Why are record cleaners so expensive?

Full disclosure: I have only the Spin-Clean record cleaner and a Hunt EDA brush to clean my vinyl, but as someone who's been in the digital side of audiophilia for decades, and as someone who knows how much gear can get in any dedicated hobby, I'm still curious as to why a high end vinyl cleaner can cost more than three grand.

I'm not disputing the price; after all, Smith said that something's worth whatever someone pays for it. Moreover, a high end record cleaner might be able to do things to vinyl that nothing else can. Still, paying three grand for an Audio Desk cleaner seems a bit out of reason. $3K can buy a good set of speakers; a hand-made fly-fishing rod based on your height and weight and arm length; two weeks at a Fijian resort for two; a custom-made suit from an Italian mill. So why is a glorified vacuum cleaner $3K?

Again, not flaming, just curious. Enlighten me?

i had a vpi forever and see them used for around 300-500 ...

  " ... paying three grand for an Audio Desk cleaner seems a bit out of reason."

Then don't buy one. But you can't compare the Audio Desk to your Spin-Clean device. Apples/oranges.

Had VPI 17F then got KL AUDIO KD CLN-LP200 much better records sound quieter and are cleaner.Just put in record set washing and drying time machine beeps when record is finished.The machine is very well made and worth it to me i have over 5 thousand LPS some are worth over  1K.

bcoz vinyl is now VERY popular. 
A custom-made fly fishing rod would mean little to me, but I understand that, for the avid fisherman, it may be desirable. So too, with those of us who have lots of records-in my case, accumulated over the course of almost 50 years. I started with a basic VPI in the early ’80s. I have owned several of the fancy, expensive machines and still use two constantly, in combination. Why are they expensive? I guess, for the Audio Desk, the developer had to recoup his development costs and make a profit. It’s far more than a glorified vacuum cleaner. The KL is simpler, but overbuilt. The Monks- it’s a sort of Rube Goldberg affair of tubes, jars, outside vendor supplied pump, various motors, housed in a case with some fabrication cost involved. (Monks is now introducing an even cheaper cleaner than their Discovery machine, which adapted a commercial turntable into a cleaning machine to reach a broader market). The Loricraft is very similar in design and operation. 
If all you need is a basic vacuum system, there are plenty of semi-DIY kits that permit you to add a small shop vac. If you are after ultrasonic, and want to do it without full automation, there are semi-DIY kits that add a rotisserie to a generic ultrasonic bath, and get you there for far less than a commercial machine.
Not sure what your complaint is-- there are plenty of alternatives. My sense is, the ’push one button’ ultrasonics designed for vinyl cleaning are not just about effective cleaning (though I still use them in combination with vacuum cleaning), but about convenience. When I first got one, I was overjoyed at the thought that I didn’t have to do any work, just pop a record in, and come back when it’s done. That alone has value to many audiophiles who find cleaning records a tiresome, noisy exercise that takes (limited) time away from listening.
"But you can't compare the Audio Desk to your Spin-Clean device. Apples/oranges."

He wasn't comparing the two. He was posing a not uninteresting question, and merely noted what he uses to clean his records.

-- Howard

I wish someone would come up with an affordable and effective automatic ultrasonic cleaner.    The ones I see available to-date are just way to expensive for most.
Map, I think you can get in for about a grand, if you use one of those kits and a generic US bath. Still too much?
Thank you, @hodu . I wasn't complaining at all but merely saying that in terms of vinyl cleaners, I had a very basic one and wanted to know what separated it from a $3K one.

And, @whart  and @cleeds , I'm not complaining about anything. I'm simply curious as to the construction and machinations of expensive vinyl cleaners that warranted their cost. Still, even if I had $3K to drop on a vinyl cleaner, I doubt I'd do it unless, as @ebm pointed out, I had a substantial investment in lp's.

It's all relative, though, as can be said about any purchase/value.
A grand is certainly better than most I see. :^).

For someone interested in building a big vinyl colelction these days its not a bad investment.  $3000 maybe not bad as well if called for.

