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The GEM Dandy does come with one warning. It shouldn't be used with 78s. Merrill told me that 78s are laminations on either paper or aluminum cores. The pressure washing system can actually remove the lamination and destroy the 78 over time. With flood-damaged LPs however, the GEM Dandy can be used to remove the decomposed record sleeve paper from the grooves.

Okay, now comes the part where I admit that I can be a little dense at times. Or perhaps the case for proper record cleaning was never made clear to me. I always equated record cleanliness with being noise free. I thought that record cleaning was about getting rid of as many of those annoying clicks and pops as possible. With the GEM Dandy and the very fist LP I tried, I learned the folly of my misconception. I'd also read about how cleaning the mold release from brand-new LPs was a good thing but on my machine, that never seemed to make a difference, either. Now I get it. The GEM Dandy allowed me to hear what proper LP cleaning is all about. Now I also understand what cleaning a brand-new LP is about because I can easily hear the effects.

Proper cleaning of an LP is about a lot more than clicks and pops - though the removal of groove damaging debris is a very good thing. From the very first LP I cleaned, I heard brand-new life injected into the music. In particular, I heard new illumination throughout the midrange, detail and textures I never did before. I heard the most micro of micro dynamics improve tremendously. I heard into the recording as never before as if a veil or two were removed. In short, it sounded as though I'd upgraded to a much more expensive cartridge.

If you've ever waxed your own car, you know how easily the polishing cloth slides over the newly polished surface. Before the coat of wax, the cloth drags. Afterward it moves as though on a cushion of air. This is exactly how my LPs sounded after one cleaning on the GEM Dandy. I could sense the stylus moving – gliding -- though the grooves without pre-cleaning drag. The music provided evidence that the stylus was freer to respond to the groove modulations and the sound simply opened up. In amplifier terms, the LP now had much more of that illuminated-from-within SET life. That's indeed the best way to describe what I was hearing - new life from my LPs.

If we take the analogy to ice, one can easily imagine how much better the skating would be on freshly polished ice. The skating is not only faster but the consistency of the polished surface will mean the skater can perform more predictably and with greater precision. This is exactly what I was hearing. One of the first few records I cleaned was a 1971 pressing of Ten Years After's A Space In Time [KC 30801] which has survived pretty well over the years. It's relatively noise free and guitarist Alvin Lee is just spectacular. But in audiophile terms, the recording never was very good. No air, no space and it sounded as if being viewed from behind a dirty pane of glass to mix my metaphors. Well, that was before it got dandified. What I heard left me slack-jawed and just a little bit giddy. I heard lots more air and space as the recording opened up for a big gulp of air and sunshine. As if that weren't enough, the new tone, body and textures from Lee's guitars were astounding as if they too were more illuminated. 37 years of muck and grime had been removed for a rejuvenating face lift. Time and time again I just couldn't get over the surprises the newly cleaned record had in store for me, particularly in the area of midrange articulation, illuminated textures and speed of attacks.
Crack The Sky's 1983 pressing of World In Motion [Criminal Records PRT 1696] responded as well though a little differently. The sound of this LP has been a little on the scratchy side. Not record scratchy as in click and pops but more akin to a scratchy pre-cold throat. There's some glare, the sound is brittle and timbres seem pushed up a little toward the treble. After its cleaning, the scratchy throat was gone, the timber was restored to neutrality and the sound was much less brittle. Tonal colors deepened too for a much warmer overall presentation.

After that I grabbed one of the nastier records in my collection; Thomas Dolby's The Golden Age Of Wireless [EMI ST12271]. I bought this 1982 recording used for $1.50. This LP sports the kind of icky sound I'd always attributed to dirty records -- lots of surface noise -- as well as the bleached-out brittle sound of the Crack The Sky LP. If I was already a little giddy, I think I may have heard myself gasp as I listened to this one now. Though I'd cleaned this one before on my Nitty Gritty, the noise was further reduced by - oh, 80%. As previously described, the brittle bleached timbres were replaced with real color and density. While I know rotational speed was unchanged, the music sounded subjectively faster and more rhythmic. This had to do with increased transient speed and microdynamic detail as the LP, again, was injected with an added dose of life.

