Tweaking your Record-Player Page 10

Record cleaning
If you care about your records, you should always damp-clean each side just before playing.

LPs are natural dust collectors. They seem to develop a static charge spontaneously, and will attract any loose detritus from the platter surface, the inside of the record sleeve, and even the surrounding air within a 6" radius. Damp-cleaning is performed while the disc is rotating, with a small pad of plush or velvet which has first been saturated with tap water and then wrung in a towel until damp. Start at the run-out grooves, and wipe slowly outward and off the edge.

I have never found a dry disc cleaner that works, and my advice is to ignore them. All they do is push the dust around a bit and redeposit it in the bottoms of the grooves. The disc will look better—but only until you inspect the groove bottoms with a magnifier.

Wet washing
Definitely not a routine procedure, wet washing should be done before a new disc is first played, and then only as often as absolutely necessary—which should not be more than once a year. All cleaning solvents leach some of the plasticizer out of the vinyl, and while the amount is insignificant each time, it can add up to a significant loss of groove-wall flexibility if repeated dozens of times.

The only thing that prevents a stylus from trashing disc grooves on the first play is that the vinyl is able to yield under pressure. This increases contact area, reducing the actual pressure to only a few tons per square inch instead of tens of tons per square inch. Severe plasticizer loss reduces vinyl's yieldability, increasing wear rate. Bear in mind!

The two most important things to be accomplished in wet washing are scrubbing all the way down into the grooves, and getting every last vestige of the dirt-laden cleaning fluid off afterward. The latter is of particular importance, because when a droplet of cruddy fluid is allowed to dry on the disc, it deposits its load of detritus right back into the grooves. Vacuum suction is still the best way to get rid of cleaning fluid.

Although many audiophiles have reported success with simple hand washing in a sink, I highly recommend buying a record-cleaning machine if you don't already own one. My favorite is the original—the old Keith Monks—which can still be found in some used-audio stores, but the cheaper and more-available Nitty-Gritty and VPI units work equally well on reasonably flat discs. (They won't handle bad warps; the Keith Monks will.) The Audio Advisor also sells a manual unit called the Record Doctor.

Surface treatments
Through the vinyl years, dozens of proprietary "disc-enhancing" treatments have come and gone. A few were merely worthless, but most actually did permanent damage to records. The problem was, the "lubricant" which was an essential ingredient of all of them was slightly sticky and acted as a magnet for dirt, eventually becoming an abrasive sludge that ground up the groove walls with each play.

Generally, you should never, ever, apply anything to a disc that is intended to remain there. If you own discs that were treated at some time in the past with a magic-formula gunk, the best thing to do is wet-wash them. It won't eliminate the damage that has already been done, but at least it will retard any additional wear, and getting rid of the crud will immediately make the disc sound better.

The one exception to this never-ever rule is something called LAST, which is the only disc-surface treatment I know of that has been proven to have beneficial effects on both sound quality and record life. Without going into the arcane details about how it works, suffice it to say that LAST fluid makes the groove walls more thermally conductive, which decreases surface heat buildup due to stylus friction, the thing that causes the most obnoxious form of groove destruction: ticks and pops. (Conical-shaped vinyl particles literally pop out of the walls as the stylus passes.) LAST also seems to improve the sound, making it more tapelike (or direct-to-disc-like, if that was how the disc was made), although no one seems able to explain the reason for this side benefit.

Unlike other such elixirs, a LAST treatment need never be repeated. The beneficial effects are permanent.

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