Francis and Gordana were sitting there, the soon-to-be-given-back Wilson Benesch turntable sadly spinning away, both listening to that which was, up until five minutes ago, nearly unlistenable. It was Ina Dressel's lovely soprano voice singing, in full glory, "Glory to God to the Highest." And indeed, what a glorious event this was, and all made possible by the miraculous VPI HW-17F "Professional Record Cleaning Machine." Up until it got its meticulous wash/vacuum clean by the $995 VPI, this 1976 recording of Vivaldi's Gloria (Sine Qua Non, 7777), picked up at a sidewalk sale, had sat neglected in their record collection, too encrusted with dirt and grime to be any pleasure to hear, or bear. And it wasn't alone in its sad neglect.
For sitting near this Vienna State Opera Orchestra recording were other such who-can-resist-vinyl garage sale albums, like the one with the impossibly young Glenn Gould (standing next to Leonard Bernstein on the cover) playing Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 in G Major. The VPI passed its miracle cleaning wand over these records and others, and magically resurrected them. Oh sure, there was some residual hash from various ticks and pops, but overall, the noise floor had dropped precipitously, and in its decline, all kinds of heretofore obscured musical detail had come rushing through -- Including some that wasn't so musical, but fun nonetheless; like Gould's apparent humming while he played.
For a record junkie, the HW-17F (the "F' stands for fan; the regular HW-17 is fan-less) offers much more than just reclaiming vast tracts of unused vinyl real estate. The real charm of the HW-17 is the ritual that comes in using it. First, this VPI unit is big. It will not go quietly into the night of some equipment recess. Second, it is unbelievably noisy. Gears busily whir and crank, conjuring up images of 19th century industrial leviathans. After the first bristle brush is done with its washing chores and parked to the rear, and the residue vacuum cleaner head is positioned over the now mightily cleansed record and flicked on, the ensuing racket rivals that of a commercial-grade leaf blower.
But best yet, if, like Francis , you live in a high rise apartment building with sealed windows, and you add isopropyl alcohol like VPI recommends to its standard issue cleaning fluid, then, hoo-hah! A quick, cheap high is part of the cleaning package. Not only will the record be spinning on the VPI's cork platter, so will you be. Using just the non-alcoholic VPI solution is the safer bet, unless you can open all the windows, real wide.
So there Francis stood over the VPI, its gears clanking, the fan hurricaning, his head swooning, and the vinyl platter glowing liquid pearl black under the overhead halogen light. A memorable "high"- end experience, as the HW-17 did its down into the vinyl pores soaking, scrubbing, and sucking thing. And as he stood there, methodically doing platter after platter, he found himself reading the respective liner notes, looking at the cover art work, and reminiscing on where, when and how he had got this or that album.
Like Proust who wrote about the smell of some soup evoking childhood memories, so too, was Francis being transported back to some earlier nostalgic time and place. And when some ancien black treasure, like Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra in the "Pines of Rome" became amazingly playable again, he would sit back and wonder at the glory of it all. How could a hard metallic CD ever produce such an all encompassing, hand crafted experience? The enchantment of vinyl had at last become fully manifest.
As Francis and Gordana sadly packed up the Wilson Benesch review unit for its final voyage back to the factory, its long term review over and no turn table in sight to replace it, they could but reflect on all those now clean, musically resurrected discs, all cocooned away and darkly hunched together in their storage cabinet. It was a sad thought, like a hard winter snow covering barren ground. But such is the magic of vinyl that it can produce such sentimentality. It was a fitting finale to a wondrous experience.
Copyright 1997, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved
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