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Recording vinyl - wet or dry?

PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2005 5:21 am
by deadpoirotsketch
Anybody got an opinion on this?

I record my vinyl wet using a mix of deionised water and iso-propyl alcohol (=propan-2-ol or iso-propoanol). I convince myself that there is less surface noise this way. I imagine that nasties in the groove are loosened and floated free and the passage of the stylus and cantilever is lubricated, resulting in less frictional wear too.

On the other hand, when the vinyl dries there is a possibility that the nasties stick in the grooves. Maybe the apparent decrease in surface noise is simply that the increased viscosity of liquid around the stylus and cantilever makes it less responsive to high frequency oscillations in the groove, damping them out, so all I am really doing is cutting the high end!

Also if the water and iso-propyl alcohol are not completely residue free on evaporation I could be leaving more nasties in the grooves.

Unless I pay out £100+ for a still and make my own distilled water, it doesn't seem possible to buy distilled water these days. Model shops will sell you Hornby Distilled Water at £5 a litre, or you can get deionised water at about £3 for 3 litres from Halfords or smaller bottles from Superdrug. I don't really trust deionised water even when it claims to be residue free - is it really as pure as distilled water?

What are the best mix proportions for cleaning records or playing them wet? Is adding a very tiny amount of detergent a good or bad thing?

If we are digitising vinyl so we can dispose of the vinyl, I don't suppose it matters too much if we damage it once we have got the information from the grooves, but if we want to sell it then maybe we want to avoid damage. Is it true iso-propanol leaches plasticisers out of the vinyl or is it scare story?

Lastly, I read in the news recently that as polyvinylchloride is made using biproducts of olefin cracking to make fuels by the petroleum industry, and there was a change in demand for various fuels, the petroleum industry has given notice to the record companies that PVC will no longer be available for making records in a few years time. Is this really the end of analog disks or will audiophile demand mean records will be made from some substitute material instead? Reminds me of Neil Innes' Recycled Vinyl Blues.... Maybe the expense of playing vinyl will steadily increase when there is no fresh vinyl to be had and a niche market shrinks away...

I hope that lot will stir up some discussion!

PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2005 4:36 pm
by citguy
As far as I know, in the US, you can buy a gallon of distilled water for less than 50 pence (UK) for use in car batteries, clothing irons/presses etc. Usually available in stores similar to Boots or large Tescos. I read one article a few years ago about spraying or wiping WD40 onto discs for additional noise reduction. Not sure if it was a one time application before copying then discarding and/or if it was for vinyl or shellac or both. WD40, as I understand it, is basically deodorized kerosene (parrafin) with addatives. I evaporated some using a butane flame under a piece of glass and ended up with almost undetectable residue. By the way, I am enjoying your wide range of questions and suggestions.


PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2005 3:02 am
by Glenn
It depends on which you value more; the record or the stylus. During normal playback the friction between the diamond and the vinyl raises the temperature at the contact point to roughly 500 F*. As incredible as this seems, it is necessary to preserve the record as the heat literally melts the plastic whilst burning off corbon molecules in the stylus. The melting of the surface is what gives the vinyl the ability to yield under the tremendous forces exerted by the stylus. By using water as a coolant, the temperature is lowered to the point where the carbon is no longer burned off, resulting in a longer stylus life; but the vinyl can no longer yield, and the groove wall is scraped away by the diamond instead. Regardless of the solution you use, wet playback is a one way street for the record.

The mixture you describe is often cooked up as a budget cleaning solution for wet vacuum systems like the Keith Monks. Though it's expensive, the price of records and pickups on this side of the pond means that the price of a cleaning machine is not too unrealistic. Since the solution is vacuumed up, no residue is said to be left behind, and the clean groove will help preserve the record, reduce stylus wear, and lower the noise floor.

Personally, even though playing a record with my Linn Klyde is costing me about $3 Cdn for each hour in terms of stylus wear, I still consider the Klyde expendable, and the record irreplaceable. My approach to reducing stylus wear is the record-once/play-many (ROPM) method offered by recordable CDs. The current CD standard will eventually be replaced, and my records will still be there for me to re-record to the new standard, probably the 24bit-96khz standard for dvd. Digital is constantly improving; vinyl is forever.

Since pvc is a widely used plastic I doubt it will be discontinued so long as fossil fuels are available to make plastics. Alas, this won't always be so, will it? Analog records over here are already dead to the general mainstream. Compact discs took over here more than 20 years ago. Let me tell you the assassination of vinyl wasn't pretty; quality fell through the floor and many new recordings were simply made unavailable on vinyl. What is left of it is few and far between and the consumer has no recourse: Take it or leave it. I won't begin to talk about what happened to the price of pickups. There has recently been a renaissance of quality analog available for the right price, if you can afford entry. I suspect it is only the last glow of a fading sunset. Heralded as a major innovation in it's time, the vinyl record will eventually go the way of the wax cylinder.

* Handbook for Sound Engineers; 1st edition 1987; Howard W. Sams & Company.


PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2005 12:16 pm
by deadpoirotsketch
That's interesting stuff....and provokes a few thoughts.

One thing is true for me - running an analog system is more expensive than running a digital one! No expensive stylii to replace for a start!

From what you say it seems that we might be best off playing a vinyl LP in a cold nitrogen or inert gas atmosphere to stop oxidation of the stylus or even the vinyl! It is shocking to think that the tip of the stylus is softening or even melting the vinyl as it passes over it - even if the vinyl immediately resets to its original shape, any fluidity or softness at the moment of reading the information must ultimately mean there is a limit to the accuracy with which a stylus can transfer the analog information - assuming the vinyl can hold a perfect reproduction of the original waveform in the first place. Obviously this isn't a practical problem because it is probably only going to affect information in the very tiniest oscillations at very high frquencies, and without doing any sums I would guess those frequencies are above human hearing range anyway, and probably very low amplitude. Perhaps any frequencies that might be affected by the melting/softening are outside of the ability of the recording mechanism to handle anyway. But it makes me think how the analog technology is not perfect.

