Get Those Records Clean!

While the mainstream press loves to wax poetic about the “vintage” sound of vinyl, “fresh with clicks and pops,” it doesn’t have to be that way.

Properly taken care of, your records can be CD quiet, really. Whether you are buying fresh vinyl, scrounging the used bins, or just hitting the garage sales, chances are there’s a fair amount of grunge in those grooves that are preventing you from hearing all the music you’re paying for. Keeping records might seem like a foreign concept to those of you just getting into the vinyl game, but once you get hooked on the sound (or should I say, lack of sound) of clean records there’s no turning back.

Think of your record cleaning system as a tool. You can spend $100 on something like the Spin Clean, and that will get you started. You can read the full TONEAudio Magazine review here. This is a basic tool, that trades convenience for price and requires that you clean records in a batch. It will get the dirtiest records much cleaner than they used to be and should you move up the food chain later, is an excellent way to do a “first pass” cleaning operation when you bring home a stack of really dirty records before using a more advanced RCM.


As your record collection grows, you may want to move up to a vacuum based machine, like one from VPI Okki Nokki, both machines that we’ve used extensively to good result. This process requires applying a record cleaning fluid, brushing it around on your record grooves and then vacuuming the fluid out of the grooves until the record is dry. The idea of getting your record wet might be daunting at first (or at least counterintuitive) but once you get used to it, it will become second nature.


We love the Original Master Sleeves from Mobile Fidelity. They offer a soft, clean, anti-static surface for your freshly cleaned LP and will assure that your records stay clean longer once finished with the process. After going through all that hard work of getting them clean, you don’t want to place them back in that gross paper sleeve. You can purchase these from Music Direct here. Twenty bucks will get you a pack of fifty and this is one of the best investments you can make in your record collection. Might want to get some archival plastic outer sleeves while you’re over at the MD site. These will keep your record jackets looking crisp, and easier to get in and out of wherever you store them.

A quick look at your LP before and after cleaning will give you an immediate read on how dirty they were, and when you place a freshly cleaned record on your turntable, you’ll be amazed at how much better it sounds. Chances are most if not all of those annoying clicks and pops will now be gone, or at least greatly minimized. And as we mentioned, even brand new vinyl can benefit from a good cleaning. Records are pressed together under heat in something like a waffle iron and the chemicals used to make sure the vinyl doesn’t stick something like Pam, so a pass through your RCM will remove this residual gunk, resulting in a more quiet background and more lifelike musical presentation.

Of course, like anything else, the record cleaning ritual will take you as far down the rabbit hole as you care to go, with a plethora of cleaning machines and the fluids that go along with. It’s also a great way to start a major argument on your favorite audiophile forum, so don some Kevlar before you inquire. We’ll be uploading a few videos shortly, to help you walk through this process.

Stay tuned, and keep those records clean! You’ll enjoy them a lot more.

Maximize Your Space With a Wall Shelf (or two)

aa-shelfLiving with a music system in a small space can often make for some interesting compromises, and once you start assembling a system, it seems as if there is never enough space.

Add wobbly floors to the mix, and listening to records can really become a nightmare – though it may make you really light on your feet, to eliminate the tonearm jumping around. Springy floors or not, getting a couple of components up off the floor can help minimize your systems footprint.

We’ve had excellent results with SolidSteel shelves (like the one pictured here) easily available at Music Direct.

The amount of weight you plan on hanging from the wall will determine how you mount one of these. The shelf featured here offers three mounting holes across the top and bottom rail. If possible, try to get the middle mounting hole anchored solidly to a 2 x 4. If you don’t have one, get your hands on a stud finder like this one from Home Depot or Amazon. It will set you back about $20. Don’t forget to grab a battery while you’re at it!

With the middle mounting hole firmly anchored to the stud, I still suggest maximum reinforcement. Use 75 pound wall anchors on the four remaining mounting holes and you should be able to sit on this platform, so it should hold a pair of substantial turntables, or a turntable and phono stage with ease.

