Record cleaning - Biggest upgrade?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by sepsism, Jun 16, 2022.

  1. sepsism

    sepsism Degenerate Metalhead Thread Starter

    New Zealand
    How do you vinyl fiends rank the importance of record cleaning in the "upgrade path"?

    All things source improvement - Obviously better TTs, better cartridges, better gear through the whole chain is whatever to whoever.

    Having recently (for the first time) cleaned my records suddenly I think I appreciate the "black background" factor. Or am I misconstruing the concept? Suddenly records are dead quiet in the background while the music is up front and in my face.

    Note I'm also coming into this with a new cartridge but I played a dirty record with the new cartridge (sue me), cleaned it, dried it then played it again and it was a different story altogether.

    I have a very cheap/budget record cleaner, I can only imagine what going higher up the chain might bring. Such is life. :agree:

  2. Jim0830

    Jim0830 Forum Resident

    For me it is vital to enjoying LP's. I listened to LPs from the mid 60's to mid 80's, abandoned them for 30 years and then started again from 2018 to now. What drove me to CDs was the total lack of ticks pops and any background noise. All of these things drove me crazy and took me out of the moment. I would know when all of the ticks and pops were coming on most of my records. Back in the day I used a combination of a Dishwasher D2 which was used wet or dry EVERY time I played a record. I also used a Dust Bug record sweeping arm to sweep up any stray dust accumulating while the record played. A few particularly noisy records I cleaned with mild detergent in a dishpan. Even so, the pressing quality could be abominable in the mid to late 70s with overburdened pressing plants, the petroleum shortages and recycled vinyl. I cleaned my records religiously to protect my investment and my own sanity, something I ended up never regretting.

    In 2017 I inherited money from my parents estate, which allowed me to significantly upgrade my equipment. It took me another year to decide to buy a turntable and spin records again. When I returned to records in 2018, I was stunned at how good they could sound. As I said I am totally OCD+ about record noise issue. I definitely liked the way my LPs sounded, but I knew I had to get a handle on the noise. Record cleaning is like many things in life. It can be a balancing act between time spent, labor spent and money spent. If you want to save money it will take more time and require more labor. If you want to save time and labor be prepared to throw more money at the problem. Because I had the estate money, for the first time in my life I could throw money at a problem. Historically I was usually on the provide more time and labor/save money side of the equation. One thing I found right away is better equipment can help the records sound better, orders of magnitude better. Different cartridges & stylus profiles in particular can make a big difference. My current cartridge renders the backgrounds much quieter on my LPs. That is something to explore within the price category you are working in. But clean records are still the key to it all IMHO, because no matter how expensive your playback systems is, it will just reproduce dirty records in greater fidelity, dirt and all. Plus you will damage your LPs grinding all that dirt around.

    Just my new cartridge costs several times more that my old turntable and cartridge. There was no way I was going to play any record on my new turntable without cleaning it first. They no longer make the original Dishwasher and I wasn't liking what I heard about the replacements. I knew I didn't want to go back to hand washing records in a dish pan. At first I bought an Okki Nokki record cleaner and it did work quite well. It turned out to take more time and was more labor intensive than I wanted. I had 800 old records plus an ever growing pile of new records to get through. So I upgraded to an Ultrasonic cleaner. I also bought something like my old Dust Bug record sweeper. I also got a Milty Zerostat anti-static gun, which I upgraded to a Furutech Destat III. If you sense a pattern here I was electing to trade more money for less time and labor spent. I also bought a Sweet Vinyl Sugar Cube click and pop remover.

    Today when I put on a decent pressing or an audiophile grade pressing, I usually get a dead quiet background from my listening position. No electronic noise and no background vinyl noise or hiss. My LPs are all cleaned on the UCM before their first play, zapped with the Destat III (if needed), and I set my record sweeper on the lead-in groove. The Sugar Cube takes care of most of the few clicks and pops which may remain. My reward is records which sound as quiet over speakers as any other source. LPs have become my format of choice for serious listening at home. I know not everyone wants or can afford this level of equipment. But by trading time and labor for money, the same results can be achieved. There are many routes you can take. Also you are protecting your investment until the day you choose to get better equipment. My records that hadn't been played for 30 years still sound great because I took care of them back in the day. Your cartridge will probably last longer playing cleaner record which saves money. Your records will be worth more if you keep them in good condition.