First, I want to make it clear that what I go on to say is not in any way an attempt to state that 44.1kHz/16 bit CD audio content is in any way superior in audiophile terms to analog content because we probably all accept that an analog recording more accurately models the "continuous" nature of the air pressure changes it records -i.e it is not a "frame-by-frame" snapshot like a digitally sample waveform, and also it can record variations in the size of the pressure difference to ambient atmospheric pressure to a much finer degree than digital which is only able to record a given pressure difference on a fixed scale of allowable values -i.e. 16 bit = 65536 allowed values.

I won't even go into discussing whether digital processing of a signal is worse or better than analog processing. It too often gets devolved into an argument about whether valves are better than chips because the analog distortion added to the sound is more pleasant than the digital distortion of aliasing and so on...

My thought is that given the age of the current analog technology and its mechanical nature (i.e cutting lathes, pvc stamping, needle into groove etc) and its vulnerability to contaminants and wear and tear, surely - if pushed- the industry could come up with a more modern medium for holding the analogue waveforms and for reading them back.

I suppose we could retain the vinyl LP and go over to an optical device for reading the information from the groove walls, but perhaps there might be a better material to use if we are not using a stylus. Especially as the PVC is doped with fillers and plasticisers which are dangerous to the environment - e.g. pthalates which have been shown to be the likely cause of "gender bending" in wildlife reproductive systems.

I wonder about possible alternative means of recording analog information optically or magnetically that wouldn't involve physical contact when reading back.

When it comes down to it I come back to digital storage technology. If the bit depth and sample rate is increased sufficiently beyond the capacity of the human ear to detect the "graininess" of the information then the graininess won't matter. The problem with CD is that the bar was set too low because of the limitations of the original technology at the time. The future is probably with digital - refined so it can't be told apart from analog.

On the other hand, how many people have perfect listening environments, top grade equipment and perfect hearing? Most people seem happy to get by with music reproduced at a lower quality than CD and listen to music while doing something else. Perhaps the quest for perfect reproduction is a dead end and vinyl will mark the high-point of that quest?

Anybody else have some thought or ideas? I'm sure there is plenty to disagree with above.

PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2006 1:07 am
by bokusman
All these things are wonderful to read, but if I may put in my 2 bobs worth. There has been a lot of discussion about wet playing causing damage, but I must say that my little ear cannot detect any damage to the high frequency nor do I hear any increase in surface noise, quite the reverse. This is after I have put my LP to rest for a couple of years after wet playing and returned it to my turntable. If someone would be so kind and show me the evidence to back up the theory, preferably seen through a high powered microscope. I have been around vinyl since the early 50s and I've been looking into the grooves of records with the microscope of my cutting lathe. I've owned Kieth Monks cleaning machines and used the best audiofile reproduction equipment. I can't hear the damage but then again my ears are starting to roll off a bit as I am a bit older than the first ever microgroove. Can any of you honestly say the evidence is there to match the theory?

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2006 11:51 pm
by Glenn
Hi bokusman, welcome to the fold.

I for one can't say it because my experience with wet playing is quite limited, which is why I rely on the published testimonials of experts who make their living in the field. Referring to the book mentioned in my previous post on this topic, on pg. 889 regarding stylus-groove interactions, the author states:

"If liquids are used to cool the contact area, then the diamond wear diminishes drastically......If the liquid is applied to the vinyl surface, then the temperature of the plastic surface cannot increase and melt; therefore, the scouring of the groove wall can be observed, as shown in Fig. 23-118."

The caption provided for the accompanying photo however, makes no mention of wet playback.

The bottom line for me is simply that wet playback is not recommended at any level in the industry, including the the vinyl and pick-up manufacturers. I tried wet playback once many years ago on one record and observed a reduction in surface noise, but my experience left me wondering what else was reduced. Emperically, these things always involve trade-offs of some kind, and the notion that one can achieve an enhanced level of performance without compromise by applying tricks proposed by lay audiophiles sounds more like a pipe dream to me.

In the end, I don't think the practice is valid if no authority is willing to endorse it, and I certainly won't risk any possibe damage to my expensive playback equipment for the sake of an experiment I see can at best give mixed results. Given that the technology exists as is, and delivers excellent fidelity that way, why would anybody attempt to 'improve' on it, except possibly to make up for some deficiency elsewhere.

I gather you're a proponent of wet playing, and have the experience and equipment to back up your position. I'm curious to know your reasons for advocating it.


PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2006 4:41 am
by bokusman
Hello Glenn.
I have a record collection with many items purchased second hand. So in my case we are not necessarily talking about audiofile records. To give you an idea, the largest record collection I purchased was from one gentleman who had many many thousand vinyl LPs. In fact two truckloads of these of which I picked the eyes out of and sold the rest. As you would imagine, some were noisy. I have experimented with many cleaning methods and have had some excellent results. I was recording an album once and it would not clean properly, I did not want to use filters as this deminishes the overall sound. I decided to try playing the record wet which rendered a very clean sound with a very reduced surface noise without cutting the top end. About this time I realised the importance also NOT TO CONFUSE SURFACE DAMAGE WITH STATIC. I found out here that wet playing certainly reduces static.
I don't use this wet technique now due to the reports of it damaging the grooves and anyway improvements in digital record filtering have improved out of sight, but I would say that it is an option for those people who have an already noisy record and want to record it once to digitize it. In regards to my previous post and your comments, I've read lots of these claims, but I'm still curious to SEE the evidence of damage upon wet playing.
Thank you for your comments.