 New records typically go for $30 and up. BUy 30 or so and you have a grand. Assume those come clean and do not need much if any cleaning if taken care of properly.

Now you can save a lot of money buying used vinyl for much less, sometime just a dollar or two, maybe less, but often these require a very thorough initial cleaning. You might be able to buy 1000 or more records for that grand and then clean them and have them like new and maybe even better sounding than new vinyl in many cases. 1000 records at $30 each would cost $30000 in comparison. So you saved $29000. Not bad. I suppose these are teh kinds of scenarios to consider to justify the investment.

I do have a very effective manual cleaning process I use that costs next to nothing per record, but it is time consuming and a pain to execute properly, though not too hard with some experience.
When you call the Audio Desk a "glorified vacuum cleaner" and say, "paying three grand for an Audio Desk cleaner seems a bit out of reason," it rather does sound as though you're complaining, even as you say you're not.

Vacuum cleaners are common appliances that are mass produced at low cost. The Audio Desk is obviously built in limited quantities, if only because the market for such a device is small. It uses ultrasonic cleaning, something no ordinary vacuum cleaner does. It has a filter for the cleaning fluid, motors to rotate the cleaning pads, motors to dry the disk and electronics to control the various functions. In addition to the materials cost, the manufacturer has to make enough on the product to recoup the design and engineering costs; pay for shipping, advertising and promotion; and make enough profit to warrant the endeavor, fund future improvements and honor its warranties. And of course the dealer must make a profit, too.

Compared to the price of a good turntable playback system - which must also include a pickup arm, cartridge and phono preamp - it's really not that expensive. And of course at least some of its users consider their records to be priceless, further justifying the cost.

The high end of audio is filled with products whose value would be dubious to the uninitiated. You might prefer "two weeks at a Fijian resort for two," but when that little holiday is over, you'll have nothing to show for it but perhaps some photos and memories. You also mentioned a "custom-made suit from an Italian mill" as an alternative. That seems like very poor value to me, compared to the Audio Desk, but everyone has to decide for himself.
I wonder if anyone buys the really good ultrasonic machines and then starts a record cleaning service. Assuming the devices are durable and have low maintenance over time if used heavily.

I mostly buy used vinyl these days and I only clean dirty records thoroughly once. Once properly cleaned, all I do is use a carbon fibre brush to quickly remove any newly settled dust before playing. A record cleaning service is something I might be interested in using.
@cleeds To each his own. Thank you for clarifying some of the economical and mechanical reasons behind my original question.

And yes, as you condescendingly point out, when "that little holiday is over" all I'll have is "photos and memories." However, I find those to be worth far more than any material item I've ever had.

@mapman You put things in perspective - as you usually do.
My Spin Clean also beeps when a record is done, and I have no idea where the beep is coming from…weird...
Perhaps the question, reframed, is "I have a modest record cleaning system (X and Y) that I’m happy with, but wonder if those expensive record cleaning machines are really that much better and worth the money?"
A little less antagonistic, particularly since you seem to acknowledge that one can spend money on handcrafted or bespoke items that have importance to the buyer.
Most folks are allergic to hype, and I’m not going to tell you that veils were lifted or the orchestra was in the room. What I will tell you is that I’ve spent a fair amount of time and money messing around with various record cleaning methods, machines and techniques and not only have a lot of records, but some very valuable ones. I can get a record very clean using a basic VPI. But some records, particularly older records that have been exposed to who knows what, require multiple cleanings, and in my experience, multiple approaches. That’s where the combo of a couple different devices, including ultrasonic, starts to pay off.
If you don’t think it’s silly to spend money on a suit, a fishing rod or a vacation, why would you think it’s crazy to spend 3 grand on an RCM? (which, as noted, you don’t have to do if you are willing to go the semi-DIY route).

Why are record cleaners so expensive?

Simple economics 101, Supply, Demand and Price.   
@whart Look, man, there was no antagonism implied or intended. Especially not if people are going to get bent out of shape over a question about a mechanical device.

