Adventures in Audiophilia: Keeping It Clean

By Jim Pittsburgh

Over the last few months, I was given a small box of albums from a friend and purchased a few more at the annual Pittsburgh Record & CD Convention held at the Green Tree DoubleTree hotel on November 11th. It’s easy to check the condition of albums when you are buying them, but gifts are gifts and you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth can you? At least I can’t…. But that doesn’t mean I have to play them, now does it?

 

The hazards: what could go wrong?

 

Old or used albums of any kind are not something I’ll ever play without cleaning them first, and neither should you. At worst, the debris could damage the stylus (needle); at best, it’ll sound terrible with constant ticks, pops and background noise. LPs do not sound that way when new and there is no reason that they cannot sound almost perfectly new again with a little work. However, if there are scratches on the album, nothing will help and you should NOT play it. You’ll find the rhythmic tick, tick, tick annoying and the stylus could be damaged. Just get rid of the scratched album and, if it is a favorite, go to a record store, record convention, or online and buy a clean replacement for a few dollars.

After 20, 30, or even more than 40 years, there are loads of contaminates in those grooves, including mold, dust and whatever else was on the fingers that handled them. Additionally, the dust jackets and album covers themselves have also suffered from dirt, dust, and sometimes water damage and mold. Don’t bring mold into your home or put a moldy cover into your collection; it’s just not worth the risks. More than one folding album cover I’ve found from the mid '60s and '70s have had a funny odor and a bit of green flakes on the inside.

 

In search of solutions

 

When I got back into audio last year, I tried some homemade solutions to clean my albums before reading the forums and settling on trying The Disc Doctor’s Miracle Record Cleaner. Repeated cleaning of some albums produced increasingly quieter results and I was fairly satisfied with the results, but not the process. Mixing the solution, scrubbing each side of the album, rinsing, stacking in a dish drying rack, and then drying each one with a microfiber towel was messy and time consuming, but also very necessary.

Reading the forums again, I found that there were lots of commercial record cleaning machines available, most of which had some type of vacuum included. At more than $500, this was just not something I was ever going to buy. I did try using my Shop-Vac with the nozzle covered with a microfiber towel and, though there was an improvement in results, this was a heck of a lot of work added to an already arduous task.

Santa comes to town

Under the tree Christmas morning was a Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII machine, complete with towels, an extra set of pads, and a large bottle of fluid! I told you my wife is amazing! I’d read about these on a number of forums and, considering the reasonable price, was a little surprised at the rave reviews they received.

After a few days satisfying family obligations, I was finally able to put the Spin-Clean to the test. I pulled out a dozen albums I had originally purchased, a few used acquisitions, and even a few previously cleaned used albums that were still noisy despite one or more cleanings. Set up of the Spin-Clean was quick and easy, and cleaning and drying each album took less than a minute or two total. At the end of the process the fluid trough was very dirty and had a frightening amount of debris in it.

The resulting sound was amazing-- much better than anything I’d tried previously. What was especially impressive were the results I achieved on a few late '60s Cadet albums, which I’d already cleaned repeatedly with mediocre results. These now sounded almost new. Amazing! And George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, which actually had mold spots on it, looked and sounded better than I could have ever expected, especially since I’d played it repeatedly on an $80 1970 compact stereo system with stacking album changer!

Santa also brought a few “new “ LPs this year, too: the Rolling Stones' re-mastered Exile on Main Street and Let it Bleed. I have always loved both albums, but must say that the re-mastered sound on Let it Bleed is the best sounding Stones album I’ve heard. That’s saying a lot, since I swear that every Stones album was recorded for the sound of a 1960's car radio.

Category: Gear Porn