The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part CLIII: A Tale of Three Record Brushes
It's been a long time since I've talked about record brushes, or even record cleaning in general for that matter. My own regimen for keeping my LP's clean and pristine and quiet hasn't changed that much over the years even though I now have access to all types of modern tech, such as those spiffy yet still expensive ultrasonic cleaners. For the record, I still use a wet cleaning machine, the Sota RCM, along with a variety of cleaning fluids from Audio Intelligent Solutions.
But I have made changes to my collection of record brushes. I have three of them now, all slightly different in purpose, all used on a regular basis. To be honest, there have been plenty of innovations in record brushes recently. If you're using the same Discwasher D3 you used in the '70's, you probably aren't cleaning your LPs very well. In addition, you'll need different brushes for wet and dry cleaning, something you may not have considered yet.
Osage Audio Listener Select Record Brush ($39.99)
Now that I mentioned it, you might be wondering about the differences between a wet brush and a dry brush. I've been using dry brushes since I was a teenager and it's a straightforward idea. You place the dirty LP on your turntable, spin the platter and apply the brush to the grooves, working your way from the inner grooves out to the edge. It works well, mostly as a quick fix before playing, but it will never take the place of a good wet record cleaning or, of course, an ultrasonic cleaning machine.
By the time I was in college, I had replaced my Discwasher brush with the first of many record cleaning machines- a basic Nitty Gritty. That meant I started using record cleaning fluids, and that's where the "wet" record brush comes into play. A wet brush needs to be slightly different than a dry brush. Use a dry brush with a record cleaning machine, and you'll be constantly drying it out between uses. If it doesn't dry out properly between uses (and it probably won't), you're increasing the chance that mold and bacteria will build up between the bristles. Your dry brush will start cross-contaminating all the LP's you clean.
A wet brush, however, should have bristles that are very easy to clean between uses. Imagine taking your old Discwasher brush and rinsing it under your kitchen faucet. Sounds like it would make a mess, right? But a properly designed wet brush, such as the Osage Audio wet brush, has bristles that are both easy to rinse off and made from a material that is anti-microbial--in this case, nylon.
Can you just use a wet brush as your dry brush as well? I was admonished by Osage Audio not to do that. The bristles on the Osage Audio brush are thicker and stiffer than those on most dry brushes, and the use of a record cleaning fluid helps to soften the interface between the bristles in the groove. At the same time, you won't have to worry about "scrubbing" the grooves into oblivion, as you might with a softer brush. The Osage Audio Listener Select record brush, applied with moderate force, is the best wet brush I've used. I consider it essential to use with any RCM.
AudioQuest Anti-Static Record Brush ($29.95)
You're probably familiar with all the dry record brushes out there. There are lots of decent choices, especially since a sizable percentage of these brushes seem to be manufactured in the same factory and stamped with a YOUR COMPANY HERE logo as if they're tchotchkes from a real estate agent. A basic dry brush still does its job, but in some cases, the inferior brushes merely push the dirt in the grooves into a nice radial line.
The AudioQuest Anti-Static record brush is slightly more innovative. First of all, the bristles are made from highly conductive carbon fibers--hence its anti-static qualities. The AQ brush also boasts more than a million of these fibers in each brush, so they are small enough to dislodge gunk from the grooves that other bristles will just glide over.
The AudioQuest Anti-Static brush is perfect for a quick touch-up before a play, and it seldom leaves that Studio 54-esque line behind on the LP surface. It's quick, easy, and mine has lasted a very long time.
Levin Design Record Brush (prices vary)
So what does the gorgeous Levin record brush do that others don't? Well, those big soft bristles glide so easily across the record surface. So opulent. So smooth. So refined.
Okay, I admit it--the Levin Design record brush is total bling. I first saw them at the Munich hi-fi show a couple of years ago, I thought they were crazy-gorgeous. I kept telling myself I should have bought one--if anyone deserves one, it's the guy who's been telling y'all to clean your records for more than 25 years. When I attended the Munich show the next year, I looked for them. They were there, but they had already sold out. Fortunately, my friend Doug White of The Voice That Is, a high-end audio dealer in the Philadelphia area, is a dealer for Levin Designs and he sold me one. I dig it so much that I include it in every photo of a turntable I've taken since its arrival. I want people to look at it and say 'wow, that is a very special brush for a very busy and very important lover of all things vinyl.' Which it is.
The Levin Design brush is available in all sorts of colors and finishes. The soft, soft bristles, which remind me of badger hair on a high-quality shaving brush, are available in black, white, or black and white. The handle is available in plastic (called the "basic version"), pearwood, walnut, tuja, "Subfossil" bog oak and Karelian curly birch, which is what I have. The top is brushed aluminum, available as a strip or a handle that partially wraps around the wood. You can buy an optional case for your Levin brush, and you might want to bundle it with the Levin Design stylus brush.
If you're thinking about style over substance here, you'll be surprised to find this is a very effective dry record brush. The bristles are made from fine Chinese goat hair, and they have natural anti-static properties. There's also a version of the Levin Design brush made from horsehair--which is intended for wet cleaning due to the stiffer bristles.
While the Levin Design record brush is extravagant, it's not such a crazy idea in the context of high-end audio, where every product category seems to have fancy versions that cost as much as an automobile or a house. In this case, prices in Europe range from 99 to 149 euros for each brush--more in the US due to the cost of importing and currency exchange rates. Think of it as the perfect stocking stuffer for that truly special vinyl lover in your life.
These are the three brushes I've chosen for my personal use. I have no doubt that there are many other worthwhile brushes out there--generally when I write a column or review like this, I get several emails from other manufacturers asking me to try theirs. But now, when vinyl is still attracting new followers all the time, it's time to examine your record brush sitch and determine whether you're doing all you can to keep those LP's clean and playable.
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