According to Merriam Webster, an accessory is “an object or device not essential in itself but adding to the beauty, convenience, or effectiveness of something else.”
In the world of analog playback, there is an endless stream of accessories. There are products designed to aid with the beautification or convenience of your analog system. But, most importantly for the analog listener, is to answer that third requirement: Effectiveness. There is damage to be had upon your precious vinyl, cartridge, or turntable if you don’t watch out. Too many people treat their records (and cartridge) like crap. Not only does this result with poor sound, but ruined LPs at that. Maintaining a healthy record collection isn’t for the obsessive audiophile alone. Anyone can do it and it doesn’t need to cost a small fortune.
This week’s list will deal with products under $100 that will help you’re precious vinyl (and turntable) stay in good health for years to come. There are many basic tools necessary for proper turntable set-up that help your records and turntable sound their finest, as well as ward off the negatives brought upon through cartridge mistracking and misalignment, but we will save those for another list. There are also countless accessories, tweaks, and gadgets designed to make the analog experience as enjoyable (and long-lasting) as possible. But today we concern ourselves with vinyl cleanliness.
If you only buy one thing from this list, let it be a record cleaner.
Clean your LPs. They will reward you, your ears will thank you, your cartridge will bless you, and eventually, your collection will be allowed to age with grace and dignity instead of death and decay. Dirt, grime, fuzz, hair, lint will absolutely find ways to latch onto the surface of your records and try to stay there, forever. But you can stop the madness. Be the superhero that saves your precious vinyl from a depressing future filled with unwanted surface noise, scratches, and muddiness. Clean your records.
Record Cleaning Machines (RCM’s) are the old standby to maintaining a healthy record collection. Varying in design from barebones to space-age, keeping your LPs clean doesn’t have to cost a small fortune (although it can, if you want – check out the Audio Desk System Vinyl Cleaner retailing for $4k). Cleaning your LPs will not only improve the sonic fidelity of your records, but will help reduce cartridge stylus wear as well. You will also get more from your records – the music, that is – because you will be reducing the amount of surface noise (clicks, pops, and static) to only what is etched into the LP itself and not what’s resting on top of it.
The Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII is an all-in-one kit that will get the job done for under $80. Spin-Clean machines have been saving LPs for over 40 years. The basic kit includes the record washer, cleaning fluid, washer brushes, rollers, and drying cloths. Working the Spin-Clean is simplicity itself. If you just bought your first turntable, it’s time to buy a Spin-Clean.
Clean new records, used records, clear records, green records, blue records. Once you buy a RCM, you will kick yourself for not using one sooner. So stop neglecting your vinyl and clean your goddman LPs.
Again, clean your LPs. This time right before you drop the needle. But please, start with a clean record or else you’re just going to be pushin’ dust around in circles. There are dozens of record brushes on the market today and they typically cost less than $30. Let’s get one thing straight: No record cleaning brush will ever “clean” the record, that’s what a RCM is for. A record cleaning brush serves to add that last little touch of cleanliness to an already cleaned record.
The Audio Technica AT6012 is a record cleaning brush with a “sonic broom” cleaning pad and was packaged as the AT6012 kit (including fluid and storage base). It actually lifts the dust off the LP. Unfortunately, Audio-Technica discontinued the model. (Yeah, we’re recommending a product that is no longer in production.) Apparently the “sonic broom” can “no longer be sourced from trusted high quality suppliers in Japan”. Yet, you can still find the kit on Ebay and a few online stores, but expect to pay around $40 including shipping (many of the Ebay sellers are based in Japan). It also looks as though an alternative to the brush is being made, although it sports a different color than the original (we have yet to test this new model).
Another recommendation is the AudioQuest Anti-Static carbon fiber brush. The streamlined carbon fiber broom does an OK job removing the remaining dust resting on top of the record, but it also helps clear the static electricity that keeps such particles sticking to the surface. It has two rows of bristles, so hold it perpendicular to the LP and make sure you angle the brush up when you sweep away so the second set of bristles capture (and remove) as much dust as it can. At $25, it’s hard to complain (although some people still do, claiming that the brush scratches LPs or hardly does a thing at all).