    It pays dividends to keep your record clean. Good luck!
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2022
  3. BackScratcher

    BackScratcher Forum Resident

    An ultrasonic record cleaner restored my faith in vinyl.
  4. monovinyl

    monovinyl Forum Resident

    I've been cleaning my LP's & 45's on a VPI 16.5 for decades.
    Even brand new vinyl. I consider my VPI 16.5 essential.
    My Onzow Zerodust generally looks "clear" even after a few months of use.
    I recently visited a friend who does not us a RCM...I was stunned at how dirty his Onzow Zerodust was.
    This friend has the finest vinyl collection I've ever seen. 1000's of NM originals, Japanese, Audiophile, Etc.
    All of them really clean, but his Onzow tells a different tale.
  5. ggergm

    ggergm the dead guy was handy

    My first record cleaner was a VPI 16 I bought used in 1983-'84. I kept it upgraded to the current design for 35 years. By 2020 it was working poorly and no longer square. I upgraded to Mat Weisfeld's aluminum, beefy version of Papa Harry's machine. It's still a VPI 16.5 at heart. That record cleaner has been $650 for decades and is, to me, the best buy around.

    I've also settled on fluids. @sepsism, I think you need to look at that as well. I may have tried everyone available over the years and liked many. I now use two, depending on how noisy the record is.

    My daily fluid it TM-8, a Turgitol variant. That means it's primarily water and surfactants. It doesn't need a rinse and cleans most anything. Sometimes I'll let a record soak in TM-8 for 5 minutes before I'll clean it.

    The other fluid I used has been around forever: Disc Doctor's Miracle Record Cleaner. It's an alcohol based product (not isopropyl) and good at getting rid of those stubborn pops. You have to accept some are in the vinyl but I have had many records become quiet after a deep cleaning with the Disc Doctor fluid. I use a dedicated brush and vacuum pick-up tube with this fluid to avoid cross contamination. It definitely leaves a residue so afterward I'll clean the record maybe a couple of times with TM-8.

    These two fluid are expensive but worth it. I've stopped using homemade fluids after trashing a few records with them. If you want to save money, use a concentrate and mix it with distilled water.

    Beyond that, the only other things I've found are:
    • A stiff brush, either camel hair or polyester, is essential for scrubbing a record. As stated, I use two, one for TM-8 and another for Disc Doctor's Miracle Record Cleaner.
    • You may have to clean a record more than once. Going back for a second or even third clean can be necessary to reduce record noise as much as possible.
    mreeter likes this.
  6. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Katy, TX
    If you're jumping to Ultrasonic, there could be some improvement. But really spending more on a vacuum based cleaning machine for me is about making is easier not so really about cleaning better. I upgraded from a Record Doctor to an Okki Nokki and cleaning is probably marginally better. But the experience is less of a chore, so well worth the extra money. Mostly the cleaning happens before you vacuum. So brushes and fluids aren't really an improvement unless you're going with a fully automatic cleaner like one of the more expensive Nitty Gritty models.
    Tinnitus Andronicus likes this.
  7. Jim0830

    Jim0830 Forum Resident

    In the light of Onzogate last December I switched to a Flux HiFi Sonic Cleaner (ultrasonic). Prior to that I used an Onzo Zerodust and then a similar DS Audio ST-50 Stylus Cleaner for 3 years. The most I ever saw on the gel pads of either device was a tiny very small pin prick where the stylus was lowered into the gel. These tiny marks were never dark colored or black. The benefits of a UCM I guess.

    I can only imagine what your friends Onzow looks like. Sounds like he doesn't clean the gel pad of the Onzow either. What I don't quite get is how you say his records are clean yet his Onzow looks like it does. How do they sound when played?
  8. tryitfirst

    tryitfirst Forum Resident

    It depends on the record. Most records are fine without cleaning, but some records have decades of detritus in the grooves.

    The ultimate record cleaner upgrade is a ten-buck bottle of pure PVA and a Zerostat. Once you've discovered the superiority of this easy, silent, and non-destructive method, spend a few hundred on an old SL-1200 to use as your potter's wheel, and double up as a spare turntable for when you grow tired of that expensive wowy belt-drive sound [ducks] ;-)
  9. monovinyl

    monovinyl Forum Resident

    He has a very nice VPI Classic Signature TT with a Benz Ebony, tube pre amp, tube amp, audio sensibility cables, etc. A great system. His LP's sound very good ...but not noise free. The tiny marks on his Onzow are black. I cleaned it for him & convinced him to purchase a 16.5. Clean appearing records without a proper RCM cleaning aren't as clean as we'd like to believe - due to the environment that they're exposed to amongst other factors. Much of his (and my) collection was / is purchased used.
    Jim0830 likes this.
  10. Cote Dazur

    Cote Dazur Well-Known Member

    very high, before any major upgrade to cartridge or arm. It will bring more change for the money. It will also last forever. I have had a nitty gritty for 40 years never looked back.
    HiFi Guy and Tinnitus Andronicus like this.
  11. Mark Richardson

    Mark Richardson Forum Resident

    Ulster County, NY
    I buy mostly used LPs and a record cleaner is a huge part of the process. I have Ye Olde SpinClean, would love to have something better someday but who knows if that will happen. But on a great many records it makes an enormous difference. I first used vinyl in the 80s and at that point the standard equipment was the Dishwasher brush, which I'm convinced did absolutely nothing. I had that and variants on that idea for a long time (I remember one device with a rubber mat and a pads that you would spin around by hand). But SpinClean is light years beyond anything like that (and I'm sure Nitty Gritty and the ultrasonic machines go that much further). All that said, I don't care too much about small scratches, clicks, and pops, if you buy used records you learn to live with it.

