Keepin' it clean... and why
Break out your feather duster and be prepared to get your Sadie on because we’re going through the importance of cleaning. That’s right. I’m talking ‘bout being squeaky, ya freaks. From the dollars in your back pocket to the life expectancy of your LPs, if your records are filthy you could wind up spending a small fortune that might otherwise have been avoided. Sure it sounds like a last minute up-sell at the sales counter or a pitch to sell you sh!# you don’t need but trust me, there’s a whole swag of reasons for why you’ll want to be dust free.
First and foremost, dust and gunk in your records has been statistically proven to significantly shorten the life expectancy of your stylus, and replacing styli is an expensive exercise. The average price for most new styli on an entry-level deck is close to a hundred bones, and that’s just entry level. Say you’ve got yourself an Ortofon 2M Blue or a Bronze? You’re up for several hundred bucks, easy. So a small investment now saves you big dollars down the road. That stylus of yours has a shelf life of a thousand hours or thereabouts. The first thousand hours is its peak audio period, the sweetest it’s every likely to sound. After that, sound quality begins to diminish, sliding further and further away from the detail it once harboured. To ensure the quality of that stylus for the full thousand hours and beyond keeping it clean is vital.
In the early fifties a study was conducted recording the lifespan of styli. In it the researches used new records, clean second-hand records and old records never touched by the hand of Sadie herself. In those dirty records they found a cocktail of grime that roughly consisted of 12% jagged silica, 13% fibres and lint, 35% diamond dust, with a final 40% miscellaneous particles. Test results concluded that the complete removal of these particles from records showed a 60% increase in the life expectancy of both the records and the styli. Sixty percent! It’s a significant difference and one that over time easily translates into big big savings. Forty percent of the gunk found in your records is who-knows-what and it’s all markedly degrading the life of your stylus, so keeping them clean is incredibly important.
A stylus is subject to the most wear and tear of any component. It’s the silent workhorse of analogue audio. And if its damaged from dirt, wear or otherwise, not only will it begin to distort but it’ll eat away at the quality of your vinyl LPs, too. Yup, those fifty dollar and up LPs you’re so fond of are likely to go sideways real quick if you don’t take care of that needle. There’s roughly 26 tons per square inch of downward pressure on the stylus tracking though the grooves of a record. 26 tons! It’s a hell of a lot of pressure. And all that pressure causes friction, friction that causes heat, heat that melts things – things like dirt and grime. So if there’s junk in the grooves of your records – food, booze, the residue of greasy fingers – whatever, it’s likely to weld to your stylus, significantly diminishing audio reproduction quality. And if it’s bad enough, build ups have the potential to tear information from your LPs.
Cleaning gear sounds like a line at the end of a sales pitch, staff members just trying to up their KPIs, but it isn’t. It’s a vital part of playing records that ensures the longevity of not only your equipment but also your LPs. Good cleaning practices increase the life expectancy of both by up to 60%. It’s a number too large to ignore, and the very reason we’ve put together a list of your vinyl cleaning essentials.
This little guy removes the excess dirt and grime your stylus plows from the grooves of your records, often collecting in a tuft at the end of the needle. Most people are prone to using their fingers but it only makes matters worse. Think of all the dirt, grime and grease on your mitts. That junk on your fingers from all the varying things you’ve picked up or put down throughout the day sits within the grooves of a record and acts a bonding agent for larger, nastier dust particles. Therefore, removing dust and whatnot from the tip of the stylus with your fingers is a big no no. But the cleaning method is easy. A light (and I mean light) brush from back to front before every session or when build ups occur will ensure that any excess junk is removed.
Most people assume this is the first, last and only line of defence necessary when cleaning LPs. Not so. It’s merely a guard against the dirt attracted to your LPs whilst playing or when removing them from their jackets. Records are a synthetic plastic polymer construction and as such are prone to electro magnetic charges. The mere removal of a record from its jacket creates an electro magnetic charge, sending dust particles racing toward your records before you’ve even placed them down. So it’s imperative you use a record brush before every play. Simply place the record on the platter, turn the player on so that it rotates, hold the brush down over the record and (lightly) drag it over and off the edge, repeating if necessary. Anti static bristle brushes are perfect for removing dust particles before you play each side of the record, helping prevent electro magnetic charges during cleaning. Record brushes might be the most common thought when cleaning records, and though important to the process they’re merely one of many essential products necessary to keep your LPs squeaky.
Cleaning Agent and Cloth.
Almost every person to ever drop a needle has their own theory on cleaning records, their own practices they adhere to. Cleaning isn’t an exact science, nor the varying number of agents and solutions sold to do the job. Therefore, personal experience goes a ways to helping dispel the myths. From my experience, it’s necessary to clean each record with some form of cloth and solution every dozen to half-dozen plays. Stylus and Record brushes are great preventative measures but only go so far. To ensure you’re cleaning your LPs properly you’ll need to use a cleaning agent as well. Over time, residual dirt and grime builds in the grooves of your records. That grime bonds with dust particles inherently attracted to the electro magnetic properties of polyvinyl chloride (the primary compound within vinyl records) and results in damaged styli, poor sound quality, and even record damage. For small collections, 1 - 100 records, a small bottle solution and cloth can keep your LPs squeaky. Follow the instructions of whatever product used to accurately apply and clean your records. We carry two highly reputable cleaning solutions at Vinyl Revival and either of the two will keep your LPs Mickey Mouse.
Washer Bins and Solutions
For those of you with collections a hundred records or more it might be high time you started using a record washer system. Pump sprays and cloths are cool for short bursts but do you really want to spend hours cleaning high stacks by hand? Probably not. Therefore, something like Pro-ject’s Spin It Record Washer System is the perfect solution (no pun intended). Clean dozens and dozens of records in a single sitting. The solution sits pooled in the basin, your LP is clamped into a spindle and you rotate the record through. It glides over twin velvet brushes, removing dust, grime and grit within seconds. A single cap of Pro-ject’s washer fluid can clean up to 50 records. Meaning an 8oz bottle will clean over 1400 records. This is a must buy for anyone on their way to accumulating a serious record collection.
Record Cleaning Machines
The ultimate cleaning solution for any serious vinyl enthusiast, record cleaning machines are many – and expensive. But this is a you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of product because record cleaning machines are incredibly affective in the fight against dust. Think of Pro-ject’s VC-S vinyl cleaning machine as a wet vacuum for your vinyl records. It’s like having your carpets upholstered. This is the steam clean of the analogue audio world and it’s wonderful. The vacuum head has a pair of cleaning pads attached to it, which are lowered upon the record as it rotates. A cleaning agent is added and the whole thing is wet cleaned and a dried in the space of seconds. There is no washer bin, pump spray product on the market that will you clean your records with the same detail as a record cleaning machine. They’re brilliant, and a must-have for any serious vinyl collector.
So there we are. If you’re only beginning in the world of analogue audio and wondering what are the essential – bare bones – products to keep your records clean start with this: A stylus brush, anti-static record brush and pump spray solution. These three products combined will keep your LPs Mickey Mouse and ensure the longevity of both your needle and your records. As your collection expands so too will your need for better cleaning solutions, but a stylus brush, an anti-static record brush and a pump spray solution with cloth will take care of your basic needs. We sell them individually or in a pack together. They’re cheap, preventative measures that protect your most precious assets (your LPs) and save you big dollars on stylus replacements. So get to cleaning Vinyl Junkies. It’s all part of the fun.