“You need to harden up,” SoundStage! editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz told me a few years back. At the time I was complaining about the rigors of reviewing. My complaint at the time possibly centered on having to move a heavy amp. Or maybe it was because I had to actually visit the post office to mail a component. I forget the exact scenario.
While I don’t clearly remember the reason for my grumbling, I do recall his response, and it hit me like a lightning bolt. Jeff had never come down on me that hard. And he was right: There are people starving in this world. Wars. Bombings. All sorts of horrors. And there I was complaining about how much stereo equipment I had in my room.
Perspective is vital, and I think from that point on I refrained from telling Jeff about my equipment troubles.
But that said, I just hate it when I lift a record and static electricity also yanks the platter mat off my turntable. I hate it. I can sense Jeff rolling his eyes as he reads this for the first time.
Jeff is displeased.
Really though, I guess it would be appropriate to temper my feelings. Let’s say it’s mildly inconvenient, bordering on annoying. Still, it’s a thing, and I’m here to tell you that there’s a solution.
In the past I’ve tried a number of gadgets in my efforts to reduce LP static. I used to own a Zerostat gun and it kinda, sorta worked. Also in my arsenal is a Furutech Destat III.
All well and good, and the Destat III works as advertised, but with both of these devices you have to actively do a thing. You’ve got to pick up the device and treat both sides of the record, then lower the record onto the ’table. Sometimes I forget to do it, sometimes I just want to sit and delicately sip my decaf soy mochaccino, or whatever it is soft men like Hans Wetzel and me are wont to drink.
Back in March, I started my journey down the optical cartridge wormhole, dragged in by the magnificent DS Audio DS 003 system and the EMM Labs DS-EQ1 phono preamplifier. (If you haven’t already read about these products and have any interest in the state of the art in phono playback, I strongly suggest you give my review articles a read.) And along with the DS 003 system, Musical Surroundings, the US importer of DS Audio products, shipped me some nifty little accessories: the first being DS Audio’s ION-001 Ionizer ($1800, all prices in USD), whose express purpose is to eliminate static in vinyl playback systems.
Contained in this little tower are four ionizers: two that discharge positive ions, and two that discharge negative ions. The ions are emitted from two ports near the top third of the tower. The two ports are oriented so that the lower one sprays ions on the outer part of the record, and the upper one covers the inner section of the record. Of note here—the ION-001 does not employ a fan, and is totally silent. Furthermore, DS Audio claims that the ION-001 emits almost no ozone during operation.
Each port is illuminated by a green LED. The lights are dimmable, and can be turned all the way off. I left them on full blast, as I thought they looked kinda cool. As a side benefit, they let me know that the ION-001 was powered up. This is important, because DS Audio specifies that the ION-001’s ionizers have a lifespan of 10,000 hours. That’s a good number, and at three hours per day you should get around ten years out of the ION-001. Still, at price tag of $1800, you don’t really want to leave it running overnight when you’re not listening to music. Should you hit that 10,000-hour ceiling, DS Audio will replace all four ionizers for $750. That said, Musical Surroundings says that it hasn’t been asked to perform this update yet.
The build quality of the ION-001 is decent—it’s made of honest-to-God matte-black plastic, and the smooth surfaces don’t show the dust. There’s a nice-looking gold plaque on the lower-left side, and the power switch, ground wire, and dimmer dial reside on the right.
For use with my VPI Prime Signature turntable, I placed the ION-001 on a small box to elevate it by about an inch to get the ionizers up to the right height.
The ION-001 does need to be moved in fairly close to the platter, so you should make certain you can accomplish this before pulling the trigger.
While $1800 might seem somewhat pricey, the ION-001 gives good value, as it completely removes static, and for a price that, if we consider those three-hour listening sessions, works out to about 50 cents a day. It’s a big, definitive statement, but I’m quite comfortable proclaiming that the ION-001 eliminates static. I would fire up the ION-001 at the start of my listening session and shut it down at the end. I usually leave the last LP of the session on the platter, and cover the record with a plain paper inner sleeve to keep the dust off. The record had been carpeted with ions during its last spin, and at the start of the next session there would still be no static.
But what about sound quality, I hear you ask? Well, given the fact that there’s no real way for me to evaluate the effect of the ION-001 in back-to-back testing, I’m hesitant to claim any overt gains. However, my system has been sounding absolutely fabulous of late, and the ION-001 is likely to be responsible in some small way. But even so, the big payback from my viewpoint is the complete absence of static.
No static at all. Think about that. My delicate, lily-white hands would no longer be subjected to static snaps—my life’s troubles were over. Now I must find something else to whine about. . . .
There’s dust on my stylus! When will this torture end? Well, DS Audio also sorted this out for me. The other accessory in the Musical Surroundings horn of plenty was the DS Audio ST-50, an almost nauseatingly cute little pad that pulls dust off a stylus.
The ST-50 is comprised of a lab-grade, ether-based urethane resin pad that’s housed in a jewel-like, nickel-plated aluminum case. The whole thing is polished to a very high standard, and it made a musical little clink when the cover came in contact with the base. Underneath, the ST-50 is padded with leather, which sits proud of the chassis by just enough to prevent scratches to the underlying surface. I can’t stress enough how elegant this little gizmo feels in the hand.
With the cover removed, the ST-50 is a touch taller than the thickness of a 180g LP. The pad itself is just slightly proud of the surrounding chassis, which adds a margin of safety when maneuvering the tonearm around to meet the ST-50. That tiny bit of added height also seemed to help the part of the stylus that meets the cantilever to come into better contact with the urethane pad.
In use, simply place the ST-50 down on the record-less platter, move the tonearm over so the cartridge is above the pad, and lower the stylus until it makes contact. Lift, then lower again. Done!
I found myself conflicted about the results of this stylus-cleaning process. Not because I felt that it failed to work as designed. No sir, more because it did exactly what it was supposed to do. I consistently used the ST-50 after about every five records, and it never failed to pull off dust and the occasional hair.
However, each time the ST-50 pulled off a glob of fuzz, it further marred the elegant little pad, obscuring more of the writing that had been clearly visible through the crystal-clear urethane. There’s a parable somewhere in here about the ST-50 sacrificing itself for a greater cause.
As time went by and the ST-50 became grubbier with each use, I began to question whether the $80 price for this little unit was reasonable. Sure, it’s beautifully built, but is it worth putting that much craftsmanship into a device that you’ll just have to throw away after it’s used up? However, just last week I decided to read through the justifiably slim owner’s manual, and there I discovered that the ST-50 is washable and reusable! The ether-based urethane is hydrophobic, and a quick rinse under cold water flushed the grime away.
In my haste to dry the ST-50, I pressed it against my T-shirt—big mistake. The pad adhered to the material, so I had to wash it again to remove T-shirt lint. That mishap actually reassured me, as it proved that the adhesiveness of the pad survives the washing process.
So there you have it. All the troubles that vexed my analog life are now solved. I can flip records without suffering static snaps, cleaning my stylus is a pleasure, and I can finally relax and enjoy my system.
Oh wait. The dishwasher is finished, and now I have to empty it. I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.
. . . Jason Thorpe
DS Audio ION-001 Ionizer
DS Audio ST-50 Stylus Cleaner
Warranty: One year, parts and labor.
Digital Stream Corporation