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I'd recommend any vacuum based cleaner. I had a VPI 16.5 and found a new Clear Audio Smart matrix on A'gon for $500. I sold my VPI for $400.
The Clear Audio is built better and quieter than the 16.5, but still noisy. It's bidirectional also.
Both machines achieve the same goal equally, I just like the build quality on the Clear Audio better. The reason I think the vacuum is necessary, is to remove all the crud to a separate tank with force, not just rinsing.
If you have the motivation to do so, I'd recommend building yourself one out of a ShopVac and an old turntable. Get yourself some Disk Doctor pads and brushes, and a quart of the MFSL Plus cleaning fluid.
I can honestly say this project provided the biggest "upgrade" to my system to date. I'll try to post a picture of my DIY Record Cleaner and process this weekend.
I like compact manual machines, like the cheapest Nitty Gritty (is this similar to the KAB). I actually prefer manual operation to automatic --I can scrub the records back and forth and control the speed of rotation better by hand. I also like the Nitty Gritty because it is really compact in size compared to the VPI. I also prefer not having the clean record in contact with a full sized platter that may be contaminated.
I've owned my Nitty Gritty machine (automatic unit) for more than 20 years. The only maintenance required is changing the felt pads that scrube the record and hold the record away from direct contact with the vacuum slot (easy to do the replacement). The major downside is that the machine, like the VPI, is quite noisy in operation.
I too like the basic Nitty Gritty machine. It is cheap (I spent $100 on mine used), reliable (I have had it for about 5 years now and it is still working fine, and I am at least the second owner), and it does a good job at what it does, (which is to vacuum dry the records). If you use the NG as strictly a vacuum, and do all the scrubbing yourself, you many never need to upgrade. (Unless you require a motor to spin the platter for you while it drys the record, in which case get the VPI 12.6, you lazy bum!:-)
The only cavaet about the NG is that it tends to get hot when you do a big batch of records. (I believe that the VPI 16.5 does too, btw). If you don't mind doing a few at a time, (say less than half a dozen), and giving the machine time to cool down before doing another batch, it will work just fine for you. If you need to do dozens of records at a time, I recommend that you get a machine with a fan to cool the vacuum, like the VPI 17F, (which costs about $1,200!).
My two cents worth.
PS It is also nice that it is so small, that you can easily lift it to put it away under an end table, or in a cabinet. Unlike the Keith Monks which I am restoring, which is big and very heavy. (I need to find a small table with wheels so I can move it from its storage closet, to my living room. I might actualy sell the KM, as I am not thrilled with the size and weight of it!
I have my own manual cleaning process I use that produces excellent results for minimal cost, but is time consuming and requires I clean on my main table, which is already 20 years old, while in motion.
I really need to get a good cleaning machine. What's the least expensive machine that does a good job AND is fully automatic and reliable? I would rather spend the time I have listening rather than cleaning by hand.
DIY if you can or KAB EV-1 if you already have a decent vacuum. I think you need a junk turntable for application of fluids with the KAB for best results but we're talking free or next to nothing for that.
You can also integrate steaming into the cleaning process as well for next to nothing after you get going. In the end, as long as you can vacuum the fluid effectively off the record, it's all about technique and quality of fluids.
In that sense there really can be no argument that DIY or the KAB are the best value, although automation will save you some time (but not necessarily give you a cleaner record) and, in the case of the Loricraft or Monks give you a bit more peace and quiet.
IMO the brushes and fluid are more critical than the machine. My VPI 16.5 just spins the record and sucks the fluid off, pretty simple really. Its the fluid and brushes that really get into the grooves. FWIW, I'm using Walker Solution with very good results. It takes more time than most since there are 3 steps, but like anything else, it takes time to do a thorough job.
The best option depends a lot on the volume of cleaning that you expect to be doing and the type of records that you will be requiring. I agree with above that a KAB-EV1, VPI 16.5, and steam cleaning are great alternatives and "work". If you are buying a few mostly new LPs you can be happy with a manual based option. If you are going to be scouring the thrifts and yard sales and end up cleaning quite a few records then a vpi 16.5 combined with steam would be a very helpful combination. I found the KAB to be very effective but love the convenience of the 16.5.
i do a record - both side - 4 step (Walker Fluids) in 10 minutes leasurely while I am listening to other vinyl in the same room
the vac barely gets in the way of the musical enjoyment
only problem with Walker - you mix up the enzymes for 10 records at a time - so plan on marathon cleaning sessions
good rainy day or evening stuff
"Value" is a relative term. If you spend $500 dollars for a suit from Goodwill, you have likely gotten poor value. Yet the same $500 spent on a new Armani suit is probably a good value.
