Keeping Those Discs Really Clean…

Record cleaning 1Just drop by any internet forum and you can make enemies instantly by bringing up the subject of record cleaning. LIke every other aspect of the HiFi hobby/obsession, you can do this on a few different levels, and your budget can determine the results. I’ve seen plenty of DIY ways to clean records (with most of them ending in tears, or at least ruined records), but nothing that works consistently or convincingly.

After years of screwing around with this myself, here’s a method that works. You don’t necessarily need two record cleaning machines, but I admit I’m obsessed and it really makes the job move more quickly. If you don’t use two machines, at least try and use a machine like the VPI 16.5 or Clearaudio Smart Matrix that allows you to swap cleaning wands, so that you aren’t cleaning overly dirty records with the same surface that touches your brand new (or nearly new) records.
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Here’s an extra step that will make the record cleaning machine’s job easier. Start with a carbon fiber brush like the Audioquest one shown here and go around your record in a circular motion, almost like sweeping the dust up on the floor to the center of the record.

crudSee that gigantic pile of dirt? Grab a handy can of compressed air and blow that right off the record. This will make it that much easier for your RCM to get right at the tough dirt and it cuts down on the crud that sticks to the cleaning pads.

Getting down to business

For now, we’re going to assume you are cleaning a record that is somewhere between brand new and moderately dirty. My favorite all around cleaner for records in this state is the MoFi Enzyme cleaner. The directions specify leaving this on your record for 60 seconds, but if you have a fairly dirty (and possibly fingerprinted) record, apply a heavy dose of fluid and let it soak for five minutes. Otherwise, if only moderately dirty, go with 60 seconds. Once done soaking, give your record cleaner a spin and vacuum up the grime. The reason I prefer the Clearaudio Smart Matrix RCM is its ability to clean in two directions, which is very helpful if you have a moderately to very dirty record. So, if you have an extremely dirty record or are just paranoid, apply the cleaner one more time and spin the record the other way, vacuuming as you go.

You’re almost home, but don’t let your excitement get the best of you. Even the best RCM’s leave a bit of cleaner residue on the record’s surface, which will eventually require a re-clean and will accumulate on your stylus. That’s not good in either case, so we’re going to take this one step further and use MoFi’s Pure Record Rinse, and vacuum our record one more time.


Home Stretch/Bonus Round

Once you’ve done all of this, take that compressed air and make one more pass, to make sure that record is completely dry before our next step. For most of you, this will be the point that you either put that super clean record in a fresh sleeve or take it for a spin to marvel at your cleaning prowess. But if you’re really a maniac, gently place that record on the Furutech DeMag and zap it for 45 seconds. Again, we can argue about this until the cows come home, but the bottom line is this gadget that looks like a prop from the first season of Lost In Space really works. It will take that last bit of grain and harshness from the presentation.

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Now put the record on your turntable, relax and enjoy. If you’ve followed the steps carefully and the record has no surface damage, you should be enjoying analog playback that rivals a CD in quietness. No more of that “vintage sound, consisting of clicks and pops” that the mainstream press likes to go on and on about whenever they talk about the vinyl resurgence. This is the analog magic at it’s best.

While there are a number of different cleaning solutions, cleaners and brushes, I guarantee this process will work. And while I’m a fanatic, I’m lazy. I use this combination because I can get it all from one place (Music Direct) and they always have it in stock. Feel free to experiment as you get comfortable, there are a few more variations on the theme, but only if you are even more fanatical than I am.

And by the way, is that turntable level? Just checking!