September, 2018 SFAS Event – SweetVinyl and Kirmuss Presentations
The September 2018 SFAS event turned into a doubleheader, with presentations and demonstrations by Leo Hoarty and Dan Eakins of SweetVinyl, makers of the SugarCube SC-1 and SC-2 record surface noise reduction systems. Plus, Charles Kirmuss of Kirmuss audio described the science behind and demonstrated his “In The Groove” ultrasonic record restoration system.
Charles began the event by talking about the process used for making records, including mastering, cutting the lacquer, and creating the metal stamper. If you have followed the Michael Fremer interviews of Charles on YouTube you’ll know that Michael had a lot of questions about some of the assertions made by Charles. One of the biggest questions concerned the existence of a “release agent” on a record during the pressing process. Charles indicated that there is no release agent added manually but a silicic acid is produced when PVC is heated and pressed. According to Charles, the silicic acid can bind contaminants and dust particles to the walls of the grooves in a record, and that is the reason that new records should be cleaned. The needle generates heat and along with the created release agent “melds” dust with the record grooves. The biggest challenge in achieving quiet record play is maintaining contact of the needle with the record grooves and any kind of contamination defeats this purpose. So a clean record, says Charles, is the goal and an effective cleaning system must be PVC-friendly, water soluble, anti-static, and leave a record free of fungus.
Leo Hoarty and Dan Eakins took the stage next. Leo led off with an overview of the SweetVinyl SugarCube SC-1 and SC-2 models. The SugarCube SC-1 removes click and pop noise from records in a nondestructive manner. The SC-1 can be placed between a phono stage and preamp or between the preamp and amplifier (it uses line level unbalanced inputs). The SC-2 includes the SC-1’s noise removal capability and adds the ability to digitally record records. The very cool thing about the SC-2 is that the vinyl recording is done automatically; the SC-2 connects with a database that contains metadata for over a million records. The SC-2 identifies and saves album and track metadata in addition to the digitized music file. The SC-2 can record in most common formats (wav, flac, aiff, mp3, etc.) and updates itself automatically via internet.
Next, Leo talked about the science of hearing. This was quite a fascinating discussion about the “hows” and “whys” behind the puzzle of why many folks prefer vinyl to CDs. According to Leo, our auditory system is sensitive to acoustic energy frequencies up to about 100 kHz. The acoustic energy recognized by our brain at these frequencies is contained in dynamic sound pulses and not the continuous tones that we generally think about when considering the upper frequency of our hearing. For a complete review of this topic, please click on the following link: (SweetVinyl-On Hypersonic Hearing-LP vs Digital_e).
Next, Dan Eakins demonstrated the workings of the SugarCube SC-2. Dan started by playing an early James Taylor record album purchased for $2 at a used record store. Without the SugarCube processing, the album had many clicks and pops that under normal circumstances would render it nearly unlistenable. But with the SC-2 noise reduction engaged, the record was perfectly quiet and sounded excellent. Second up was a Steely Dan album that was in even worse shape than the Taylor album and the SC-2 worked wonders. The SugarCube works with no filters and no compression. All noise reduction is performed in the time domain and there is no loss of dynamics or frequency response. Then Dan played a copy of Dave Brubeck’s Time Out that was pretty noisy. The SC-2, again, had no problem removing the clicks and pops. Remarkable!
Charles stepped back up to the podium to talk about his In The Groove (ITG) ultrasonic record restoration system. Charles spoke about his cleaning process, which he calls “restoration” and not just cleaning. The ITG product uses 35 kHz ultrasonic transducers to generate sonic cavitation and a resulting 500 mph wave. Charles’s position is that 35 kHz is the optimal frequency for this purpose. The bath in the ITG uses a small amount of 70% isopropyl alcohol along with almost two gallons of distilled water. The initial bath is used as a degreaser, removing release agent from new records and finger and skin oils from other records.
Charles demonstrated a cleaning process that begins with a first ultrasonic cleaning cycle of 5 minutes. The record is then removed from the cleaner and a spray of surfactant solution is applied to the record surface, followed by scrubbing the record surface with a camel hair brush. The record is then put back in the ITG for another ultrasonic cleaning cycle. If a white paste-like substance develops during the brushing process in subsequent ultrasonic cleaning cycles, the cleaning cycle process is repeated until the white paste substance no longer appears – this usually takes 3 or 4 cycles, but depends on the condition of the record. After the final ultrasonic cleaning cycle, the record is removed, a small amount of distilled water is sprayed on the surface, and then the record is dried with an optician’s cloth. Charles stated that his process can provide an additional 1.3 dB or more of added signal from the cartridge depending on the provenance of the record. Charles’s presentation can be reviewed by clicking on the following link: (KIRMUSS A CUSTODIAN’S PRIMER)
Next, Larry Deniston provided a brief update on his comparison of the Kirmuss, Audio Desk, and Klaudio record cleaners. Larry described the process used to compare the cleaners, which included taking pictures with a digital microscope of the record surfaces as well as making recordings of needle drops before and after cleaning records with the different record cleaners. Larry shared pictures and played some of his needle drops. There seemed to be some agreement that even new records sounded better after cleaning. The group also discussed the validity of using colored vinyl as a basis for comparison. As a result, Larry will repeat some of his tests with black vinyl records. He will present the results at a later date.
Finally, we went to the drawings! We distributed one ticket per member and began the drawing by picking three winners of of the Priscilla Renea Coloured vinyl albums that were used in the record cleaner comparisons. Then on to the big drawings! Lucky member Bernie H. was the winner of the SugarCube SC-1 record surface noise reduction system and Terry S. was the winner of the Kirmuss In The Groove record restoration system.
I loved the comment by one of our members (half-kidding I think) that all this record cleaning and noise removal is easily fixed by CDs and a CD player, plus that will save you a bunch of money! I got a good laugh out of that! Kidding aside, this was another successful SFAS event at The Shops at Hilltop.