ONLINE - ISSUE 17
Audio Intelligent - an intelligent way to
clean your records
Virtually every audiophile who owns LPs cleans them, usually with a cleaning fluid which is removed either manually or with a record cleaning machine. I find it interesting that in the internet forums, discussions of record cleaning machines like those made by VPI, Nitty Gritty, Keith Monks, Loricraft, etc., are usually polite, well mannered discourses about the various attributes of the machines. Discussions of the brushes used for cleaning are also polite and informative. However, the issue of cleaning fluids is a topic similar to religion or politics. If you should be so indiscreet as to mention "record cleaning solutions" and "alcohol" in the same sentence, be prepared to be royally flamed. Audiophiles seem to have close attachments to their favorite record cleaning solutions. Stating that you use a different brand is akin to declaring that you are an infidel and should be immediately stoned for your failure to see the light.
Once burned, twice cautious. I have donned my asbestos long johns and am ready to be flamed, because I am going to discuss my impressions of a new record cleaning fluid. Last summer, an Audiogon member, Paul Frumkin, announced on the Vinyl Discussion Forum that he would like some beta testers for a two-step cleaning solution that he was considering bringing to market. I volunteered, and received my two-bottle sample. One bottle contained an enzyme cleaner to remove the protein deposits left behind by bacteria that not only feed on the oils from fingerprints, peanut butter, pizza, and other organic substances that find their way onto LPs but also on the silicone from mold release compounds. The other bottle contained a solution to remove any residue from the enzyme solution and the proteins it digested, as well as grunge, grease, and other contaminants. The beta testers posted their results on one of the Audiogon discussion threads (see http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi‑bin/fr.pl?eanlg&1094604792&openusid&zzPaul_frumkin&4&5#Paul_frumkin ).
Most of the beta testers were very pleased, and some were ecstatic. Based on the feedback, Paul made several changes: (1) the formula of the cleaning solution was slightly changed to alter the amounts of the active ingredients, (2) ultra-pure water was used, since it acts as a solvent and leaves no residue (ultra-pure water has Total Dissolved Solids of less than .5 parts per million, while purified or distilled water usually has TDS of less than 10 parts per million), and (3) a bottle of ultra-pure water was included with each bottle of cleaning solution. This last change was due to reports by some of the beta testers that the cleaning solution left behind an audible residue. Not all beta testers heard this, and it may depend on the cleaning machine used—the beta-testers who owned machines with strong vacuums seemed not to hear it. Since many people use a final distilled water rinse anyway, Paul thought including a bottle of ultra-pure water was appropriate.
With the success of the beta testing, Paul formed Audio Intelligent, Inc. to manufacture and market The Enzymatic Formula, the Record Cleaner Formula, and the Ultra-pure Water. His products are currently sold on Audiogon, in the classified section of the "Accessories: Tweaks" category.
How does the Audio Intelligent three-step cleaning process compare to other commercial and home made fluids? I have cleaned over 9000 LPs using a home-brewed cleaning solution and a Record Doctor cleaning machine. I reclean special records (ones that I use for auditioning equipment, or which I play again and again because I love the music) with a commercial fluid. I have used a number of commercial fluids over the years, most recently the two fluids from Record Research Lab, which contain no alcohol. My home-brew cleaning fluid is based on two articles in The Absolute Sound. In issue #65, page 66, Robert E. Green suggested a formula consisting of 67% percent distilled water and 33% isopropyl alcohol ("the 99% pure, no-perfume stuff, not the 70% perfumed rubbing alcohol"). In issue #66, page 51, Anthony H. Cordesman recommended using 80% distilled water and 20% isopropyl alcohol (using 92% pure isopropyl) plus ten drops of Kodak Photo Flo and four drops of Windex (original formula) per quart. My formula consists of 60% distilled water, 40% isopropyl alcohol (70% pure), plus six drops of Kodak Photo Flo and four drops of household ammonia (22% pure) per quart.
I did several tests with the Audio Intelligent solutions. From my stack of recent thrift store purchases, I chose a number of albums for which I had identical pressings that had been cleaned with my home brew. I cleaned the newly purchased LPs, first with the Enzymatic Formula, then with the Record Cleaner Formula. I then did A/B comparisons between the Audio Intelligent-cleaned LPs and my home brew-cleaned LPs. I was one of the people that could hear the residue left behind by the Record Cleaner Formula, so I switched from the two-step process to a three-step process with final scrub and rinse using either distilled water, my home brew fluid, or the Record Research Lab Super Vinyl Wash. Listening tests confirmed that all three final wash fluids removed the residue, so I settled on using the cheapest, which was the distilled water. I then selected additional thrift store LPs for which I had duplicate pressings in my collection. I cleaned those LPs with the three-step process, then did A/B listening tests comparing the Audio Intelligent-cleaned LPs and my home brew-cleaned LPs.
