World Premiere Review!
For the last few years, I've been cleaning my records by using a VPI 16.5 wet/vacuum record cleaner. My record cleaning liquid of choice has been for quite some time a simple solution of distilled water and a surfactant (the surfactant reduces the solution's surface tension, making it spread more easily on the surface of the record). Before the VPI, I used a Nitty Gritty record cleaner, and before that, an Audio Advisor record cleaner. With those machines I've tried countless solutions sold by many different companies. None were worthy of a review.
A couple of months ago, a variety of record cleaning solutions arrived at my doorstep made by a brand called Chisto. Chisto also makes products they call "Digital Care" for CDs and DVDs, solutions to clean the cabinets of audio/video gear, as well as a product that reduces static-electricity on one's audio and video components. Chisto is manufactured in Ukraine. In Russian, "chisto" means "clean."
For quite a while, I was connecting the tonearm's integral cables to a nearly $15,000 Allnic H-7000 vacuum tube phono preamplifier. This fantastic phono preamp is the reason why Believe HiFi lent me the Top Wing phono cartridge - to not only to bring out the best in this phono stage but also so that I could use a cartridge that the possible owner of an Allnic might own. After the Allnic phono preamp was returned to the manufacture, I used my reference Pass Laboratories XP-17 phono preamp, which may not scale the sonic heights of the Allnic, nevertheless, this solid-state preamplifier has been in my system for a few years, and I quite familiar with its excellent sound quality when converting the signal from the phono cartridge to an audio signal that is sent to the linestage.
Almost every record cleaning solution I have ever used has done an excellent job of cleaning my records. But to be honest, I could hear no difference between these solutions. Yes, when I played the record, I could hear that the record was cleaned as there was less noise, just as I could hear if a record needed cleaning. So, unless I were ready to apply the scientific method to test the cleaning solutions using double-blind testing, I'd have to have this faith that these solutions work.
I am not willing to do this. I will use the Chisto cleaners I have been sent, and even before using them, I have faith that they will work. If I find that one of their solutions work as well, better, or worse than my usual record cleaner, I'd note that. I'd have to have faith that my many years of using record cleaning solutions will make my opinion of this new cleaner will be valid. As an audio reviewer, the reader will also have to have faith that my opinion will be valid.
There is no question that out of all the Chisto products I was sent, the product that made me sit up and notice, or rather, sit down and listen, more than any other of their products was their Easy Groove Concentrate. I cleaned my already "clean" copy of 1970s prog-rockers Gentle Giant's Acquiring The Taste, their second album, which was issued on Vertigo Records in 1971, on what some collectors call a "spaceship" label pressing.
If a reader of this review called me "crazy," it certainly wouldn't be the first time that occurred (after all, I am an audiophile). But after cleaning this record with Easy Groove Concentrate on the VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine, and then listening to only one track off this British prog-rock classic, I could easily hear that the background noise that I previously thought was nonexistent was now lower in level. It was less than nonexistent! Yes, there was still the occasional very light "tick" or "click" that I could hear during the quieter musical moments, this record is, after all, over 45-years old. Not only was the background completely silent, but I could even "hear" this silence under varying levels of tape hiss.
Could I "prove" that the record surfaces were much quieter after using the Chisto Easy Groove Concentrate and a spin on my record cleaning machine? Quieter than if I used my home-made water and surfactant mix? Probably not. I wouldn't dare suggest to someone to play the record before and after cleaning and using an oscilloscope's printout of its readings. I'm not willing to do that. After more than 25-years of reviewing high-end audio equipment, I'm accustomed to some readers believing me and some not believing me. But I know what I heard (or didn't hear), and I'm merely passing this information onto the reader. I have nothing to gain by reporting this, other than the remaining fluid in a few bottles of Chisto record cleaner, that is.
Although, after mulling this over for a while, these solutions that Chisto says are made for "very dirty records." I deduced from their literature that this pre-wash would be an excellent way to clean brand new records that need to have the mold-release compounds removed. Mold-release compounds are on all brand-new records, as they are used at the record pressing plant to avoid having the hot vinyl stick to the pressing plates during the process of manufacturing the record.
In the not so recent past, to remove this mold release compound from brand-new records, I would us pure Chloro-Flouro-Chloride (CFC), a very volatile liquid that evaporates almost instantly, taking the mold-release compounds with it. The CFC that was used by audiophiles was called "First", packaged by Nitty Gritty, which they named "First" (because it is used first. Get it?). After CFC's were banned for ecological reasons by the governments of almost every nation on Earth, I started searching for a replacement for this fluid.
