I own a ZeroDust, an XtremePhono and some liquid stylus cleaners, but I don't use them anymore. Why? Because none of them works as well as a product I bought at the supermarket for a few pennies. I've been using this product to maintain my cartridges since 2004. Their styli and cantilevers have never been cleaner.
So what is this piece of magic? It's called the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (ME for short). You'll find it in the household cleaning products aisle. Two dollars will buy enough ME to make hundreds of stylus cleaners, enough for many lifetimes.
Search the archives on Audiogon and Vinyl Asylum, you'll find hundreds of testimonials.
Jonathon Carr of Lyra explains that heat and friction from the stylus-vinyl interface leave a layer of vinyl molecules (and probably other contaminants) bonded to the stylus after each side. This layer must be removed or it will continue to accrue. At first this layer will only be visible under a strong (200x) microscope. As the buildup thickens with additional plays the stylus gradually turns cloudy, gray or yellow. The sonic degradation from this buildup is gradual but progressive. High frequencies slowly disappear, since the stylus can no longer trace the finest groove modulations. Micro-dynamics are slowly impaired and the sound goes dull. If the layer gets thick enough mistracking can actually occur.
Gels and goops will not remove this layer. They aren't aggressive enough. Liquids won't remove it unless they contain alcohol or other solvents that are dangerous to some cartridge suspensions and stylus/cantilever glues. What's needed is something that will physically abrade those vinyl molecules loose without doing damage.
Linn used to supply strips of very fine sandpaper. That works, but a properly used ME is more effective. Modern materials science has created a product that is compliant enough to clean all sides of a stylus, yet abrasive enough to remove even stubborn contaminants.
The ME is made up of very fine micro-fibers spun into an open mesh. It looks like a sponge to the naked eye, but it's not. Viewed at 200x it looks like a wadded-up fishing net, a 3-D tangle of interwoven strands. This open, airy structure lets the ME flex around a stylus dipped into it, allowing the fibers to contact every surface.
An electron microscope view of the ME reveals that each individual strand has sharp, longitudinal ridges. These sharp ridges do the micro-scraping. We're talking about nearly molecular levels, don't go looking for these with your pocket magnifier!
Always dry brush with a stylus brush (back to front) before using the ME or any other stylus cleaner. There's no point contaminating your stylus cleaner with loose fluff.
Use only the white portion of the ME. The blue portion contains detergents that could leave a residue.
Use the ME dry. Wetting the ME causes its open mesh to collapse into a denser bundle. That's fine for scrubbing dried taco sauce off the stovetop, but a dense bundle won't let a stylus penetrate into the ME to be rubbed by fibers on all sides.
There are two popular methods for actually using the ME. One is safer. The other cleans better. Get comfortable with the safer method before trying the better one but please note, the safer method alone may not be adequate over time.
Cut a small, thin piece of ME and glue it to a coin or other thin, heavy object. Place this on the platter and dip the stylus straight down into the ME and back up, using the cueing lever. Dip it several times.
NEVER move the stylus or the ME sideways, forward or backward. Those interwoven fibers are grabby and quite strong. Once the stylus is inside the ME, moving any direction but straight up and down could separate stylus from cantilever or break the cantilever.
After a few dips in the ME, dry brush the stylus again (back to front) to remove any loosened particles. Some people ZeroDust or XtremePhono at this stage, to be extra sure.
Slice off a small, thin wedge of ME and stick it on a toothpick. The pointy end of the wedge should be VERY thin. It should flex easily under the slightest pressure.
After dry-brushing, dunk the stylus into the ME a few times or bring the ME up to the stylus and back down, as in the safer method. Then use the thin end of the wedge to scrape along the cantilever and around all sides of the stylus. Finish with a dry brushing, ZeroDust or XtremePhono, as discussed above.
BE CAREFUL. Do not apply any force, the ME will do the work. If you see the cantilever deflect you're pushing too hard.
Used regularly, this method will remove all traces of the vinyl buildup layer. I have styli with nearly 1,000 hours on them whose color and clarity are indistinguishable from new.
After every side, without fail.
That layer of vinyl molecules attracts more gunk with every play. Don't let it get started and your stylus will always be at its best.
Every stylus cleaning method involves risk. The ME uses no chemicals or solvents, so the risks are limited to operator error. Pay attention at all times.
I do know of two ME-related disasters, both involving Lyra cartridges that lost their styli. In the same time period a third Lyra owner lost a stylus while cleaning with Lyra's own (liquid) stylus cleaner. Conclude what you will. I'm inclined to think Lyra's methods for affixing styli to cantilevers might need improvement. I'm unaware of ME-related problems with any other cartridges.
Of course, but the Magic Eraser combines sound scientific principles with the practical endorsement of hundreds of satisfied users. I wish I could sell them for $25 apiece!
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