A wonderful cartoon from years back shows two nerdy guys staring at an elaborate hi-fi system featuring a turntable and shelves groaning under the weight of countless LPs. The proud owner says, “The two things that drew me to vinyl were the expense and inconvenience.” I still laugh at that one. But other attributes draw those of us who regard records as the preferred playback medium, and that’s the sound. CDs and other digital formats are all well and good, and may even constitute the majority of recordings in a collector’s library. But hypothetically, if push came to shove—left with only one pair of interconnects—many dedicated listeners would jettison all of their silver discs in order to preserve their turntable.
Thankfully, both analog and digital formats can peacefully coexist in the audiophile ecosystem. And if one were sufficiently prescient to have kept their record collections intact during the era of the CD, that collection likely represents decades of musical memories and hundreds—or even thousands—of LPs in varying states of preservation. If vinyl is an audio religion of sorts, serious acolytes are only too happy to draw newcomers into the fold, and for them, there are so many affordable turntables, arms, cartridges and phono preamps available these days that anyone who wants to start building a collection can jump into the analog pool for a few hundred dollars and still have resources left over to actually buy records.
Sometimes, though, the vinyl bug bites hard, by which point, you’ve invested more in your turntable than you spent on your first car. While everyone else thinks you’re nuts, you sit back and reap the rewards of sonic bliss that playing a great album on a great ’table brings to the musical experience. Not to mention, the pleasure to be taken in the process. Browsing a record shelf, slipping the LP from its sleeve, setting it on the platter and cueing up the tonearm is all part of the deal—in much the same way decanting a bottle plays a role in the enjoyment of an old Bordeaux.
Unlike compact discs, which can suffer some dirt and still be read by the CD player’s laser, a vinyl record needs to be scrupulously clean in order to reveal the treasures buried in the grooves. Some collectors rely on ultrasonic cleaners to initially wash their records—old and new—to remove stamper-release agents or years of accumulated dirt and dust. That process is generally a “one-and-done.” It’s the regular pre-play brushing of a record’s surface that ensures quiet playback, free of ticks and pops caused by surface dust and static build-up. And that’s why every owner of a turntable should keep an anti-static record brush close at hand.
Which kind of brush depends on one’s budget, and mindset. Pro-Ject, Hunt and Ortofon all make nice handheld brushes for about the price of a new 180 g LP and that feature flexible carbon-fiber bristles that remove dust and dissipate static. To some, however, using a $29 brush for a turntable costing 100—or 1,000—times as much, is like putting rubber floor mats in a supercar or eating with a plastic spork. Sometimes, you just want a little luxury.
Ramar is a small Berlin-based manufacturer of artisanal record brushes and accessories. The company’s founder, Rangel Vasev, developed his brush after finding none on the market that met his standards, aesthetically or with regard to materials employed in their manufacture. “While searching for the right equipment, it became clear to me that there was a lack of quality and sophistication in hi-fi accessories,” says Vasev. “I simply could not find a record brush that worked excellently and met my design expectations. Thus, I was inspired to design my own.”
His efforts paid off, as this year, Vasev received the German Design Council’s 2021 German Design Award for Excellent Product Design—Entertainment. How many brushes get an award for design? That may be because the body and lid of each brush are milled from a solid piece of hardwood, creating a beautiful object in its own right.
Three models of identical design are available, and each has a name. Tina is a rich brown walnut with a filigreed grain pattern, Red is reddish-brown cherry, and Joni is a golden-grained ash. The wood of each brush is dense and glass smooth, with a matt-oiled finish for a luxurious feel.
But there is more to the Ramar brush than superficial finishes. Its bristle complement combines six double rows composed of millions of carbon fibers and two rows of goat hair, arranged by hand in a specific pattern for efficient dust removal. Whether encountering fine dust or larger dirt particles, the combination of carbon fibers and goat hair carefully dislodges every microscopic interloper from the record surface and picks it up safely. And the material properties of the bristles and the design of the brushes ensure optimum dissipation of any electrostatic charge, while also preventing new static formation during cleaning.
The bristle cover is made of electroless nickel-plated aluminum. Nickel is one of those warm, luxurious finishes that add a touch of refinement to metal surfaces, whether it’s a Josef Hoffmann lamp or a piece of Bauhaus door hardware. On the underside of the deep wooden lid is a nickel-plated insert that bears a serial number and the engraved signature of the designer. The magnetic property of the insert allows the included stylus brush (also available separately) to reside within the lid. Itself a miniature work of art, Angus, as the stylus brush is named, combines brushed stainless and wood, and features a delicate carbon-fiber brush head specifically designed for cleaning delicate styli at the end of a cartridge’s cantilever. Inset into each corner of the wooden lid is a minute magnet that secures the lid to the body of the brush, protecting everything inside from damage and dirt.
Because dust is Ramar’s sworn enemy, in addition to the record and stylus brushes, a special white hand mitt called Dusty is designed for gentle cleaning of vacuum tubes and other demanding surfaces of delicate electronic equipment. Made of soft micro-polyester and polyamide, it can be dry cleaned and reused infinitely.
“We design high-end accessories with clear lines and attention to detail for people who appreciate craftsmanship and sustainability,” says Vasev. “By numbering each brush, we can trace the materials and the date of each product’s manufacture, and by whom each brush was made.” At the customer’s request, and if necessary, the fibers can be renewed, making each Ramar brush an investment for the long run.