    Also - I enjoy cleaning records. If I have a free evening w/ 20 recently acquired records in need of a cleaning, where I can listen to old LPs while cleaning these new (to me) records, I'm in heaven.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2022
    Stone Turntable likes this.
  12. AP1

    AP1 Forum Resident

    Ultrasonic cleaning was a huge upgrade. But keep in mind - I only buy vintage records.
  13. drmoss_ca

    drmoss_ca Vinyl Cleaning Fiend

    It is extremely important for me - records from student days 40 years ago can be made silent (as long as they are not actually scratched)! Plus I'm now aware I cannot afford to replace the cartridge I use, so I'd like to keep it functioning as long as possible, so only cleaned records go under it. I use a Loricraft PRC4 Deluxe (and had a VPI 16.5 and a Nitty Gritty in the past), and I intend to keep using it when a Degritter arrives in the next few days. Gross contamination removed in the Loricraft, and then a deep groove clean in the Degritter ought to be all a disk needs after that. And if cleaning the groove makes such a difference, then the stylus should be equally clean. So one of the relatively cheap Hudson U/S cleaners is on the way. I've been using the PRC4 for eleven years now, and I have to say it makes as much difference as a better cartridge or phono amp.
    HiFi Guy likes this.
  14. Jim0830

    Jim0830 Forum Resident

    That comment brings up an interesting sidebar related to this thread. Unlike you I strongly dislike cleaning records which helps explain my UCM. Other people enjoy the whole ritual of playing a record, from cleaning, cataloguing, adding inner and outer sleeves, removing static from the records, cleaning the stylus, putting on my record sweeper, and turning over the record etc.. They take pleasure and satisfaction from doing all these things as part of their pleasure playing vinyl. I don't criticize or think these people are crazy, but it is just not my thing. The one thing I do know is I HATE record noise. I only perform this whole ritual is because it is a necessary evil that allows me the pleasure of listening to QUIET vinyl.

    In my first round of playing records 40 years ago, I used to hand wash records with level of clicks and pops and noise that the Disc Washer couldn't handle. Once a month I would grab the pile of problem records needing a wash, fill up a dedicated plastic dish pan with warm water and some dish detergent, wash, wipe and then air dry these records. I use to dread this ritual and I had to force myself to do it. I would often postpone this task for days or weeks because I hated its much. I also worried I might make a bad thing worse. Meanwhile I had a friend for whom washing records was a weekly ritual that he actually looked forward to and enjoyed. I know - I witnessed it in person. I would visit him to see his latest cleaning techniques and possibly learn something, which I did. What I didn't ever learn was to enjoy cleaning records. My UCM does make it tolerable and almost pleasant and I do really love the results.

    I just find it so interesting how people that are into records have totally different attitudes about some of the necessary rituals associated with playing record. For me it shows how much I enjoy the sound of records that I am willing to tolerate all these other related tasks. Others mileage may vary. @Mark Richardson I do wish I was more like you in this regard.
    bever70 and Mark Richardson like this.
  15. lazydawg58

    lazydawg58 Know enough to know how much I don't know

    Lillington NC
    Careful, a few months ago I got slammed by a fellow forum member for advocating the importance of record cleaning in getting better sound. It seems he thought I was too cheap to buy audiophile components based on some earlier posts he remembered me writing. :yikes:

    But to your point, yes I believe record cleaning is extremely important and ranks very high in the path to upgrading sound. Especially given that for those of us on a limited budget it is something that can be done without breaking the bank.

    I would like to comment on your last point about materials used to clean. Spending more doesn't mean you are necessarily improving the quality of the cleaning. There is no silver bullet in that regard. You can spend thousands on a high end ultrasonic and get amazing results. But you can also spend tens of dollars and get equally good results. Having the right cleaning solutions and the right cleaning process is the key. I highly recommend that you dive into Neil Antin's free online booklet. I think I'm safe in saying that he is the ultimate authority. He doesn't take sides on Ultrasonic vs RCM vs basin vs sink, but rather shows how his techniques and formulas can be adapted to anyone's particular cleaning method. Here is a link to an article from a fellow forum member (Bill Hart) that includes Neil's book link. (The link is to the 2nd edition, there is actually an 4 edition) Neil also participates on the forum so I wouldn't be surprised if he offers some comments.
    Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records-2nd Edition - The Vinyl Press
    pacvr and sepsism like this.
  16. FalseMetal666

    FalseMetal666 Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA
    Having clean vinyl definitely takes things a notch or two higher (particularly since I buy mostly used records). For example: I just got a great original pressing of Lust for Life and couldn't wait to clean it before listening. After cleaning it and listening again, I'd say it went from a VG to a VG+ which I consider pretty significant.

