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LAST Factory Products Will Brighten Any Vinyl-Head's Holiday

12-10-2023 | By Nan Pincus | Issue 130

As we approach the holiday season, our impulse is often to get new, get more, get everything. New releases and reissues fill our notes app as we shop for records for the fellow audiophiles in our life, perhaps occasionally picking up an album or two for our personal collection. The process of collecting is a pleasurable one and not one I would dare criticize. After moving across the globe this spring, I am grateful every day for the decision to bring not only a portion but my entire record collection with me. It was an absurd decision—a heavy, heat-sensitive, and highly sentimental library is not a prime candidate for a cargo ship to Cairo—but it was the right one. I listen to my records every day, and that's one of the reasons why I was so excited to try out LAST stylus cleaner, record cleaner, and record preservative, as I'm eager keep my collection sounding its best for years to come. Let's get into the products.

The Stylus Cleaner

Cleaning the stylus is the balling socks of the HiFi maintenance tasks. It's easy, it's fun, oh look it's already done. But this task is made even easier with LAST Factory's foolproof instructions. To pan out the reviewer's gaze to all three LAST products for a moment, they all had fantastically clear instructions. I taught a college course called "Professional Writing for Engineering and Technology Majors" this spring, and one of the assignments I gave to my students was to identify a set of instructions for a product that are effective, and a set that are less effective. I then had them analyze the visual and written rhetoric of those instructions and the ways they generate user ease or frustration. The small bifold black-and-white guides that came with each of these products would be ideal candidates for the "effective" category. The team at LAST Factory knows how to write instructions. Without naming names, I will say that clear accessible instructions are sometimes lacking from manufacturers in the HiFi space, which made these guides an unexpected pleasure.

Back to the stylus cleaner, the application is simple and satisfying. It's like painting the finger nail of your tone arm—a few quick but targeted passes with the brush is all you need. Then you dab off the brush to remove any dust or grime it collected and return it to the bottle. Now you're ready to drop the needle and get grooving.

The Record Cleaner

There are a lot of options for how to keep your records clean, but for those of us that haven't yet invested in an ultrasonic or vacuum cleaning machine, LAST Factory's cleaner is a great choice. It's a high-quality minimalist product that's as simple to use as putting three drops on the applicator, using the bottle's nozzle to spread it across the applicator's surface, and then circumnavigating the record with two passes. Then like the stylus cleaner, you'll want to remove the dust from the applicator before calling the job done. With an eye towards less is more, the instructions suggest cleaning the applicator by simply pushing it against the ridges of the cleaner's bottle cap. Simple enough, though I then recommend you clean the cap. Now, unlike the stylus cleaner, the record cleaner does cede a little room for error. Most importantly, the instructions advise that you do not put on more than three drops of the cleaner. More than that and you risk the record staying wet after the process. If you are the type of person that always ends up overwatering your house plants, take extra care as more than three drops will be counterproductive. Additionally, you should not apply excessive pressure onto your record. If your record is just unspeakably dirty and the two passes doesn't do the trick then you should add more passes instead of more pressure.

These two pitfalls are easy to avoid, making the LAST record cleaner a good fit for those inclined to feel that cleaning and maintenance tasks are onerous or risky. If you're cleaning a record right before playing it, you'll also find yourself spending barely any more time cleaning than the record with the LAST record cleaner than you would have with an anti-static brush. This is because along with having anti-bacterial properties, the cleaner has anti-static properties so you won't need to use your carbon fiber brush directly after cleaning. I have used the cleaner on records ranging from thrift store pick-ups that were visibly dirty to recently acquired new releases that were almost too factory fresh, and in all cases the process resulted in a clean ready-to-listen record.

The Record Preservative

To borrow a term from the classical world, the record preservative is the fermata of the LAST Factory line-up. While it's at the end of this piece, it keeps the music going indefinitely. That's also what LAST first-in-class record preservative does. Of course, reviewing a record preservative is a bit of an awkward task because the proof is in the future. I can drink red wine to reduce my risk of heart disease, but I really can't say if I'll eventually go to the grave with unobstructed arteries. The good news is that this record preservative has a history we can use to forecast the future. In fact, it was this product that launched LAST Factory as a company in 1979. Created by research scientists at the government-funded research center Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the product moved from the laboratory to the commercial market. Forty-five years later and this record preservative is still trusted in the industry as one of the best ways to maintain your collection.

For many of us, our records are more than just a medium for listening to music. I use my Naim streamer daily also, and there's no denying the ease of using lossless streaming services. But I reach for records because I care about them and the intentionality they demand. Even the difficulty in moving them around the world with me deepened my investment. Some of my records I've inherited from my grandparents, some were gifts that made my heart do a tarradiddle, and some are the products of travels that return to life as soon I pick up the sleeve.

It doesn't make sense to own records and not preserve them. Thus, the LAST record preservative is first on my list amongst these three products for a gift that will make someone's holiday. The application process is sister to that of the cleaner, with the main difference being that you pipette the preservative drops onto the applicator. Gliding a circle around your record with the prepared applicator is smooth and easy. Like drinking that glass of red wine, the fact that future benefits won't be seen until later doesn't change the fact the process in the present is enjoyable and satisfying.

Before I leave this review to preserve another record, I'll share the numbers. As of November 2023, these products are retailing on the LAST Factory website at $35.95 for the stylus cleaner, $38.95 for the record cleaner, and $64.95 for the record preservative. They are sure to make an unexpected but welcome gift for yourself or a fellow audiophile in your life.

Let's make our music last.

Stylus Cleaner

Retail: $35.95 

Record Preservative

Retail: $64.95 

Record Cleaner

Retail: $38.95 

LAST Factory

2011 Research Drive

Livermore CA 94550