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.