RECORD CLEANING SOLUTIONS
Record Research Labs vs. L 'Art du Son
James L. Darby
Let me say this off the top: Both products were purchased at full retail. No freebies or discounts here.
Since there is no reliable methodology to follow, we will have to rely on personal experience. In that case, I’ll need to break one of our primary protocols and talk about me for a moment. I’ve been a record collector for over 40 years. Check that – it would be more accurate to say I have been a music collector for over 40 years, the distinction being that I do not collect records for owning records sake, I buy and keep only those that I think are worth keeping. At one time that amounted to about 10,000 LPs, but several years ago about 8,000 of those were lost in a hurricane. I now maintain about 3,000 very select LPs. I shop thrifts, garage and estate sales. I occasionally buy new. When I acquire something that I think might inspire me to listen to it again sometime in the future, I keep it, but that usually means something else has to go. I’ve given away, sold, but mostly donated thousands upon thousands of the black disks, which means I’ve also cleaned thousands upon thousands since nothing hits my table before it is cleaned.
From the early “anti-static dust cloths”, various brushes, fluids, sprays, the Orbitrac, Diskwasher, (I must have worn out about a dozen of those) and who knows how many others, to a Nitty Gritty up to the current VPI 16.5, I have used many different products and methods. I used the Disk Doctor products for years until the fine folks in the Vinyl Asylum persuaded me to try the Record Research Labs (RRL) product. One of them even sent me a sample to try. I agree with the consensus there that the RLL is superior to the Disk Doctor system which is why it was excluded from this shootout.
Bottom line, I have cleaned 1,654 LPs with RLL and 643 with L ‘Art du son (LDS).
How do I know? Years ago I built a database that includes a field that indicates what LP was cleaned with which product. That is how I know. And I put a sticky note inside the cover protector that lets me know various facts about the LP, too, including an “R” for RRL or “L” for LDS.
THE COST OF CLEANLINESS
The RLL comes in a 32 oz bottle and is applied undiluted. It’s also available by the gallon, but we will concentrate on the 32 oz version which sells for $25.
Speaking of concentrate, the LDS comes in a small bottle and costs $45, but it makes up to a gallon or 5 liters of cleaner. Five liters is actually significantly more than 1 gallon, but we will round down.
Donning my green eyeshade and abacus, I calculated that RLL costs $25 per quart and LDS costs $11.25 per the same measure. The LDS requires a gallon of distilled water, so add the cost of that. Still, the cost per quart edge goes to LDS.
THOSE OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Things observed about the L’Art du Son:
It never beads up. It disperses on the record surface far better and more consistently than the RLL. The RLL can and frequently does bead up on some LPs. To me, that means the first time the brush touches the surface during that first revolution, parts of the surface may be dry. It also means that since it covers more surface, one can use less of the LDS per LP, adding to its economical edge.
The RLL is very capable of leaving a record full of static, especially if you happen to let the drying revolutions go just a bit too long. Sometimes it removes static, but not always. I never determined why it de-stats some LPs but not others, even though the same number of turns of the platter was used. On the other hand, the LDS always removed static and never added static under normal use. Once I used an old LP to see if I could induce static build up and I did, but only after twice as many revolutions as was necessary – the record being stone dry for about 3 turns.
I think these are two very important factors. I feel more confident using the LDS and less worried about static or going that one revolution too many. There is a little more security knowing there are no microscopic scratches being gouged, too. When you are cleaning a $200 Decca, security and confidence is a good thing.
Which one actually cleans better? The results here are much less obvious. I believe the LDS leaves surfaces a bit quieter, though I won’t swear by it. Removing difficult blobs
and other bio hazards is a toss up. No clear advantage. Let ‘em soak and try again.
Are there any disadvantages to the LDS? Yes. You have to mix it. Once. They also recommend that you shake it before using each time. I find if I put on some Tower of Power while holding the bottle, that small nuisance takes care of itself.
As to which one sounds better - meaning wider stage, more dynamics, greater transparency, deeper bass and so forth, there is no night and day difference. All I can say is this: when an LP comes into the house, it gets cleaned now with L’Art du son. When I play a record that has not yet been L’Arted, it goes in the stack by the VPI to be re-cleaned before it is put back.
Based mainly on observable differences and the perception of confidence it inspires,
the L’Art du Son is declared the winner of this shootout. If you use a record cleaning machine and are wetting with RLL, we recommend you give LDS a spin.
Are we declaring L’Art du Son the best cleaner available? No. We haven’t tried them all.
I’m sure there are those products of which we are not even aware. So, if you dear reader, have tried LDS and are sure you have found something better, please write us and let us know. Even if you have not tried LDS and think what you use is superior, let us know that, too. We would love to do another shootout.
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