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  • Writer's pictureJim Cathey

The art of cleaning vinyl records

Particles, inclusions, films, and gunk (yup, those unpleasant sticky substances we all hate) are de trop between you, your vinyl, and the best playback the musicians and artists intended for your ears. Some record pressing facilities are pretty good at providing a clean record as are some used record stores but it’s not consistent enough to assume the vinyl is ready to the level your system requires. After all, the vinyl records are not pressed, packaged or cleaned in a semiconductor facility so inevitably the particles, inclusions, films and gunk hitch a ride on your record, which impacts the performance. Performance impact is more than just the annoying click or pop depending on what’s in the grooves. My experience on average is a 10% to 20% performance increase on cleaned vs. un-cleaned records assuming it's cleaned right. The stylist can only perform best when it has close contact to the groove walls as intended by the cut of the record. And if there is, let’s call it dirt at the start of the record, it often gathers on the needle adding to the reduction of the performance throughout that record and the next.

I clean every record I buy, regardless of how good it visually looks. The cleaning is a two-step process and takes 2 pieces of equipment; an Okki Nokki to start with and an Audio Desk (Touted as the world's highest-rated and highest-performing record cleaner) as the second. The former is a vacuum arm-based cleaner and the latter ultrasonic. One without the other doesn’t clean everything. I have noticed some films and gunk require the light scrubbing and vacuum provided by the Okki Nokki. Both use a surfactant supplied by the manufacture and I tend to stick with that suggestion along with the distilled water and that’s a must given the simple fact you are trying to remove particles not introduce them. I also use a microscope when I hear specific areas of a record with noise. The microscope, a 40x loop or higher resolution connected to your laptop, can help determine if the noise is the inclusion or something that can be removed. Films are the worst to remove and the Okki Nokki tends to excel at that because you can scrub with the surfactant. The only film I have not been able to remove is on the Patricia Barber Blue Café MFSL 3-45002. I have purchased 2 copies from different locations (Japan and USA) of this release and both have the same problem; a sticky film that has coated the record. I believe the source is the black thin foam used in the packaging that shows deterioration from perhaps exposure to heat and or humidity. Nevertheless, it dulls what is otherwise a great recording. This film also likes to jump on your stylist and requires the water to be changed in the Audio Desk ultrasonic cleaner.

After cleaning with the Audio Desk Ultrasonic I don’t need an anti-static gun, but I keep one around. Common knowledge I guess, static, especially in the winter, is a magnet for dust and the vinyl can gunk up with the stylist. I use new record sleeves from MoFi. The sleeves that come with the records have within them the stuff you removed from the records……don’t reintroduce that.

I also allow the records to sit in a record stand for a few minutes to ensure moisture has evaporated so it does not get trapped in the sleeve and promotes mold. My practice for critical listening sessions has always been cleaning the selected records prior to playing regardless if they have been played since the last cleaning or not.

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music" - Friedrich Nietzsche


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