Cleaning Vinyl LPs

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J. PUPSTER

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good question,I guess when the diamond is no longer there!
could also be when it starts to sound dull but by then there probably has been some vinyl damage...
Well we both have done some conversions to digital (you much longer of course) but I'm thinking maybe some kind of "digital tell", like a loss of high end, etc.
 

ummagumma

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OK folks, so how do you know when your stylus is starting to reach the end of it's optimal performance life?
I keep meaning to get a microscope, I think that's the only real way to know for sure. Lots of variables: how clean does one keep their LP's & stylus? Some stylii designs last longer & are less wear than others.

For a generic stylus I would guess ~300 hours, but line contact & others last much longer.

Some good reading here:

 

gene_stl

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As a fairly expert microscopist I would recommend against getting a microscope to examine a stylus. You don't know what you are looking for nor what it should look like. There were some scopes sold notably by Shure and Audio Technica . The Shure was a piece of junque. The Audio Technica (I think it was AT) was a Wild from Switzerland and cost dealers like fiver or six thousand bucks. A really really great stereoscope but I just don't think it gave you any useful info.
 

kfbkfb

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^^^
The existence of inexpensive, USB microscopes with a magnification up to 200× means that the construction of a DIY inspection microscope of a quality close to that of the Shure SEK-2 is within the reach of most enthusiasts.


Kirk Bayne
 

gene_stl

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I don't think much of those either. I guess they can be better than nothing. The same local trafficker in gear I mentioned who had an Technics SLP and split up the cartridge and turntable had an SEK-2. It was an inexpensive "Swift" branded fixed mag monocular microscope. But someone offered him money for it and he sold it. I am trying to gin together a replacement for him.

Here is a gallery of stylus photographs. Notice they are lousy photographs although they are among the best stylus photographs I hae seen. They focus is soft (they need to be stacked) the lighting is bad, some of the styli have not been cleaned and the worst part is that the actual business end of the stylus is too small in these images to actually evaluate. More magnification is actually required which means stacking and ultra macro technics are needed.

This article which wants to help sell new cartridges and styli includes photography by Ray Parkhurst using correct techniques. It doesn't say but he is a well known macrophotographer and these images are undoubtedly stacked and shot with correct equipment and lighting. You STILL don't see that much of what is going on at the surface.
Ray Parkhursts coin and macro photography site.

I think you are better off just taking a listen and if it sounds good , leave it alone. The next thing might be a test record and oscilloscope tracing.

Here is a picture of the mighty Wild M5 from Heerbrugg Switzerland that Audio Technica used to make try to get all their dealers to buy. They later updated to the very similar M5A. They cost about $6,000 in the sixties and seventies. I have one available for sale in excellent shape for about $1000 with better lighting. Shipping extra.
clinic-1.jpg


this is one of the all time great stereo microscopes. It is slightly hyperstereoscopic. It has the best image quality available.
Better than Zeiss , Better than Nikon. But it doesn't tell you much about your phonograph stylus imo.
 
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gene_stl

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Back in the day they had "sapphire" styli. These went away because the expense is grinding and shaping under a microscope and the raw diamond is similar in cost to the raw sapphire. Both are either synthetic or industrial grade. JICO in Japan has synthetic sapphire cantilevers available at comparatively reasonable prices. The styli are still diamond. Even on low end phono cartridges. (ie. Moving magnet or moving iron low end cartridges, not necessarily childrens toy cartridges such as crystal and ceramic. But all "hifi" carts are diamond)
 
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ummagumma

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I must have read that pspatial audio page a while ago, that's where I got the microscope idea from. More from the link kfbkfb posted above:

" At this relatively high degree of magnification, the depth of field collapses so that the form of the stylus is not visible at all, but focus may be made on the wear spots (the "flats") which - illuminated by the lights at either side - are visible as bright spots of light which Shure called "cat's eyes". These cat's eyes are the key to judging the degree of wear and Shure provided the figures (left) to illustrate stylus conditions (for a variety of stylus shapes) at this magnification."

And:

" Shure's ingenious idea with the SEK-2 isn't to judge the wear directly, but to examine a secondary effect; the reflection on the flat of a bright light. With the benefit of experience, it is possible get quite good at determining the degree of stylus wear."

