The First Cut is the Cleanest

Ah, vinyl. It’s a short word, and being short, it’s short for polyvinyl chloride. Which takes it from quaint-nerdy to chemistry-major-nerdy. It can’t help being nerdy. It’s only the third most popular plastic in our plastic world, but it’s the one to smash music into, and thus many of us love it, we lovers of recorded sound.

And wonder of wonders, it has charged back into legitimacy, even if its cachet these days is based more on hipster anointment than actual listening pleasure. It’s okay. We’ll take it. It is awakening/re-awakening, in that certain small percentage of the population, an awareness that music listening can be more than hearing music playing, which is what most people do.

And when that bug bites, it’s often incurable. The afflicted crave more. Age old story. What pursuit can’t be easily boiled down to “more and better”? Fill in the blank; it works. In this particular chase, it’s more music and better for my brain, please! But there is a continuum of “more and better music.”

One could look at more and better as in, “I’m bored! I need more music that’s new and different, more challenging!” You possibly went through an explosion of this in your “personal musical coming of age” period. I wrote about mine in my discussion of Intervention Records “Gilded Palace of Sin” reissue. That is the process of growing laterally. Finding new music, new performances that you haven’t heard before.

Then there is growing deeper. This is the process of digging down into “known music.” Scott is brilliant at one form of this. He has, over the years, bought multiple different iterations of many of his favorite vinyl records, safe in the knowledge that one will be the best sounding and, sometime down the road, he will have fun not just listening to his favorite music, but selecting the best-sounding version of the recording. Recently he has culled his music down to only the best version of each record by getting rid of all the others. This is the “better in quality, not more in quantity” approach. We all have x amount of time left to spend recreating, and of that only y is going to be spent listening to music. Why own music you haven’t time to listen to? Instead, why not have the best version of each recording you have a high likelihood of enjoying?

This “growing deeper” is what software improvements and system upgrades are all about. An entire library is improved at once since, when one makes these kinds of changes, existing music becomes even more exciting to listen to. More information presented about the performance leads to more mental and emotional engagement with the music. It is the very essence of the role of sound reproduction quality in the service of music-lover’s enthusiasm. It’s why high fidelity exists.

In the world of vinyl playback, we make all kinds of improvements in our equipment in an effort to further explore the musical treasury our recordings hold, but typically, at some point, we discover that there is an issue unique to LP records that thwarts our best efforts and our most expensive investments in upgrades from yielding their full benefit. We are not actually listening to the surface of the record where maximum musical magic lies. We are listening to an accumulation of undesirable things on top of the surface, some of which have been there since the thing was pressed (which means even brand new

records suffer), and some of which have landed and stuck there since. And they are reducing the impact of the performances, anywhere from subtly to dramatically. Often, when one hears the impact of cleaning a record (not removing dust, but actually cleaning, which means fluids and their removal) for the first time, one has an epiphany. It is fairly easy to sell record cleaning systems macines on a “before and after” audition. Thereafter, one may pursue better and better equipment and methods, and observe a direct effect on listening enjoyment.

And so begins my association with Perfect Vinyl Forever. Steve Evans, a customer who is in a very exclusive club of music lovers who can easily walk to Ultra Fidelis from their homes, dropped me an email a few months ago with a proposition of experiencing the results of his home built record cleaning system, something he described as starting off as a DIY project that mushroomed into “a commercial quality record restoration center.” Cool, but I already have a $3,000 record cleaning machine, I thought. I humored him anyway and accepted his invitation to view the components of the system and, since he needed little coercion, brought Bob with me.

What we saw was a truly nonpareil system of components for thoroughly cleaning and drying records. I was no longer smug about my $3000 contraption. Nor are you safe if you think, cool, but I have an ultrasonic cleaner. There are ultrasonics at play in the PVF, but their engineering and the elements that go beyond them are different from and better than a “conventional” ultrasonic record cleaning machine, let alone the adapted denture cleaners that pass for same in the DIY community.

I know this because Steve invited me to bring some records for cleaning and I chose ones that I had absolutely identical copies of, down to the master lacquer ID. This allowed me to directly compare other cleaning methods, including some of Scott’s “conventional ultrasonically cleaned” identical copies. To varying degrees, but definitively, PVF beat them all at my eardrum. In fact, in the little over a month since I first heard a PVFied record, the sound has become addictive. It is the most like not listening to records I have ever heard my records sound. There are various ways to describe this sound- “most like the master tape”, “most realistic”, “most like having people in your room”. But it is the best.

 

PVF at record show.jpg

So, how much does this system cost? It’s not for sale. But the service is. And Ultra Fidelis invites you to the official unveiling. Saturday, November 4, following Coffee (which runs 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM), we will host two sessions with Steve and the Perfect Vinyl Forever system. Steve will discuss the general topic of record cleaning, in all its forms, not just his, and he will introduce you to Perfect Vinyl Forever.

You need to RSVP for either the 11:00 AM or the 2:00 PM session, and please bring two records- one that you think is as clean as it can get and one you think quite dirty, for a free application of the two processes on offer from Perfect Vinyl Forever. This promises to be a most interesting event.

 

Recently heard (all PVFied vinyl)-

 

Joni Mitchell

Ladies Of The Canyon

Rhino 180 g. LP

 

Little Feat

Dixie Chicken

MoFi LP

 

Norman Blake

Blackberry Blossom

Flying Fish LP

 

Nic Jones

The Noah’s Ark Trap

Trailer LP

 

Van Morrison

It’s Too Late To Stop Now

Back To Black/Warner Bros. LP

 

Gram Parsons

Grievous Angel

Rhino 180 g. LP

 

Complete Symphonies Of Haydn, Volume 5

Philharmonia Hungarica/Dorati

London LP