IT IS that season again -- time to consider gifts for the audio-minded. My general advice is not to try and second-guess your favorite stereo buff by purchasing him or her a major component. Concentrate on smaller items: those varied "accessories" that can be of genuine help to the stereo system owner and which often are ignored or lost or need replacement.
The most useful, and most abundant, are the devices and kits for the care and cleaning of records. Similar "light housekeeping" aids for cassettes run a close second in popularity and availability.
The oldest (and still among the best) products for normal cleaning and preening of discs are made by Watts Ltd., now distributed in the U.S. by Empire Scientific Corp. The line includes devices for both gentle and more intense cleaning and for anti-static treatment. Stylus cleaners also are available.
A comprehensive record-cleaning kit is offered by Audio-Technica, a firm which also markets aids such as anti-vibration feet for mounting and leveling a turntable and an automatic cueing device for lifting a tone-arm.
The well-regarded Bib line of accessories includes "Groov-Kleen," said to be the world's only parallel-tracking disc cleaner. Discwasher offers a variety of products including its "D4" cleaning fluid which is packaged, with a stylus brush, in the handle of a large brush that covers the entire record groove. And 3M has entered this field with its Scotch Record Care System: A rotary applicator automatically dispenses fluid for cleaning and anti-static treatment.
Stanton has a fluid-and-applicator system and many other brands offer similar devices. A relatively costly gadget is the "ionization gun" which sprays an electrical charge that neutralizes surface static. This is said to make it easier to remove dust with a more conventional cleaner; its necessity is uncertain. The Vac-O-Rec -- another fairly costly device about which opinion varies -- spins the record while the dust is dislodged by brushes and blown away by a fan.
For cassette equipment, 90 percent of owner care is a matter of cleaning the heads and associated parts on the tape machine, and degaussing them from time to time. The best cleaning is done with a solvent applied with a cotton-tipped stick. There are numerous kits at dealers that all seem to do this job equally well -- if the owner has direct access to the tape heads. Not all cassette decks permit such access; car-installed systems could present a problem. For these units there are "cleaning tapes" that are inserted like an ordinary cassette and "played" for a brief interval. Some of these will also do a fair job of degaussing. Available brands are legion, including many from the major tape manufacturers and specialty houses such as Nortronics and Robins.
Other goodies to appeal to the stereo buff include stackable storage units for records and tapes; heavy "center pieces" to place over a record label to help stabilize it on the turntable; goldplated signal connectors that resist corrosion; and tape splicers in both open-reel and cassette sizes. The newest gadget -- a high speed cassette winder (by Nagaoka) that can rewind a C-60 cassette in 35 seconds -- is obviously for the man in a hurry.