As the twin krakens of Spotify and Apple Music have wrapped their tentacles around the music industry, a curious thing has happened: Vinyl records, those big black discs that were once all too common in garages and dorm rooms, have made a resurgence.
In fact, the vinyl industry has seen a straight decade of year-after-year growth. That’s impressive for a product that seems so antithetical to our modern philosophy of convenience. After all, new vinyl collections aren’t easily portable, require a record player for listening, and are prone to damage that can destroy their sound. In an age dominated by streaming services and the ability to flit between songs like gnats, the vinyl record seems as archaic as straight-razors or horse-drawn carriages.
Why is vinyl back with such a fervor? Perhaps in an age where music has been broken down to bytes of data, vinyl offers a long-lost, tangible experience. To hold a record with your fingertips and place it on the spindle of a record player, to hear the tonearm drop and the needle settle into the groove, is a ritual. Forget the debate about whether vinyl sounds better than digital for a moment: for many people, the simple pleasures of flipping through a record collection and placing the needle gently into position cannot be replaced for the sake of convenience.
With more people getting into vinyl as a hobby, there is one thing that may shock new enthusiasts: Unlike files in an iTunes collection, records can get dirty. Dust and grime can easily accumulate in the grooves of a vinyl record, and even a little dust or static electricity can impact the sound quality. Many a record owner has pulled a dusty Stones LP from their parent’s collection only to discover a cacophony of pops and static as soon as the needle begins to glide through the gak. To enjoy vinyl to the fullest, record owners must keep it clean. Thankfully, it’s not difficult. There are a few ways to clean a vinyl record, even on a tight budget, and doing so will keep a record sounding pristine for decades.
Get a machine to do it for you
For those who don’t want to risk damaging their records when cleaning them by hand, or those who simply don’t have the time, buying a machine to clean them is the best option. In fact, some would argue a proper record cleaner can better clean a record than any manual process. There are many brands of cleaner out there, ranging in price from the approachable to the absurd. Here are two of the most notable:
VPI HW-16.5 ($700)
On the higher end of record cleaners is the VPI HW-16.5. Vinyl collectors respect VPI for its top-of-the-line record players, and its record cleaners are similarly praiseworthy. Like the players, however, the cleaning machines are also quite expensive, often running nearly $700. For those who can afford the cost, this cleaner is as good as they come, as well as straightforward to use. After clamping a record down on the turntable, simply use a brush to spread cleaning fluid around the record, then use the cleaner’s vacuum to suck it all up. The process is quick and easy, and the device has a solid build. Aside from being noisy, the only downside is the aforementioned price, which will keep it out of the hands of the average collector.
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A far cheaper option than the HW-16.5, the Spin-Clean lacks a vacuum or an impressive case, but will get dust off a record quickly and quietly. The device uses rollers to scrub both sides of a record at the same time, and drain the dirty water down into a basin. Unfortunately, letting the fluid run off instead of vacuuming it up means that sometimes fluid will be left on the record. Moreover, this device might not get rid of deeply entrenched grime. At $80, however, the machine does a respectable job, and is affordable for most collectors.
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