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As a vinyl junkie who’s just getting into this hobby, you’re probably wondering what basic cleaning or maintenance equipment you should get. Unfortunately there’s a ton of misleading and overpriced garbage out there so here I’m going through not only cheap but effective accessories that matter from my personal experience. I’m going to keep this page updated as I gain new insights that I’d like to share with you.
Carbon Fiber Brush
Records carry a lot of static charge and therefore attract dust like crazy. To get rid off it, a cheap 10 Euro carbon fiber brush (advertisement link) does the trick. You can find those on Amazon or a local electronics store. Luckily I found one in the attic that I had purchased many years ago (I was student back then and used it with my Philips turntable) and it works perfectly fine. I might purchase a newer one someday just to own a fresh one.
After playing a couple of records, large amounts of dust quickly collect on your stylus. How can you get rid off it? Hifi stores usually recommend a stylus brush or some exotic fluids at outrageous prices. I’m personally not a fan of chemical solutions. Using a chemical stylus cleaner too frequently could result in damaging the adhesive holding the diamond on the cantilever of your cartridge. What I do use instead is the Onzow Labs (Japanese product) ZeroDust Stylus Cleaner (advertisement link). This is basically some sort of recyclable gel. All you need to do is carefully dip your stylus (DO NOT apply any force) into the gel and then lift up the tonearm. Any dust or dirt gets absorbed in the gel. It’s an awesome solution. You can easily clean off the gel with distilled water and re-use it as often as you need. Truth be told, I’ve never heard of ZeroDust before. My friend Alex gave it to me as a gift last year. Later I learned that this is hands down the best and most gentle stylus cleaning solution used by many audiophiles in the vinyl community. I will revisit chemical stylus solutions later this year after giving some of them a (careful) try so I’m not ruling them out just yet.
It’s always a good idea to check stylus weight instead of relying solely on counterweight positions. Those would only give you approximate accuracy. Digital styles gauges are very inexpensive and I bought mine on Amazon for under 20 Euros (advertisement link).
Record Cleaning Machine
I started out with a clean micro fiber cloth and distilled water but quickly realized that this won’t give me the results I was expecting. Now you could invest in a professional record cleaning machine such as the Clearaudio Smart Matrix for over 2000 Euros just to get your records cleaned or stick to simpler methods. Cleaning machines cost anywhere between 90 Euros and a whopping 3000 Euros. The cheaper ones are operated manually. If you want more sophistication, the better ones employ vacuum brushes to extract the last bits of dirt from the grooves. If you usually take good care of your discs, a more basic solution might do the trick. I decided to opt for the Spin Clean record cleaner which retails for under 100 Euros. It comes with a wash basin, alcohol-free wash fluid and a set of soft towels. Although I have no basis for comparisons with more expensive solutions, I’m quite impressed.
How it works:
To get started, fill the basin with distilled water, add 1-2 cups of the cleaning solution to the brushes and spin the record clockwise / counterclockwise for about 3 times. That’s it. After you’ve been through with with your record collection, all the dust and dirt that’s collected over the years sinks to the bottom of the basin. My records now look pretty shiny. All the pops and cracks seem to have disappeared so I can give this a thumbs-up. One major downside is that you would have to clean your records in batches. Individual cleaning sessions are a bit inconvenient. Spin Clean is a product made in the USA. I purchased mine from a local retailer through their website but all the major online stores including Amazon carry those (advertisement link). You can’t go wrong at this price. And you can always resell it should you ever decide to purchase a more high-end record cleaning machine.
My trusty SpinClean taking care of a flea-market find
The purpose of a record clamp is to flatten a record to ensure the record has good contact with the platter and good tracking is possible. Heavier clamps can potentially also help reduce platter vibrations. In addition, it can stabilize slightly warped records, too. You don’t really need to have one from day one but many audiophiles swear by it. So I suggest you check them out. No need to go crazy and purchase bediamonded heavyweight clamps. If you don’t need the looks, go with something purely functional. Keep in mind that extra weight also puts unnecessary weight on the bearings. My turntable shipped with the Clearaudio Clever Clamp so I’m currently not in a rush to upgrade that. It’s just a piece of plastic but works for my needs. However, I still think it’s a bit expensive if you were to buy this separately so I cannot recommend that. Instead I’d go with something like the JA Michell Record Clamp (advertisement link) which is reportedly very effective and easier to digest for the turntable bearings.
This was supplied with my turntable but I suggest you get something better
My Marantz TT15 S1 came with an antistatic felt mat and I absolutely hate it. Not only is it a dust-magnet but I personally don’t hear any difference. For the time being, I’m just putting my records on the naked acrylic platter. Later this year I will give cork, rubber or leather mats a try and see how much of a difference each one makes.
Many record labels nowadays are shipping vinyl records in junk paper sleeves that easily scratch your valuable records. It’s unbelievable. Thus I highly suggest you purchase some antistatic sleeves and dispose the crappy ones right away. Fancier sleeves lined with antistatic plastic are sold by Mobile Fidelity Sounds Labs (MFSL) but you can get less expensive ones on Amazon (advertisement link) like I did for about 20 Euros (100 pcs). This is also a solid idea for older records whose sleeves are worn off or damaged (unless it’s a collectors item). As for outer sleeves, I purchased a couple of those so my record cases are kept in pristine shape. This is not a must-have however, many collectors are just keeping the record boxes on their shelves. Outer sleeves also tend to make the text printings less readable.