Clean vinyl

December 5, 2016
 by Paul McGowan

My son Scott created Sprout to satisfy his lust for vinyl. I don't believe he even owns a CD.

I gave up my fascination with vinyl years ago, yet it still holds a soft spot in my heart. When I read about a product that's life changing, I want to share with others.

Michael Fremer recently wrote about a new record cleaner in his Analog Planet column called Cleanervinyl, an ultrasonic (cavitation) cleaner. $500 and it apparently blows everything else out of the water. I've never tried it, but my good friend Jim McCullough has and I trust him.

"Fremer reported on a $500 cavitation system which, on a whim, I bought. 

I took 4 records from the beginning of the alphabet that I knew I didn’t listen to because they were ticky and poppy, even after cleaning and vacuuming on a conventional cleaner, and generally were not rewarding listens, despite the fact that all of them had some reason to expect better than good sound.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Going Places: it was ticky/poppy and not the sonic spectacular it’s supposed to be.

Now, this morning, after cavitation, it is an 8 where it had previously been a 2 or 3 on some sonic scale.

I also cleaned a 1981 Peter McGrath recording, that I never listened to because it was noisy. Sounds great.

A classical Jecklin recording which I listened to once and never again because it was noisy. Now fabulous.

And the Bach/Stokowski transcriptions for orchestra, on Chandos, that HP always loved, previously unlistenable and thought by me to be a perfect example of a mispressed record. I can now hear why it was an HP reference record. Really quite unbelievable this improvement.

It’s not just the elimination of noise. Highs and lows are cleaner/clearer. Dynamics are improved “bigly”. Soundstage is bigger. Bigly.

There’s a video of cavitation of a metal part on the cleanervinyl site. It shows what cavitation does. You only need to watch the 10 seconds of what happens to the dirt on that metal part once the bubbling starts happening. And once you’ve seen it, and heard a cleaned record, you understand that’s exactly what happens and why cleaned LPs sound the way they do.

This is where the rotisserie (spinning mechanism) comes from. $379.

You can buy the cavitation vat from them for $170 or direct from Amazon for $130.

$380 + $130 = $510. You do the math.

95% Reverse Osmosis Water from Walmart (@$1 per gallon), 5% Isopropyl (99%) Alcohol (@$50/gal), for the rinse.

In the vat for cleaning: 250mL of 99% Isopropyl, 8mL Triton X100 ($38/gal), 2mL Hepastat ($48/gal), fill the rest of the vat to 5 liters with RO H2O. (I think this formula is critical)

12 min cavitation at 25-30 degrees Celsius.

No drying in the vat. 2 rinses with the VPI. (also critical).

Cleaned 18 LPs yesterday. 2 batches of 4 at a time, and 2 batches of 5LPs at a time.

If it can make new records sound better, then it has to be placed among the greatest inventions of all time: fire, the wheel, Digital Lens, and cavitation."

Thanks Jim! Great report.

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42 comments on “Clean vinyl”

  1. I read the article last week, which prompted me to buy one of the ultrasonic cleaners. I may try an inexpensive route with the record rotation and build a home brewed version, since parts are readily available. This should be interesting! As much as I'd love to buy one of the dedicated cleaners, I just don't have $4,000 to sink into one.

  2. The most significant disadvantage of reproduction from vinyl discs is dust, in practice only one side can be heard after being cleaned, the impalpable dust of the environment and that deposited on the surface of the turntables that It is in contact with the disc, not to mention the sleeves dust, makes ephemeral the most rigorous cleaning.

    All other care that requires the proper operation of a vinyl disc system: VTA, antiskating, azimuth, tracking error, leveling, and adjustments of: capacitance & load resistances, etc. Although arduous and tedious can be done, but cleaning Of vinyl records is bread for today, and hunger for tomorrow.

    No matter how sophisticated the cleaning system, only temporary "miracles" can be done against dust.

