AFI FLAT Record Flatener


I have had a FLAT (that does have a nice ring to it) for several months and here are my impressions:

1.     I love the look and what appears to be very solid German design and construction.

2.     Its operation is straight-forward and it has performed without any issues.  The only thing I would note is that, as stated in the user manual, the cool-down cycle will not function properly in very warm ambient temperature.  It basically cannot fully complete the cool-down cycle.  After confirming this for myself (I am guessing the room temperature was around 27 or 28 C) I from then on ran it with my aircon on (24 C ambient temperature) for the cool-down cycle with no issues.

3.     I have found its ability to flatten records excellent, five stars. This is described as the Standard function. I thought that I would have limited use for this feature, but since getting the FLAT I have been much more observant and found that quite a few new records that I have bought are dished.  The Standard cycle has successfully flattened all my warped records.

4.     It also has another function, Relax, which is of much interest. This is a milder version of the Standard cycle.  Unfortunately, there is zero description, apart from how to operate it, that I could find in the 19 page user manual on this.  I wanted to know what Relax is meant to accomplish and whether it can be used on both played and unplayed records, and new and old.  I have been told, but have not been able to substantiate, that the designer believes it to release something trapped in the vinyl during pressing. I wanted to know whether there is any audible difference using this cycle so I managed to find two identical unplayed records in my collection of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”. They are US pressings but not the original 1971 pressing but must have been a subsequent Warner Bros/Reprise “Super Saver Series” reissue which I picked up around 1987-88.  I checked that they had identical Matrix/Runnout identifiers.  I cleaned both with my KLAudio Mk2 cleaner and used the Relax cycle on one.  A day later I played the non Relaxed record with a friend with excellent audio ears.  The recording quality was not the best.  We then put on the Relaxed record.  We were both amazed.  There was a very significant difference.  The non Relaxed record was irritating and the Relaxed record was transformed to listenable.

5.     I later listened to a 1987 German pressing on Warner Brothers of “Shaka Zulu” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  I would have had this record for over 25 years but had not played it.  I had washed it with a KLAudio Mk1 in Nov 2014.  It is an excellent recording and pressing. I put it through the FLAT’s Relax cycle and listened to it again.  It is not often that I can compare two events separated by 18 hours and categorically be sure of the outcome.  The recording had a significant increase in ambient information that turned an excellent recording into something special.  I think also that the soundstage was improved in width and solidity.

6.     The Relax cycle will only take out the mildest of warps.  Nearly all warps need the Standard cycle. 

Since, I started to Relax FLAT all my best recordings.  I highly recommend this device to take out warps, and also more importantly for me, to Relax favourite recordings for improved sonics.  I would not be without it.

All the best,
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bluewolf,

I'll be the first...

First of all, THAT IS ONE BEAUTIFUL PIECE!.

I can see that it would be a on a higher plane...... a pride of ownership!

The originators must have enlisted an art designer of high pedigree in the design of this piece.

All I can say is, if YOU hear the difference, that's all that matters. I'll stick with my Vinyl Flat.

Cheers.
Thanks @slaw for your comments. Reading between your lines I surmise that you do not think that there would be a sonic difference.  Thanks for putting this in a diplomatic way.  It is a refreshing change to a response I received to a recent post I made in relation to my impressions of a cartridge with one Audiogonger launching a personal attack on my listening credibility.

I do not readily jump to conclusions and I was sceptically inquisitive when I conducted my experiments. I also had with me a person with one of the best set of ears in the business, who is very hard to convince.  I have never used the Vinyl Flat.  It is a wonderful device for the money and does not suffer from our hobby's ridiculous multiple levels of markup with it being sold direct by the maker.  If you get a chance, maybe you should try a milder than flattening process with your Vinyl Flat to see if you hear anything.