Another option is picking up an old vintage Discwasher D4 brush. You can still find them on Ebay. They work just fine and the wood handle gives it a vintage look. But stay away from the newer version – it’s just not the same.
Note: When it comes to record cleaning brushes: Don’t touch the brush, it will take the oil from your fingers and spread it to your vinyl!
The Onzow Zerodust is awesome. For years we used the trusty old stylus brush for cleaning. But swiping the brush across the delicate stylus was always cause for alarm, especially after a few drinks. Many audiophiles swear by the stylus brush and cleaning fluid routine, but as a disciple of Harry Pearson, I learned quickly to resist applying cleaning fluid to a cartridge. (HP would always mutter: “It always messes with the sound of the cartridge… and not in a good way.” Plus, you have to wait for the fluid to dry before playing another LP. Please note: If you want to use a cleaning fluid, the Lyra SPT Stylus Treatment is by far the finest we have used.)
The Onzow is easy to use and is incredibly effective at removing particles of dirt and dust that cling to the stylus. All you have to do is lightly place the stylus onto the Onzow a few times (it takes at least two dips to get most of the gunk). You will notice that the particles will stick to the gooey substance instead of the stylus (zero dust!). You must be extremely careful when dropping the stylus onto the surface of the Onzow, because forceful movements may damage the cartridge (good rule: Never be too forceful with your cartridge). The Onzow is easily cleaned by washing it with warm water and letting it air dry. I haven’t touched my old stylus brush in months.
Fun Fact: The top of the Onezow doubles as a magnifying glass, so you can use it to inspect the stylus tip for dirt, wear, and even alignment purposes.
What to do with those newly cleaned LPs? Play them. But once you take them off the turntable, put them in a quality inner sleeve. This may sound like overkill, but it is not. Actually, quality inner sleeves are the cheapest way to preserve your vinyl.
Newly pressed audiophile records are typically shipped with cozy sleeves – anything pressed at QRP or MOFI will never need a sleeve upgrade – but most of your LP collection will be stored in some form of cheap paper (or plastic) that is likely to scratch and damage the LP as time goes on. Your LPs deserve better. And thankfully, a real upgrade isn’t too pricey.
The antistatic MOFI sleeves cost $20 for a pack of 50 ($0.40 per sleeve). They will preserve your LPs for years, feel great to the touch, and they slide smoothly into the LP jacket without any bunching up.
Another highly recommended sleeve is the QRP Rice Paper inner sleeve. These sleeves are soft, perfect at eliminating static, and will never scratch your treasured LPs. A minimum purchase is a 250 pack for $72.25 from AcousticSounds.com ($0.29 per sleeve). If you want to upgrade your entire collection, get the QRP.
Further Reading: If you want to dig deeper into the details concerning record sleeves, you should read Myles Astor’s informative article for PFO: “Paper of Plastic? Vinyl’s Final Resting Place.”
Vinyl is physical. The LP jacket is a treasured institution. If you want to preserve the cover for a lifetime, you need a proper outer record sleeve. Rule of thumb is to use outer record sleeves on used LPs you paid over $20 for. Most likely, you spent some of that money for the condition of the jacket itself. And if you find your treasured LP covers slowly deteriorating (they will), forget using scotch tape to keep them together. Taping jackets is a complete waste of time and will cause further damage to the jacket. Buy a pack of outer sleeves and save those old dinosaurs. There’s no alternative.
As for new vinyl: First thing is to immediately throw away the plastic wrapping that the LP arrived in. It’s trash. If you paid over $30 for a new LP, it may feel good to preserve it with a sleeve – you know, to protect your investment.
Outer sleeves are typically made from polyethylene and vary in thickness. We suggest the 2.5mil outer sleeves available from AcousticSounds.com as the best bang for your buck. They are clear, sturdy, and large enough that LPs fit snugly (although double albums may be a problem depending on thickness and you can forget about box sets entirely). AcousticSounds also sells a 5mil thickness if you want the absolute finest in LP jacket protection.