May 22, 2008

Brushing Up on Record Cleaning

Shortly after my review of the Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions record-cleaning fluids went live, Galen Carol, whose audio dealership in San Antonio, Texas, bears his name, wrote to tell me that he had addressed an issue with the AIVS product line that I noted in my review: no brushes or cloths to aid in using the fluids. "The AI solutions have become our favorite here too, wrote Galen. "We displayed the stuff at the Austin Record Convention here a few months ago and decided to offer a manual kit for folks who didn’t want to buy a record-cleaning machine. We found some microfiber towels that work really well (most don’t) and package them together with a MoFi brush and a 32-ounce bottle of Premium One Step." Galen has posted directions for using his kit on his very informative website. I trade listening impressions with Galen at every CES -- we run into each other at least once -- and given that we generally agree on what we hear in Las Vegas, I think it's a safe bet that his manual kit, which costs $50, is worth investigating if you don't have a record-cleaning machine. I will add, however, that saving up for a cleaning machine should be a goal for every vinyl devotee.

Jim Pendleton, the man behind AIVS, has now taken matters into his own hands, introducing a cleaning brush to be used along with his fluids. Available in 12", 10" and 7" sizes for $25 each, the brushes, which bear the Osage Audio Listener Select brand name, use actual bristles instead of a velvety pad, and they are different from similar brushes from well-known turntable maker VPI and Smart Devices, the distributor of Loricraft record cleaners in the US. The VPI and Smart Devices brushes have a wide swath of soft nylon bristles, while the bristles on the Listener Select brushes are fewer in number and stiffer, signaling that these brushes aren't just for spreading cleaning liquid over the surface of the record. From the AIVS website: "Using a back and forth brushing motion along the grooves with the brush can be effective in removing this debris." "The record should be brushed in several strokes over a small section of the record at a time, using only moderate force. As these contaminant particles are loosed, the record-cleaning fluid will help suspend them, making them more easily wiped or vacuumed from the record."

While the Listener Select brush isn't able to dig down into the groove, which is several times smaller than the brush's bristles, it was effective at scrubbing the record surface and didn't add any scratches or abrasions, though I'm sure that's possible if you use too much elbow grease. So far, I have used the brush with L'Art du Son cleaner on especially dirty LPs and this combination reduces noise of all kinds. Of course, I end with a spin on a VPI or Loricraft machine.

Cleaning records is a process governed by faith -- you never know exactly what your chosen cleaning regimen is doing down in the groove -- and I have faith that both Galen Carol's cleaning kit and the Listener Select brushes are worthwhile for degrungefying vinyl, especially if you're on a budget.

...Marc Mickelson

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