Spin-Clean offers its Spin-Clean Record Washer MkII vinyl record cleaning systems, which have their origin in the first Spin n’ Clean record cleaning device in the 1970s. Mark Mawhinney currently owns the company and talks about the origin and evolution of Spin-Clean over the decades and his experiences as an audio retailer.
Don Lindich: Mark, I asked you for this interview because you are the owner and manufacturer of the Spin-Clean Record Washer MkII record cleaning kit ($79.99 - $149.99 depending on the model) and accessories, but your story is much bigger than the product itself, given your industry experience and other ventures. It is my understanding that the Spin-Clean goes back generations in your family. What can you tell me about your family history in the audio business?
Mark Mawhinney: My father owned a record store, Record-Rama, which opened in Pittsburgh in 1968. At age 10, I began working there on weekends. Then at age 15, before I could even drive, I started DJing [at] school dances, then weddings and parties.
I began my audio career at age 16 at a local hi-fi shop in Pittsburgh called The Listening Post. Later in the 1990s I opened Northern Audio Exchange, which was a consignment used-audio shop. Northern Audio Exchange morphed into Northern Audio a few years after that in a new location, where we began to sell new two-channel and home theater equipment. Then Music To My Ear, [which specializes in used and new vinyl, turntables and playback equipment], opened in Aspinwall about eight years ago and we moved to our current location on Babcock Blvd. in Ross Township about four years ago. We’re in the same building where Northern Audio is located, so that makes things much easier [in serving] the needs of our customers.
DL: I remember patronizing your Northern Audio Exchange used hi-fi store decades ago. Now you have a high-end specialty dealership and a record store that also sells popularly priced but high-quality components. Please tell us a bit more about your own experience in retail.
MM: I love retail because I love putting smiles on the faces of my customers. From designing a custom-home theater for a family that I know will now spend more time together, to selling an entry-level turntable to a high school student who is discovering vinyl for the first time, to hearing the success stories of how the Spin-Clean Record Washer brought new life back to cherished record collections, I take great satisfaction in helping others unlock the full fidelity of their music and entertainment experiences.
DL: You have been successful at a time when more and more brick and mortar retailers are going out of business every year. How have you managed to do this, especially since you have two stores serving two different markets?
MM: Despite the far-reaching effects of the pandemic, we have been extremely fortunate in that our businesses have flourished this year. In March of 2020, the world changed overnight, and everyone was stuck at home, going nowhere, with nothing to do. Listening to music, watching movies, and [even] cleaning vinyl all became very desirable things to do. As a result, we were able to offer our services and products to customers at a level not experienced in years.
DL: What lines do you carry?
MM: At Music To My Ear, in addition to a vast selection of new and used vinyl and CDs we feature what we refer to as our entry-level-performance lines of audio. We sell electronics from Cambridge Audio, Rega and Music Hall. Plus, we carry the most popular selling turntables from Music Hall, Rega, and Mobile Fidelity. We also build and set-up all the turntables for our customers as a value-added service. For speakers, we offer Cambridge Audio and the Borea line of speakers from Triangle in France.
Upstairs at Northern Audio, we focus on our "attainable high-performance lines of audio," by offering electronics from Rogue Audio, SimAudio, Luxman, Hegel, Parasound and Sophia Electric, with speakers from GoldenEar Technology, Harbeth and Fleetwood Sound Company.
DL: Let’s move on to Spin-Clean. Who created it, and how and when?
MM: [The first] Spin-N-Clean was originally created early in 1974 by Fidelitone, Inc. which was an accessories manufacturer out of Ireland. At my dad’s record store, Record-Rama, we had a Spin-N-Clean on the front counter and would demo it to everyone that shopped there. We sold quite a few just by demonstrating it. Not long after that we were notified that they were no longer going to manufacture the Spin-N-Clean, so dad negotiated to buy all the remaining inventory and molds, which he had shipped to Pittsburgh from Ireland. [We began manufacturing what then became known as the Spin-Clean Record Washer, now the Spin-Clean Record Washer MkII.] It has remained in our family ever since, and I took over the manufacturing of the product in 2010.
DL: After the advent of the compact disc in the early 1980s it seemed that vinyl records were fading away and would become a niche audiophile format. It was certainly surprising (and gratifying for many of us) to see vinyl come back and not only capture the attention of the general public, but actually outsell compact discs last year. How did the downtime caused by the decline in vinyl sales during that time affect Spin-Clean?
MM: Prior to the resurgence of vinyl about ten years ago, Spin-Clean [had] always sold steadily. Primarily, however, our customer base was that of the more hardcore vinyl aficionados, along with schools, libraries, and radio stations. [Then] when vinyl took off again, it seemed like almost everyone needed a vinyl record cleaner. We have been fortunate in that the Spin-Clean Record Washer MkII is an amazingly simple product to use that almost everyone can afford.
DL: Were there any challenges re-publicizing the product and ramping up production?
MM: I call this our "zero to 120 [miles per hour] time.” I was longtime friends with Chad Kassem who owns Acoustic Sounds in Salina, Kansas, and after sending him a Spin-Clean to check out, he called and in 2010 invited me to join him at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, where we could re-introduce and demo Spin-Clean to the world. We sold out all our units in a very short time and stirred up a lot of interest among the reviewers at the show. Soon after, Michael Fremer from Stereophile reviewed it and loved it, and from there Spin-Clean took off.
Within a short time we outgrew not only our local manufacturing facility, but also two [other] assembly and warehouse facilities. We then relocated our operations to one of the largest injection molding facilities in [the Midwest], and Spin-Clean has been calling Noblesville, Indiana its manufacturing home for the last decade.
DL: Any tips for owners on how to get the most out of their Spin-Clean?
MM: The beauty of Spin-Clean is that it has very few moving parts with no motor and little to maintain. So, the best advice I can give is just to keep the parts as clean and dirt-free as possible. Keep the inside of the basin clean by thoroughly rinsing it out after each use. The same thing goes for the Spin-Clean brushes. Rinse them out after each use (don’t allow them to be submerged in the fluid overnight if you can help it), and use a soft-bristled toothbrush, if necessary, to keep them dirt-free. Wash, dry, and keep your Spin-Clean Drying Cloths in a clean, static-free environment. And always make sure that you use the cloths to thoroughly dry your records before putting them into new anti-static sleeves [instead of standard paper sleeves].
DL: is there anything else you would like to add?
MM: In almost all of the videos we do for our social media channels, I end [them] by saying, “thanks for listening to the music.” I am grateful to all of our customers who love music and high-performance audio/video as much as I do. It has fueled my passion in this industry over the years. And I look forward to many more years of helping our customers unlock the true fidelity of the music and entertainment they love.