    The cleaning procedure described above is intimidating, for those of us who have had to spend several VPI machines to enjoy our vinyl treasures.

    Cavitation? There's always something new in the audio industry, My ...

  3. A cure for cancer is life changing. A safe, readily available reliable way to get from the East Coast of America the Europe in five hours on a jet instead of five days on an ocean voyage is life changing. MRIs, decoding the human genome, and genetic engineering are life changing. Hand held computers that can communicate with billions of others around the world instantly are life changing. Using an ultrasonic cleaner to better clean phonograph records is not life changing. This is the kind of ridiculous hyperbole that make this niche market so laughable.

    The fact is that RBCD technology not only beats vinyl every which way there is, it is not bettered at all by so called High Resolution or High Definition recordings. 1. You said yourself you could burn a CD from a phonograph record that is indistinguishable or nearly so with uncalibrated non-laboratory grade consumer CD recorders and players. 2. Mark Waldrep admitted that downconverting true HD recordings he makes to RBCD standards (there are only a few thousand recordings that actually qualify as HD) are indistinguishable from the full bandwidth full dynamic range HD versions by professionals. Then why does he make them? Good question but it's basically a hope and a prayer that somehow it's better even if you can't hear it.

    See my first response to Mark Waldrep's posting. They are direct quotes from his presentation and I give a link to the entire thing so you can hear it straight from the horse's mouth. BTW, his response to me:"Mark, you’ve got way too much time on your hands to do all this research."

    1. No matter how much reason you apply to your argument, you won't convert vinyl lovers to digital audio. They love those "life altering" procedures to wring the last ounce of clarity from their LP's, only to be repeated for each replay. And in the end, they get inferior reproduction to hi-rez digital with a lot more equipment hassle. Pure madness !

      1. Very funny...and SO true.

        In my case all my sources are digital and you won't convert me to vinyl. Back in the late 70's, early 80's I made my living selling high-end audio in DC. The pops, clicks and other surface noise to me, was not at all "musical" and really distracted from the experience.

        I do have some relatives who love their vinyl, good for them, as it makes them happy. One of them who is "open minded" understands my opinions on why I choose digital and said that (to him) only a small number of recordings sound "better" on vinyl, that the "realism" of the digital versions of the same music are too "in your face" for him.

        As I've gotten older, delving more and more into classical music, with its quiet passages, the idea of trying to listen to that with pops and clicks in the background is just a "non-starter" for me.

        1. 98% of the music I listen to is classical. It's so hard to reproduce properly, and with rare exception, the vinyl I hear is utter sonic garbage. Maybe it works better for simpler genres but not for classical, with it's wide dynamic range and bass demands. I shake my head at this crazy vinyl rebirth that should have been long extinct, like the adding machine.

    2. Don't exactly get why one has to choose a side. Listen to whatever formats you like. They all have pros and cons.

      Digital formats are Technically Superior to vinyl. BFD. If that floats your boat, be happy. There's enough tension in the world.

      As far as there being no allegedly discernible difference between RBCD and other digital formats, that depends on what you're testing and on what equipment. And you can decide for yourself which end of the horse the orifice is on.

      1. Mark Waldrep also known as Dr. Aix has a PHD in recording engineering. Does that matter? You bet it does. It means he has real knowledge as well as opinions. Have you listened to his lecture I linked to? I've listened to it several times...very carefully. You will notice that his reply to my observations did not refute them.

        I like phonograph records too. I've got at least 3000 of them. But these days having lost all interest in audio equipment and only occasionally listening to music on my smart phone or computer, it really doesn't matter to me anymore. I'm just giving you the facts. You can refute them with other facts or accept that the orifice is on your end which I concluded since your first posting.

        1. Knew I'd get your goat with that one. I went to school with lots of Doctors. That was when I said to myself, "THESE people are going to be DOCTORS?!? They're just people like you and me. You are likely smarter than the average Doctor, Mark. Did you grow up watching Ben Casey, and so feel that they're all irrefutably morally and intellectually superior to the rest of us?

