Clearaudio RCM good alternative to VPI?

I've owned two VPI record-cleaning machines, first a HW-17 (stolen), and now a HW-16.5. While I've always been happy with their performance cleaning records . . . I've always thought the build quality was really cheesy on both machines . . . with the 16.5 I had to reglue one of the dustcover support blocks and reassemble the switch plate (fasteners loosened and fell off during transport) immediately after taking it out of the box brand new. Also, both machines became somewhat moisture damaged (warping enclosure) very easily.

This didn't bother me too much because I'm a cheapskate about some things, and the VPI machines don't cost too much. But I have a friend who's asking for an RCM recommendation and he definately has the money and appreciation for better build quality . . . so I'm thinking about steering him toward a Clearaudio machine as something that's fundamentally the same in its operation, but with better build quality.

I would appreciate any feedback on the matter - but neither of us are patient enough for a Loricraft/Monks machine, so I think that a traditional "tube with lips" design is what he's after.
Be patient and spare for a Loricraft your records and stylus will be much happyer. Not to mention it is much more silent.
I went from a VPI to a Clear Audio Smart Matrix, because the price was too good to pass up. I don't regret the decision at all.
The Clear Audio is built much better and a tad quieter. It also is bi-directional which is a little better for getting that extra dirty LP cleaner.
the hannl / acoustech cleaning machines are beautifully built although very pricy. If you are looking at the clearaudio, though you are already in that range, though so you may want to check them out. I am saving for the acoustech limited to replace my utilitarian record doctor.
I'm very happy with my SOTA unit. Affordable, simple, quick and most importantly effective.
Yes, Clearaudio is great. Does its job extremely well. Highly recommend double matrix though. A lot faster cleaning both sides. IMO, Clearaudio also looks the best. Great build quality.
I had similar issues with my VPI 16.5 when new, a missing Lid Stop, which was I was sent a replacement by VPI, and Toggle Switch Knurled Nuts (1) continually coming loose.

Minor issues that are small-minor inconveniences, and are basically easily dealt with. I went and bought a package of Hex Nuts for the Toggle Switches from Rat Shack, solved the loosening nuts, RTV glued on the new Lid Stop, and then later performed the Cooling Fan Mod, and then new Acrylic Platter, and Neoprene Platter Mat.
These mods can be seen at osasge audio's website.

As for the Panel warpage, I think the one most important area that should be given a coat of varnish, thus waterproofing this area, would be the drilled hole underneath the Vacuum Tower Assembly. Three Phillips Screws, remove Vacuum Tower Assembly, coat this area, let dry, and then re-assemble. The Bottom panel's insides might be another good area to waterproof, just in case of the possibility of leakage of Recovery Tank (which I never had a problem with)

These are simple common sense fixes, and of course, it has to be one's personal decision with whatever machine they choose to go with for whatever reasons.

The difference in price between the two machines (you mantion), can be used for a considerable amount of high quality cleaning fluids, or other items. Mark
Thanks everybody for the responses, I'll check them out.

I feel the same way that Mark does - the construction deficiences of the 16.5 are simply minor annoyances to me. But they are definately annoying enough for me not to recommend this machine to a friend . . . after all, if VPI's been producing this thing for over twenty years, they should have at least figured out how to use a little Loctite on the switch hardware, if nothing else.
I'd like commenting again, of the mods would be so kind. My loose Toggle Switch Knurled Nut may have been an isolated incident. One kept coming loose, the other never did, on the two switches on front of the machine.

As I understand it, the Clearaudio Smart Mtrix is as well MDF Case, just silver painted, rather than black laminate.

I respect Harry, and what he has done with the 16.5, a very good machine, which he's tried to keep low in price to be affordable to more people. Doubtful that the Clearaudio cleans an better than the VPI, and to me that is of basically the most importance.

