Component Reviews

Vinyl Accessories and Useful Tools for LP Playback – Part II

Concentrating on a bunch of analog accessories and record care products.

Published on September 22, 2009

Vinyl Accessories and Useful Tools for LP Playback – Part II

The first part of our vinyl survey covered tools needed to set up a turntable and begin playing LPs.  If you missed it, Go Here. Part II covers analog accessory and care products (minus clamps, mats, furniture and tweaks).


45 rpm Adapters.
  So you just bought a new turntable and go to put on a great 45 rpm 7” record you have been dying to hear only to realize you don’t have an adapter so that the large hole will fit on the smaller spindle.  Some turntables come with a plastic (or nicer metal) adapter, while others (Rega for instance) do not.  The two main options are: put a ring onto every record that has a larger shaped hole or use an adapter disc/puck that fits on top of the platter and lets the record fit around it.

                            

[above image courtesy www.glenmullaly.com]

The AVID Level 45 is…a level and a 45 adapter that weighs exactly 180 grams.  It sells for $100.  Clearaudio makes a heavy duty stainless steel model for $45.  Rega makes a model that sells for $25.  Technics has a replacement 45 adapter that is silver finish but most likely made out of aluminum, so it won’t add much weight to the platter.  $15.  A spin on the flat cylinder is a cone shaped item that comes in metal or plastic.  $6 for metal, $1.50 for plastic.  If you go the insert route, you buy a package and put them in all your records, so no need to put on and take off a 45 adapter.  Typically about $ .25 per adapter.

                


Strobe Discs and Strobe Lights.
  In the old days lots of turntables offered pitch control.  In order to properly set the pitch there were markings on the platter and a strobe light with a plastic viewer that you could look through to adjust the speed until the lines moved as little as possible was included.  These days if you want to check speed then you need a strobe disc (a record-shaped mat made out of paper or something else) that has lines spaced apart corresponding to various speeds.  You’ll also need a separate strobe light to shine on the mat to visually see the speed errors, and, if possible, correct them.1) Online there are free strobe discs that can be printed out and cut to shape.  By using a conventional lamp plugged into the wall you can adjust speed fairly accurately.  However, if the frequency from the wall is not exactly correct then there is no way to tell how off your pitch/speed will be.

2) A SOTA strobe disc is available for only $5 for those who don’t want to try and properly size, print and cut their own.

3) Many other companies make the mats for $30-60 but I can’t see spending that much and when the cheaper options are just as good.  Make sure the discs offer the speeds that are important.  45 and 33 1/3 are standard, but if you want 78, 16, or speeds slightly off of 78 you’ll need to check to make sure the disc has them.  Also, make sure that the disc has 60 Hz or 50 Hz depending on your electrical requirements.

4) To really get the most accurate reading you’ll need a separate strobe light that runs off of batteries, so it won’t vary if the frequency from the wall is slightly off or varies.  Digistrobo is $160, but works without the need of a strobe disc.  It relies on reflective tape.  I haven’t used this method, but it might be a good option.

5) Clearaudio makes a model that works specifically with their strobe disc.  $180.

6) My favorite is the KAB Speedstrobe Digital Readout.  $100.  It comes with a hand-held strobe light and an easy to use disc.  Accuracy can be measured to .03%.  Compatible speeds are: 33, 45, 70, 72, 73, 75, 76, 78, 80, 81, 83, 85, 87, 90.  You can compensate for needle drag by laying a 45 record on and playing it while making the reading.  Instead of using bars, there are actual numbers on the platter (corresponding to speed) making getting good readings a piece of cake!

Dust Covers.  With the many odd-shaped and oversized tables available these days a lid is not always an inclusion.  If the manufacturer doesn’t offer a model specific option, there is always Gingko Audio who makes covers for all sorts of audio components.  Another option is a company called TAP Plastics.  They can fabricate whatever sort of plastic lid you might need.

Static Gun.  Static guns used to be fairly common items at audio stores, but these days you have to look pretty hard to find one.  I contacted Milty to get a sample, but they didn’t even reply to my email.  Luckily, I mentioned my situation while talking to Leland, a representative from Music Hall Audio, (at the time I was reviewing the Whest phono preamp) and he had one sent to me.  Apparently, Music Hall dealers are able to get these as accessories.  The newest model is the Milty Zerostat 3.  $100.  If a record is electrostatically charged it will attract dust.  The Zerostat releases positive ions with a squeeze and puts out negative ions with a release of the trigger.  This device has other uses in darkrooms where keeping dust away is critical.  The gun can last for about 10,000 cycles.  There is a test piece to verify the gun is functional (you can see a flickering light/spark).  Don’t push it against your skin though because it will shock you! [I prefer MapleShade's Ionoclast Ion Generator, which is more powerful and only $38.50. They also have a number of other useful vinyl accessories...Ed.]