          Since you're telling stories you've told before, I'll mention his demo at Axpona a couple of years ago (again) where he had a blown tweeter in his center channel speaker, and said, "There's not much information in there anyway". He then demo'd one of his recordings that was made by placing a stereo pair of mics in front of each performer in one room, at the same time.

          It did not hold together or image in any semblance of a natural soundfield, or even in an artistic "sound painting" interpretation of one - as anyone with recording experience would have been able to tell you beforehand. He looked around the room at us with a large grin, as if to say, "Isn't that Awesome?"

          We left. I had lost any respect I might have had, PhD or no.

          1. Sorry to have to say this but my experience with doctors is that most of them are not very smart. They are not trained the way engineers are to think through problems. They are taught to react.

            You present with symptoms A,B,C, D. They do tests 1,2,3,4. They make diagnoses 5,6,7,8. They proscribe medication or procedure 9,10, 11, 12. If none of that works, they give you a happy pill, tell you it's in your head and send you away. That is why there are 48 million Americans addicted to narcotic pain killers and now those who aren't addicted can't get any when they are indicated as the FDA has judged them safe and effective. So they gave them away like they were candy and no one one gets them.

            Believe it or not, I went to medical school myself in Bordeaux France for a year and a half. I wan't interested in treating sick people, my interest was in research. Anyway, I'm much happier as an engineer than I'd be as a doctor. I don't like being around sick people. They think you're some kind of priest/magician/psychiatrist, in fact they can be damned annoying.

            Here's a suggestion for cleaning your records. Throw them in the washing machine with detergent. Er, I mean the dish washer, not the laundry washer. If you try it let me know how they sound assuming they survived.

  4. This latest version of a diy ultrasonic record cleaner (Cleaner Vinyl) is not equal to the UltraSonic V-8 or the Audio Desk. First there is no filtration to remove the dirt from the bath. this is critical. Second, the records are spaced too close together for proper cavitation to occur with a dozen records jammed against each other. The actual workflow of this parts assembly is clunky at best and although the price is cheap you get what you pay for.

  5. Reading this post I looked at my calender.
    Hmmm, december, so it's not an April Fools'Day joke.
    But thanks anyway. You reminded me of the reason why I got rid of my lp's 25 years ago, and never looked back.
    Saves me a lot of work and annoyance (and money !).

  6. I have good luck spinning mine manually through the Spin Doctor, then 2 passes with different solutions on my VPI machine, using 2 different brushes. There are some used records that still have a lot of noise, but I always wrote them off as "worn". I wouldn't spend $4K on a device to clean records, as there are other allocations to the system that would be better served. $500 - $600 is worth trying.

    1. Don't forget reducing the needle friction by using one or two drops of Squalan Oil distributed over one record side after the cleaning procedure!

    2. I have one of the Spin-Clean Deluxe kits that I bought over a year ago and have never done anything with. I don't have a problem with the cleaning side of the product but then got stymied with the drying part and how I would complete that.

      I see you have a separate dryer, and that's an expense I didn't want to invest in but perhaps I do. Back in the day I recall just making a solution of PhotoFlow and water and then taking a towel and drying the records off, I suppose I would use a microfiber cloth now. I agree that as soon as you clean it the dust starts to accumulate again but there certainly would not be the cigarette smoke and other smoke and things from the time when these were new!!

      What other methods do people use on here to dry these if they just have a manual cleaner if a machine is not use, just curious. I would love to have an all-in-one machine that requires nothing but the push of a button and it does the whole wash/dry as part of the same cycle. Hmmm, maybe I can develop a two-sided clamp of some kind that is water tight and then put it over the labels to keep water off and then just run the records through the dishwasher LOL!!

      I did see a demo on an ultrasonic cleaner at Axpona that will do a number or records at one time and is a two piece solution, with one being a drying device. The whole kit could be bought at $2,200 but still that seemed like more than I wanted to invest.