All the best.
bluewolf, I´m glad you find it doing the job. How much does it cost
Very interesting. Thanks for posting your review- did you buy this? I hadn’t even heard of it-- apparently Roy Gregory reviewed it this year, and had the same comments about the "Relax" function- not a lot of information from the manufacturer, but according to Roy that feature "heats any disc to a lower maximum temperature and then slowly cools it to remove mechanical stresses from the pressing."
Flattening is, to me, a dark art. I have a Vinyl Flat and a Furutech DF-02. Both work pretty effectively, the difference largely being the degree of labor involved. I have yet to establish guidelines for "repeatability" of effectiveness, and I doubt same exists, largely because the problems of warpage and potential damage each record suffers from vary widely, record to record. (i.e. a warped record that is barely playable may get flattened but still be unplayable due to other problems and occasionally, flattening exacerbates the problem).
One thing I have done on the Furutech is to reduce the amount of heating time applied to medium weight and light weight LPs- which are often the records most plagued by strange warps- due not only to thinness of the pressing, but probably owing to the vinyl formulations used at the time. (I’d say my success rate is probably in the range of 70-75%, which is pretty good, given that I’m usually flattening old records with troublesome warps).
Whether I’d go through the trouble of "processing" otherwise unwarped records to improve the sound would remain a question mark to me, but I haven’t heard it. I’m a little wary of applying heat to records, and only jumped into the "flattening" arena to salvage otherwise unplayable records, so consider the risk small on that front.
Would be interested in further info if you get more from the manufacturer and/or have more to report based on your use of this. It certainly is a nice looking piece of design.

postscript: curious to know if flattening function is lower heat, longer cycle times than the Furutech? The price, Harold, according to Roy’s piece, was in the neighborhood of 2000 Euros (2400-2500 in Germany), though another site quoted a higher price--perhaps that depends on territory/location of purchase.

@whart , A friend helped me to get a unit on loan as I had some warped records. All I initially intended to do was try and take those warps out, and then return the unit. I had it for 2 months. I have since placed an order and will get mine in Jan 2017.

I used the AFI on thin to 180g vinyl and it consistently took all warps out. This was on the Standard cycle. It takes the record very steadily up to 60 degrees C and then from memory keeps it there for 5 or 10 minutes (I think the latter), and then very slowly brings the heat down. This cycle would typically take around 4 hours. The Relax cycle, as far as I could observe, was the same except that it only kept the record at 60 degrees C for 1 minute. There is also a user programmable cycle which I did not try.

In the time I had it, I Standard cycled or Relax cycled more than 40 records with no issues.

The design is lovely and the FLAT is beautifully made. This is a set and forget item during its operation. It is undoubtedly expensive. I could not have justified the purchase for simply flattening, although I may be changing my mind on this, as now I am more focused on looking for warps and I seem to see more of them in my collection. And as I mentioned in the review, I cannot believe how many of my newly acquired recently pressed records are dished. However, the sonic results from the Relax function have amazed me and moved me to make the purchase.

After I get my unit, I will report back on my continued usage experience.

All the best.
Bluewolf-whart

Very interested in disc flatners Further info on use/results, cost, where to obtain, build quality would be highly appreciated.

Have great interest in TTs that use vacuum hold down. But as far as I know only SOTA TTs and Tech Das can be had. I certainly believe Flat disks are beneficial to SQ. Most TTs have a clamp. Others have clamp & ring. I always thought the ring would be PITA.
So flattening and "Relaxing" your Vinyl is of great interest to me; especially "Relaxing" Since I am a vinyl guy. Taking care of my vinyl started 45yrs ago & being "picky" about the my record purchases from the beginning 
I have a VPI for ever, bought an AD in January, Own Fureteck D'mage & D'stat since they came on market. Stylus care too.
It all starts with the source! Taking care of it pays off as you move up your Front End. TT, Arm, Cartridge. I have 3000 records. Only 3-4 unplayable but hopefully I could flatten them one day. Others are dished or have long warps that are playable but always thought they would play and sound better if they were flat.
The "Relaxing" part is the most interesting. From an Engineering view point, this makes sense.

Again! It all starts at the Source! 
Giving the TT, Arm, Cartridge LESS Work means they they can retrieve the most from the groove,

Any more Info, thoughts, experience that you share would be greatly appreciated. Should benefit others too.

