Neil Antin’s Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records-2nd Edition
Neil Antin’s Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records received considerable attention on the web when it was first published in May, 2020. Now, less than a year after its first publication, Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records has undergone a substantial revision. This, the Second Edition, is not merely a “fluff and buff” update but a serious, extensive reexamination of the premises with which Mr. Antin started: that record cleaning is not a mysterious dark art, that science (in his case adapted from cleaning methodologies used on critical life support systems in the Navy and applying a diverse array of third party studies that address cleaning processes, chemistry and materials science) has much to tell us about the processes and methods for achieving a “clean” record. In the process, the author defines “cleanliness” in a context that is readily accessible to the average home user and is both measurable and repeatable.
Mr. Antin benefitted by many of the questions raised by users on various audio fora about how to adapt his basic cleaning methodology to ultrasonic cleaning and to the use of chemistries that were not readily available outside of the United States. This Second Edition of the paper, which has now become a handbook rather than a monograph, follows a logical, step by step approach to record cleaning, much like the original version. However, a lot of new information and analysis has been added.
Though technical in parts, much of Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records is readily understood by laypersons. As Neil Antin is wont to say, “there are many off-ramps here”—that is, you do not have to adopt the entire methodology or set of processes he describes to benefit from his work. Even for those who have a pretty good record cleaning regime in place and are satisfied with the results they obtain can learn more of the “why” of things about how cleaning works on a molecular level, how to mitigate static, and get insight into the process of cleaning a vinyl record that is, to my knowledge, not assembled in a comprehensive way in any paper of which I’m aware.
To be sure, some of the explorations are deep and combine disciplines- for example, taking into account particulate residue and record velocity and amplitude of signal as a factor in the audibility of contaminants. We are dealing not only with very small grooves, but side wall ridges where contaminants may be trapped. What we hear (or don’t hear) is often lost in these very narrow, tiny crevasses. Cleaning at a level of precision to address the small size of the areas to be cleaned, and the ridges along the groove walls demands more than casual application of a “one size fits all” cleaning fluid and a pass through a record cleaning machine.
Among the contaminants one must contend with is the residue of the cleaning agents themselves. Thus, even if one is not a chemist or materials scientist (I am neither), reading these sections, dense as they seem, yields some perfectly reasonable conclusions that are within the grasp of the lay person with a little study and thought.
Why go through all this? There is simply no single source for this information as applied to record cleaning collected in one place and organized in a logical, step by step fashion with an explanation of what each step involves. Mr. Antin does just that and takes account of the factors or variables to be considered at each step—recognizing that something that works well in one stage may have negative effects at a later stage of the process. The goal here is to examine effective and practical approaches to record cleaning within the reach of an ordinary user of vinyl records who wishes to obtain positive results from their cleaning efforts. Much of this doesn’t involve large expenditures of money, but it does take time to understand the processes.
Mr. Antin’s multi-disciplinary approach gives us considerable insight into the factors that come into play in cleaning and determining the effectiveness of cleaning, a record. This learning can be applied to many different record cleaning approaches. You will know the “why” of it at each stage, enabling you to make some judgements about what steps in your own regime to improve or change.
Also invaluable is the study of various chemistry, compatibility, including material compatibility of the plastics from which records are made.
Much of the learning in this area as applied to records seemed to stop when vinyl died as a mainstream medium; most of the papers in the AES archive date to the ‘70s and earlier. Although a lot of information is available on the web, some of it good, some of it more ritual than science-based, and some of it borderline crazy, there is a dearth of information about the science of cleaning processes as applied to records. There is little industry funded study in this area at this point since the medium is a niche, despite the millions of records in circulation and the renewed popularity of the LP as a playback medium.
Most companies that offer products in this area treat their cleaning fluids as proprietary; most of the machinery, whether vacuum type record cleaning machines, or ultrasonic cleaners, give the user operating instructions but little more.
Reviewers are similarly limited—they will test a machine, compare results, confer with the manufacturer or supplier, and on occasion, try different fluids or steps. Generally, I think the reviewers do a good job in this respect, but they too are constrained- they are typically reviewing finished products intended to be used by consumers without a lot of modification or fiddling. The reviewers are doing the job asked of them—to review a product as it would arrive and be used in the hands of the consumer.
As readers are well aware, I’ve been an advocate of DIY ultrasonic not just because of cost effectiveness, but because one has more flexibility to design the feature set, including allowance for a rinse step. I have owned both the Audio Desk and the KL machines and both are good; the Degritter, the “new kid on the block” has received a very positive reception from users as well as the audio commentariat.
The made for records LP cleaners aren’t necessarily cheap and have limitations due to their inherent design goals: namely, to make record cleaning as easy and labor free as possible. Mr. Antin has thus expanded his paper to include a more in-depth analysis of the behavior of ultrasonic cleaning and appropriate chemistry to optimize results, given real world needs of the audiophile who has neither the time nor the expertise to analyze and compare the results of various cleaning approaches.
I could oversimplify this by saying that careful application and removal of appropriate chemistry in a clean environment, with a rinse step or two, will yield better results that are audibly noticeable. But that would blur all the fine details of Mr. Antin’s analysis and deny the reader the opportunity to learn what is really happening at each step of the way. By approaching this subject in the painstaking way he has, Mr. Antin has given us far greater insight into each step of the process. That gives the reader far more opportunity to experiment and implement cleaning methods that are best suited to a particular user’s needs, rather than providing a “one size fits all” method. As Neil Antin says, there is no “magic bullet” here—and it is not the devil that is in the details, but enlightenment.
I’m proud to publish this Second Edition of Neil Antin’s Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records. Even if you had read every word of the original edition, I think you’ll find this comprehensive revision to be well worth your time.
Though this is not an easy read or a quick one, the value of this comprehensive study should prove to be an enduring and invaluable contribution to the literature of record cleaning. I believe it should serve as a reference for those who are attempting to improve their cleaning processes with a set of meaningful guidelines to aid them and give real direction to their efforts. My thanks to Neil Antin for his tireless work on the subject. And a thanks (which I know Neil joins in) to those readers who have asked questions, experimented with some of Neil’s suggestions on the various audio fora and shared the results of their efforts.
feature image: Jong Marshes