      1. I lay nice white towels down and put the wet record on it. Then I put another towel on top and let it absorb the liquid. After that, I move them to a different towel and use very high quality soft cheese cloth and dry both sides by going around the record with the grooves (not against). That alone does a decent job.

      2. Larry, I hope you have reminders set so you see my reply. My $50 tablet quit charging. I found the problem but I can't fix it, so I bought another cheapy, I meant to answer the same day, but it slipped my mind. Saw the newsletter heading, and here I am.
        You already have the Spin Clean, so all you need is a way to dry.

        Go to Goodwill or anywhere you can get a cheap turntable. I use an old Dual that I got in a package deal, years ago. I ripped off the tonearm and I use it as a RCM. I use a similar solution as above and or Record Research cleaner. For cleaning pads I bought some paint edging pads, one for cleaning, the second for the rinse. So first I clean a side, spray and spread on some distilled water, then using a small $30 shop vac I dry the first side, then I put on a cork record platter mat, so the clean side is not sitting on the dirty mat.
        Two more things, one I got a rubber drain cover, which I cut to the size of the label, and put a hole in the center to fit over the spindle. Second thing I took the crevice tool, glued a cut to size piece of rubber into the end. I then cut a slot in the longer narrow side the length of a side of a 12 inch record. I then glued some black velvet to the crevice tool and cut a slot in it.

        There you have a homemade RCM. Total cost was under $50. Your cost would depend on the cost of the turntable, a second mat, drain cover, little shop vac, and the piece of velvet. I think the cork mat was a replacement for the VPI cleaners, it has an adhesive backing, which I left on. Cost at that time was $12.
        I only wash my records once, then use a Staticmaster brush, and AQ record brush when I play them.

        1. Thank you for the reply, I did have reminders set. This is quite an ingenious method of making it all work! As cold as it is in my part of the country right now I may hibernate for a couple of days and work on my cleaning project. I do have one appointment out later today maybe on my way back home I will swing past a couple of thrift stores I am curious now what their turntable selections are. Take care and happy listening!

  7. Thanks much Paul for reminding me to think about a cheap ultrasonic cleaner solution again!
    The $380 for the spinning mechanism is more than strange...I think with some alternative creativity and a bit manual work on an application, money is better spend in an add. filtering system für $60. So at the end I hope for not much more than $130 + $60.

    I really like today's vinyl-bashing article in Copper 21, because the writing is great and funny and I'm just someone who mostly likes the sound of vinyl and physics of a record cover, but I don't need all the hassle with everything else around. That's why I'm kind of reluctant with everything I have to spend time on like an add. cleaner to my VPI cleaner. But a cheap ultrasonic solution would really be something to go for.

    1. Perhaps what we need is a rig like a spinning wheel that women used to use to make yarn. We could sit in out listening chairs with the headphones on (to block out the noise of the ultrasonic cleaner) and rotate the records with our feet as we tap our toes to the music. One small step for man; one giant step for vinyl junkies! 🙂

      1. I probably won't end up with something like that 🙂

        But correct, vinyl listening to streaming is something like using a manual italian espresso machine at home compared to an automatic one in the office.
        Manual is nice if one has the time and patience, totally incomprehensible for those just used to automatic coffee machines.

  8. First off, I'll say I'm not a vinyl enthusiast as 90% of my listening is at work and I long ago let go of my vinyl collection.

    That said, I happen to own that exact model ultrasonic cleaner for other uses and for those of you thinking it's snake oil and won't do a think, don't. The amount of power the transducer puts into the bath is astonishing. I use it for what I'll call "extreme cooking activities", I've described my process to a food scientist at General Mills and he talked about how the cavitation in the liquid created tiny pockets of high pressure and heat that actually alters the chemical makeup of the solution. He was pretty geeked on the idea.