But, I've made note of some minor differences. For one, see the nicer lid hinges on the Smart Matrix? That's what VPI should've used on the 16.5, and a slightly larger Lid, that sat on top of the cabinet, not within the cabinet, thus ending the possibility of cracking the vacuum wands.

A Cork Mat? yes, a forgiving material, but one that is hard, if not impossible to clean, and keep clean. If cork was so good, how come Loricraft machines aren't using it?

Just those two little issues should not have drastically increased the price of the 16.5, a change from cork mat to rubber, and an inch larger lid, with two different hinges. The difference in cost to VPI would be what, about $5? And the waterproofing I previously mention, would cost around 65 cents per machine, and 10 minutes time.

The 16.5 is not so complex, that one should be intimidated by it, it is realtively simple to play with, and I do wholeheartedly suggest anyone who owns one, pop it open, and give it a peek. Mark

I'm an ex-user of Nitty Anniversary Pro (most expensive of the lot). It also cleans +/- OK. Due to both sides being done at once it is FAST, --- but NOISY! Quality? What quality?

Decided to get a Hannl MERA and the difference in QUALITY and CLEANING PERFORMANCE are something of note.

The old adage applies: "You get what you pay for..."

Hannl MERA, highly recommended, and now with 'roller-brush' (like a car wash :-)

own a double matrix. i had the loricraft 4 prior to the purchase. sold the loricraft bought the double matrix and have never regretted it. one of the best upgrades ever. do your freind a favor tell him to buy the double matrix and he will remain your friend.
I bought a Clear Audio Smart Matrix RCM about two weeks ago and feel very happy about it: well constructed, solid, not so noisy as I could have expected and, most important of all, produced miracles on LPs I bought on thrift stores.
Koegz: can you tell us what you did not like about the Loricraft.
Very curious.
the loricraft cleaned ok, but the string constantly binded up and it took for ever to do one side. i had the more expensive top of the line at the time, it was very quiet, but that was it's only strong suit. now the double matrix is lighning fast and does both sides at the same time and cleans great(fantastic), and is easy to use steam on as well. it is a little noisy for a few seconds, but not like the vpi models. it is a pleasure to use, i no longer mind cleaning records. the clearaudio is also built like a tank and in my opinion much better looking then the loricraft(with that fake cheesy look like wood look) as well. IF YOU PREFERR TO MAKE A PRODJECT OUT OF CLEANING RECORDS THEN THE LORICRAFT IS YOUR RCM. IF YOU JUST WANT TO LISTEN TO CLEAN VINYL THEN THE DOUBLE MATRIC IS YOUR RCM! YOUR CHOICE.
Sorry to say but the Lori and Monks clean better and are more silent than CDM.
My friend that sales both confirms this and I tryed also both. This is due to the complete different approach of succion. I do like more the looks of Lori in black. Perso here. Anyway before buying an RCM one should try many models with very dirty records. If I had to make my own DIY RCM on the cheap I would go definitely the Lori/Monks pathway.
Best, Jean.
everyone has their own opinions. i have tried or owned them all. i really do not have any interest in what your friend said. take my opinion or leave it. all i know is i put my money where my mouth is and i will never go back. the double matrix, to date, is the best tweak(RCM) there is! believe what you will, but enjoy what you have.
Smart Matrix lasted 1.5 years before the steel motor shaft "hogged out" the aluminum platter. Then the motor shaft started spinning in the motor, rather than turning the table; it couldn't even pull against it's own vaccum. Nice touch.

I'm going back to VPI, even though it isn't a pretty or nicely finished. Hell, my 16.5 lasted 10 years and still going strong for the guy who bought it from me.

Anybody know where I can get a used vacuum tube off of one of these early Smart Matrix circa 2006 - 2009 models? 

Can't find them anywhere that I have looked.  Even Clearaudio's site doesn't go that far back.  Aren't these supposed to last 30 or 40 years?  If so, just seems strange that Clearaudio would not have any and all parts available for those early models.  Anyway, I've contacted them about it and still waiting for an answer.