project. This was no different. OK, so how the hell do you turn a record cleaning solution into a full blown project you ask? Easy. First, when I sat down to clean my very first record, I didn't like the fact that I was cleaning it on an old coffee table in my listening room. So I thought to myself, "there's got to be a way to automate this process". If you've got too much spare time on your hands and are handy with tools, you'll always come up with some way to waste time and insure that someday your kids will find you a "nice home" to live in :-)
So I built a record cleaning station, complete with my KAB EV1, a permanently mounted handheld vacuum cleaner on the first shelf, a task light and an old turntable platter and bearing assembly to firmly hold the record I happen to be cleaning at the time. Notice all the little wire framed pencil and paperclip holders I used for the different solutions and pads (cleaning and rinse)?. Nice touch, if I don't say so myself. Needless to say, you don't need all of this crap just to clean records, I just find an excuse to build things most times. It keeps my hands and mind occupied, plus I enjoy it.
Well, with my record cleaning station out of the way, I am now ready to do some serious cleaning.
The first record I picked to clean was Trio San Jose. I've been trying to get this thing clean for the best part of two years. These guys are a guitar and vocal trio that plays traditional Mexican music. They are absolutely marvelous. Their vocal harmonies send chills up my spine. But good luck trying to find it, it's non-existent anymore.
This album was full of ground in grit that had been built up since when the record was new in 1962 (or so). I followed the Docs instructions for cleaning this record.
In applying the cleaning fluid, you spread and clean the disc with a brush that has a very fine felt pad. The bristles for the felt get all the way down inside the groove and give it a good scrubbing. To rinse, you use the same procedure but a different (clean) brush and distilled water. The distilled water insures that all of the cleaning solution is removed from the grooves. Rather than allowing the record to air dry, I used my KAB EV1 to suck all the excess fluid from the vinyl. Doc says this isn't necessary at all, and I'm sure it's not but what else am I going to use the KAB for ?
Just prior to cleaning I had listened to the record. This particular record was pretty filthy even though I had tried to clean it with both dish soap and the KAB – Nitty Gritty solution combination. Everything I had tried to date couldn't get this record any cleaner. I had actually given up.
The cleaning took all of about four to five minutes. With the newly cleaned record the results were immediately noticeable. Nearly all of the pops and clicks (from dust and dirt buildups) that were there are now gone. All of that crap that I had driven deep into the grooves over the years of improper cleaning had been removed, hence the surface noise reduction was pretty dramatic. If I had to put a number to it, I'd say it every bit of 70% quieter now. This stuff works. I don't mean just a little bit better but a lot better than the DIY thing or the KAB – Nitty Gritty solutions as a stand alone product.
I shouldn't attempt to explain how this works. I'm not qualified, but I'll give it a try.
Some years back Doc (who is an Organic Chemist and has a PHD in Medicinal Chemistry and a Masters in Organic Chemistry BTW) went to work at developing a record cleaning solution that would remove all of the chemicals, grit and grime that is built up in our grooves.
Back in the early 80's, reviewers apparently were stating that the record cleaning solutions of the time weren't doing the proper job of cleaning as advertised. Well, Doc being a vinyl junkie and chemist to boot, set out to find a solution that would do a better job.
According to The Doc, raw chemistry states that the typical alcohol and water solution, as promoted in the early 80's, won't clean records completely of the chemical buildups from the factory. This has to do with the ability of the typical alcohol's, used at the time (and currently), to sufficiently solutionize (or breakdown) the semi-solids (salts and stearic acids) found on the record surface that are present after record production process. Stearic acids have always been a part of vinyl formulation in one form or another. After pressing, there will be a thin film of these acids on the surface of the vinyl.
The stearic acids found in the vinyl formulations have a two-fold effect in the vinyl production process. They act as a mold release agent but their primary purpose is to act as a thermal buffer for the vinyl stamping process. The real trick was to formulate a chemical solution that would effectively eliminate those acids without (literally) eating the up the surface of the vinyl.
Enough with the chemistry lesson, back to cleaning the grooves.
Not only is there microscopic dust and dirt but each time somebody touches the grooves they leave behind their fingerprint and body oils. Add to that, the sticky mold release compounds (streaic acids) from the factory, resin from smoke (probably from the 60's or 70's :-), indoor air pollution, furniture polish, Lysol air cleaners, incense (to cover up that smoke from the 70's), plus a host of other crap. Then throw in mold.
Mold loves vinyl. Not vinyl pre se, but what is in the grooves. The paper dust that settles in the grooves, combined with the occasional wet cleaning, dark confines of an album sleeve plus a moderate temperature, all are extremely conducive to forming your own little mold colonies. Mold needs three things to survive, moisture, food (cellulose preferably ie. paper dust) and moderate temperatures.
The solution Doc came up with not only loosens up the buildups of dirt and grime but it also removes that sticky mold release film that comes from the record factory. Now, most other cleaning agents leave some kind of residue behind that often covers up the minute details that we want to hear. It's that or they don't fully clean the vinyl as they are touted as doing.
The Disc Doctors solutions rinse completely clean. Doc says that for optimum listening conditions after cleaning, the record should be played at least two to three times. This isn't because of a residue left behind but rather because your needle was riding on top of that old grime buildup and now it's riding in the groove where it should. It will take a few plays for the needle to properly re-seat the groove to the stylus. Only then will you hear every detail your vinyl has to offer.
I found this to be true in listening tests that I did. After cleaning several albums I tracked one song (to save time) over and over again. Each time revealed just a pinch more detail. Now this is micro detail we are talking about, not macro detail. It was the subtle depth of the note, or the slight lengthening of the decay from a cymbal tap, things like that.
If you want, follow the link to our archieves I listed above. Follow the thread about Vinyl Record Cleaning, it starts (about) at message 12960. Doc goes into excruciating detail of how and why some products do and don't work. I can't attest to any of the other products on the market that I haven't mentioned in this article but what I can say is that The Disc Doctors Miracle Record Cleaner works. It works really well, in fact. Plus it's cheap. At the cost of, say, two new pieces of vinyl from Classic Records, you will have enough cleaning solution and brushes to clean 300 or so records.
A special thanks to The Doc for the lesson in chemistry. Next up is the Doc's Miracle CD Cleaner and the next flame war.
Oh, I can't wait :-)
© Copyright 2002 Scott Faller - www.tnt-audio.com