My introduction to cleaning vinyl was back in 1979 with Discwasher®. I had the complete DiscKit with walnut handled ribbed cleaning pad, D3 solution, SC-2 stylus cleaner, DC-1 pad cleaner, stylus brush with mirror, and Zerostat™ gun … all resting in a walnut base with smoked acrylic dustcover. I was stylin’ big time! Not only did I get my records “clean enough” to enjoy, but I learned how to care for my vinyl and turntable stylus, while enjoying the sonic benefits of maintaining a clean system.
Today, there are a variety of cleaning options for every budget. Entry level methods (under $300) are all manual and include the Phoenix Record Cleaning Kit (with spray and microfiber cloth), Spin Clean, and GEM Dandy Hydraulic Record Cleaning Apparatus. Mid-range machines ($300-1,000) have a motorized turntable with vacuum, and are made by VPI, Nitty Gritty, Okki Nokki, Record Doctor V and Moth. Advanced machines ($1,000 an up) include Audio Desk Systeme, KLAudio, Clearaudio, Ultra Sonic V8, Sota, Loricraft, and Hannl Vinyl Care. You can read reviews on some of these machines by Michael Fremer (Stereophile) at Analog Planet.
Back in the day, my process was simple. When I came home from Peaches Records & Tapes with a stack of new albums, I’d spend my afternoon with some serious listening, and weed out bad pressings. Each album got the “Discwasher treatment” prior to each side. This included removing static with my Zerostat gun. In most cases, I was able to listen to both sides without any distracting pops or defects. Those were keepers, and went into Discwasher VRP antistatic sleeves for protection. However, if there was a defect, I would “spot clean” with more D3 solution and use the ribbed cleaning pad to wipe off. There really wasn’t an effective way to deep clean. So when I couldn’t remove dirt or debris that met my standard, those LPs went back to the store.
Today, my process is more advanced. I use a VPI 16.5 with The Disc Doctor brushes and Miracle Record Cleaner. My typical cleaning session lasts a little over an hour for 10-12 LPs. Like most of you, I’m busy enough that by the time I get around to cleaning albums, I don’t remember which LPs had problem spots. For new sealed LPs, this isn’t usually a big deal. I’m just cleaning to remove the mold-release compound from the pressing plant. However, the used vinyl market is huge and you have to assume that any used LP you bring home, will still have that mold-release compound … along with dirt and other types of contamination. You want those grooves as clean as possible! Contaminants can cause mistracking, negatively impact sound quality, and result in wear over time of both record and stylus. This is where Vinyl Cleaning Notes™ come in handy.
Vinyl Cleaning Notes serve two functions. First, it gives you a simple way to document problem spots and their location. Second, you can fill in album details, including important identifiers, like matrix numbers, that help you know which release you have. This can be useful for the serious record collector who wants different releases of the same album. Vinyl Cleaning Notes allow you to see the matrix info without having to pull the album out of the sleeve.
Vinyl Cleaning Notes are simple to use. The top of the form is where you fill in album details, just like what you can find on Discogs, a great database for music. The lower portion of the form is divided into two columns. The left column has A- and B-side album rings to notate where problem spots exist, and you can draw a curved line to help you remember it’s relative location to tracks. The right column is the tracklist where you can write specific notes to yourself about those tracks, including issues or listening notes.
This may seem extreme. But to the vintage hifi nut, it is no more extreme than buying a vacuum-based machine to clean your albums, then putting your LPs into special inner sleeves. We do it for the love of music and to protect and preserve our record collection. Over the last few years, this tool has evolved into what you can buy and download today.