"Most folks are allergic to hype, and I’m not going to tell you that veils were lifted or the orchestra was in the room. What I will tell you is that I’ve spent a fair amount of time and money messing around with various record cleaning methods, machines and techniques and not only have a lot of records, but some very valuable ones. I can get a record very clean using a basic VPI. But some records, particularly older records that have been exposed to who knows what, require multiple cleanings, and in my experience, multiple approaches. That’s where the combo of a couple different devices, including ultrasonic, starts to pay off."

There - that's what I was looking for in the first place - that and @mapman 's earlier take.

As for the suit, fly rod, and vacation - those are all objects or experiences custom made for one person only (or a couple, in the case of the latter) and not really suited for anyone else. That's a far cry from a mass-produced (relatively speaking) cleaning device.

I probably will invest in a VPI once my collection approaches a decent number.
I got an early HW-17 on ebay for around 250.00

has it worked?  yes saved a number of records

has it paid itself off   not really :)
The price it takes to buy a used (or even new) VPI HW-16.5 will get you perhaps as good a record cleaner as you need. Far better than a Spin-Clean and far cheaper than an ultrasonic cleaner.
I also use the Spin-Clean, but I finish up with a KAB EV-1 to vacuum off the bath water. The EV-1 is basically the top portion of a Nitty Gritty record cleaner, and hooks up to your own vacuum cleaner. At $169, it's an economical alternative to the machines with a built-in vacuum.

I believe the results from this combination are better than using the EV-1 alone and WAY better than the Spin-Clean alone.
Well, Sim, I'll take your question at face value.

First, an ultrasonic machine is not a glorified vacuum cleaner. Not remotely.

Second, sonic difference. I used to clean with a two wand method on a VPI. Now I clean at 80KHz and hear as big a difference as doubling the cost of a component. Many of us have a  $3,000 phono stage, or amp, or table, or speakers. Hence cleaning for $3,000 is perfectly viable on a strict cost/benefit analysis, on this measure alone.

Then there is the cost of a factory retip, about $3000 for mine. Since a recent study showed that the grunge in a record groove is one third diamond grit plus grease, which is a premium grinding compound, removing all of that grit should multiply the lifespan of a stylus. $3000 for record cleaning is a bargain on this measure alone.

Then there are the records. If you have 3000 records, it's only a dollar apiece. Even if you buy at garage sales, a dollar each is not significant, on this measure alone.

So there you have it. Out of reason? Not by my analysis.
If a power cord or a couple of rare records can cost $3k or more why can't an excellent record cleaner cost the same or less?
$3k for a great custom suit is not nearly enough, by the way. Try $8k - 10k. 
Having said that, I do think that $3k machine is overpriced, but so are many things.
Personally, $499 Okki Nokki with Audio Intelligent fluids is all I need. But it takes time and effort, that's not " push button " device.
Rich people employ different kind of mathematics, and from their point of view it sounds like a correct one.
I myself pay $500-$600 for a custom hand made knife from time to time, which would be considered madness by most people. I consider it inexpensive, some cost thousands.

I buy most of my LPs at shows used.  So a cleaner is very important.  But like the OP, I have a tight budget.  Two of the best values in record cleaners, IMHO are:


I own this cleaner, and hook it up to a standard canister vacuum.  Does the job pretty well.  I use a one-step cleaner since I lack the patience and time for a multi-step process.  Then I finish with this:


But if I were buying today, I'd pay the extra $40 and get this cleaner, which I feel is the best value in vacuum record cleaners out there today:


simao  " ...As for the suit, fly rod, and vacation - those are all objects or experiences custom made for one person only (or a couple, in the case of the latter) and not really suited for anyone else. That's a far cry from a mass-produced (relatively speaking) cleaning device. "

Sorry, but you really don't know what you're talking about. Your $3000 hand-made fly-fishing rod is a production item, made from stock materials and finished to your spec. Your $3000 two weeks at a Fijian resort for two? For that kind of money, you're not using a private jet, but a commercial carrier. You'll sleep in a bed once used by others! You'll dine in restaurants that use standardized menus offered to nearly any other diner who enters. And that $3000 custom-made suit from an Italian mill? It's based on a pattern and modified to your specs.

