The Entry Level #17
Before dropping the needle onto Christine's copy of Sold for Prevention of Disease Only, I shot the record a few times with the Milty Zerostat 3 ($100), a blue, gun-shaped gadget that helps eliminate static. Squeezing the Zerostat's thin black trigger releases positive ions; relaxing the trigger produces negative ions. A complete squeeze cycle results in a neutral static conditionone perfectly in balance, neither too heavy nor too lightand my LPs play quietly. This step in my LP-playing routine grew out of necessity and has become a habit. The process is especially important in the cold winter months, when the air in my small apartment is dry, and debris stubbornly clings to my LPs and my cartridge's stylus.
A couple of years ago, I spent three sad winter months trying to figure out what was wrong with my turntable. Complex passages of music were consistently marred by horrible distortion that made listening to vinyl unbearably stressful. Close inspection of my stylus revealed the culprit: ugly clumps of dust and debris. I blew on the stylus, brushed it, treated it with cleaners, pleaded with it, made promises, said prayers. Nothing worked. Finally, in desperation, I shot my cartridge with the Milty Zerostat 3. Haven't had a problem since. Other products cleaned my cartridge, but only the Milty kept it clean.
At the time, I'd asked Leland Leard, of Music Hall, Milty's US distributor, about the Zerostat's effectiveness with phono cartridges.
"Like Windex," Leard said, "a shot of the Zerostat will cure all that ails: bed sores, acne, H1N1, erectile dysfunction."
To keep the noise of applying the Zerostat from being transmitted through the speakers, Leard advised that users power down their systems before treating their phono cartridgesgood advice. He also told me that the Zerostat works on Compact Discs: "CDs develop an enormous internal electrostatic charge as they are whirring around in a warm, sealed environment. A shot of the Zerostat zaps out the static. And tired of those pesky coffee grinds sticking to the side of your grinder's plastic basket? Grind, then shoot. You'll be amazed."
I haven't tried the Zerostat on my CDs or my coffee grinder, but perhaps I can coerce Sam Tellig into using it on his magic gong. Or maybe Art Dudley would like to zap a photo of Mikey Fremer.
Unfortunately, my relationship with static electricity has become even more complicated as my VPI HW-16.5 record-cleaning machine ($650) has aged. The VPI's velvet-lipped vacuum tube doesn't dry my records as effectively as it once did. Whereas two vacuuming revolutions used to do the job, it now takes three or four before a newly cleaned record is completely dry. That's not a big deal, but the extra suction can contaminate an LP's surface with unfortunate static electricity. So before I play any just-cleaned record, I treat it with the Zerostat. It offers a measure of comfort.
But such comfort comes at a cost. To a young music enthusiast who's just getting into vinyl playback, $100 might seem a lot of money to spend on an accessory. After all, $100 can buy three new pairs of Levi's 501s, 10 six-packs of Dale's Pale Ale, or 50 used classical LPs from Iris Recordsall great things. But the Milty Zerostat 3 lifted my heavy vinyl depression. It's an accessory I wouldn't want to live without. (For more indispensable accessories, see AD's "List of the Month," on p.47. I also regularly employ his No.9.)
If you're experiencing problems with static and $100 is prohibitively expensive, you can try Static Guard spray ($4.99/5.5oz can). Developed in 1978 by the Alberto-Culver Company, Static Guard works by neutralizing the charges on fabric surfaces and by attracting humidity from the air, thereby increasing the electrical conductivity of those surfaces, eliminating static cling, and reducing the risk of electric shock. I spray it on the rug in my listening room, on the white curtains behind my equipment rack, and on my orange couch. Never spray it directly on your components, however.
None of this is new. Audiophiles have been fighting electrostatic events forever. I thank Michael Fremer for introducing me to both the Milty Zerostat and Static Guard. Stereophile's former senior editor, Jonathan Scull, covered these accessories in his excellent "Fine Tunes" column.
Back in the listening room
Now that Christine's record was clean and static-free, I sat down to listen. As usual, I used my Rega P3-24 turntable ($1295 in high-gloss white; now discontinued), which has a Rega Elys 2 moving-magnet cartridge. The rest of the system comprised my five-year-old PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers ($299/pair), NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier ($379), and AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables ($299/10' pair) and Sidewinder interconnects ($65/1m pair; now discontinued). Most important, I'd just swapped out the outstanding Parasound ZphonoUSB ($349) for the Musical Fidelity V-LPS II phono preamplifier ($189) and V-PSU II power supply ($249).
As I mentioned last month, this copy of Wilderness Road's Sold for Prevention of Disease Only (Warner Bros. MS 2125), a white-label promo disc, was so badly dished that I could have used it as a serving bowl at one of Natalie and Nicole's parties. Playing the convex side was impossible: The tonearm leapt right from the surface of the record and the stylus couldn't trace the grooveunusual for my Rega, which prior to this had seemed capable of tracking anything. The concave side, however, played fine and sounded surprisingly good. Produced by Jack Richardson, Sold for Prevention of Disease Only, like many rock records from the early 1970s, sounds big, dramatic, and present. But because this was my first time hearing the record, I was careful not to attribute these characteristics to the Musical Fidelity products. After listening to a couple of tracks, it was time to listen to something more familiar, something that would give me a better idea of the V-LPS II's own sound.
Back in the kitchen
I had preheated my oven for 30 minutes at 150°F, as prescribed by the clear and thorough instruction sheet that came with my sample of the Vinyl Flat record flattener ($99.95). I placed Christine's record between the two Groovy Rings, sandwiched the Rings between the Vinyl Flat's two metal plates, screwed the whole thing together, carefully placed it in the center of my oven rack, and closed the oven. Foresight should have told me to first try the Vinyl Flat with a record from my own collection, but foresight tends to be valued only in hindsight. I consulted the Vinyl Flat's table of heating times and found an entry for Reprise albums from the 1970s. According to the table, I would have to bake the record for 35 minutes and allow it to cool for another 45. Good: I would use the time to get to know the Musical Fidelity products. I reached for James Blake's self-titled release (LP, Polydor B0015443-01) and cued up "Limit to Your Love."
Back in the day
Sam Tellig wrote a little bit about the original V-LPS in our May 2009 issue. He liked it, especially for its detail retrieval, but acknowledged its limitations: "This was not the most dynamic, expansive phono sound around," he wrote, and concluded, "If you decide to upgrade later on, the V-LPS will make a splendid backup. Or use it in a second system."