Studio housekeeping is never glamorous, but a few minutes spent cleaning plugs and sockets can save hours of troubleshooting.
Stedman are chiefly known for their industry-standard pop filters, and have built up a considerable reputation in this field with many weighty product endorsements. Now they are marketing a range of connector-cleaning kits and accessories under the PureConnect brand, aimed at studio users, pro audio crew and gigging musicians. There are three kits in the current range, and they each feature convenient solutions for the rejuvenation and maintenance of the most common types of audio connector, namely standard jacks (quarter-inch or 6.3mm, depending on where you live) in both TS (mono) and TRS (balanced/stereo) format, and the ubiquitous XLR connector. I'm sure that most of us who regularly use such connectors don't pay all that much attention to keeping them spotlessly clean and, if you're as lazy as yours truly, the only time they get attention is when something is clearly amiss. This is, of course, not really how it should be, and it was only when I had tried the PureConnect kit on a few of my own (perfectly serviceable) connectors that I realised just how much dirt was all over them. It was just like wiping down what looks like a nice clean table top and then looking at what's on the cloth.
The cleaning components themselves are simple but well made and designed, and consist of three types of disposable cleaning tools, a solid metal handle, and a quantity of proprietary cleaning fluid. Starting with the fluid, it's one of the most popular out there and goes by the brand name DeOxit, manufactured by Caig Laboratories. The Caig website doesn't go into detail regarding the main active ingredient (ie. the bit that breaks down the oxidisation on the metal surfaces), but there is at least one official reference to the fact that it isn't simply oleic acid, which can under some circumstances exhibit undesirable properties for this type of application. I think the longevity of the DeOxit brand speaks for itself, and it is of course endorsed and recommended by Stedman, but you could use any other type of contact cleaner with these kits — for more on this look at the Q&A section on Stedman's website. The kits carry a symbol proclaiming them free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are considered to be atmospheric pollutants commonly found in cleaning solvents, polishes and so on, so good on Stedman for going down this route.
The disposable cleaning tools have connector-specific uses: for jack plugs there's a circular cotton pad that you hold in one hand, apply a drop or two of DeOxit to and twist around the metal contacts. A couple of turns is enough, and you can see the surface contamination on the cotton pad. The DeOxit fluid leaves behind a very thin protective layer so the process shouldn't need repeating too soon, and I can tell you it's much less messy than my usual spray-can method that involves cleaning and lubricating most of my arm and the studio floor. The cotton pad even has a plastic backing with a built-in grip, so it's easy to hold, and there's no seepage.
For jack sockets, there's a quarter-inch 'microfelt' tip that goes right inside (again, a drop of DeOxit is applied first) but this time there's a neat little metal handle that holds the tip and makes it easy to insert and turn, and there's no need to touch the cleaner with your fingers. The microfelt tip has a small hole in the other end, and this is used to clean male XLR pins after inserting the tip into the handle the other way round.
Finally, there are smaller tips for use on female XLRs — these screw into the other end of the handle so you can have both affixed to a single tool to make several cleaning operations quicker. For such a simple device, the metal handles are beautifully engineered and sensibly heavy; you could use the tips without the handle, but they wouldn't last as long, and the cleaning fluid would eventually find its way fingerwards. My photos show the various cleaning elements in action, and the most surprising thing is the amount of crud that came from a single two-turn pass on what I thought was a lightly used, fairly new set of connectors.
The PureConnect Pro Kit, pictured above, contains 50 small microtips and 25 (dual–purpose) larger ones, 15 cotton pads, three small tubes of DeOxit fluid and two aluminium handles (the leaflet promises only one but I do believe you get two in the top–end kit). There's a mid-sized Studio Kit (model SK-1) containing a single aluminium handle and a smaller quantity of consumables, and finally Stedman have produced a GP-1 Gig Pack that's designed for the gigging musician, and this one has a plastic handle, some jack-sized cleaning tips, cotton pads and a tube of DeOxit. This kit is ideal for keeping instrument leads (and sockets) up to scratch and comes in a handy little tin — a sort of puncture repair outfit for musicians.
The components are well designed, nicely made, and the DeOxit cleaning fluid appears to be very effective...
I'd have to admit that buying a kit like this has never been something I'd previously considered a priority, but after using the PureConnect kit on just a few of my connectors I am thinking that this is actually a very good idea. The components are well designed and nicely made, and the DeOxit cleaning fluid appears to be very effective and is readily available from a number of sources. True, if I've had connection issues on the road then a quick squirt of contact cleaner has usually got me going again, but it would of course be better to know that everything is clean and protected before reaching the fix-it stage.
The PureConnect solution also goes beyond just cleaning plugs and sockets, and would be invaluable when refurbishing older equipment in the workshop, or as a final courtesy clean when repairing customers' gear. The kits are not all that expensive (consider the cost of the hardware you're protecting) and are, in one size or another, just about the best gift idea I've recently come across for the soundie/musician who has everything else.
Pro Kit £99.95, Studio Kit £49.95, Gig Pack £29.95. Prices include VAT.
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