Tweaks'n'Squeaks Page 5

Many of us have too many things to plug-in to too few outlets. How you handle this problem is likely to significantly impact the performance of your audio system. Most simple extension cords or power-outlet strips can degrade the sonic performance of your system. The better solution is to have more outlets at the wall. While costly, this may prove the best alternative in the long run. Other options include using products, such as the Adcom ACE-515 AC Enhancer, that offer more outlets.

A number of products have been specifically designed to clean up the electrical power source that you will use for your audio applications. These products---from such companies as Audio Power Industries, Music Interface Technologies, Seakay, Tice Audio, and Perfectionist Audio Components---generally offer more outlets, fuse protection, proper grounding, etc. They also reduce radio and electromagnetic interference on the line. While these products tend to be costly, many audiophiles feel that they're well worth the money. If you can, audition one or more of them in your system.

Connections, terminals, bolts, screws, etc. will eventually loosen, no matter how tightly fastened or how well-designed. Periodically tighten everything you can. While the general rule is the tighter the better, be careful not to strip threads or tighten something so tightly that you can't later loosen it.

(More) cleaning
One of the most effective and often-overlooked tweaks is simple cleanliness. This starts at the source. Records and CDs should be cleaned periodically. Dry-brushing an LP just prior to play is always helpful. Excellent brushes are available from Decca, Hunt-EDA, Goldring, Statibrush, and Discwasher.

Store your LPs in good record sleeves, such as those from Mobile Fidelity or Discwasher. Once the record is in the sleeve, keep the opening of the sleeve facing up as you slide it into the record jacket. The jacket itself should then be put in a plastic outer sleeve. All of these practices help keep dust off the records. Finally, place the packaged record upright (vertical) on a shelf, away from direct sunlight or any other heat source (heating vents, equipment, etc.).

While dry-brushing and proper storage are both helpful, wet-cleaning is still more effective. You should periodically clean all your records with one of the very popular and effective record-cleaning machines from VPI, Nitty Gritty, or Audio Advisor/Record Doctor. Each machine, depending on price, offers a different variety of automatic features; but the key is the wet-cleaning of the records, which all of them do well. The record-cleaner wets each album with a cleaning liquid---such as one available from VPI, Nitty Gritty, or LAST---then thoroughly brushes and vacuum-cleans it to remove much more grit and grease than dry-brushing can.

Records (and everything else associated with audio) can build up static charges. You can help minimize these charges by not wearing leather-soled shoes on carpets, and by properly grounding your equipment. Commercial demagnetizing and static-reduction products are available for many elements of your system: Discwasher Zerostat for records; Sumiko Fluxbuster for cartridges; and the Gryphon Exorcist or Purist Audio Design System-Enhancer CD for your entire system.

Once cleaned and demagnetized, records can be treated to preserve cleanliness and longevity. I've been very pleased with the long-term effects of LAST Record Preservative; other reviewers have been equally impressed with Gruv-Glide. Both products have been reported to improve the sonic performance of records at a minimal cost per treatment.

The last area to address on the analog front end is the stylus, which should also be cleaned regularly (after every few LPs) with either a soft- or hard-bristled brush or even fine-grained abrasive paper (each has its proponents). The brush should be drawn across the stylus tip in one direction only: from the rear of the cartridge body toward the front. A number of passes will generally remove dust and other surface contaminants. There are a number of liquid cleaners---eg, Stylast---that can be applied to the brush prior to wiping the stylus tip. Battery-powered brushes are also available---they can be more effective, especially when used in conjunction with a liquid cleaner.