The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part CIII: Keeping it Clean
Interview with Jim Pendleton of Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions
I'm notoriously fickle about record cleaning fluids. I never purchase the same brand of cleaning fluid twice; I want to eventually try everything that's available.
Up until a few months ago, I used an elaborate and expensive four-step cleaning system that delivered the best cleaning results I've ever heard. Unfortunately, it took several minutes to clean a single record, and by the time I'd cleaned ten LP's, my old record cleaning machine would overheat and require an hour or two of cooling before I could proceed. That's a frustrating reality when you have twenty or thirty filthy records that you just found at Goodwill, or when you have to prepare for a high-end audio show and you're bringing boxes and boxes of LP's.
When I started using the SOTA LP RCM record cleaning machine last year, I gave their one-step cleaning solution a shot since a bottle of it was included. I thought it was unusually effective for a one-step cleaner. The only downside was that I used the entire bottle in just a few weeks. Although I was tempted to order another bottle, I still wanted to try something new.
In the interest of disclosure, Jim Pendleton of Osage Audio is a hi-fi dealer, one who carries two of the five brands I import and distribute in the U.S,. Ever I since I first spoke with Jim about becoming one of my dealers, I checked out his website and thought, “Hmmmm…he manufacturers and sells record cleaning machine fluids, and I'm a vinyl kind of guy. So the next time I run out of fluid, I should probably give Jim a call."
It sounds pretty naive that I hadn't heard of the Audio Intelligent products before meeting Jim. When I checked out his website, I discovered links to reviews of his products and one of the raves came from Positive Feedback, where I'm listed as an Associate Editor. So I naturally felt foolish for not having heard of Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions up to that point. I gave Jim a call as soon as I was running low on fluid. Unfortunately, this was just days before I had to exhibit at last October's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where I was planning on demonstrating an all-vinyl audio rig. I chose his Premium One-Step Formula No. 6 over his multi-step options because I had a lot of records to clean and very little time to do it. In the end, I was so impressed with both the effectiveness and the speed of No. 6 that I wrote a another rave review of Jim's products for Positive Feedback. When the No. 6 runs out, I will probably try something different, from Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions, that is. Jim and I talk often- he's one of those guys who's been in audio for a long time, and he has a wonderful ear. I decided to talk to him about his products, and why they work so well.
Vinyl Anachronist: So how did you wind up in the world of audio?
Jim Pendleton: I've been around hi-fi equipment since the early 1960's. Music, both recorded and live, was a big part of my family growing up, as it was for most families in rural Missouri at the time. Nearly everyone played an instrument or sang and I don't remember ever going anywhere and not hearing music of some kind. So I guess my background is in music rather than audio.
PSF: How did you wind up manufacturing the Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions?
JP: I retired in 2005 and was looking for something to do part time by 2006. I had been using the original Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions products and needed to reorder in September 2006, so I called the original owner only to find out he had stopped making and selling the products.
Before my brain knew what was happening, an offer to buy the company from him came out of my mouth. So in late October 2006, I bought the company and drove to Detroit and hauled home everything that was Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions in my car. We had everything up and going again the last week of December 2006.
PSF: What are some of the common questions you get from customers about cleaning fluids, and what do you tell them? What are some of the more surprising things you've learned about these customers?
JP: The most common questions that I get are with regard to which of our formulas would be best for a given customer's application. This really is the most important question given our selection of products, and one that I address even if the customer does not ask it specifically. We offer a number of product choices specifically so the product line can be utilized to fit an individual customer's needs and sensibilities.
I don't know if I've learned anything surprising about customers in general, but it is interesting to note the number of approaches to cleaning records that there are.
PSF: What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions people have about cleaning their LP's?
JP: One important one is the tendency for some to scrub the records vigorously to clean them. In some instances this can actually push debris more firmly into the record groove, making the record more difficult to clean.
Another is the use of high concentrations of alcohol for cleaning records. I remember this being recommended fifty years ago, so it's an old idea. Alcohol is not a good solvent for cleaning records, and it can actually harden some protein contaminants that are commonly found on used records.
PSF: One of the latest developments in record cleaning fluids is the use of live enzymes to break up the debris in the grooves. What advantages will audiophiles experience when using these types of cleaners over the more traditional fluids and detergents?
JP: We use cleaning enzymes in our formulas. We use various combinations of these components to formulate the various products in our line. The advantage to this type of cleaning system is that it is designed to dissolve contaminants and not harm any of the record vinyl biology.
PSF: I use the Audio Intelligent No.6 cleaner, which I reviewed for Positive Feedback Online, as a one-step cleaner since I found it to be thoroughly effective and quite easy to use. Without getting too deep into the chemistry behind the solution, why is this fluid so easy to apply to LP's, and why does it vacuum up so effectively? What advantages are there when you switch to one of the multi-step formulas, other than just "cleaner records"?
JP: Using our No. 6 versus any of our other cleaning systems may or may not result in more clean or less clean records. It really depends upon the condition of any given record. In many cases, our 3-step system will do a more thorough job on really dirty records, but there really can be some variance there.
