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I have earlier shared posts about record cleaning and its impact on performance. What I have not covered so far is finding the time to do it. As your record library gets larger, the ability to keep up with the cleaning, equipment supplies and maintenance starts becoming a challenge, whether you are a full-time audiophile or pursuing analog audio as a hobby. After all, cleaning and listening simultaneously in the same or different rooms does not work. I struggle to find the time and I would instead use that time listening. I have often requested resellers of used and new records to provide a cleaning service before shipping a purchased selection, but the process is rarely available, and the quality is inconsistent. Hence, I was surprised to find a record cleaning service on eBay that used a very similar process that I use. I always prefer a vacuum cleaning followed by ultrasonic and then a new MoFi inner sleeve; see earlier record cleaning post.

Upon some research, I came across Pristine LP Grooves in Indio, California. They are a record cleaning service using a VPI 16.5 for the initial vacuum cleaning followed by the Audio Desk vinyl cleaner pro and finally the KLAudio KD CLN LP200(both ultrasonic cleaners), and then placed in a MoFi inner sleeve; very promising, especially with the 2nd ultrasonic cleaning using a different frequency. They go beyond what I expected, including an incoming inspection with variable LED light for pre-inspection, Zeiss microfiber clothes for handling, a labeling service, shipping insurance and custom packaging for the return shipment.

I sent a select sample of records to Pristine LP Grooves for cleaning; these included:

1) Patricia Barber Album; I struggled cleaning as it had a residue from the internal packaging that had deteriorated.

2) Van Morrison and Marc Cohn albums cleaned in my Audio desk ultrasonic but not vacuum cleaned with Okki Nokki.

3) Diana Krull Live in Paris release

4) Two Chuck Mangione Children of Sanchez albums. One was thoroughly cleaned by me and the 2nd not cleaned.

I packaged and shipped the ten records as a sample set for this initial run. Within a few days, I received all the records back, cleaned, and with new MoFi sleeves—the results, as one would hope, improved performance on all but 1 of the albums. The Patricia Barber album performance was clearly improved with more detail, something I was not able to do with my cleaning equipment, The Chuck Mangioni album that was thoroughly cleaned by myself before sending had some surface clicks at the start, but these got reduced, something else I was not able to do, Morrison and Cohn much improved as expected since I did not finish a complete cleaning process. Finally, there was no improvement for the Krull Live in Paris disc, but that’s because I had cleaned it thoroughly before I shipped it, just for a check.

To conclude, a better record cleaning service can help save you time and expenses of investing in your own cleaning equipment. In the future, I am considering having all my records sent to Pristine LP Groove to have them cleaned and re-sleeved, including new records purchased.

I highly recommend Pristine LP Groove's record cleaning services. Here's a link to their YouTube channel if you want to learn more about their process. They also have their services page on eBay.

Vinyl has survived the loudness wars and the music streaming age, there must be something really good about it. Until next time...

I often get asked if the vintage MC275 can drive the 15” driver on the ATC SCM 150 Classic Passive?

Generally, two smaller low-frequency speakers are selected in a speaker design instead of a larger 15”, primarily because a larger size is harder to control, especially with a tube amp. It is true, and I was faced with this question while deciding what speakers to select, the cabling, the power, tube, and AC power.

First, ATCs have been used in Studio for a long time; hence their drive is solid and fast with a history of outstanding performance. Along with this, features like the three sets of speaker posts and world-class mid-range made the speaker an easy decision. Next, I needed some strong power tubes like the Genalex Gold Lion KT88 power vacuum tubes manufactured in Russia. I have tested many KT88 branded tubes, and the Genalex consistently demonstrated a strong/fast reaction with no early roll-off. These have to be the new Genalex, not the vintage that was originally made in the U.K.  Although those vintage Genalex tubes are popular, if you can find them, they are not nearly as strong or fast and roll-off in the higher frequencies. Finally, when driving the speakers, there is a negative electrical signal push back that can overwhelm a tube amp and shorten the life of the tubes, primarily the power tubes. Transparent Audio was able to custom make my speaker cables tuning their built-in cable network to compensate for the amplifier, the speaker, length, and cable type, including the ability to dampen the negative signal feedback. The last piece was power; 2x power is available for each amp via the PS Audio P20 power regenerators; 1 P20 per 2 MC275’s. In addition, each 15” driver had one dedicated MC275 operating as a monoblock.

The selector on the right is switched to that position and there are bridges in the middle
Amp in monoblock mode
Amp in monoblock mode with bridges

The combination of the strong ATC 150 drivers from commercial studio products, the latest KT88 Genalex power tubes, the Transparent Audio network-enabled speaker cables, the S Audio power regenerators and vintage MC275’s in monoblock mode made it possible to drive the 15” speakers. A perfect recipe, I would say to create an excellent audiophile quality sound system.

To sum up, if you prefer tube amps and a large low-frequency speaker, it’s possible to control it even with a vintage tube amplifier, provided done with a combination of proper components.

You can find out more about the above components through these links

My audio system here in San Diego has a vintage heart & soul and what makes it unique are the MC275 amps, the NOS tube selection and the C22 preamp. Undoubtedly, these make the system deliver performance with a sound that you can feel, is never exhausting and warm with details. It's a sound that can move you emotionally and pushes you to preserve it for generations.

The preservation, aka maintenance, is not a dusting or polishing activity. It's a severe discipline to keep backup amps, preamps, and a significant selection of vintage tubes all tested and all ready to be set into the system when a component fails and yes, that happens more than you would expect. Yet, we should not be surprised since we are operating with wires, capacitors, resistors, tubes, solder joints, and transformers that have been working since the 1960s. In Japan and Taiwan, I had trusted technicians that I could drive to and visit in person.

However, here in the US, that is not the case; there are very few technicians with vintage amps/preamp knowledge and inventory spread out over a much larger country. However, San Diego happens to have one of the best at this combination of art and science; Mike Zuccaro of Audiocraftsman.

A few years ago, before returning to the US with the equipment, I called Mike to see if he was the right technician for my vintage equipment when I settled in San Diego. The call confirmed Mike was the right choice; hence I would not have to ship my gear across the country when it needed repairs, but more importantly, during the call, I learned a semester of information within just 30 minutes. He is full of knowledge, all fact-based and not opinion based on personal bias, which this industry can exhibit with ease.

Mike is a unique tech shop that has been working this trade since 1975. Mike has endless positive references, all saying they would return and do. And yes, I, like others, returned this week.

Over the last 1.5 years, 2 of the amps suffered failed capacitors and it was time to have Mike take a look, repair and perform the general checking of the system. So I made that call and the journey for the drop-off and pick-up.

Within 24hrs the amps are back at my home repaired, checked and ready to be placed in the system when needed. Thank you, Mike, for the great vintage equipment service and the knowledge that seems to always come with any repair or discussion.

Here's what the failed capacitor looked like...

MC275 Amp with failed capacitor

I might mention Mike has an interesting background. It's not just the vintage stereo equipment he has worked on over the years but was also a pioneer as an AM station DJ here in San Diego. Notice I said DJ, not a talk show on AM 1170 (KCBQ) radio.

I will post again about Mike Zuccaro's work when I deliver a vintage 1957 'Wonder Bar' tube-based AM radio car player. Mike says he can bring it back to its original performance.

1957 Wonder Bar AM Radio

Thanks for reading and do share if you have found a great vintage audio equipment engineer here in the USA.

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