Likewise, if you only have a few records, a VPI machine is a decent value. However if you have thousands of dollars (or more) invested in a vinyl collection, purchasing a high quality vacuum RCM like a Loricraft is not only a good value, but in my opinion as essential as your cartridge or a tonearm. If you want to get the best sound and preserve those precious LP's, in my experience, a high quality RCM is not a luxury but a necessity.
Cleaning is not the problem, the main difference is getting the fluid out of the grooves.
Best are Monks or Loricraft (a copy from Monks), but they are much slower, they do it "groove-by-groove"inside-out. But they are superior.
But they have their price, there is much more know how in it compared to a VPI 16.5/Hannl or similar
Jazdoc, Honestly, why is any of the VPI Machines only a decent value if you only just have a few records? Your statements I feel are misleading, and false in this regard.
Of course RCM's like the Loricraft are built better, and you pay considerably for it as well.
But the debate about which machine actually works better, without harm to the LP, I feel has been mucho overhyped, without any sound, and factual analysis to confirm this.
I do understand the principles of the Loricraft, understand that yes, picking up fluids takes much longer, as any of the VPI-Type machines with a Vacuum Wand Slot essentially remove fluids in just a literal few seconds, and are removed fully within two rotations.
I understand, that the Loricraft often does not entirely pick up fluids from the surface, and I wonder then how is this a benefit?
So, other than the noise factor of machines like the VPI, what else is its downside? Is it the belief that the VPI's Velvet Protective Strips re-contaminate a record's surface? Is it the contact of the Wand marring, and grinding dirt into the groove-surface? Have these opinions-assumptions actually been proven?
Or is it actually just a false pre-concieved thought without substantiated proof that it does?
I'd actually like to see someone do micro-analysis of both machines final results, using the same fluids, particularly a 3, or 4 step process like many use here with thier RCMs.
Testing be "ear" I feel can leave much to the imagination, just because one spends $3500+ on an RCM, are they perhaps hoodwinking themselves to believe that it "has' to do a better job because they shelled out all that money?
If I'm wrong about these thoughts, then I'm hoping somebody here puts me in my place, with some sound, technical answers. Mark
I want to say, to all, if my post sounded abrasive, trust me, I haven't intended such, and I think all you folks are a great bunch of people.
I'm certainly not implying that the VPI method is superior, or perhaps npt even inferior as well, but it is a different method of fluid removal, this I know.
I can understand the record cleaning philosophy of "do the least amount of harm", and that Loricraft's design principles hold high merit.
I do wonder though, just how "far down the ladder" the VPI method is by compariso,n by the use of good, proper cleaning techniques, high quality fluids-rinses, and application brushes?
I've suspected that there may indeed be very little to no difference, provided the cleaners are effectively doing thier jobs, and that proper rinses, and methods are used to insure no remaining residues, whether contaminants, or cleaners are left behind for the Stylus to see.
The only other possible detriment, that I previously mention in my last post, is what possible negative effects could the Velvet Protective Strips on Vacuum Wand cause?
If I've steered this thread from its original theme, please forgive me folks. But I do very much enjoy discussions such as this, which may provide better factual evidence, and beliefs, rather than saying something is better than another, yet without further explaining actually why? Mark
Frankly, based on my experience, I fail to see how the Loricraft or Monks can be considered a "high value" RCM but maybe I'm just a cheapskate. I paid $160 for a KAB EV1 3 years ago and have cleaned 2,500 records in the past 3 years with it. I doubt very much if I spent the price of a Loricraft to buy those 2,500 records and, although I've gotten rid of a lot of those, I'd say that 1,000 of them, though, remain in, and form the core of my collection. Many of the others were traded to dealers for other new and used vinyl.
