Clean a record immediately prior to playing. This will guarantee the cleanest sound possible … Clean your records regularly.
The path to vinyl heaven surely lies with clean records. You know it, I know it: We should clean our records before playing, particularly those that have a year’s worth of dust, fingerprints and other grimy buildup.
But cleaning records can be a tedious time-killer. About five years ago my brother made a record-cleaning machine from an old vacuum motor and a suction wand equipped with new velvet. He built a box to house the motor and set an old turntable on the top, where records could be rotated and cleaned by hand. The whole thing cost less than $40 to put together and worked surprisingly well, but it was very hands-on cleaning and even with the vacuum, records had to air-dry before playback or prior to going back in the sleeve.
I’d usually wait until I had scored a couple dozen or more used LPs to clean. I had seen some of the semi-automatic record cleaners on the market, and they basically did the same thing, in perhaps a prettier package. Playing records was fun, cleaning records was not.
After spending a month with Nitty Gritty’s 2.5Fi-XP record cleaner, my attitude has changed. Playing records is still fun, but now cleaning them is, too. The 2.5Fi-XP takes all the pain from the procedure and makes it easy to clean LPs, 45s and 78s on the fly. In about 90 seconds, you can have a sparkling-clean record that’s ready to play or shelve. Quite simply, this machine is awesome. Here’s how it works:
Records are placed on a small rotating platter adjacent to a pair of velvet “lips” that Nitty Gritty calls a Vac-Sweep. LPs are further secured by tucking the edge under the lip of a small rubber capstan anchored at the edge of the Vac-Sweep. The capstan has a bit of give but keeps pressure on the record to ensure smooth and even rotation.
The other side of the 2.5Fi-XP houses dual reservoirs, each with 16-ounce capacity, and pumps to push the fluid through the lines and to the Vac-Sweep. Prime the fluid lines by pumping 20 to 25 times, until fluid saturates the Vac-Sweep.
Once primed, it takes just four or five pumps to keep the lips wet. Put a record on the platter and turn on the machine. A two-way switch initiates the drive motor for cleaning — spinning the capstan — and then the vacuum mode to remove fluid. Nitty Gritty suggests one to three rotations to clean, followed by three to five rotations to ensure a thorough vacuum.
Nitty Gritty sent a bottle of its PURE 2 Professional Record Cleaning Fluid and one of its PUREnzyme+ Enhanced Enzyme Cleaner. They are designed to be used in tandem. The PURE 2 fluid is applied first for a good scrubbing. Vacuum the LP, pump the PUREnzyme+ into the Vac-Sweep and repeat the process. PUREnzyme is studded with a catalyst that is supposed to enhance the enzyme’s ability to reduce surface noise and lower the noise floor.
For a fun first experiment, Nitty Gritty’s Gayle Van Syckle sent along a clear vinyl test record to demonstrate the machine’s cleaning ability. And after cleaning with just one fluid, the test record emerged shiny and beautiful. Next, I took a thrift-store copy of Glen Campbell’s Gentle On My Mind — an LP festooned with dust and marked by several minor scratches — and gave it a two-way cleaning. Because records lie cleaning-side down during the process, you can’t see what’s happening until the cycle is done and the record is removed. It’s no exaggeration to say the vinyl looked brand-new after being cleaned. I was stoked and impressed. My wife, too, was shocked at how much cleaner the record was.
Cleaning can’t remove scratches or restore damaged vinyl, but it can make suspect records sound a lot — a lot — better. When I gave the LP a spin, there was minimal surface noise; what began as a dirty and passable-sounding record was now clean and measurably better on the ears. My experience with every record I cleaned was the same: shiny surfaces and lower surface noise.
If you have a large collection of LPs and 45s and/or 78s, Nitty Gritty offers an optional 3-way adapter that makes it easy to permanently modify the cleaner and go back and forth between 12-, 10- and 7-inch platters. It can be installed in two minutes and requires only unscrewing the spindle and inserting it into an insert fitted for each vinyl format.
I don’t have a large collection of 45s, but I’ve long held onto a copy of ELO’s “Turn To Stone” b/w “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” because it’s pressed on purple vinyl. I don’t know that I’ve ever cleaned it, so it was a long-overdue service cheerfully carried out with the help of the adapter. And Prince would approve of the shiny purple platter.
Nitty Gritty was also kind enough to send a nylon-bristle record-cleaning brush, a necessity for that final sweep before the stylus meets the groove and when turning over to play Side 2.
My lone quibble with the cleaner is its waste-fluid tray, which resides on the bottom of the unit, is smallish and requires frequent emptying; otherwise, the contents will spill over and onto whatever the unit is resting on. One option is to place the Nitty Gritty near a sink and empty the tray after you clean a handful of records.
However, when I get in a vinyl mood, I want access to all my records and don’t want to be stifled by a dirty LP side. So I set the 2.5Fi-XP next to one of the chairs in my listening room and set a small bucket to the side. From the chair I could simultaneously listen to one record and clean another. When the waste tray was full, I simply emptied it into the bucket. I loved being able to clean records as I was listening. The 2.5Fi-XP is easy, foolproof and fun. This is a record cleaner for folks who love records but hate to clean. Highly and fully recommended.