Someone sits in this room all day, running the records through our proprietary multi-step cleaning process. Every Hot Stamper pressing has been vacuum cleaned on multiple machines using the Walker Enzyme system.
Disc Doctor and Walker Audio Prelude are the only fluids we recommend for serious SOUND ENHANCEMENT and cleaning of your LPs. You have never heard what’s really in the grooves of your records until you’ve cleaned them using one of these systems. There is nothing in our experience that works as well.
We’ve tried many fluids over the years and a not insignificant portion of them actually made our records sound worse (most often by rolling off the high end). It’s not a good idea to assume the record cleaning fluid you use is doing its job properly. Many do not, including some that are very popular.
We’ve also tried a number of “single step” record cleaning fluids and found that none were satisfactory. Disc Doctor is two steps, Walker is three (or four depending on whether you choose to use their new final rinse. At this time we do not). If you can’t see yourself using a three step cleaning process — no matter how much better it makes your records sound — then stick with Disc Doctor. For cheap records alcohol and water are fine.
Cleaning Hot Stampers
We here at Better Records believe it’s virtually impossible to make meaningful comparisons among used or new (!) records that have not been properly cleaned. We have this fact thrown in our faces on a near daily basis, as so-so record after so-so record reveals layer upon layer of magic in its grooves after a good cleaning.
In 2007 we purchased an Odyssey RCM MKV Cleaning Machine. At about $8000 it’s an excellent machine if money is not at issue. We still use our VPI machine in the early stages of our cleaning process.
Every record that we play in our Hot Stamper shootouts is first scrubbed on the 16.5 with Walker Enzyme fluid and then vacuumed with the Odyssey. Our cleaning regimen involves multiple stages and processes, some of which we have yet tor reveal.
We have not experimented with Ultrasonic cleaning, although we have heard good things about it from our audiophile friends and customers. It is simply not practical at this time to clean records the way we do — three steps of Walker fluids — and then add the additional steps required to bathe them in ultrasonic fluid and dry them. Our near-full-time record cleaning person can hardly keep up with the demands we make on her these days, what with shootouts going on five days a week. Making the cleaning process more time consuming is just not in the cards for the time being.
Walker Step Two
We think using the Step Two fluid in the final stage before rinsing has a clearly audible benefit regardless of how the record has been cleaned up to that point. We no longer carry record cleaning machines and fluid, so your best bet is to contact someone who does and give it a try. No Hot Stamper record leaves here without having been cleaned with Step Two.
We’ve had very good results with reverse osmosis water. It was unmistakably audibly superior to everything else we tried. We’re not saying it’s the best rinse water on the planet; we’re simply saying it’s the best we’ve heard. For a couple hundred bucks it’s a good investment if you need to clean a collection of much size.
Play Them Through
We also have a series of turntables set up in the cleaning room that play through every record we’ve cleaned before it goes into the Hot Stamper shootout rotation. We recommend that you play your records at least once and as many as three times through before critically listening to them. Playing previously cleaned records plows loosened grunge out of the grooves and helps the cartridge “seat” itself in the dead center of the groove at the same time. Two or three plays usually does the trick, resulting in a clearly audible improvement of surfaces and sonics.
We don’t use them. For whatever reason static is never a problem on our turntable.
Cleaning Your Collection
We gave the following advice to a customer who had just bought a record cleaning machine and was going to go on a tear cleaning his whole record collection — many of which were still sealed — to find the Hot Stampers lurking within. We explained that this was not such a good idea:
Since the average record sounds pretty average, and sealed records are unknowns in terms of pressing, mastering, etc., I would say it’s always a good idea to do a quick needle drop on a record before taking the time to clean it. The average record isn’t really worth cleaning, because it doesn’t really sound very good, so why waste the time?
Once you figure out what’s good and what’s not, you can start to target the better sounding records. This process typically takes about twenty years, but there’s no time like the present! If you want to skip all that time and effort, we are happy to get you the good stuff and save you from the bad. Such is the service we offer.
And one more thing: until you get your system cooking and really set up right, make a point not to buy any audiophile pressing of any kind. Once your stereo is working properly those pressings will more often than not show themselves to be lackluster if not downright awful. You won’t want to have too much time or money invested in that trash once you’ve learned just how bad it really is.
I’ve had many many customers over the years complain that they wasted so much money on those kinds of records and now don’t know what to do with them — a cautionary tale that every audiophile should be cognizant of, if they haven’t already lived through it themselves.
The better your system, the worse they sound; this is the key to understanding how you are doing in the hobby. When those audiophile pressings sound boring, wrong or both, and your plain old records start to give you a thrill like nothing you’ve ever experienced outside of live music, you are on the right road.