Speed Control Boxes. 
Some turntables have the option of an outboard speed controller to improve accuracy, allow quick switching between speeds without having to change a belt, and possibly improved sound due to an improved power supply, etc.  Almost all of these boxes are turntable specific, so you need to check with the manufacturer to see if it is offered for your particular turntable.  Some of the ones available are from Rega, Pro-Ject, and VPI.  $160-1200.  Clearaudio makes the Syncro at $1500.  This device works with any turntable that utilizes a synchronous motor.

  

Stylus Cleaners.  There are few different types of styli cleaners available.  The first options are liquid in form and usually come with a small applicator brush.  Companies like Mobile Fidelity, LAST, Lyra, Clearaudio, Disc Doctor, Groovy, Stanton, etc. all make this type of product and they range from $10 to upwards of $200.  All the standalone brush options (like the Discwasher SC-2) are no longer available.  One of the newest choices is a gel or polymer based solution.  You dip the needle in the jelly-like substance and quickly pull it out.  Zerodust makes one for $70 while the Extreme Phono (for $30) is one I was sent for review.  After using it I can’t imagine going back to any other type of stylus cleaner.

Record Cleaners.  Record cleaners come in all shapes and sizes.  You can opt for basic manual solutions or much higher-priced vacuum machines.  There are many different liquid formulations available as well.  Covering all the options would be an idea for an entirely separate article, so we’ll stick to the basics.

 

1) Record Cleaning Machines are not only for enthusiasts, but anyone who has a large collection, acquires lots of used records or just wants an easy way to thoroughly clean an LP.  The big advantage is the ability to put a cleaning fluid over the entire playing surface of an LP and then vacuum it off (supposedly taking all the grungy particles along with it).  At the lower end there are some good options from VPI starting at $550.  They also improved models that go up to $2000 and do both sides at once.  SOTA turntables has a new record cleaning machine. Clearaudio has some nice offerings starting at around $1000 up to $3500.  Hannl makes machines overseas starting around $2300 and also makes them for Acoustic Sounds under the Acoustech name up to around $4200. These machines look particularly well-engineering and attractive.  Keith Monk machines are considered by some to be the holy grail of recording cleaning machines.  I only see them listed on UK sites for the most part and the one site I found (in the U.S.) listed the unit at $5000 with a 4 week wait.  Loricraft is a good alternative option and is available from Smart Devices.  The machines start at $2500 and go up to $5000, but are similar to the Monk designs.  If you are adventurous there are several DIY designs online, but I can’t vouch for any them. [There is also the $350 manual Nitty Gritty record cleaner, along with their many other powered models...Ed.]

2) A good investment for anyone is an anti static graphite brush—many companies put their name on these and vary in price.  Sleeve City sells one for $9.  Even the older Discwasher felt brushes work well for dry cleaning.  I’d stay away from the fluid with these.  The brushes can remove dust like a charm.  For more rigorous cleanings a machine or wet solutions should be investigated.

3) There are far too many different fluid options for record cleaning for any sort of recommendation.  Some are multi-part solutions that require application of one, then the other and then a cleaning rinse.  Others are designed for vacuum machines and most will work with manual application and then removal via a specialized brush.  If what you are using seems to work, then keep using it!  A fellow audiophile has used the Disc Doctor Solution with excellent results, but listening to him describe the process made me wish I had a machine.  He even admitted that maybe only 20% of his collection had been “cleaned.”

Vinyl Flattener.  Furutech makes a device called the DF-2 that can flatten most warped records and sells for $2065.  Obviously having a record that is flat is desirable, but many of the home-brewed methods designed to eliminate warped discs (including cooking them in an oven at low temperatures) always seemed risky, time-consuming and troublesome.  No personal experience with this one, but looks like a well-designed piece.  Just make sure to follow the restrictions regarding certain types of records it won’t work on. [It requires 20 minutes or more per LP to flatten...Ed.]

Sleeves.   I recommend the Sleeve City (www.sleevetown.com) Ultimate Record Sleeve Outer 2.5.  For inner sleeves I recommend the Sleeve City Diskeeper Ultimate Audiophile Inner Sleeve.
That’s it for the time being.  Look for some more turntable and phono preamp reviews soon!

- Brian Bloom      big_brian_b@hotmail.com




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