[SoundStage!]The Vinyl Word
Back Issue Article
March 1999

Nitty Gritty Model 1.5Fi Record Cleaner

Review at a Glance
Sound A clean record is a beautiful thing, and the Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi cleans records very well.
Features One-side, automatic cleaning; no woodgrain case, but there’s a commensurate savings.
Use Requires separate fluid; extra-dirty records may require more than one cleaning; makes a fair amount of noise when the vacuuming begins.
Value As an archival tool for a collection of LPs, which are becoming increasingly scarce, the 1.5Fi is worth the expense; cheaper and less-automated Nitty Gritty models exist too.

You can always find people who will tell you that cables don't make a difference, that amplifiers all sound the same, and that spending exorbitant amounts of money on your stereo system is a waste. When it comes to audio, disagreement abounds. But I can say with certainty that you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who will tell you that dirty records sound good. Since the beginning of time, even the laziest person with the cheapest stereo imaginable has at least tried to blow the dust out of the grooves. Everyone knows that a clean record sounds better.

Clean vinyl is not only better-sounding vinyl, it is longer-lasting vinyl as well. All kinds of contaminants can end up in the grooves that will not only impede playback but may also cause long-term damage even if you don't play your records. Just ask our vinyl guru, Greg Weaver -- he's a cleaning fanatic. And now records are more precious than ever. A record available today, even if used, may never be seen again. And if you play your records, you will want to keep them in as pristine shape as possible, and this applies for storage too. Who hangs up dirty clothes?

Cleaning records doesn’t only protect the records themselves -- your stylus certainly benefits too. The trouble is, and always has been, that record cleaning is just not an easy job to do effectively. No wonder CD playback became so popular so quickly.

What's old again is new again

I'm a former and now current record collector. Like many, I went on a hiatus from vinyl in the mid-’80s and purchased only CDs. Now that old has become new again and I have realized that some CDs don't sound as good as some LPs, even on the best digital equipment, I balance my listening between digital and analog. Subsequently, the necessity for cleaning my records seems more important than ever. Luckily, some companies have recognized both the need and the difficulty involved and have made thorough record cleaning a snap -- Nitty Gritty being one of them.

The Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi record cleaner is a semi-automatic unit that spins, scrubs and blow-dries LPs much easier and much more effectively than I could have imagined. The price of the Model 1.5Fi is $529. A more expensive Model 2.5Fi is priced at $599 and features a solid-oak cabinet. For $70 you may wish to show off your record cleaner to your friends, but I don't really care. I’m happy to save a little money and live with "black vinyl woodgrain." After all, this is a tool to clean my prize possessions. There are more expensive versions from Nitty Gritty called the Mini-Pro 1 and Mini-Pro 2. These are a little more elaborate and will clean both sides of a record simultaneously -- I'm sure some will enjoy that. Once again, I'm happy with what the Model 1.5Fi does automatically on one side, and I’m content to simply flip the record over -- it's not too much work. Besides, it saves a bit of cash and the quality of the cleaning is not diminished.

Flickin', spinnin', cleanin'

The fact that there is a very little to tell about the operation of the Model 1.5Fi speaks well for its performance. From boxed state to ready-for-action cleaning takes less than five minutes. The 1.5Fi comes out, more or less, as a single unit with some parts taped up. Complete in the package is a 16-ounce bottle of Purifier 2 record cleaner, a waste fluid tray and a small whisk for cleaning the "Vac-Sweep lips." The first thing to do with a new machine is unscrew the reservoir cap and fill it up with Purifier 2 -- not much tougher than filling an iron with water. Next the lines are "primed" by pushing the pump button numerous times. This fills the lines with the Purifier 2 fluid and wets the "lips" that actually clean the record. Once the unit is primed, subsequent cleanings take only 4 or 5 pumps of the button because the lines stay relatively full. I found it good to be liberal with the fluid, which I'll expand on in a bit.

I admit that it took me a few minutes to figure out how to properly seat the record for cleaning; once I figured it out, I slapped myself on the forehead for being such a dunce. There is a spindle in the middle, just like on a turntable. I got this part right off -- line up hole of record and place over spindle. It was the capstan drive that I had to tangle with -- until I realized that it simply rocked back a notch and then rested against the side of the record. The trouble with those owner's manuals is you have to read them!

Once the disc is cued up, cleaning is a breeze. The Vac-Sweep lips should already be wet from priming. So a flick of the switch engages the motor and, lo and behold, the record spins. According to the manual, "dozens of fibers will scrub each record groove as you allow the disc to rotate one to three times." (The dozens of fibers, of course, are the so-called Vac-Sweep lips.) Sure enough, that's exactly what happened -- the fibers scrub the disc surface. Nitty Gritty even sent along a clear record so I could watch the 1.5Fi do its work.