I'm glad to hear that our products may spread and vacuum off better than some others, but we don't use any additives to the formulas to achieve that.
PSF: The use of ultrasonic cleaning machines has become the rage over the last couple of years. What do you think about the effectiveness of this type of record cleaning?
JP: The ultrasonic cleaning machines are convenient and don't require as much attention from the person cleaning records. I think each individual has to judge for themselves what method suits them best and what level of results that they are satisfied with.
PSF: If you could come up with just one rule about record cleaning that every vinyl collector should follow, what would it be?
JP: Don't obsess over it.
PSF: Can you elaborate on that? What have you seen out there in terms of record cleaning regimens that are unnecessary, or even downright goofy?
JP: I run into people frequently who are pretty much throwing everything they have at cleaning records. They have more cleaning steps than I can keep track of, change those steps all the time, and spend lots of time trying to clean the record. And this usually is done with no real knowledge about what they are doing or what may be the best solution. I never spend more than ten minutes on a really dirty used record, and rarely spend that much.
I hate to see people spending time cleaning records when maybe it would be better to spend the time listening to them.
PSF: You're also an audio dealer. Do you find yourself demonstrating the cleaning fluids for customers in the same manner as demonstrating high-end audio equipment (i.e. A/B tests, etc.)?
JP: Beyond showing customers who are first time record cleaning machine owners how to use their machines, and a few occasions where I've cleaned records for customers who had one that was particularly difficult for them to clean, I don't think I've ever demonstrated the AIVS products.
PSF: Do you recommend a different type of cleaning regimen for thoroughly dirty and old records, such as the ones you find at a thrift store, as opposed to regular cleanings on new or pristine LP's? How do the different Audio Intelligent products address these different types of cleaning?
JP: Other than a visual inspection of the record, people are generally limited in how they can determine how dirty a record is. We offer a wide range of products that can be combined in various ways to create a cleaning system. Because of this we have pretty varied choices among customers who may be cleaning records in the same condition. Again, we think that having the customer be able to choose what feels best to them is the best approach.
In general terms, our 3-step system or our Premium Record Cleaner Formula No. 15 and Ultra-Pure Water combination are going to be more effective than our No. 6 product on really dirty records. But we do have customers who use the No. 6 for two cleaning steps rather than using one of the multi-step choices because that's what they are comfortable with.
PSF: What's your favorite record cleaning machine of all time in terms of effectiveness, convenience and design? Why?
JP: We tested most of the machines that were on the market back in 2007, and we've also tested some newer machines since then. These tests were conducted in conjunction with tests of our products. The tests were conducted to determine cleaning effectiveness and were performed under the auspices of certified analytical laboratories.
What I consider the most effective, best built, and most reliable machine on the market is the Hannl. It's a shame that they can't seem to get it together in the U.S. The current Clearaudio machines are nearly as good as the Hannl, and they are what I would suggest to anyone who wanted to make a once-for-a-lifetime record cleaning machine purchase.
PSF: What makes the Hannl stand apart from the rest of the RCM crowd? Is it just the final measurable results?
JP: We've tried just about every machine out there. The Hannl and Clearaudio machines do the best job of vacuuming the record dry, which is 90% of the job of a vacuum record cleaning machine. They both have high quality parts in them and the functionality of the Hannl especially is useful and well thought out.
PSF: Most serious LP collectors are aware that one of the secrets to cleaning records is to use the purest water available as a final rinse. At Audio Intelligent, you actually laboratory-grade water that you create in house. How do you do it? What type of filtering is used?
JP: We started out using a low production water purification system in the beginning, but our needs outgrew that system in early 2009. At that point we decided to buy a professional level, high production system that would allow for custom specification of different purity levels of product. This meant that we would have excess production, so we set up a separate company to do the water processing and that company sells purified water to other companies in various industries.
PSF: Why should you clean a brand new sealed LP before it's even played for the first time?
JP: Record pressing plants are factories, not clean rooms. There will always be some quantity of dirt on a new record.
PSF: What draws you to the sound of vinyl? What makes it so special?
JP: My thought process about this is probably different that the audiophile norm. I think what makes vinyl special is the music that is on it. What I mean by that is that there is a lot of music that I like that was released on records and will probably never be released again in any other format. If you want to listen to that music, you will have to have the record, or copy the record, to do that.
But the same is true with CD's. There is a lot of music from the past 30 years that has only been available on CD. If you want to listen to that music you need access to the CD's. In the future, there will no doubt be a large catalog of music that is only available in some other digital form. Downloads, SD cards, USB drives? Who knows?
So I don't make choices based on format. I make choices based on the music that I want to listen to.
PSF: Finally, what's your reference vinyl rig? What do you use at home?
JP: The demo systems and home system kind of run together here. I've listened to three different analog front end setups here today. I like all of them for what they are. So rather than determine what should be a reference, I spend that energy listening to music and having a good time.
You can find out more on the Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions line by checking out Jim's website at http://www.audiointelligent.com/products.htm.
You can also read my Positive Feedback review of the No. 6 cleaning fluid at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue76/audio_intelligent.htm.
Contact the Vinyl Anachronist at firstname.lastname@example.org and see his Blog site
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