Best investment that I have ever made in audio. YES, you need one!
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New vinyl needs to be wet-vacuumed cleaned especially to remove any mold-release agents. Your record cleaning fluids should address that problem also. It does make a difference. also many times sealed records have some dust/dirt on them although audiophile labels seem to be cleaning right out of the bag.
nearly 20 years ago i had a cleaning machine, but always found that cleaning manually was at least as effective, and sometimes more effective. if you try to salvage old records which are really dirty then i'd say one is necc. otherwise its a coin toss. anyone who has done it manually, usually developes 'a manual system' that works, and isn't terribly painful to do.
Taters you may be buying new now but if you are just getting into vinyl you will most certainly be purchasing used also. I cleaned my vinyl in many different ways manually. When i realized i would be buying a lot of vinyl because of its superior sound getting a RCM was a no brainer. Ease of use for one and if you include a steamer the results are fantastic. The low cost VPI 16.5 does all thats needed and will pay for its self with the time saved cleaning your collection and new purchases. If you are going to get a few lps here and there then search manual cleaning methods. All vinyl new and used needs to be cleaned to achieve the best sound.
I lived without one for about 20 years and my mint, new, or very clean vinyl sounded great. The reason I bought my VPI was because I buy so much used vinyl now (I find great deals in abundance).
So, now that I have the machine, I use it on EVERYTHING. Let me tell you, I should have done it years ago. It is not just pops and clicks disappearing, it is more dynamic and resolving.
Buy it. You wont regret it. And if not, sewll it on Agon!
I don't clean brand new vinyl, but after a record has been played once, then yes, I will clean it before each subsequent playing. It makes a HUGE difference. As someone else mentioned earlier, the AIVS fluids are excellent. You also don't have to pay a ton of money for a really good machine. If you don't mind turning it by hand, you can buy the Nitty Gritty Record Doctor 3 from Audio Advisor - very inexpensive. It does a great job. You will not be sorry.
You don't necessarily need a cleaning machine, but I do think you do need to clean your records. There is tremendous concensus that clean records sound better than non-cleaned ones, even new pressings.
I built a simple RCM with a thrift-shop Ice Cream Maker, a hockey puck, a cheap wet/dry vac, and some commercial RCM parts. EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE with only about $50 invested.
Many folks stand by their manual cleaning routines and I respect that, but it wasn't for me. After a period of various manual cleaning methods, I went the wet wash and vacuum dry route and am glad I did.
Hope this helps! Don
I built my RCM out of an old Pioneer PL-A25 table, some tubing, and a shop vac. It's the best "upgrade" I've done to my analog setup, period. Make sure you get a bottle of the MFSL Plus fluid, too.
IMHO, some sort of wet cleaning process (preferably with a vacuum) and an accurate cartridge / table setup process may have the largest impact on the performance of your analog front end. Sure it's not as sexy as telling your friends you just bought mega-buck cartridge, but it's oh-so worth it.
I agree with Nrenter that my DIY RCM was the best upgrade I ever did to my system.
Any previous equipment upgrades tended to make the flaws in my vinyl (mostly used) all the more clearer, sometimes making upgrades sound great for other media (CD, SACD, etc.) but disappointing for records, even really good ones.
Being able to clean records much more effectively (my opinion) than I could using any manual method, my enjoyment of vinyl recordings has increased exponentially.
I have no experience with steam cleaning vinyl, but there is much (also hotly debated) information around to check out.
Now get out there and build a RCM and clean those records! :)
Buying a RCM was a huge step up and a long overdue and long overlooked component. As I look back on it, having about $7k tied up in a table, cartridge, arm and phono preamp....it was downright stupid not to own a RCM. I have to admit, I was just too cheap in the past to buy one....now I'm singing its praises.
If you have a good selection of LP's, a RCM is requirement you cannot afford to be without.