After some time, I discovered that CFC was being used to assemble electronic components. Companies had developed a safe for plastics solution to clean electrical contacts. This solution was packaged as an aerosol spray and sold by various manufactures. This spray is just about as volatile as the old, banned CFC liquid. And from then on, I've been using this contact cleaner spray to clean brand-new records that are fresh from the factory. This contact cleaner needs no record cleaning machine since it evaporates very quickly after it contacts the record's surface. I think to clean the record with my record cleaning machine using a record cleaning solution.
I tried using both methods to pre-clean a record, Chisto's Easy Groove Enzycaster on one record of a brand new two 45rpm record set of a Mobile Fidelity pressing of Miles Davis' Miles In The Sky, and the contact cleaner spray on the other. After this, I cleaned the record as I usually do on my record cleaning machine. I heard no difference in sound quality when playing the record. Although this doesn't necessarily mean that the disc I cleaned with the Easy Groove Enzycaster removed the mold-release compound. I guess this is one of the times to invoke the "record cleaning by faith" maxim.
My opinion of wiping solution off with a cloth may differ from theirs, in that I often expressed my opinion that a cloth merely drives the dirt deeper into the grooves of a record. After using this solution, I agree that it is almost as good as a machine cleaning, but not quite the same. But for those without a machine, this solution is impressive.
But I'm likely in the minority. I know many people who still watch DVDs and Blu-Rays on large, high-definition screens. Chisto developed Disk Analoguer not for cleaning, but as a treatment. They make bold claims such as making CDs sound more "analog," DVDs "show in full colors and sound," and that it is an "absolute must" for Blu-rays "due to its data density." They go to say that CDs and such are like vinyl in that new discs are also covered with a mold-release compound. This mold-release compound can cause reading errors, which causes "extra stress on one's DACs, which can cause digital artifacts and irritating sound.
I admit it - I'm out of my league, and so I'm not going to attempt to refute these claims, although Chisto's vinyl cleaning solutions are exceptional products, and so I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. Although, I've tried many digital treatments back in the day, such as painting the edges of my discs with a green marker, and coating my discs with all sorts of goo and liquids. But that was then, and this is now, so the fact that nothing ever worked back in the day, does not indict Christo's digital treatment products.
Chisto also makes a product called "Hi-End Show Gloss" made for cleaning audio/video gear such as the cabinets of amplifiers and receivers, and can even clean HD screens, claiming that the improves resolution. I'll leave that testing for others, as I'm more of a two-channel type of guy, rarely "watching" music, instead preferring to listen to it.
For everyday cleaning, and for used records that make their way into my collection, I used Chisto's Easy Groove Concentrate (in the brown box). This was an extremely good record cleaning solution. As I inferred in my review, this stuff made me think, "WHAT THE HELL IS THIS EASY GROOVE STUFF MADE OF?" The most noticeable characteristic of a record cleaned with this potion was a background that was blacker than was present before cleaning, even though I thought it sounded more than fine to me before cleaning. This black background is one that I often take about when describing a component's characteristics, and is often recording dependent. Of course, many things are responsible for a recording to have a black background. What confused me a bit was that I questioned whether or not this black background was due to the recording quality, the quality of the vinyl, or the record cleaner. In this case, it was the record cleaner!
For brand new records, one that has never seen a turntable, I used Chisto's Easy Groove Virgin Concentrate (in a rose-colored box). I have no reason to doubt the record was not cleared of the mold-release compounds when using this cleaner. When I cleaned one record of a two-record set with this cleaner, and the other with my preferred way of cleaning new records - with a pre-wash of contact cleaner plus a regular wash, I couldn't hear much difference between the two. This is a good thing, as using the Easy Groove Virgin Concentrate let me skip a step in that cleaning regimen.
Christo also sent me two cleaners which Chisto calls pre-washes, which were Easy Groove Extreme (in both a spray and a solution), and Easy Groove Enzycaster. As I don't own any extra dirty records, and to be honest, I hope I never have to rescue a garage sale record that might be in that type of condition. But I found that both of these solutions were excellent products for cleaning brand-new records.
A reader of this review might think that my favorite of Chisto's products was their Easy Groove Concentrate, their "daily" cleanser, even though it isn't their most "powerful" product. I did not like their daily cleanser more than their cleaner meant for new records, their Easy Groove Virgin Concentrate, it's just that I had nothing to compare it to since I didn't have duplicates of these new records. That I simply loved the results I got from their Easy Groove Concentrate so much speaks well for the rest of their line. This is because they are both Chisto record cleaning products!
Chisto CD/CVC products
Chisto Essential Care
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