Dr. AIX's POSTSVinyl

The Need to Clean

Music has been distributed for many decades on spinning flat discs. There have been 78 rpm lacquer discs, 33 1/3 rpm LP vinyl discs, 45 rpm vinyl singles and albums in the analog domain AND compact discs, miniDiscs, SACDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs once digital encoding arrived. And in spite of the rapid drift away from spinning discs of any kind towards the distribution of music through the Internet, from hard drives (SSD and HD) and USB memory sticks, optical discs and vinyl LPs are not going away any time soon.

So it would seem advantageous to optimize the playback of spinning discs, right? I understand the logic of carefully cleaning and maintaining vinyl LPs. After all the sound that is extracted from a “mircogroove” record using a stylus that is begin dragged along the walls of the groove can be interrupted by a piece of dust or some oil from your fingers (not to mention the scratches and other deformations that LPs can have). So collectors of analog discs are constantly required to clean their discs prior to playing them. I remember having a spray bottle of some special liquid and a fine brush to clean my records. Did they ever really get clean…no, but a few click and pops didn’t completely ruin the experience.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to clean a vinyl LP. My trusty AR-100 turntable has long since been retired. But I have encountered vendors at the trade shows that I’ve attended with the latest vinyl LP cleaning machines.

A couple of years ago at the CAF, my sales table was set up right across from a vinyl LP seller. Whenever he wasn’t talking to a customer (which seemed like most of the time), he would fire up his disc washer system. Every time he turned on the toggle switch, it sounded like a commercial airliner was about to land. The whine of the vacuum motor was a constant accompaniment to everything going on in the room. There was no chance that visitors to my table could hear the tracks I was trying to demo using only headphones. This went on for three days in spite of requests to be little more considerate of others.


Figure 1 – Ultrasonic disc cleaner

The following year at the CAF things were a little better. There was a very nice gentleman using an ultrasonic disc cleaner. You may have seen these machines in use at your local jewelry store or optometrist. They use them to scrub intricate metal parts by bombarding them with highly energized molecules of water. The same technique has been adopted to clean vinyl records. Gone was the hurricane sound of the previous year but now we suffered through the high frequencies generated by the sonic cleaning machine. Initially, I thought I was the only one hearing it…but when a couple more vendors started asking what was going on, we figured it out. To his credit, the guy at this past CAF was kind enough to leave his machine off most of the time.

There is a critical need to keep analog disc clean in order to enjoy the “joys” of vinyl LP playback. Tomorrow I’ll follow up with a discussion of digital discs and the various processes that some claim will improve your listening enjoyment.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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