Symbol Audio Modern Record Console

What happens when a group of music-loving, fine-furniture designers put their heads together?  They create the Modern Record Console.  With the Console, Symbol Audio pays homage to the classic designs of Herman Miller and Knoll from the ’50s and ’60s.  A true masterpiece, the Console combines a tube amplifier, built-in subwoofer and a turntable.

This isn’t your dad’s Magnavox, folks.  And for the hardcore audiophiles in the crowd who are ready to send us nastygrams explaining that they can buy a better rack full of separate components for half this price, this is not for you either.

Harkening back to the day of all-in-one consoles, Symbol’s version is a prize for the music lover living in a design-conscious environment who does not want a rack full of gear and is willing to pay for bespoke quality.  We visited the Symbol factory, and must admit that this thing sounds pretty damn good.  And while we were there, fashion icon and music aficionado John Varvatos was in the Symbol studio giving the Console the thumbs up.

With EL84 tubes, big transformers and Omega single-driver speakers, the Console has some serious audiophile cred under the hood, which, as you can see from the photo, can be neatly tucked away.  Sales of the Console have been brisk so far, so if this tickles your fancy, you might want to pick one up sooner rather than later.

The Modern Record Console


Spin Clean II Record Cleaner

Yeah, yeah, we are pretty much the last ones to the party to discover the Spin Clean Record cleaner.  But in case you haven’t heard of this incredibly reasonably priced record cleaning system that’s been around since 1975 and still made in the USA, it’s definitely worth your time.  Dirt is the enemy of your records, it’s pretty much the enemy of the whole vinyl playback chain – it’s what makes for most of those nasty clicks and pops that the mainstream likes to tell us is “the romance of vinyl.”

Forget that.  If you want to truly get the analog experience, you need clean records. Chances are if you’ve been into vinyl for any length of time, you’re buying at least some of your records used and if you’re a newcomer to the vinyl scene, you’re finding records in any number of off the beaten path places – and chances they sound pretty awful.  Perhaps your audiophile buddies have told you about their elaborate record cleaning machines that can get your records CD clean, free of those dreaded pops, but you freaked out when you heard the price.  A decent RCM can run anywhere from $500 – $5,000.

A Record Cleaner for the Regular Guy

Enter the Spin Clean II.  The complete kit, with enough cleaning solution to clean hundreds of records costs $129. It’s not as technically complex as a VPI, ClearAudio or Loricraft machine, but it’s damn good and it actually does a better job at ground in fingerprints than my Loricraft does.  The Spin Clean II is the ultimate in simplicity; there is no electric motor to burn out and no vacuum hoses to loosen.  Just mix up some cleaning solution, dump it in the tank and you are ready to begin. Once the Spin Clean solution is mixed, a tank full will clean 20-50 records, depending on how dirty they happen to be.  Fluid is cheap in comparison to styli, so I say err on the side of cleanliness and stick to the 10-20 figure. A bottle of their concentrate is only $9.99! The manual suggests batch cleaning, as the mixed fluid only has a shelf life of about a week.

The best feature of the Spin Clean is that it cleans both sides of your record at the same time. Simply spin the record gently by its edge (hence the name) until you’ve made a few revolutions.  The brushes are bathed in the solution, so the dirt will be suspended when you remove the record.  Easy!  The Spin Clean kit includes some soft, diaper like cloths that are intended to blot your records dry after they’ve been cleaned, but I highly suggest a plastic dish rack from Target (another $8 expense) to use for letting your records air dry all the way, before you can play them.  This should hold about 10 records comfortably.

Say Hello to Quiet

If you’ve never used a record cleaning machine, you’ll be amazed at how much quieter your records sound after a pass through the Spin Clean. Like any other aspect of audiophilia, you can get as obsessed as you’d like to with record cleaning, but if you never do more than use a Spin Clean, you’re way ahead of the game.  As I mentioned, the Spin Clean does an exceptional job at removing deep seated fingerprints. I found that letting the area of the record with the fingerprint just soak for 3-10 minutes in the solution, giving it a quick spin and then moving on to final clean on my Loricraft brought most albums back to like new condition.

Even if you have a high zoot RCM, the Spin Clean can be a valuable addition to your cleaning regimen when sorting out used records, because it works so much faster.  You can at least perform an initial clean in a very short period of time to be assured that your stylus won’t snag on an LP from the bargain bin and then decide how much further to pursue cleaning later.

If you have a turntable and you don’t have a Spin Clean, you need one. If you’re a maniacal LP collector with a top of the line RCM and you don’t have a Spin Clean, you need one too.  This is an accessory that no vinyl lover should be without.

You can buy one from our friends at Music Direct here.

Record Cleaning For Fanatics

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.
record cleaning_2
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.

record cleaning_7

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!