    I spent the money for a Pro-ject RCM but honestly, if you follow the instructions in the brilliant Precision Aqueous Cleaning guide linked above, I bet you can get the same cleanliness for a much lower price.

    I'm just lazy, so having the vacuum drying was worth the $ to me.
  17. Jim0830

    Jim0830 Forum Resident

    That is crazy talk. It doesn't matter whether you have an entry level turntable or a so called audiophile turntable. Clean records are important for both types of turntables. Cleaning protects both your records and your stylus. Most importantly cleaning helps preserve your records to enjoy in the future when and if you eventually upgrade your turntable.
    lazydawg58, Satrus and mreeter like this.
  18. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    I've never lost.

    However, I've discovered saving money by not buying a record cleaner machine was a mistake.
  19. Daddy Dom

    Daddy Dom Lodger

    New Zealand
    What tipped me towards buying my RCM was because I buy a lot of used vinyl, much of it from charity/op-shops.

    People without RCMs will generally pass by cheapo stained and dusty LPs but straight away, I could buy somebody's old record for $1 or $5 and do it justice.

    For example, I love older mono Capitol/EMI/whatever pressings on heavy vinyl and these come up well almost every time. They can sound staggeringly good.

    You haven't said what machine you're using. Here in NZ lots of people have Spin-cleans as the importers have already done the shipping but they are really entry-level. Once you are dedicated to the cause, you can go sky-high but I always recommend the KAB-EV1, as long as you don't mind hands-on cleaning.

    Mine was +/- NZ$200 landed about 15 years ago and they've even gone down a little since then. Stupidly good VFM!

    KAB Electro Acoustics
    lazydawg58 likes this.
  20. Mark Richardson

    Mark Richardson Forum Resident

    Ulster County, NY
    Interesting - you use your own vacuum with this?
    lazydawg58 likes this.
  21. Jim0830

    Jim0830 Forum Resident

    @Daddy Dom It wasn't really clear who were you asking about their RCM?
  22. lazydawg58

    lazydawg58 Know enough to know how much I don't know

    Lillington NC
    That's what I thought too. And for all his condescending talk he later acknowledged that he hadn't bothered to check my profile to see just what kind of system I had. (Not "audiophile", but not too shabby either :agree:)
  23. Front Row

    Front Row Finding pleasure when annoying those with OCD.

    Chicago IL
    I have the Kirmuss and noticed improvements right away. I cleaned a few records and was startled by clear and defined the music was. After cleaning Thriller, I heard more instruments and the music sounded deeper. I urge anyone that has a sizeable record collection with quality speakers and cartridge to get some type of RCM that is within their budget.
  24. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    Ah, record cleaning. A million stories in the Naked City. A bad cleaning is worse than no cleaning. Making the record look clean isn't clean for the purposes of audio playback or archival preservation.
    I did a deep dive in early 2011-13 and arranged to visit the U.S. Library of Congress intake facility in Culpeper, Va. I originally intended to focus on record cleaning methods but the place was so interesting, I wrote about the facility and what they do; thereafter, I did a short piece with a preservation specialist on best practices. All of that is online.
    I had and still have a lot of records, some that I cleaned more than 30 years ago and haven't revisited; sometimes I play them without further cleaning if the surfaces look OK.
    There is no better standard for me than playability, lack of noise, no tracing distortion or noise from "groove chew." How you get there is less about equipment or money than it is about practices.
    I've been fortunate to learn from, and publish a variety of third party articles on the history of ultrasonic cleaning (Bodell), implementing a DIY ultrasonic system with filtering of the bath (Tima), Neil Antin's work on "Precision Aqueous Cleaning" of vinyl LPs and some of my own observations, under the rubric of "my personal odyssey" (punchline: multiple methods including agitation, vacuum, rinse and ultrasonic).
    Method. Good equipment is nice, but not absolutely necessary. The real effect is all about effort, choices and practices. To me, it isn't an "upgrade," it is an essential part of playing records. (I do concentrate on older pressings, but cleaning new records is important in my estimation).
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2022
  25. aunitedlemon

    aunitedlemon Music is medicine, dose often.

    Extremely important. If the grooves aren't clean the retrieved sound isn't either.
    Jim0830, drmoss_ca, Satrus and 5 others like this.

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