Yes, the suit and fly rod will require a fair amount of hand labor, but they are still production items. The Audio Desk cleaner is also a production item. But that something can be produced in production quantities don't mean it's "mass-produced." For example, a Toyota Corolla is mass produced. A Lamborghini is not, but it's not custom, either. It's a production item.

It's apparent that the Audio Desk cleaner is not for you. No problem! You get to decide for yourself whether it represents good value, or not. Because you called it a "glorified vacuum cleaner" in your original post, it's pretty clear your mind was made up before the conversation here began.
Interesting discussion..

We each have different priorities in how we spend our disposable income, and none of the previously mentioned things are essential items, and of course any first-world consumer can vote with their wallet..

While I have to agree that Audio Desk and Klaudio ultrasonic record cleaning machines are overpriced at $3,000+ and would love to see more affordable equipment become available for half that, in the $1500 range, there are many other "expensive niche products" that are not likely to be found in every home in the developed world.

Music lovers who want the benefits of cleaning their records on Audio Desk and Klaudio machines can use an affordable record cleaning service like mine, Record Genie. Some of my customers just use my service to clean a few records before deciding which machine to buy, but I know others could never afford the expense of their own machine(s).

Both Audio Desk and Klaudio machines offer excellent results, and I’ve cleaned thousands of records for hundreds of happy customers all over the USA since 2013. It’s less than $3 per record for cleaning on one machine, and $5 for cleaning on both. Media Mail postage gets the records back and forth affordably, and I have special packaging to borrow for those who need it.

Those with large collections (if cleaning them all) will probably still want their own machine(s) for obvious cost and practical reasons, and others will object to sending records through the mail (even with special packaging), but if you live in the USA and want to experience the difference of playing records cleaned on the best ultrasonic machines available without breaking the bank, there really is no obstacle to doing so..
About $500 will get you a decent record cleaner (such as the VPI or an Okki Nokki). Beyond that you're mostly paying for either added convenience or extra build quality.
I think we enlightened the OP. 
I would never pay $3k for a fishing rod or for a power cord or for a record cleaning machine. $10K for a semi-custom Brioni suit? Maybe, if I thought I needed such a high class suit. And I agree that $3k Fiji vacation would be too modest, I would add at least couple of thousands more.
This winter I bought an Ultrasonic V8 from David Ratcliffe. With the dryer cube it was about $1800 shipped. It cleans and dries 8 records at a time and the improvement in sound from cleaning with my trusty VPI 16.5 is amazing. I sold the VPI to a guy that was just using a carbon fiber brush. He is amazed at the improvement the VPI brings to his listening.  I had to set the Ultrasonic V8 up in my laundry room because you have to drain the cleaning tank after every 100 records or so, and besides it's too bulky and industrial looking to reside in the listening room. The Klaudio and AudioDeske and the new $5000 Clearaudio machine are much more refined looking and can be seen in public. But if you want the benefits of ultrasonic cleaning for less than half the price of these other more beautiful machines, check out the Ultrasonic V8.
The same reason why divorce is expensive.  Its worth every dime...
Unfortunately mark up levels in audio are often beyond reasonable. Best examples are audio cables and cartridges. You can buy an air tight PC-1 supreme or top of the line Kimber cables 45 % below list price - and everyone still makes enough money - including the dealer. Nordost Odin 2 interconnect 0.75 meter for $20,000 - are you kidding me? Even rich folks have to be on strong medication in order to pay these prices!
I bought my Audiodesk Vinyl Cleaner from a source in Germany (where it's made) for EUR1,380 plus tax ($1,575 in todays Dollars) which included mark-up from the dealer I bought it. The overpriced high mark up system in our hobby only works because enough audiophiles with deep enough pockets keep it going. Luckily there are excellent products out there for reasonable to fair money - you'll find them if you look for them ...
I've built and used ultrasonic record cleaners intensively during the past two years.  I began by using 60 kHz transducers and, later moved to 80 kHz transducers.  The highly finished models made in Korea and in Germany are more expensive and less adaptable than I needed.  A knowledgeable person can build an ultrasonic record cleaning system (including variable timer and cleaning accessories) for about $800 in materials plus labor.  