Thanks
Thanks, @bluewolf .
Like many things in life, once you focus on something, like warps, you see them everywhere! :) Those heavy ’50s and ’60s records are pretty bulletproof; the problem really seems to arise with the stuff in the later ’60s-after the "pop/rock" boom, where lots of records sold in big quantities, probably calling for cost efficiencies in manufacture--and of course oil crisis and later stuff. Funky storage- heat, probably contribute to it as well. New records- the few I buy of ’standard issue’ (not fancy audiophile stuff) come warped sometimes, but those seem to flatten very easily-- maybe vinyl memory--how long a record has been warped--is a factor. (Alas, my Cloud Atlas Sextet record, a new "cheap" record that is now out of print and no longer cheap--repeated cycles improved one side, but it still skips on the other). Are you in the States? (Just curious if the product is available here). regards,
may you always have flat, clean records,
bill hart
Here’s a review
http://www.theaudiobeat.com/blog/afi_flat.htm
Price is €2000 + tax or €2490 in the German market. Now, who distributes in the U.S.?

wlutke  Thanks for the link! Appreciate it. Still very expensive and would like to hear others opinions on the "Relax Program"
Not offered in US?
Thanks Again, nkonor 
  I have owned my Orb DF-02 ( they make the Furutech and Air Tight units) and it has worked flawlessly.  It gets more use now than ever with all the 180gm vinyl that are dished.

  Good to see another entrant on the market
One assumes nobody still flattens records using glass sandwich in preheated oven on WARM for about 5-10 minutes. Experimentation with the actual temperature and time in the oven is advised to avoid damaging the record. Weighing down the top glass plate with say, lead weights will assist in flattening the LP, but not a telephone book that would absorb too much heat.

cheers
Hi all,
l've just taken delivery of an AFI flattener too and am quite amazed by it already.
So far I've used it on 6 records. In all cases I used the "relax" setting, and also the "standard" setting (in addition to the relax setting) on 3 of them.
The standard setting got rid of the warps with no problem.
What  I have found amazing is the sonic benefits from the relax mode. Every single record has been markedly improved.
The records I've used so far are a mix 1960 choral recordings, a 1978 MFSL and a 1958 Dave Brubeck original pressing that my dad bought before I was born.
To my ears the relax "treatment" seems to strip away a layer of grain and any residual harshness in recordings. The sense of musical flow and ambience of the recording venue is really enhanced as is the tonal quality of voices and instruments.
In my view the improvement to the sound quality of my system has gone up a huge notch- certainly equivalent to a big upgrade in hardware.
It's not cheap (I bought mine from a friendly Belgium supplier - happy to pass on details if anybody interested) but if you are serious about vinyl then it's definitely up there with the essentials like a good cleaner is my opinion.
Regards
howard.



Howard,

Thanks for your continuation to this thread. I am interested in how to acquire an AFI Flat. Please Do post the details. Also your findings on further use of the Relax Cycle.

 It is a spendy piece of gear; but what isn't in this hobby?

I am a vinyl guy. Two TTs, 3000lps, an Audiodesk, a VPI 16.5 that is now used to "rinse" after AD cleaning and a Furutek D'Mag and D'STAT. Just seems like the logical thing to have in the quest.

Thanks
Norb
Still have not found any distributor in the USA or cost $. Keep hoping someone her can provide a lead on the AFI Flat in the USA.

Thanks in Advance 
Hi Norb
you could try emailing Francis (francis@technologyfactory.com)- he is in Belgium and shipped mine to London having obtained units directly from Germany. I'd be surprised if he couldn't ship to you in the US too.
I've been using the AFI Flat for a week now and continue to be hugely impressed by it on every record used.
The sonic benefits are really obvious - all the usual hi fi things (everything is simply clearer and cleaner sounding), improved dynamism and soundstage: in short it allows your system to perform to its fullest potential as you are giving it a better source. Having spent ££$$ and assembled a system capable of high resolution performance it must make sense to feed it the highest resolution source, which this does (as does keeping records properly cleaned- I also use the Audiodesk and find this comparable in terms of upping the ante of what vinyl can achieve sonically).
What  I am finding is that under close scrutiny most of my vinyl, while not grieveously warped, is at least slightly wobbly - in many cases making the lowering of the stylus onto the beginning of a side a bit fraught.
i have therefore been routinely using the Standard setting and then the Relax setting on all records. It takes a while but if you do the Standard setting last thing at night and the Relaxed one first thing in the morning you have a complete job done for the evenings entertainment !
There are significant sonic benefits just from the Standard mode by the way: I have tried records having just used that and can report that the effects are not unlike the Relax mode - which again makes sense if you think that the stylus isn't having to ride the equivalent of a near tidal wave as it travels across a record.
I can't recommend this AFI Flat too highly.
On a seperate note, how is the demagnetiser ? I was intrigued when I read about it - albeit the AFI seems to do what the reviews I read said the demagnetiser did - maybe they get to the same destination by a different path ?
If the demagnetiser adds to what the AFI Flat does (or vice versa) that would be very interesting indeed !!
Regards
Howard