With the Audio Intelligent cleaned LPs, music seemed to have a slightly blacker background, but that could be caused by different stampers or a different batch of vinyl, so I recleaned my home brew-cleaned LPs using the Audio Intelligent three-step process, then did A/B listening again. The recleaned LPs now had the same blacker background. Score one for Audio Intelligent. I then took a few more thrift store purchases, cleaned them with the Audio Intelligent three-step process, listened to them, recleaned them with the Record Research Lab Super Deep Cleaner and Record Research Lab Super Vinyl Wash, then listened again. I did not feel that recleaning the LPs with the RRL fluids improved the sound. I thought I could hear subtle differences between the RRL and the Audio Intelligent fluids, but the differences were so small that for all practical purposes, the two fluids sounded the same—which, I assume, is no sound at all.
I then reversed the process. I selected a few more thrift store LPs, cleaned them with the RRL two-step process, listened, recleaned them with the Audio Intelligent three-step process, and relistened. Once again, I did not hear any quantifiable differences after the LPs had been recleaned. This indicates to me that the two processes clean records equally well. I did note that the Enzymatic Formula left the records shiny, just like new records. My home brew and RRL fluids restored some of the original luster to the vinyl, but not as much as the Enzymatic Formula. Does the new-record shine make LPs sound better? Not that I could tell, but the LPs sure look great.
Based on these non-scientific, non-statistically valid tests, should you buy RRL or Audio Intelligent fluids or should you continue to use your home brew? I thought that both the RRL and the Audio Intelligent fluids were better than my home brew. LPs cleaned with either of these fluids sounded better, primarily because they had less background noise. Whether you should use the RLL or the Audio Intelligent fluids is a more complicated question. If you do a distilled water rinse after using RRL fluids, the time involved in using either set of fluids is the same. If you don't do a distilled water rinse, you can clean 50% more records with the RLL fluids in the same amount of time. Some people skip the Super Deep Cleaner except for very dirty records. If you use this method, you can clean three times as many records in the same amount of time. If your time is valuable, this can be important, but if money is more important than time, the Audio Intelligent fluids are significantly cheaper. The RRL Super Vinyl Wash sells for $25 for 32 ounces, and the Super Deep Cleaner is $25 for 16 ounces. The Audio Intelligent Enzymatic Formula and Record Cleaner Formula both cost $20 for 32 ounces, plus USPS shipping. However, you can buy both formulas in a concentrated form—just add your own distilled water. In concentrated form, if you buy the 8-ounce bottle that makes 64 ounces of formula, your cost drops to $12.50 for 32 ounces of each formula (plus the cost of the distilled water used to mix the formula and for the final rinse).
You will have to decide which is better. I will continue to use my cheap home brew to clean all of my records, but will reclean my special records using the Audio Intelligent three-step process. If you would like to know what Audio Intelligent fluids can do for you, contact Paul. He is so confident that you will prefer his product that he will be glad to send you some free samples.
Audio Intelligent, Inc.
Ready-to-use Enzymatic Formula: 32 oz.: $20
(includes 32 oz. HDPE squirt bottle)
Thank you for your careful, thoughtful review. Making a formula that cleans effectively, and making one that leaves zero residue, are diametrically opposing efforts, and striking the correct balance is a tightrope act. It was careful listening and valuable feedback from Audiogon members like yourself that helped me tweak the Audio Intelligent formulas and make them better. Thank you for the time and effort you put into doing so.
Although I never announced it in any ad, I have been including a free sample of ultra-pure water and a foam paintbrush in every order, as a means to encourage folks to try the final rinse step. While a final rinse does not seem necessary for 95% of the vinylphiles out there, the other 5%—perhaps folks with systems (and ears) capable of extreme high-end extension—it does appear to make a significant difference. And you're absolutely right that it may be RCM-dependent.
I find that a lot of the time needed to clean a record is spent on preliminary matters—getting the LP out of the dust jacket and onto the RCM's platter, zapping it with a Miltystat, brushing it with a carbon fiber brush, and vacuuming up the line of dust. Then there are the "after" steps of getting out a new dust jacket and inserting the whole thing into a resealable album sleeve. So while the three-step process is three steps rather than one, it takes does not increase the required time by a factor of three. The good news is that once your LP is clean, it is clean forever (save for dust), unless it gets resoiled.
Finally, I'm sure you noted, on the beta testers' thread, reports of LPs plagued by background noise, pops, clicks, etc. being made listenable, and reports of LPs never sounding so good, even when new-—even after repeated applications of other record cleaning products. Apparently, you did not have that experience with the LPs you cleaned, but maybe one day you will.