Find a Spot For Those Chargers!

aa_find-a-spotI hope that you are all more organized than I am.

But if you aren’t, here’s a handy tip… Create a central place where all your wireless chargers can congregate to recharge. This will eliminate clutter, avoid last minute confusion, and get you out of an endless cycle of playing Pokemon Go, looking for cords and chargers. Now that I’ve got a spot, there’s no turning back!

If your devices support wireless charging, consider the NORDMARKE from Ikea. Of course it’s stylish because it’s from Ikea and it’s reasonably priced at $59.95. You can see it, along with other wireless charging options from IKEA here.


ADVICE: Go Vintage!

1-sansuiAs many cool new products as there are on the market today, vintage hifi gear has a certain appeal that just isn’t quite matched by many of the offerings on the store shelves.

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, both US and Japanese manufacturers spent a pile of money on R&D as well as casework. Gigantic power meters, massive aluminum front panels and rows of LEDs were everywhere. Most gear was either silver or black, depending on the year produced, and power outputs climbed, much like the muscle cars of the early 1960s. Every month, Stereo Review or Audio reviewed a receiver that had more power. It was a pretty cool era for a hifi nerd.

Considering that many pieces of classic furniture from Herman Miller and Knoll are enjoying a similar resurgence with mid century modern homes, it makes perfect sense to have a big Pioneer or Marantz receiver on the middle of your Nelson bench.

For me, it was Marantz, with the big blue tuning meters, and expansive blue tuning dial, with an FM tuner that could pull in Chicago’s WXRT on the right evenings all the way from Milwaukee, where I grew up. I can’t afford a mint 69 Z-28 Camaro, but a nice Marantz 2245 or 2270/75 will only set you back about $500 – $1,000 with the necessary tune up.

And you need a tune up. As much fun as vintage houses, cars and stereos look from the outside, they need work to provide years of trouble free operation. The big capacitors in the power supply and often some of the transistors can go bad, leaving a vintage component sounding noisy at best and going boom at worst. If that happens, you might need additional repairs, so if you find a gorgeous specimen, find a great repair shop to give your newfound treasure a once over.


AA MARANTZ BeforeI’m fortunate here in the Portland, OR area to have Echo Audio right downtown, and Gig Harbor Audio 100 miles to the North. They took care of my Marantz that you see in the opening image, but here’s what it looked like the day it arrived. If you are near New York, the crew at Audio Classics, though specializing in McIntosh has a great repair facility as well. We’ll be on the lookout for more specialists in this area to avail you to.

Having power supply capacitors (along with possibly a few others) and a few transistors replaced, along with a good cleaning and adjustment of the FM tuner section will usually run about $300-$500, so budget at least 50% – 100% of what you’ve spent on a receiver to make sure it’s in top electrical shape. As Jay Leno is fond of saying about classic cars, “If you haven’t spent at least the cost of the car (again) restoring it, you haven’t done it right.”

The good news is that once done, they will usually last another 30 years without issue. Should you have a handful of great FM stations in your area, you will be rewarded with amazing sound quality, and if you either have or are considering purchasing a turntable, most of these vintage beauties had great phono sections.

Much like hunting for a vintage car, go for the best cosmetics you can find; plan on paying premium for the best examples, keeping in mind no one has spare parts anymore. Electronic components can be sourced, but front panels cannot. Some restorers will substitute the light bulbs behind the front panel for newer LED’s, which never need replacement and are brighter, but some like myself, prefer the softer, gentler look of the incandescent bulbs. There’s no right or wrong, it just depends on your preference.

The last questions to answer will be whether you choose to go all vintage, complete with speakers and turntables or perhaps a reel-to-reel tape deck. Don’t laugh; cassettes are making a comeback too! But we’ll discuss that in another installment. For now, keep perusing EBay late at night and those estate sales; you never know where that bargain will pop up.