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How-to: record cleaning devices and fluids

[Italian version]

Everyone knows how important is the quality of the record in order to get good results from our stereo system. Simply put, our hi-zoot stereo systems can do nothing if the record we're trying to listen to is poorly recorded or damaged.
And while there's nothing we can do to improve the performance of a poorly recorded disc, there are many things we can do to keep our good records in perfect condition.

How to store those LPs: horizontal or vertical?

Vinyl is a funny material: it is black (normally), flexy and with a very strong memory. What does this mean?
It is very easy to deform it but very hard to make it flat again once it has been tacoed (from tacos, those hot Mexican thingies).
So the best way to store our beloved records is the one that minimizes mechanical stresses: keep them as vertical as possible.
Storing them horizontal will, depending on how many records we have, put excessive load on the first ones in the pile, causing unwanted deformities, tacoings and groove damage.
Once the disc is warped we can only try to make it flat again: put the record under dozens of hi-fi mags, their heavy load will help, at least in this situation.

How to play those tacoed records

This is a problem, dudes. If the deformation is serious there's nothing we can do.
For example, if the record is bell-shaped, whenever we try to make if flat by pushing down the vertex, it will reverse its shape symmetrically with respect to the standard horizontal plane (ok, I confess: I'm a mathematician).
If the situation isn't so tragic we can try to flatten the LP using a disc clamp.
This is a device you place over the platter that, either thanks to its weight or to the fact that it can be firmly secured over the spindle, pushes the disc against the platter, flattening it (the LP not the platter :-)).
The clamps that work by gravity do have a shortcoming: they put an unwanted stress over the platter and the spindle, and wrong placement can permanently damage the turntable. You've been warned :-)
The clamps that can be locked over the spindle seem to be harmless.
I use a simple device called The Pig, made by the SEE Company (Revolver TT, for example), a rubbery "nose" that almost glues over the spindle. It does not do wonders, but it works, is light, cheap and cool.
What else ?
Some hi-end turntables use air pumps to glue the record to the platter but the high cost of these devices has had some consequences on their popularity.
Then there are some platters or even record mats that have been designed to work without any clamping device.
The Ringmat is a well-known example. You should know what kind of ideas the designer of your turntable had in mind before using any aftermarket fancy device.

How to clean our vinyl

If you are a clever guy you should try to keep your records as clean as possible i.e. you should try to avoid the dust reaching the grooves.
Some advice: keep the mat of your turntable as clean as possible.
If you have a felt mat it could be a difficult task: dust is everywhere and felt seems to like it a lot. Don't try to wash a felt mat. Never. Use a vacuum cleaner instead if at all possible. Then try to keep the inner record sleeves (use antistatic sleeves) as dust-free as possible.
Also, playing records with the dust cover on may help keep dust away from our grooves but many feel this is the worst way to use a turntable.
The dust cover acts like a microphone and passes any unwanted air vibration (Music from the speakers, for instance) to the needle, the cantilever and the cartdridge, causing acoustic feedback and a lot of other terrific side-effects :-)

Some turntables have been designed to work best with the dust cover on, so listen to a record both ways for the possible differences. Choose the solution that sounds better.

Now that we know how to avoid dust we should learn the best ways to remove it. The No.1 rule of record cleaning is to avoid that the dust reaching the bottom of the grooves.
In other words we should take extreme care to NOT worsen the situation.
There are poorly cleaned records which are only apparently dust-free. Actually the dust has been moved from the surface to the bottom of the grooves where it is more harmful and difficult to remove.
A lot of devices have been developed to avoid this problem. Among these are the carbon fiber brushes (Decca-style) and some self-adhesive rollers.
Some of these carbon fiber brushes have the handle made out of a conductive material in such a way that static electricity can be easily moved from the record to our body and then grounded. This trick works thanks to the conductive properties of the carbon fibers.

Speaking of rollers, one of the best of them -dunno if it is still available- is the Rolling Cleaner by Nagaoka. It is made of a very strange sticky rubber compound that literally detaches the dust from the surface of the disc. Once the roller gets dirty it can be washed with water et voilà it is ready to stick again as new.
I must say that after 10 years of regular use it still works as efficiently as the first day.
If you can find one, buy it. It's a bargain (usual disclaimers apply here, eh).
When the dust combines with moisture, fingerprints and other agents it's time to take a shower.
The market is overcrowded with dozens of magic fluids that promise to be the ultimate solution (pun intended) to our cleaning problems. Normally these magic bottles don't come cheap. So audiophiles all around the World have started to make their own cleaning fluids at home at a fraction of the cost of the official ones.

Thanks to the Analogue-Addicts mailing list, particularly to the ubiquitous :-) friend Steven -Enjoy the Music- Rochlin) and to Bruce Kinch, Editor of the renowned newsletter "Primyl Vinyl Exchange" (PO Box 67109 Chestnut Hill MA 02167 Tel/Fax 617-739-3856) here are some secret recipes for you:

The following recipes are for a 4 liter (1 gallon) solution unless otherwise stated.

Steven Rochlin's recipes
Distilled water
1 part 1 part isopropyl none
1 part 1 part isopropyl a drop of Triton X-100
1 quart (~ 1 liter) 1/2 quart denatured 10 drops Photoflo
3 parts 1 part denatured a few drops
3 parts 1 part rubbing a few drops
4 parts 1 part ethanol some (Genie in the Bottle)

Laura Dearborn's recipe
Distilled water
3 parts 1 part isopropyl 1 drop Triton X-114 or Monolan 2000

Don Roderick's recipe
Distilled water
4 parts 1 part isopropyl (91%) 7-8 drops dishwashing detergent w/o additives

Keith Monks's recipe (TAS)
Distilled water
Alcohol + Detergent
1 part 1 part denatured alcohol

Jonathan Scull's recipe (Stereophile)
Distilled water
3 parts 1 part NON-lanolin isopropyl 10 drops Photo-Flo + 10 drops "Direct" tile cleaner

I know there are more "solutions" but these are just meant to be starting points and/or examples.

After washing the record with one of these fluids it is wise to rinse it with pure distilled water. This way any remaining particles of dirt will be washed away from the grooves.
Then you can dry the record using a soft chamois leather or a soft cotton cloth.
Esoteric drying can be done by clamping the record to a drill and turning it at the highest speed possible. Seriously :-)

The bottom line is: keep your records as clean as possible, use antistatic inner sleeves, try to remove dirt with brushes or rollers and do some home-washing once they get very dirty.

DISCALAIMER: if you're not confident with the use of the ingredients cited above, AVOID preparing these recipes at home. Ask someone who knows how to safely use those or purchase commercially available disc-cleaning fluids.

© Copyright 1997 Lucio Cadeddu - Translation supervisor: Earl Dunbar

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