I give my badly warpped records away and get better copies.Good luck.
Howard,

l just got an email off to Francis about the AFI Flat. Thanks You for his email address.
The demagnetizing works independent of any cleaning regime that you do. I agree combined with flattening it would indeed be interesting.
 I have been looking closely at my records and find almost all exhibit some deviation from Flat. Even the supposedly best pressings.
From an engineering background, it just makes sense that Flat records will mean less work for the Tonearm and Cartridge.
Is all this labor and $$/ euros worth it? Only each individual can decide. For me; the answer is yes!

Each step in record care has always produced positive results. From diskwasher/ Zerostat days to VPI days to enzyme fluids to demagnetizing to ultrasonic cleaning and All combined into a total regime.

IMHO - Clean, Flat, Demagnetized records are worth the effort for the results. Hope to be able to add RELAXED to the formula.


Hi Norb,
hope you sort it out with Francis ok.
i totally agree with your view about improving the source - after all the whole process is about making the best of it - as a matter of logic if you have a better source (record) you maximise the benefits of having a good system.
What have been your experiences with the demagnetiser ?
There's no going back after the AFI : last night I dug out a long unplayed (20 years ?)  copy of The Dreaming by Kate Bush.
It was so bad I gave up before the end of side two - it was just irritating (hence the 20 year gap ?)
24 hours later after the full AFI treatment I'm sitting here actually able to listen to it (not that I'm a great Kate Bush fan !) and it's remarkably pleasant.
It wasn't noticeably warped or anything - it just sounds good now, whereas it was screechingly crap before, (even through Avalon Compas Diamonds).  
Best regards
howard 


Howard,
Moving a bit slow, had back surgery 4 weeks ago. Have been using the D'Mag so automatically for last 7-8 years; that I just assume it is doing its job.

 I am getting better every week and have plenty of time. So I will dig out say, 10 records that I have not played in years. (They have only been cleaned on my VPI) I will listen and then D'Mag them and give you my rundown on what just what the D'Mag does alone.

Probably a good excercise to go over a VPI cleaning + D'Mag + enzyme + ultrasonic + rinses and listen to each evolution of the disk. I also have a half dozen 45 rpm disk that I have acquired just before surgery and not even opened yet.
Should be an interesting project during my rehabilitation period.

Thanks for your inspiration / motivation.
 
Norbert 

Have not heard from Francis yet.


Oh sorry to hear about your back - ouch !!! Hope you recovering well !
look forward to thoughts on the demagnetiser. Real life is far more helpful than reviews - especially when you turn over the review in the magazine to find a huge advert for the product which paid the reviewers wages ..,
the AFI continues to amaze me - I've emailed Francis so hopefully he will get back to you ASAP .
remember the pain killers !!

howardalex,

How are you? Heard from Francis finally. Been a long recovery from back surgery but on the right path now.
Furetech DeMag-- all round = quieter, better imaging, depth and width. Subtle details standout. Would not give it up! 
You don't need to DeMag both sides of LP, but so easy and automatic in my regime that I don't even think about it. I am not sure what happens, but the DeMag effect does wear off, disapate, re- magnetize the LP. My opinion is for a vinyl guy with the bucks, It's worth it.
Glad that I have had all this time off work, but I am ready to get back to work so that I can get the AFI.

Best wishes,
Norbert
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