They have a sample image there too, from Shure's instructions:


I think that's about as good as you're going to get, other than trying to estimate playing time or using a timer. Apparently by the time you can audibly hear degraded sound, damage is being done.
 
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par4ken

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I have never used the snow plow technique. I have always just cleaned my CD-4 records the same as my regular ones, with a sponge in the sink with Dawn detergent and it has worked excellently. As I have written elsewhere, playing CD-4, for me, is no different from playing regular two channel records. Any distortion is extremely rare.

One experience of mine, which may support the snow plow mechanism, is that some of my CD-4 records, which were difficult to play originally (e.g. my copy of Hugo Montenegro's first record), have gotten much better the more they are played, the example I gave, for one. It now plays almost perfectly. Does more and more dirt get scooped out of the carriers in the groove at each playing and I am sweeping that away when I use the Discwasher brush before each play? I think that's it.

Doug
I read about cleaning records with dish soap in the sink years ago in a hifi or electronics magazine. I ruined a couple records trying that, the article didn't mention not to try it if you have hard water! You should ideally use distilled water or the minerals will dry onto the record making an even bigger mess!
 

par4ken

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To minimise stylus wear I now like to rip my vinyl to digital, sometimes on the first play of a new purchase. Years ago when I used to play a lot of records I would replace the stylus every few months. It's hard to imagine a diamond wearing out playing vinyl albums though! I just wonder if any of those worn styli just needed a good cleaning. A stylus microscope would allow you to see if anything is stuck on it, I suppose.
 

gene_stl

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There may be some value in observing the so called cats eye. I am not sure. But both commercial implementations were done by cartridge companies that want to sell more cartridges.

If you really want to see the condition of the stylus you should take a picture of the brand new stylus, using some of the same techniques as Ray Parkhurst used, only at higher mag than they used in the article. This is progressively more difficult. It is sort of analogous to much higher data rates in digital audio. Then if there is any wear you have a photograph to compare to.

I think claiming damage by the stylus is another sales technique to try and sell more cartridges or replacement styli. My "evidence" for holding this opinion is that I have a few records that got played a great deal starting back in the day and they still sound fine.
I don't hear any new nor added distortion. Maybe I can't hear. ymmv.

Usually schmutz on the stylus is black record vinyl mixed with dust. It is dark and easy to see.
 

ummagumma

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Yes, I think keeping progressive reference pics is the way to go: that way you can see if there are any differences

Those USB microscopes are easy to take pics with, from what I understand.
 

Doug G.

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I read about cleaning records with dish soap in the sink years ago in a hifi or electronics magazine. I ruined a couple records trying that, the article didn't mention not to try it if you have hard water! You should ideally use distilled water or the minerals will dry onto the record making an even bigger mess!
I guess I assumed knowledge of proper rinsing. My fault. If you rewash the record and rinse with distilled water, it will be OK.

Doug
 

gene_stl

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You mean like the Cecil Watts "Disc Preener" the predecessor to the Discwasher?? :LOL: ;)
Disc Preener.jpg


Image shamelessly appropriated from fleabay.


You could also mean the clothes dusters type that has masking tape on it. I would never use ond of those.
But there is a washable type that has sticky silicone which probably wouldn't leave any residue and would pick up dust which I would try. Also one of the great inventions of not western civilization, (I love saying that) the microfiber cloth.
 

MidiMagic

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I have used up many styli. The first time, I went too long and some of the records were damaged. Those records still do not play correctly. They have a hiss superimposed on the music.

I found that a biradial diamond lasts about 400 hours of play time at 2 grams-equivalent force.

I had the Watts record preener (in picture of previous post). I kept it until it eventually grew mold. I now use a Discwasher III and an AutoCleanica.
 

gene_stl

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That looks like a sticky silicone roller. I have never tried one of those (they are too new) but they are likely a good idea. The cloth might be a microfiber. Also a good idea. I have seen discouraging words about the carbon fiber brushes but I don't believe those. They have been around for a long time too. That looks like its' a nice kit. Where didja buy it and how much was it??

Thoity Buckses not too bad.
 
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