I think cleaning technique and fluids have much more to do with obtaining a clean record than the RCM itself. Personally I don't like using stiff brushes or scrubbing records based on some bad experiences doing so; I use only carbon fibre brushes for wet cleaning and only Mo-Fi Super Deep (no SVW-I eliminated it a long time ago and feel it's a waste of money and a very poor final step) and ultrapure water combined with steaming in a 3 step process. I use a KAB EV1 combined with a high quality domestic vac with a junk turntable to apply fluids and steam on. Noisier, certainly than a Monks or a Loricraft, but it does the job, and as a manual unit I can do bi-directional vacuuming with it, something you cannot do with the automatic machines.
I've had records cleaned on a Monks before. Granted, the Monks and Loricraft are more sophisticated in terms of the vacuuming process, but they're also tweakier. I also don't think they clean a record any better; then again, I don't think the RCM actually does much to clean the record. I think that's a function of the fluid interacting and suspending dirt in the grooves so it can be vacuumed away.
You can listen to records while you clean with a Monks or Loricraft but you certainly won't be bringing a Monks out into the listening room everytime you want to clean records unless you want a hernia. Perhaps the Loricraft is lighter and more compact and easier to haul around.
I had a chance to buy an older, beat up Monks for $800 just before I purchased my KAB and didn't bother. It was going to need parts and work to get it going and I just wasn't up to the hassle. I don't regret the decision in the least and have no intentions of ever buying anything beyond the KAB. Yes, the automation might save me some time, but in the end I think Audiofeil makes a valid point about "manual" cleaning ultimately being more effective (and probably time consuming)-the automatic car wash analogy is an appropriate one I think.
As I said, maybe I'm just cheap. I drive a Toyota Camry SE; I'm sure the Lexus 350 is a better car on what is essentially the same platform. But to me the Lexus is not better value and I could afford it if I wanted to spring for it.
Clearly there is no one option best for everyone. Otherwise there would be a consensus on technique, equipment and fluids.
I was a long time Nitty Gritty user. Prompted by a major upgrade to my vinyl system, I decided to see if other record cleaners would do the trick better. I compared the VPI, Loricraft and ClearAudio Matrix cleaners. I was hoping that the Nitty Gritty would be as good as the others because...well because I'm cheap. Unfortunately for my wallet, to my subjective ears, the Loricraft was clearly the best. I'm intrigued by steam cleaning but have been too lazy to try. I'm already usingthe 3 step AVIS system and don't want to spend more time cleaning each record!
My only regret is that I didn't buck up and purchase the Loricraft sooner. IMO, a good record cleaning system is as important as any component in the vinyl chain.
My point regarding value on the previous post was simply that if you have a lot of money invested in your records, many of which are extremely expensive to replace (if they can be replaced at all), then spending the money for a good RCM is definitely worth it. I have ~2500 records, including numerous out of print Mosaic box sets and 45 rpm reissues and mono jazz LPs that bring the cost per record to a reasonable level (~$1/record). If you have a small collection, the cost per record rises, possibly to a point of not justifying the cost of the RCM.
Jazdoc, This last post of yours probably makes the most sense of all, and I agree with you 100%.
We all seem to take some different routes, and some are quite truly "unique", or really "odd" routes I note of other "vinylphiles". Just like our audio gear, I can wholly understand the "relativity" of everything audio, and how each, and every one of us have different systems, different aspirations, and goals.
There's those, who are big vintage fans, with a Garage Sale Table for $15. Then there's those, who went all the way to the "Walker" route.
I can of course understand as well, those wishing to experiment with those Partridge Family, and Milli Vanilli Records. In most eyes. they're no loss.
Yet, I don't understand the "few" who shorchange themselves, after buying a $1400 VPI 17F, then resort to Dawn Liquids, and Kodak Photo Flo as a cleaner, and see the truly good commerical, award winning brands as snake oil? Mark
Thank you all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
After considering all, even the fancy boys had issues.
I like to have full control cleaing my records.
That means manual has to be on the list, auto's were fine but the manual ones just made it work till some of my records looked new so...
Looks was a plus so I went with a fancy option for finish.
Went with the NITTY GRITTY 1.5 with the COCOBOLO finish, looks great and works like a charm. Made my own cleaning solutions and is just too good...at the end, I have not turned my CD player one for over 2 months now so....