Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ultrasonic cleaning on the cheap

I’ve lusted after an ultrasonic cleaner (USC) for the last few years but could never bring myself to part with the necessary money for the Audio Desk or KLAudio machines. I mean, $4k is no small sum, even if I still buy and play tons of vinyl. I tried to rationalize it by determining the unit cost for each record, and even added in the time saving to tell myself that it would be worth it but no, that price was just too much for me. I nearly pulled the trigger on a reconditioned model from KLAudio, and even bookmarked their site just in case one appeared again but nothing could quite get me to write the check.

Like many of you, I’ve looked into the DIY options. There’s a ton of info on the web, some of it very useful but I was always left a bit concerned. Which of those E-bay USCs would work? Then there’s the LP rotating issue. How do you get the records into the water and keep them spinning there safely? Those selling the cleaners never seemed to mention LPs. Those selling record holders/spinners never seemed to mention which USC device would it would fit, other than gross measurements. I signed up online to get one of the most highly recommended cleaners, built to allow timing and temperature control, and even asked the guy making them if he knew about the rotating holders and if one I had my eye on would fit. He answered that it would, but he never said so on his listings and just as I was about to buy one, they always went out of stock.

Well, problem solved now,  so let me share some practical advice. I bought a DIY set up put together by a local audiophile who demonstrated proof of concept and wanted to move on to other devices. You can put this exact rig together yourself for about $700, maybe less if you are lucky, buy used,  or if you are willing to use cheaper machines. But compared to the price of other set ups, this one seems a good deal. Here’s the parts (each one linked to a relevant eBay listing, but check Amazon on the Kendal):

The Vinyl Stack Sonic Spin Kit:

which fits perfectly with a 9L Kendal ultrasonic cleaner 

There are cheaper but this one I can assure you works well.

To clean the water (or keep it minimally clean while cleaning crud from your records) there’s a TopFin aquarium filter that sits on the side of the cleaner. These are about $15 from Pet Smart.

With these three in combo, a little photo-flo, drop of organic dishwasher detergent and a couple of gallons of distilled water from the supermarket, I’ve given this rig a work out on 20 Lps so far. The results are impressive. The records look cleaner than ever, and coupled with a distilled water rinse on my Loricraft afterwards, the sonic results are impressive. More as I go, there’s no end of discussion online about better combos of cleaning fluid and drying but the real advantage here is that I got 20 lps cleaned in about two hours total time, some of that learning the set up, developing a decent workflow, and  running 9 mins ultrasonic cycles (longer than most people recommend but I’m experimenting).

I think I can easily get 10 records cleaned, dried and sleeved in under an hour if I employed air drying, dabbing dry with microfiber cloth,  or if I would cut back on the final run through distilled water on the Loricraft (a process that adds almost 3 min per record on its own given the suction rate of the Lori’s point nozzle system).  But for now, this set up is the best I’ve achieved in home cleaning, better than the Loricraft/Audio Solutions combo that I was using, and it’s comparatively quick. No, you don’t get Audio Desk or KLAudio auto-dry/ready-to-play convenience but you can make a real dent in your cleaning backlog with this set up. If you are on the fence, give this a try.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Waterboys still got it

Went to see Mike Scott and the ‘Boys launch their new US tour this week. It’s been 25 years since I last saw them, far away on another continent and it was one of my most memorable gigs. Sort of worried that the memory would be tainted by the time but I need not have worried. The venue was perfect, the wonderful Paramount Theater on Congress where all seats are excellent, sonics are good and the bar stays open throughout. The opening act, the Bluebonnets, were fine, quite fun once they found their groove and did not overstay their welcome. But the Waterboys were the business. A nice mix of old and new members, and that was true of the music too. Mike Scott is to my mind one of the great songwriters in rock and roll, and continues to write memorable, haunting songs while retaining his rock edginess. He was still cool, the riffs kept coming, and yes, he played almost everything I wanted to hear, including a rocking version of Glastonbury Song.

Highlight -- Mike Scott going over the piano then saying, by way of introduction, ‘let’s see if we can nail this one to the wall’ and hitting those familiar chords to Whole of the Moon. Cue crowd moving to the front, dancing in the aisles, singing along, sharing the pure joy of live music played well in a great space. New album now out, Modern Blues, I just ordered the vinyl version. Welcome back to a great band, it’s like they were never really away.

And this just in -- live on Letterman, or as live as TV allows....the real thing is even better:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Collecting without listening? The man with 75,000 CDs

Slightly annoying style (and the video is very dark so turn up your brightness setting) but this episode of the BBC series on ‘collectoholics’ offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of one collector who is amassing a sizable but un-listened to trove of contemporary CD releases. He’s bought apartments to house the collection but at least they’ve increased in value. And you thought you had an obsession! Still, the teddy bears are worse, right? Enjoy.