Following my findings, I talked with George Merrill by phone. I don't want to turn this review into a session of hero worship but George just seems like one of the most genuine and down-to earth guys you'll ever meet. His love for music and dedication to vinyl is obvious. Everything he told me had the ring of truth because I'd already heard the effects of the GEM Dandy. What he told me was exactly as I was hearing it, no more, no less. No marketing, no BS. I asked him about the cleaning solvent
and he told me that it was a completely proprietary product co-developed between himself and a life-long friend who makes a living in the chemical industry. "The Super Cleaning" solution was formulated to clean and preserve polyvinyl chloride. When I asked him about the GroOove Lube, he told me that it would take the effects I'd already observed to the next level and it would prolong the effects as it protected the vinyl. Merrill recommends using the GroOove Lube after every 20 plays. As I'd already guessed, he also recommends its use as a way to improve the durability of the stylus because wear and frictional drag are reduced.

Returning to the listening room, I replaced the Ten Years After record and gave it a spin. I was impressed how quiet the lead-in grooves were as the volume of the music slowly ramped up from silence. I listened to the side of the LP once again before treating it with GroOove Lube. The first thing I noticed was that GroOove Lube isn't formulated with tons of alcohol so it doesn't entail a race against the clock as one frantically works to distribute it across the record surface before it evaporates. The directions instruct the user to use about 1/3 of the eye-dropper and apply it to the edge of the included flat sponge, then use the sponge to distribute the solution onto a spinning LP, allowing 2 minutes for migration. As the record spins, it'll look like portions of the LP are wetter than others but cease rotation, inspect the record and you'll find that it's probably wet all over. Resist the temptation to use more GroOove Lube than directed. Next up is the use of the buffing pad to more evenly distribute the solution across the spinning LP while taking off excess. Then allow 10 minutes to dry.

I can't say that GroOove Lube affected a change of the same magnitude as the basic cleaning but it indeed did take the effects a step or two toward the next level. I thought high frequencies in particular were a little more there and the presentation literally seemed to project into the room as it didn't before. Tonal color deepened as well. But don't take that as a damning with faint praise. I've used LAST products in the past and wasn't very impressed. I also tried Gruv Glide but found its use too messy and its effects too negligible. If the GroOove Lube had no effect at all on sonics but preserved the vinyl and reduced wear, it would be good enough for me. If its long-term effects are as Merrill claims -- and I see no reason at all to doubt his word -- it's a pretty solid investment in the long-term care of your records.

By now it should be obvious that I think the GEM Dandy Hydraulic Record Cleaning Apparatus is the next best thing to vinyl itself. I'll reiterate that it is not just a cost-effective solution for those who can't justify the expense of a more expensive cleaner. It's the best cleaner I've ever used. It brought about changes I had no idea were possible from LP. I can't recommend it any more fervently than that. As for the GroOove Lube... well, it's a little more difficult to get as excited. That's not to say it's not a great idea. I just strikes me as being akin to purchasing life insurance. You know it's something you should do but the immediate payoff isn't there to the same degree as with the GEM Dandy. Still, you will like what you hear and you'll feel good about doing something healthy for your vinyl. For the asking price in terms of dollars, time and effort, it seems like a no-brainer as well. Both products are highly recommended as the best products I know to take care of your records. That they just happen to be extremely affordable is an added bonus. Great stuff!
Quality of packing: Nothing fancy but everything arrived safely.
Reusability of packing: Very.
Ease of unpacking/repacking:Very easy.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Complete.
Quality of owner's manual: Inexpensively constructed but complete.
Website comments: Information on the Gem Dandy is sparse right now
Warranty: 20-day full-satisfaction return policy, 1 year warranty. Hey, it's almost entirely constructed of PVC. What can go wrong?
Human interactions: Outstanding. George Merrill prefers Southern hospitality and the personal touch of the phone call to E-mail but you'll get him either way.
GEM replies: Unfortunately the cost of production has increased so I have raised the price to $149 - George Merrill
GEM Analog website