The Entry Level #3 Page 3

With an LP in place, I set the platter spinning in its forward direction, squirted a few drops of the fluid solution on the record's surface, and, with the brush, spread the fluid evenly across it. After a few forward revolutions, I set the platter spinning in reverse—a nice feature the VPI lacks. The fluid coated the LP without ever pooling up against the brush or spilling off the side of the platter. Excellent.

Now I was ready to vacuum up the excess fluid, but this, too, proved trickier than necessary. The Okki Nokki's aluminum vacuum arm fits into a hole at the front right-hand corner of the machine's top surface that the manual calls the arm holder. You have to swivel the arm so that it hovers above the LP and points directly at the record spindle, and the small black lugs on the short vertical section of the arm are directly above the corresponding cutouts in the arm holder. With the platter spinning forward, you gently push the arm down into the arm holder so that the lugs fall into the cutouts. As you do that, you flip the switch that activates the vacuum motor. If you misalign the arm, it will pull out of place and skid along your rotating LP. So be careful—you'll want to be sober for this. If properly aligned, the arm will mate with the record and the vacuum will suck up the fluid and dirt and, a few revolutions later, you'll have one clean side. When you turn off the vacuum, the arm pops up. You then swivel the arm to the rear of the machine and switch off the platter. Your newly shiny LP will meet your gaze with a smile, begging to be played. Fit that clean LP record with a Mobile Fidelity Original Master Sleeve, protect the jacket with a 4-mil outer sleeve, and cherish the thing forever and ever. Ah.

The degree of pleasure I take in restoring neglected LPs is ridiculous and irrational. What's it all about? Some people make things, some people fix things, some people merely consume—each is an attempt to forge a stronger connection with the material world, and to make peace with ourselves. If only I could cleanse my soul as easily as I can clean my dirty records . . .

But seriously: The Okki Nokki's motor runs significantly quieter than the VPI's—it won't scare away children, pets, or girlfriends. But because the Okki Nokki is so light, and because it uses rocker switches instead of the sort of toggles found on the VPI, it's possible to accidentally push the entire machine backward while engaging the platter or vacuum.

Technicalities aside, the Sumiko Okki Nokki cleaned the living crap out of my records. I don't know if it was that strange, fragrant fluid, that soft-bristled brush, or what, but the Okki Nokki seemed more efficient at cleaning records than my VPI, restoring my filthiest records to like-new condition with just a couple of revolutions. Take, for instance, James White and the Blacks' Off White (LP, Island ILPS-7008), the dirtiest record I hope to ever see. This particular copy had been abandoned, under a leaking roof, in a corner of my Uncle Jack's woodshop in the sandy town of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Filthy with what I could only guess was a combination of sawdust and clay, the record looked beyond repair. Pulling it from its sleeve was a delicate operation—I could hear years' worth of grit and neglect rubbing against the rotting paper. But after one quick session on the Okki Nokki, the LP looked and sounded almost new. And played on the Rega RP-1, Off White was impressively quiet, with big, bold images, and only the slightest hint of surface noise. It was a miracle.

I spent the rest of that Saturday afternoon in front of the Okki Nokki, restoring abused and neglected records. As its platter spun and its motor whirred, I stared into the shiny, black pool of record-cleaning fluid and saw the smiles of family members, the faces of friends, memories of summer nights in backyards with impossibly beautiful women. I missed them all.

During one of these silent reveries, I was disturbed by the sound of my cell phone. It was Nicole.

"What are you doing, Stephen?"

"Cleaning records."



"Well, Natalie and I are cooking dinner at home tonight. Wanna stop by?"

I thought about it. "Absolutely."

"Great. Be here at eight."

I ended the call and took a look at the clock: It was 5pm. Perfect. Dinner with a couple of sweet friends after a long, quiet session of record-cleaning would put a fine end to this cold, gray Saturday, and would leave me with time enough to do some serious listening . . .

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