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Positive Feedback ISSUE40
High Resolution Rinse and VoRTex Vacuum Replacement Tube
as reviewed by Marshall Nack
Audiophiles are always talking about pushing the envelope. Well, the envelope is ever elastic in Audubon, PA. Iíd wager that the question, "How far is enough?" doesnít occur to Lloyd Walker, whoís come out with two products to enhance his recently introduced vinyl washing product, the Prelude Record Cleaning System.
Thereís a new High Resolution Rinse that replaces the Ultra Pure Water in the final rinse cycle. Water beads up and stays on the surface. It does not disperse and tends to reject other fluids and contaminants. The replacement fluid is formulated to easily blend with remaining contaminants and suspend them, so they get sucked out along with the liquid. The HRR recipe includes a little bit of pure alcohol and proprietary additives to keep it from streaking.
The VoRTex Vacuum Replacement Tube is a substitute for the one that comes with VPI record cleaning machines. It is made of a special low-friction Delrin material that is self-lubricatingóit feels somewhat soft and slick like Teflon. It is designed with two goals in mind: to maximize suction power and to eliminate chemical contamination from rinse to rinse.
First, Walker narrowed the slit in the tube so the same amount of air is forced through a smaller opening. Then he took away the felt around the slit. As a result, the tube forms a better seal on the record and has more powerful suction.
The tube actually feels dry immediately after vacuuming. Itís true that it reduces fluid carry over between rinses. So, for those LP cleaning extremists among us, you no longer need to bother with multiple vacuum tubes for each fluid in a multi-step cleaning process.
The VoRTex kit includes two rubber "O" rings to be placed concentrically around the spindle on the VPI platter mat. Their purpose is to lift the LP off the mat, thus keeping the other side of the LP above all the dirt and contaminants lingering on the mat.
Functionality and Usage: Some Caveats
The two-page instructions direct you to insert the VRT all the way into the VPIís receptacle for it, and to make sure the slit is perpendicular to the LP. In practice, I found the suction drained more liquid when its slit was tilted slightly forward towards the record, as VPI recommends. Used this way the sucking-up action is about as good as the VPI tube.
And if you follow the instructions and push the VRT all the way into the HW 16.5 housing as instructed, it comes short of reaching the lead-out grooves near the spindleóan appreciable amount of vinyl area over there is left uncovered and any liquid beyond its reach is left behind. Again, when I asked him about this, I was told, "Thatís OK, donít worry about it." But I didnít want to have to sit around and wait for the fluid there to dry up, so I pulled the VRT out of the housing enough to cover the lead-out grooves and still cover the lead-in grooves. (Maybe the design has changed over the years. My VPI HW 16.5 machine is about thirteen years old.)
As for the supplied rubber "O" rings to lift the LP off the VPI platter mat and avoid all its contaminants, commercial LPs are often flimsy things and subject to the force of gravity. The outer edge of the records I wanted to clean all dipped downwards. Consequently, the VRT lost contact with that area. The "O" rings were jettisoned. (Maybe they work better with audiophile-grade heavy vinyl.)
One note of caution: if you have a very dirty record with sand, shavings, or other particles, wash these off first before cleaning. The VRT material is soft; so is the vinyl. Abrasive particles are liable to damage either the LP or the VRT. When I clean records I lightly apply Walker's brushes and let the LP spin. I donít scrub at all.
Finally, I wish the Walker brushes in the Prelude kit were maybe ľ″ longer. As they are, they barely cover the entire groove area and fall short on longer playing LPs.
The Rinse Cycle
I began with four sealed copies of The Great Pavarotti, a compilation London Records released in 1977 (OS 26510). The first copy I left untouched. The second got cleaned with the three fluids of the original Walker Prelude kit, following his instructions as follows:
The third copy of The Great Pavarotti got the same as the second with the substitution of the new High Resolution Rinse for the final water rinse. The fourth got the same as the third but with the VoRTex vacuum suction tube in place of the standard VPI tube.
The sonic results were as advertised. What, you donít believe me? No joke.
Prior experience with many Walker Audio offerings gave me expectations. I could see the new High Resolution Rinse making a difference. But the VoRTex? I was just as skeptical as you are now.
As I noted in my review, LPs treated with the three fluids of the introductory Prelude kit sound "hotter." They are dramatically clear and focused, emphatic at the frequency extremes, and more forward. Their sound reminds me of modern 180-gram audiophile reissue LPs. And just as with many of the reissue LPs, I have reservations concerning the dip in the midrange. In addition, I found the treble of Prelude-treated LPs more aggressive and the tonal balance shifted upward. (This is why the Walker Talisman worked so wellóit cooled the treble and brought the tonal balance back down.)