After three turns, cleaning is done. The switch is then pressed past the off position, which, in turn, engages the vacuum. At this point the 1.5Fi becomes quite a noisy little critter and will wake up anyone in the house -- it sounds like a little vacuum cleaner running. The Nitty Gritty folks are again quite correct: With three to five rotations of the record, the fluid is gone and the record is clean as can be.

When I first received the Model 1.5Fi, I cleaned about ten records in a row -- these were all 25- and 50-cent jobs that I had purchased at flea markets. Surface marks that looked like coffee stains, finger prints and unidentifiable substances (Big Mac sauce maybe) were, in almost all cases, gone. For the couple of extra dirty records that didn't quite come clean the first round, I ran them through a second time and in one case a third time. That did the trick. One record had a piece of a postage stamp stuck to it, which I could never get off, even with a knife. I could hardly fault the Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi for this. The only nit-pick occurred with very dusty records, where I found that a little dust remained on the edges of the record. The Model 1.5Fi got it out of the grooves, but not quite over the edge. Hardly a problem. Like the lazy person I described earlier, I just blew it off or used a standard record brush. Could it be easier? I don't think so. More importantly, the 1.5Fi is very effective. It does in only a few minutes an overlooked but necessary chore. Those grooves are clean!

Care and attention

There are a few things that you want to be careful of when using the Model 1.5Fi. The manual recommends letting it cool for 15 minutes if you clean more than 10 records in a row. The unit gets a little warm, and you don't want to risk burning its motor out. As well, the whisk is supplied to clean the little Vacuum-Sweep lips as dirt accumulates. Do that fairly often, particularly if you are cleaning really dirty records. Replacements are available when the ones on there get too worn ($14.95 for a set of four). If you decide to ship the unit, remember to drain it first. This should be obvious to most, but someone has and will again fail to do it. And finally, don't run out of cleaning fluid. This thing works so darn well that I can't imagine being without it. Order ahead. A 16-ounce bottle of Purifier 2 sells for $15.95.

Speaking of the fluid, as I mentioned earlier, I found being liberal with the fluid is not a bad thing. A thread on our own Talk Online discussion forum indicated some users of the Record Doctor (a lower-priced Nitty Gritty-made cleaner sold by Audio Advisor) never saw fluid accumulate in the waste tray. The question of whether it all, in fact, evaporates was raised. I found the same thing with this unit and only rarely saw excess in the tray. On Talk Online one respondent said that he looked inside his unit and found that although he saw an absence of fluid, he noticed a lot of gunk inside after using it for years -- proof that it gets lots of stuff out of the grooves. Lots of fluid should help to flush things out -- but don't necessarily soak the machine.

Nitty Gritty recommends cleaning a record before every use. Although cleaning is an easy task, I don't see the need to do it every time providing that you keep the record clean between playings. For example, I take a record out of the sleeve and look for fingerprints, smudges and the like before playing, and if see nothing there, I just brush off the dust. However, if I see any accumulation, then I use the 1.5Fi.

Enough said

While some (demented) reviewer may do A/B comparisons of dirty and clean records, I chose not to. Why? It’s obvious that a clean record will always sound better -- and should last longer too. Besides, I went and cleaned some really dirty records and I wasn't about to play them on my turntable before cleaning just so I could find out that they sound better after. I likely wouldn't have a stylus left.

What's nice about the Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi is that it is built well, appears to have a minimal number of wearable parts, and works like a charm. Placing a record for cleaning takes only seconds, and flicking the switch a few times is not much to ask. While not exactly cheap, a $529 investment to protect the value in vinyl seems very reasonable. While there are lower-priced alternatives, everything from hand-scrub items to Nitty Gritty machines that are not quite so automatic, I thoroughly enjoyed the convenience of the 1.5Fi. The extra bit of money spent on its features seems well worth it in terms of convenience and what I know will be long-term use on a valuable record collection. You may have the cash to opt for the more expensive models and see the value in scrubbing both sides simultaneously. Like I said, I don't mind doing one side at a time. Besides, it allowed me to inspect my handiwork (or the lack thereof) all the better by flipping and viewing the newly cleaned side.

Time to sound like your mother: Whatever you do, don't play dirty vinyl, clean your stylus just as often as you think about it, and try a machine like the Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi. Your ears, stylus and records will thank you.

...Doug Schneider

Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi Record Cleaner
Price: $529 USD
Warranty: One year parts and labor

Nitty Gritty Record Care Products, Inc.
4650 Arrow Highway, Suite F4
Montclair, CA 71763
Phone: (909) 625-5525
Fax: (909) 625-5526

E-mail: gayle@nittygrittyinc.com
Website: www.nittygrittyinc.com


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