Fine Tunes #46

"Hi, Jonathan," Bob Matthews began his e-mail to "Fine Tunes" ( "I enjoy reading your column every month, and enjoy hearing from other people about some of their cheap tweaks!"

I snapped off a spiffy salute. Nothing like some positive feedback to make my day. Bob had a good cleaning tweak of his own to share, but you've got to be careful and gentle—which leaves me and most of you out!

It seems Bob purchased a big projection TV and a DVD/CD player, and was knocked over when he tried the player in his main system. It sounded so much better than his regular CD player, a Pioneer Elite PD-65. The Pioneer sounded blurred and distorted in comparison, he was shocked to hear.

Thinking something had to be wrong with the Pioneer, he opened its top and removed the three Phillips-head screws holding down the upside-down laser assembly. He first cleaned the laser lens with Windex and a Q-Tip. (I suggest a product available here on the East Coast called Cinch, which leaves no residue.) He then dipped a clean Q-Tip in a small bottle of denatured—and, I hope, anhydrous (no water)—alcohol, and gave the laser lens a thorough cleaning. (You can also use camera-lens cleaner, which works just as well.) After some gentle rubbing, Bob took a third clean, dry Q-Tip and buffed the lens a bit to remove any residue.

He warns sternly that, should you try this, you should be very careful. The laser lens and actuator are fragile mechanisms and can be damaged easily if you apply too much pressure when cleaning. Gently does it! (Courtesy of YBA I have one of those puff-bulbs with long bristles; it's just about perfect for keeping that ol' laser in tiptop condition.)

Even though the Pioneer's lens points down at the disc, it had still evidently picked up a lot of dust and schmutz. And Bob's a non-smoker! (When Dr. Peter Forsell visits and sees the condition of the filters on the turntable, there's always a pause as he ponders how anything could survive in such a dirty atmosphere.) Following this simple treatment, Bob heard a huge improvement in the PD-65's sound. "It was like a new CD player," he chortled. "I got up early this morning and listened to Diana Krall's new CD before going to work. I've got to tell you that now my PD-65 sounds better than when I bought it!"

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, Bob. Check out "Fine Tunes #6" for other system-cleaning tips.

Then another e-mail marked "Fine Tunes" popped into my in-box. Anxious to read what new errors I'd made (see February's "Fine Tunes"), I was pleasantly surprised to see (no name given) jumping to my defense regarding the riot act I'd been read in the February "Letters" regarding Silver Conductive Grease being a little too conductive. (I originally mentioned the grease in July 2001, and laid on a warning about its use in the February 2002 column.)

Geno42 offered an "opposing viewpoint." He's used Silver Conductive Grease on virtually all his audio and video connections, "and every connection has been improved. The most significant improvements have been to the video and digital connections, possibly due to the higher frequencies involved." He reports that he's never had a single short from "migrating" grease. His technique for application is simple: Using a small artist's brush, he literally paints the grease on the most accessible parts of the connectors—the outer, negative barrel of single-ended RCA plugs, and the inner pin on the male side of the connector. "I've tried a number of your tweaks so far, and this one offers the most improvement I've seen. Keep those tweaks coming!" You bet!

But remember, there's some controversy over use of the Grease. Reader Jim Bosha ( reported that it migrated up his cables and blew some of them out, as you'll have read in February's issue. Just in case you still want to try it, here's that pesky Web address for Silver Conductive Grease).

Now a visit to the Doctor—the Needle Doctor, that is! (footnote 1) Jerry Raskin's going strong, and sales associate Brian Dolny did a great job of laying the subject of contact cleaning out for me.

My favorite cleaner is Kontak ($39 at Needle Doctor with a set of pipe cleaners), followed by a squeaky rubdown with XLO's TPC contact cleaner. For 99 cents a pop, TPC rates highly with me. As it solidifies, it apparently fills in the microcaverns created during the metal plating process.

The Doc also carries Cardas TC2-Torumat contact cleaner ($20.50 for 1/3 oz), and those great Signet/RCA tools for cleaning connectors, now also reintroduced by Music Direct ($11.95/set of four). To tell the truth (always!), I prefer a stiff pipe cleaner, but these molded-plastic cleaners are excellent. Old, stiff, cleaned toothbrushes are also good for getting into those cable-connector nooks and crannies with the chemical of your choice.

Footnote 1: The Needle Doctor, 419 14th Avenue SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414. Tel: (800) 229-0644, (612) 378-0543. Fax: (612) 378-9024.