Although the initial cost is not prohibitive, cleaning a record to the point of playing dead quiet does require more time, care and effort.  You have to enjoy the process, both preparation and listening, for it to be worthwhile.  

The benefit of ultrasonic record cleaning to my enjoyment of my 2000+ record collection has been as great or greater than other upgrades to my sound system.

Cedar- good post- sometimes i view record cleaning as a task to be dreaded, and other times, I look forward to it and can actually enjoy the process. I've had both commercial ultrasonics- the Audio Desk and KL and have used them in combination with vacuum machines, like the Monks. The best results I have obtained have come from washing a pre-cleaned record in the ultrasonic, and vac drying it on a point nozzle, like the Monks (or Loricraft). The vacuum seems to be more effective than forced air drying  in removing the last iota of crap from the grooves.
So, the notion of a DIY ultrasonic makes huge sense to me, not only as a cost savings, but because it enables you to remove the record before the forced air drying cycle (something that isn't really possible on the Audio Desk and, while possible on the KL, isn't recommended by the manufacturer). 

One can remove an lp before the drying cycle starts on an Audio Desk. But, Why?

Vacuuming dry is effective but has the deleterious affect of infusing static electricity back into the clean vinyl record.

Cedar: I wholeheartedly agree that one has to (enjoy) the process. Otherwise, it is failed effort over the long haul and if you dread cleaning, the lps will suffer, so will your listening pleasure.
Slaw- really? When I had the Audio Desk, I don't recall any way to stop the machine before it goes from wash to dry- yes, I suppose you could just pluck it out before the drying cycle started- then, the machine would continue to dry with no record in it? 
The why is a different matter. No static using a Monks (or Loricraft). And it sucks out the stuff in the grooves, rather than blowing air on the record. In more than a couple of instances, this method helped me remove tracing distortion on records that I would have attributed to groove damage. 
@cleeds  No, my mind wasn't made up beforehand, but yours obviously was insofar as the histrionics of your replies.

I get it: you're passionate about a vinyl cleaning machine. I'm ambivalent, really. If I had 3000 lp's, maybe I'd invest in one, as Mapman suggested. I don't know if I'll ever have that many of anything (except grains of rice), so I probably won't spend $3K on an Audio Desk, seeing how I don't need one.

And thank you for your words of wisdom re: Fijian vacations. As someone who has taken a few of them in my life for $3-5K, I cam attest that they are indeed one of a kind experiences that didn't involve run-of-the-mill resorts. Perhaps you should get off the beaten path more often -- before you face the vinyl curtain.

Anyway, thank you to the rest for all the technical info about cleaning machines. I know my little Spin-Clean is probably the equivalent of an Easy-Bake Oven when compared to a really good stove; I just wanted to know why and if the cost was justified.

You are correct. One can "pluck the lp out" before the drying cycle, (and then simply press the off switch. Yes, really.

I've never used a Loricraft but I can surmise that anytime two differing components meet/touch, there is some sort of reaction. If one steams first, as do I, then there is little to no crud to be sucked up in the first place in the later steps I outline.

Therefore, If one uses my method, allowing the Audio Desk to blow dry the much cleaner lp is the better way. (This is my last step)

My method:

I apply cleaner
I steam both sides
I then use the VPI as another way of rinsing/extracting anything left on the lp
I then use the Audio Desk
I then set it ti dry further

Slaw: You are up in Buffalo if I remember (from a thread on record shows)? Do you get down to NYC metro area? I’m north of the city, near Nyack when in NY- would love to show you what I’ve been doing with various cleaning machines. (And you are welcome to be our guest). Whoops, just checked, you are in N.C. Well, the invite still stands. 

Sim- don’t get us started on stoves now! :)

Why do you seem to find "sucking out" any contaminants better than allowing a "blow dry" method? It could only be that, your method still has crud at that stage, when my method has methodically washed away in an organic way, all of the crud that you want to continue to keep "in the conversation" at this point.