    If it can chemically alter a solution, is it so hard to believe that it couldn't deep clean some fine dust within the grooves that mechanical cleaning won't have a chance to get out but instead may just jam into a valley even more?

    I do agree with the comment that filtering the bath isn't a bad idea and with a small recirculation pump and 1 micron filter system in standard water filter housings, it'd be fairly easy to rig something up using the drain and just dumping the solution back on the top.

    Is it all worth it in the end? Well this is all just a hobby anyway. Do you enjoy tinkering as much as listening, then sure, it's worth it. I don't think many who would try this need to justify if it sounds ~$500 better. The real question is do you enjoy getting closer to something by being involved a bit more by getting hands on and experimenting? Same thing for those of us who work on our cars, house, or yard. It's not always about making it the best it can be, but it's about making it better by being ours and something we're proud of.

    And as a bonus, once all of your vinyl is clean, you can clean your wife's jewelry in it as well.

  9. Squalan Oil for reducing the needle friction...
    Sounds to me like snake oil.
    And how do you explain your wife/girlfriend the bottle is empty if she needs it for her skin. 😀

  10. Anyone been in a factory where they manufacture hard drives for mainframe computers? I have. They are assembled in a clean room just like they manufacture semiconductors in. This keeps every speck of dust off the discs. The units are sealed to keep dust out. The smallest particle of dust could destroy the drive.

    As soon as you take your nice clean record out of the ultrasonic cleaner, dust starts landing on it and the process begins all over again.

    BTW, never put your hand or arm in an industrial ultrasonic cleaner. It will break every capillary under your skin in your hand or arm.

    1. Thanks for the warning about keeping your hands out of the soup. The videos should have mentioned that not-so-minor point.

      Regarding post-cleaning dust, I agree with your, but it still sounds better after cleaning. I'm willing to settle for a 90% improvement, even if I have to repeat the process from time to time.

  11. I'm ROTFLO
    It's all an intricate merry-go-round with the price of admission rising logarythmically
    (sp). I try to cut costs with diy projects where possible. The roundabout ride is expensive,but it's what I enjoy and what I do. -Sorry for wasting your time with my comment.

  12. Why hello, say can I buy you another glass of beer
    Well thanks a lot that's kind of you, it's nice to know you care
    These days there's so much going on
    No one seems to want to know
    I may be just an old soldier to some
    But I know how it feels to grow old
    - Elton John

  13. I’ve just sold my version of this set up - not that it was not useful, it was just a bit arduous to use.

    I agree that the drying of the records is a critical step, so I invested in a KAB vacuum dryer, which performed well, following the Ultrasonic cleaning, but meant that I had a 2 step process and if I wanted to listen to just one LP, it was time consuming.

    The opportunity came up to buy a Loricraft record cleaner at a great price, so I tried it - I found it to be equivalent or better than my old method of Ultrasonic, plus vacuum drying.

    I even tried the Utrasonic method, plus the Loricraft and a three step process: Loricraft - Ultrasonic - Loricraft, but little, if any benefit could be gained over the Loricraft by itself.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Ultrasonic method is great, but IMHO, the Loricraft or Keith Monks RCMs do a better job (albeit at a significant price premium) and are easier to use in a “clean then listen” method - the Ultrasonic is best suited to a “batch” cleaning method.



  14. I have cleaned hundreds of records using my Loricraft PRC4. Costs about $1,800 over here, where it's made, double that in the USA. Takes about 3 -4 minutes per record, which is then immaculately clean and dry and can be played immediately. No set-up time and very quiet. Sold in the USA by a company 6 miles from PS Audio in Boulder !
    We have the $4,000 machine demonstrated in the video by P Fremer over here, the Keith Monks at about $600 is very popular indeed and good, but the Loricraft is a class apart.
    Here's Mark Baker from Origin Live demonstrating, he finally gets it going at 5:00. He does the outer 1 inch twice as most finger marks are there, but I've not found that necessary.

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