Replacing the Ultra Pure Water with the new High Resolution Rinse for the final cycle moves further in these directions. Now there are clear demarcations as Pavarotti steps from one note to the nextóthereís more of a break between them. On the LP treated with the introductory kit, Pavarotti kind of slides from one note to the next. Interestingly, even as the treble is more exposed, it has lost some of that aggressive tendency noted above with the three-fluid process. It also moves tonal balance down a notch. In these ways, the High Resolution Rinse is a great complement to the three-fluid process. My only remaining reservation is the dip in the middle.
And then there is the VoRTex. Believe it or not, the VoRTex replacement tube imparts similar sonic effects on its own, it builds upon those mentioned above. Now Pavarottiís subtle use of vibrato is apparent.
Each of these upgrades from Walker Audio serves to concentrate and focus tone production on the fundamental note value. Each tightens things up and removes fat and vagueness. Tonally, the effects conjure an image of a vertical column of extremely coherent frequencies, like big chunks of sound coming on and moving off the stage. The sound is dense.
Secondly, each added Walker step, including the VRT, brings out the frequency extremes. Caution is advised to be vigilant that a midrange suck out doesnít develop. Obviously, this can extract a heavy toll on frequency integration.
As each step tightens the grip, there is also a concurrent loss of some extra-musical, spurious stuff that possibly includes overtone information. This especially affects the treble.
Under these circumstances, it is easy to see how more information and latent micro-dynamic shadings will be dredged up that were only hinted at before.
You hear more nuances in Pavarottiís vibrato because it resides in the treble and that band is more exposed. The effects in the lower register are similar but different. Bass frequencies are augmented as the midrange is suppressed. The thinly scored orchestra backing Pavarotti dwells mostly in the lower frequencies. Consequently, itís now massive and somewhat smooth sounding.
I notice the same regarding the chorus on track three. The massed voices are in the midrange and lower, and they have a quality much like the orchestra. The soprano soloist on the other hand, comes forward and is spotlit, much like Pavarottióbecause she dwells in the upper frequencies.
I went back to the untreated LP after all this. Thereís nothing wrong with its sound. Itís just sweet, warm, flabby and undifferentiated. Oh, well. I guess thatís a pretty big difference. Of the four LPs, the one treated with the original Prelude had the most even frequency response in my current rig.
I also tested the effect of the High Resolution Rinse outside of the Walker Prelude process, as a final rinse after cleaning with Record Research Labs fluid. I got hold of two box sets of Aaron Copland Conducts (Columbia D3M 33720). Man, those seventies Columbia LPs are not only skinny, flyweight vinylóthey have anorexic sound to match!
The results here were consistent. The High Resolution Rinse LPs exhibited greater clarity and more energy at the frequency extremes, while fetching up greater information and dynamic nuance.
The two new products under review from Walker Audio, the High Resolution Rinse and the VoRTex Vacuum Replacement Tube, perform as advertised.
Being familiar with other Walker Audio products, I was not surprised that the High Resolution Rinse, which replaces the Ultra Pure Water in the final rinse cycle of his Prelude LP washing process, conformed to what I hear in his entire stable of products. If RESOLUTION is what floats your boat, Lloyd Walker is your man. Prelude-treated LPs that received the new rinse exhibited greater clarity and more energy at the frequency extremes. Many desirable attributes, including low-level details, dynamic range and imaging are enhanced.
Back when I reviewed the first iteration Prelude Deluxe Record Cleaning System, along with the good stuff, I had reservations about the augmented treble, the dip in the midrange, and an overall shift upward in tonal balance. (Note: all of these were offset by application of Walker's Talisman de-magnetizer prior to playing the LP.)
The new High Resolution Rinse addresses two of those. It tames the aggressive tendency of the treble and it drops tonal balance back down a notch. The one thing left to watch out for is the dip in midrange response. If your midband is weak, Prelude washing will exacerbate the weakness. If your system has issues with body, these products wonít be a good thing.
On a functional level, the VoRTex Vacuum Replacement Tube is a lateral replacement for the one that comes with VPI Record Cleaning machines. It sucks up liquids about as well as the stock tube. On a sonic level, results were more than a little baffling. Using the VoRTex independently of the High Resolution Rinse imparted similar effects as noted above. I can only attribute this to its elimination of fluid carryover. The VoRTex actually feels dry immediately after vacuuming.
I find myself going back to records I had previously cleaned with Prelude and giving them a one-shot treatment with the High Resolution Rinse and VoRTex. And those that got cleaned with other fluids that are still noisy get the full Prelude Quartet. Keep in mind these latest tweaks are fractional improvements. The big bang comes from the Prelude Record Cleaning System itself, a revolutionary product and the most advanced LP wash Iíve come across. Marshall Nack
VoRTex Vacuum Replacement Tube
Prelude Deluxe Record Cleaning System, with
Steps 1, 2, 3
Prelude Deluxe Record Cleaning Kit, with Steps 1, 2, 3 and three brushes
Prelude Quartet, with Steps 1, 2, 3, 4 and four brushes
High Resolution Rinse with brush