I can possibly accept your method if that is superior to mine. Thinking it through, however, I still find my method superior.
Somehow... after reading your last post, I find it hard for others reading this to accept your initial post as something they should really consider if you find it applicable enough to try and post my "whereabouts", only to realize you are wrong?

Hey - one more question. The Spin-Clean has those two immersed brushes, right? After you manually rotate the lp three or four times, you're then to take it out and let it drip the "bathwater" for a few seconds, then dry it with the supplied cloths, rubbing with the grain until the lp is dry.

I've been doing this, then setting the lp's in a metal rack to air dry. Should I even bother with the cloths? Or will the Hunt brush remove most of the fibers?
It kind of bothers me, that, you can, "on the fly" seemingly, locate my location. Why, would you even find a need to try? This IS just a discussion. Then, upon your, (finding my location), find it OK to broadcast it to the world, via, this forum... Wow!

Please reply to all of the above?
I apologize to (simao).

My past comments were focused to whart.
Slaw- sorry, you mentioned it in a thread about record shows.
Not sure why you are offended, but if so, my apologies. I may reply later to the method issue, not something I'm trying to be competitive about- it was a friendly, genuine offer. Again, sorry for the offense, happy to try to delete the post if that's an issue. 

I just want you to address the above topic without transferring, somehow, your posts in a way that allows you to be absolved from ( YOUR PAST POSTS).

I addressed your response to my way of cleaning lps. Now, somehow, you have transferred the/your need to show us all your "better way" of cleaning lps after my last post. Somehow, people that (don't accept their failings, have a GREAT ability, to transfer their failings upon another)

Somehow, now I'm the BAD GUY!
I'm #@@#%ing tired of this forum!

See ya!
Actually, Slaw, I was responding to Cedar's post- where he described a DIY ultrasonic rig as a way of saving money. My post added an additional point- that there was a benefit to the DIY, in my estimation, over and above the commercial ultrasonics. That had nothing to do with you or your preferred methods. I'm sorry I got you upset over this. It was not my intention, and for those who know me on this board, I rarely engage in Internet sparring. Nobody is a 'bad guy,' and no one, in my estimation, needs absolution. Take it easy,
bill hart
Sim- to answer your outstanding question, I've never used the Spin Clean or equivalent. By the time I started getting into record cleaning in the early '80s, the VPI was available and I bought one. I'm pretty agnostic when it comes to machines and methods. However, I do believe it is important to remove the cleaning fluid from the record (which, if it has done its job, has suspended within it, various contaminants from the record grooves). Apart from the ultrasonic machines addressed above, getting the (contaminated) fluid off the record usually involves a couple steps- a rinse step with some kind of purified water and vacuum. Getting the record "dry" is not the equivalent of removing the fluid/contaminant slurry. So, my assumption is that wiping the record dry will not fully remove it. Hope that helps. 
For years I cleaned my records by hand.  I then bought a VPI 16.5 machine for about $600 and was in 7th heaven...still am.  It was a huge improvement and changed my LP listening experience.  Now I'm reading here about guys that have had the same machine moving up to more expensive brands... and getting much better results.  Wow....this hobby never stops, there's always something better out there...and more expensive.  A more expensive machine may yield better results for me, but I'm good just where I'm at.  I'm not going to pay more for the record cleaner than I paid for my phono preamp or turntable.
OP poses a good question. Go to Amazon and search for ""ultra sonic cleaner". You will drop a record when you see the prices. 

Dont get me wrong; the machines look great, although some who have the machines are beginning to ask whether the high frequency scrubbing is scrubbing the high frequency data off the grooves, based on their actual listening experience: very quiet, but losses on the high end.  There ought to be a way to test for this. I would like some comfort on this point before committing an entire collection to the process. 

From what I've read, the high frequency units  dislodge smaller particles, are gentler than the 40hz units, and require more time to get the job done.  I'm in process of shifting from a $170 40hz Chinese machine to a $1350 Elma Sonic German unit that sweeps 37hz-80hz with more power.  The Chinese unit does slightly better than my VPI 16.5.  I'm hoping for more performance from the Elma.