Some thoughts on ultrasonic record cleaning and CleanerVinyl


I've been using the CleanerVinyl Pro https://www.cleanervinyl.com/pro.html ultrasonic record cleaning system for a few weeks now. I've cleaned over 50 records. tl;dr - Highly recommended. Makes records sound better (even brand new records) and saves you time.

I originally wrote this review for a local private audiophile club, but I'm a fan of this product so wanted to also share my thoughts somewhere others might find it. I hope this helps others who are trying to make heads or tails of record cleaning and especially ultrasonic.

I am aware of no better way to clean a record than ultrasonically. The only question is which unit and what do you put in it other than distilled water.

Prior to buying this rig I started with some elbow grease, microfiber cloths and some cleaning solution from Amazon. I was disappointed. It became clear that a vacuum cleaner would be much more effective so I bought the fully manual and reasonably priced Record Doctor. I cleaned dozens of records using this machine and some MoFi cleaning solution. It was laborious. Entire afternoons were spent cleaning vinyl. Occasionally the records would still have issues with pops and clicks. These were brand new records. I tried returning a few to the store and each time the owner would just clean the record in their ultrasonic cleaner and ask me to try it again before returning. Each time the problem was solved or dramatically reduced. So I started looking into a home machine. I also developed a deep distrust for that vacuum record cleaner.

To get into ultrasonic, you can spend whatever you want - from a few hundred bucks to a few thousand. As far as I can tell the only major difference is flexibility, convenience and aesthetics. Cheap machines require ear plugs and lots of babysitting. Expensive machines look like McIntosh toasters and make you an espresso while you wait for your records to be cleaned. But they all use the same basic technology - sound waves creating thousands of micro bubbles that, when they burst, remove foreign material from the surface of the record. It’s called cavitation and it’s like magic. It’s been used in many industries from cleaning jewelry to carburetors.

There are basically two ways of getting into ultrasonic- you can buy a kit that bolts onto generic ultrasonic tanks (like CV) or you can buy a purpose built ultrasonic vinyl record cleaner. Guess which one saves you money? Guess which one offers more flexibility? Guess which one looks better in the basement next to the cans of paint? You guessed it, the bolt on version. For those who value value then this is for you. For those who value bling, get one of the $5k cleaners.

Let’s talk about frequency for a minute. Most ultrasonic tanks operate at 40Hz. This is your all purpose cleaner. But you can get tanks that operate at different frequencies. A higher frequency tank, like the 132Hz tank that I got, generates more, smaller bubbles. The smaller bubbles apply less force but they can get into smaller crevices. They are better at removing chemical residue commonly found on new records. The 40hz bigger bubbles apply more force and remove larger particles of dirt more efficiently. Cheap 40Hz tanks make some crazy noise that sounds nothing like music and everything like nails on a chalkboard. My 132Hz tank sounds like the satisfying fizz of a can of soda. With a bolt on unit you can get two tanks and use both frequencies - like a pre clean and polisher. Or, if you’re like me and mostly buy new records or can pre clean a dirty used record with a vacuum cleaner you can be satisfied with a 132Hz tank. Expensive all in one tanks are usually 40Hz as far as I know and they deaden the noise.

Let’s talk about fluids for a minute. Vinyl records are hydrophobic- that’s right they are afraid of water. An ultrasonic tank is filled with distilled water. This is a problem. To solve this problem you need a surfactant. The library of congress uses a chemical that is available on Amazon under the name Tergikleen. 5-10 drops of this stuff in the tank and magically your vinyl records are hydrophilic- that’s right, now they love water. By loving the water the bubbles can reach them and the loosened dirt can wash away. Same reason you use soap to wash your filthy little hands you dirty monster and same reason all soaps have surfactants in them. Since there is always another level of crazy, you can choose to rinse off your records afterward. I don’t. It’s 5 drops per gallon. That seems pretty darn well rinsed to me. This would be a good time to mention I am not a chemist or any other kind of qualified expert.

So you got your bubbles and you got your surfactant and you got your records. Let’s mix ‘em all up! That’s where CV comes in.

I won’t get too in the weeds on their product line - you can do that on their site. What I can tell you is that the more money you spend the less time you spend. More money means more records at once (I can clean ten 200 gram audiophile pressings at once). More money means faster drying with the built in fan. Fan drying is just great. No water spots, just pure pristine shiny vinyl. Takes maybe 15 min to dry. More money can also mean close to zero water changes by using their built in water filter. If I had to change the water after every batch of records I would be a very disturbed man. But that’s what I would have to do without this filter. Drain the tank and fill it again with another gallon or so of distilled water. Because going to the store and buying pallets of distilled water is what I call a tad inconvenient, I find the water filter keeps me a tad more productive and my kids know me by something other than that man who lives with us and cleans records.

So CV makes this kit that bolts on a tank (they sell tanks too), spins the records, dries the records and cleans the dirty water. In a few weeks I’ve cleaned about 50 records. I can even clean records while I listen to records! Can’t do that with a vacuum record cleaner.

Surface noise has been greatly reduced and what is left is certain to be either from physical damage or manufacturing defects, the latter of which is unfortunately all too common. But, and this point cannot be overemphasized, ultrasonic cleaning produces better sounding records. It removes a haze. It lifts a veil. It makes a record sound clearer. It brings out details and improves the soundstage. It allows more information to be extracted from the record and placed into your ears. The sad truth is vinyl manufacturing is a dirty job and records arrive filthy. You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve cavitated those sons of bitches.

So there you have it. Stop wasting money on all other cleaning methods and spend whatever you can afford on ultrasonic. I like CV because their product is well designed. They answered all of my email questions within minutes. They sell reliable and quality tanks and provide solid documentation. They ship fast and free. When they aren’t selling ultrasonic cleaning rigs they are fixing bang and olufson record players which means they love this stuff as much as we do.

Oh, and if you're like me and didn't believe the labels would stay dry, believe it. The magic of surface tension is real.
odamone
Great write up and info, thanks.

I've been digesting all this stuff about "no frills" US. Time is nearing for me to finally advance beyond years of Spin Clean.
Thanks gotta get me some tergitol.