- Written by Rick Schmidt
- Published on 01 October 2012
Introduction to the Audio Desk System Vinyl Cleaner
For all of these years that I've been extolling the virtues of analog playback I've known that it just isn't really practical for most people. Many people don't make it a priority to sit and listen to music (I blame CD's for that) and so how can they be expected to take the time to properly care for vinyl? I really think that record companies should clean the records before packaging. Are we not paying enough? But they don't and they won't.
Several companies make devices that clean your LPs. The Audio Desk System Automated Vinyl Cleaner is one of them, and we review it here.
My long term solution for record cleaning has been a Nitty Gritty 1.0 machine. This is a sought after and probably too expensive by half record cleaning machine at the bottom of the Nitty Gritty line. With this machine you, the user, are applying the cleaning fluid manually, spinning the record manually, and flipping it over to do the other side. The process only takes about a minute per record but still I was always reluctant to do it. I would come home from the record store with a pile of records, feeling the urge to listen to some of my new-found treasures but not really wanting to mess with having to clean them. Perhaps it was the noise, the machine is basically a shop-vac in a box. Another issue is that since the vacuum goes almost, but not all the way to the edge of the record there will be a bit of fluid left all around the outside edge of the record. I have gotten into the habit of not only drying this fluid off but then letting the record spin on the table for a while before listening to make sure it is dry. When I'm up to the task the Nitty Gritty does do a good cleaning job but since acquiring the Vinyl Cleaner from Audio Desk System I have learned that deeper cleaning is possible.
I had seen some advertisements for this ultrasonic record cleaner in the months before the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and was intrigued to say the least. I saw one being demoed at the fest and tried to get one sent to me for review but the fine people at The Cable Company (the sole US outlet for the machine at the time) kindly informed me that they didn't want any reviews because they couldn't keep up with demand as it was. I eventually ended up buying the machine outright because of my aforementioned dissatisfaction with my existing solutions and ultrasonic cleaning just makes sense. There is stuff deep down in those grooves. Gotta get it out.
AUDIO DESK SYSTEM VINYL CLEANER SPECIFICATIONS
- Automatic Ultrasonic Vinyl Record Cleaner
- Cleans 12" LPs Only
- Fluid Requirements: 4.5L Distilled Water plus One Ounce of Cleaning Fluid (supplied), Good for 100 Cleanings
- Warranty: 2 Years
- Price: $3,895 USD
- Audio Desk System
- Secrets Tags: Vinyl, LPs, Cleaners
The machine is relatively compact as record cleaners go. You will need a level spot for it. There is a small bubble level on the top of the machine to help you in this task. Locate the machine somewhere outside your listening room as it does make a bit of noise, not so much that you would need ear protection. Fill the tank though the opening on the top with 4.5L of distilled water and add one container-full (about 1 Ounce) of the supplied cleaning fluid. This amount of cleaner is said to be good for 200 new LP's, or 100 used LP's. Plug it in and it's ready to go. Almost, the machine should be run through one cleaning cycle without a record in it. Ok, now go.
Insert your dirty record in the top slot, give it a slight turn to the left to make sure the little rubber squeegees are lined up – i.e., not folded over at the corner. These little squeegees will remove cleaning fluid from the spinning disc on the part that is emerging from the bath.
Press the red start button. The length of the cleaning process is easily selectable by the length of time the start button is held down. As you hold the button down the number of beeps tells you the number of minutes of cleaning - one to five. The dry time is an additional couple of minutes on top of whatever you select.
As the cleaning begins the cleaning fluid is pumped up from an internal reservoir to about the level of the run-out track on the record, well clear of the label. Each side of the record is embraced by a pair of round white brushes. The brushes spin quickly, bathed in the fluid along with the record, as the record is spun slowly around. Somewhere deep in the machine the fluid is excited by ultrasonic waves. As the wet side of the record emerges from the machine on the other side, the rubber squeegees keep the fluid from leaving the machine. This is key. Conceivably the Vinyl Cleaner would all work just as well without this little feature but then the top half of the record would be wet, and the fluid would run down onto the label. Isn't this a problem with the Spin Clean? I would think so but it doesn't seem to bother people.
After the selected cleaning cycle the drying cycle begins, this lasts about two minutes and is slightly louder than the cleaning cycle. The record is spun a little faster as the fans mounted on the upper right (from the front) of the machine dry the record. A series of beeps announce that the record is ready to play.
I have found that if I leave a record in the machine for a long while after the cleaning is done the very bottom part of the record will have a couple of drops of moisture. I dry it with a micro fiber cloth that I keep handy for this.
When the machine is not in use you certainly will want to have some sort of dust cover over the top to keep the inner workings clean. The Vinyl Cleaner comes with a cloth dust cover. This cover lets some water evaporate from the machine and so I have found that I have to refill a bit from time to time. Not too bad but I typically don't notice when fluid is needed until I try to clean a record. I also had an incident where the machine seemed to be on strike - the brushes come up but they would not engage with the record and did not spin. I was worrying that I would have to send the machine back for repairs but eventually figured out that a gentle nudge got the brushes unstuck and back to work. I contacted Robert Stein from The Cable Company about this and he said yes the machines do develop personalities and may need such nudging occasionally but they keep on working and if not, the manufacturer is good about repairs and replacing.
How does the cleaned record sound then? I began by cleaning some records that I had already cleaned with the Nitty Gritty. I have found that there is still a small bit of surface noise and an occasional click or pop with a Nitty Gritty cleaned record. The ultrasonic Vinyl Cleaner seems to address both of these issues. Visual inspection of a cleaned record shows that the mold release compound is gone as well. This compound is a leftover from the record manufacturing process and to my knowledge no other cleaner will remove it.
I have yet to hear a click or pop from a record cleaned in this machine and surface noise is completely absent for most records. YES! This is the ticket to a truly divine vinyl experience. A blacker back ground means not only that you don't hear artifacts such as surface noise but the needle dedicated to bringing out more of the nuance in the sound.