For some time used-record-dealers tend to advertise their product as cleaned before sale. I actually do the same! Sounds good at first but often ain’t that good in practice, at least to my experience. Why? That’s the reason for this little excursion into the world of record-cleaning.
Basically you could clean your records with everything from a damp cloth to a sinfully expensive professional cleaning-machine and everything inbetween. The question is: what are you aiming for? Given the audio-quality of used records that I bought in recent years the basic goal of most dealers seems to be: It just has to look good!
Acoustically though most of these cleanings turned out to be more or less useless. But for what reason? Basically most record-cleaning-machines work like an ordinary turntable: you place the record on the turntable, the cleaning brush(es) disperses the cleaning-liquid all over the record and finally the liquid gets vacuumed after several rotations. That’s the way most record-cleaning machines from Clear Audio, Hannl to Keith Monks, Lautlos, Loricraft, Moth, Music Hall, Nessie, Okki Nokki, Opera Audio, Project or VPI work. Dependant on model and manufacturer you have to fork out from 400.- to 4000.- Euro for it. But to be honest, I’ve never heard a convincing result by any of these machines. ‘Cause with this cleaning-method you simply spread the grease all over the record. For a deep-groove-cleaning the pressure of the cleaning-brushes apparently seems too low and the vacuum too weak to extract the liquid AND the grease. In the end the record actually looks fine but still has more or less audible surface-noise because the persistent dirt is still in the grooves, at different places only.
An alternate cleaning-method starts with a cheap Knosti-handcleaner – “machine” would be a real overstatement – and ends with Gläss’s highly expensive Vinyl Cleaner. The difference: the record is cleaned upright, so the liquid and the dust could drain off the record. That actually makes much more sense to me and the acoustic result is far more convincing than the usual flat-cleaning. The Vinyl Cleaner additionally uses ultrasonic, something I will get back to later. Btw, forget the more expensive version of the Knosti with a crank-handle at the label-plates. That’s completely useless! You definetely get better results with the regular version!!
Crucial for the result of both methods though is the quality of the cleaning-fluid. If you gonna use the 28th filtrate of some stock that has been in use for a year already you shouldn’t wonder about the results. The cleaner the fluid the better the results. But if that’s true, who needs one of these highly expensive cleaning machines?
Quite honestly, I don’t know! If you have to clean lots of records – if you own a record-store for instance – it’s certainly more comfortable to use a machine than to do it all by hand. On the other hand the cycle-time on a machine is more or less the same. Your only benefit is the time for drying and that you don’t have to do the cleaning yourself.
If you’re wearing glasses you probably know the principle of the Ultrasonic-cleaner: your greasy specs go into an ultrasonic-device at your optician and come out like new. All the grease is like blown away. Basically this also works with records and the result is pretty good! But an ultrasonic-device big enough for vinyl-records would also cost you from 300.- to 1200.- Euro.. And since all these devices are NOT made for cleaning records so you have to turn the record by hand to reach all parts – impractical! Though the 2450.- Euro retail for the above mentioned Gläss Vinyl Cleaner also doesn’t sound like a bargain to me! I have that one and of course like other machines it saves time when you have to clean many records. But the acoustic results are the same as above: mixed. Tenacious dirt or grease doesn’t get removed and the results for the lead-in- as well as the lead-out-grooves are usually disappointing (’cause the rotating cleaning-brushes hardly get to these parts). Like the flat-cleaners the cleaning-brushes of the Gläss doesn’t have enough pressure to reach the depth of the micro-grooves and obviously the ultrasonic-device is too weak to compensate for that. Even repeated runs doesn’t change that much. For really satisfying acoustic results I often have to double-clean the record by hand. But of course machines like that save quite some time since I can do other things while the machine is running. And with normally dirty records the audio-results are absolutely convincing. So finally it’s up to you for which type of record-cleaning-machine you decide. Flat-cleaners need a little bit more space. But no matter what you buy: at least acoustically you have to live with compromises and all but the good old Knosti are pretty expensive considering the actual results.
Since probably everyone has his own philosophy on this issue I’d love to hear your feedback! So let me know about your experiences.