Ultrasonic Cleaners/Baths on Vinyl Records

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by dgsinner, Dec 9, 2010.

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  1. dgsinner

    dgsinner New Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Far East
    I've had an ultrasonic cleaner for a couple of years now. I only use it every now and then, but when I use it, it's perfect for this specific application: removing that last little tick that you believe isn't a scratch or vinyl imperfection but a stuck on piece of grit.

    We all know the stylus can heat up to 300F or so as it sails through the groove of a record. I believe that if the record is dirty, it can "flash fry" pieces of whatever onto the groove wall.

    Using the ultrasonic cleaner over the past couple of years I've had this very same experience a number of times:

    I clean an LP using my regular regimen: first a cleaning bath with a Knosti DiscoAntistat, then a vacuum dry with a KAB-EV 1 (a stripped down Nitty Gritty). For 99 percent of my record cleaning needs, this process works wonders.

    On the particular record I cleaned today, there was a single 'tick' on a quiet track that bothered me, so I cleaned the LP a second time. The tick diminished in volume, so I knew it was something that could be cleaned. I figured out approximately where the tick was on the vinyl and gave it a close inspection with a 15X loupe -- couldn't see anything.

    So, I filled up the ultrasonic cleaner tank with purified water and placed the portion of the record with the tick in water and let it work for about 15 minutes on that section, then rotated the record twice in the remaining 15 minutes. When I took the record out, there were some small, black bits at the bottom of the tank, in water that had been perfectly clear before. Some bits larger than others. If I were to guess how many, I'd saw maybe two dozen, but mostly very tiny. I used a wooden chopstick to try to touch one and it dissolved.

    Anyway, I vacuumed the record again, played it and the tick was gone. I have to say it was very satisfying to have the process work so well.

    I know this is going to seem obsessive to people who don't care about such things much, but getting the tick out of that track made all the difference.

    If anyone's interested, the track was "Beautiful Daughter" on a Regal Zonophone copy of The Move's "Shazam" Lp. The ultrasonic cleaner was something I got off eBay for about $200 still new a few years ago. Good sized 6 liter tank -- big enough to immerse half an LP.

    I have to say the ultrasonic cleaner is perfect for this application. It has worked wonders doing the same thing before on quite a number of records -- getting that last, irritating tick outta there.

    Dale
     
    marcfeld69 likes this.
  2. william shears

    william shears Active Member

    Location:
    new zealand
    Nice work. I don't have such a system but it's satisfying to know that some of those anomalies we learn to live with when listening to vinyl can be 'fixed'.
    I'm impressed.
     
  3. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    Location:
    Atlanta
    I saw one of the Autodesk cleaners in action at the Rocky Mountain show. It seemed to work very well.
     
  4. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident

    That's neat, Dale! I have an ultrasonic bath style cleaner myself but I've never even used it. I also have a tiny ultrasonic stylus cleaner by Ortofon, which I tested but only used the one time. It's just more time consuming than my preferred methods.

    I'd be curious to see the difference between cleaning a record by only using the fluid and brush method followed by vacuuming and by the ultrasonic bath. I guess a vacuum is a good thing after either method. What I am specifically curious about though is if its really necessary to use the ultrasonic portion of the operation or if the extended bath was actually just as beneficial. I am sure the ultrasonics would help, but perhaps by not as much as one might think if the two processes were isolated. What I have suggested to many who clean records either manually or in conjunction with a vacuum record cleaning machine is to fully saturate the record surface and allow the purified water solution to act as a solvent before rushing to wipe it off. Sure, that takes a bit longer but if the record is left on the machine, it isn't requiring any more effort. Further, by allowing the entire record surface to be saturated while its resting in a horizontal plane, I think the soak time would be reduced to 1/3 the time in the tank, to just a few minutes in other words. No need to worry about the label as in any tank or sink type immersion either.
    -Bill
     
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  5. TommyTunes

    TommyTunes Senior Member


    How could you tell? All they did was demonstrate how it worked but they didn't play anything. Without being able to play the record then clean it and play it again it tells you nothing.
     
  6. Ski Bum

    Ski Bum Happy Audiophile

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Dale:

    Interesting post. I am intrigued by the use of an ultrasonic cleaner as a supplement to a good vacuum cleaning. What ultrasonic cleaner are you using?
     
  7. proufo

    proufo Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bogotá, Colombia
    A knowledgeable person elsewhere claimed that ultrasonic cleaning can burst bubbles below the record surface and leave holes in the grooves.
     
  8. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident

    Which led me to wonder what the "black bits at the bottom of the tank" were when I first read the post... :eek:

    -Bill
     
  9. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    Location:
    Atlanta
    Link?
     
  10. Koptapad

    Koptapad Forum Resident

    I work with ultrasonics (electronics cleaning application) and there is a significant difference in cleaning performance between just DI and DI with a detergent/cleaner. Adding a cleaner improves cleaning - period.

    Your ultrasonic is probably 40-45kHz which is good balance of cleaning power-to-damage on sensitive surfaces. I would expect no damage to vinyl with 40 kHz, 200W, room temp, short dwell time. Now if you ran 20 kHz, 1000W, hot, long dwell time - this could possibly damage soft plastic.
     
  11. Interesting indeed. So what can we draw from the statement that there was nothing to see in the groove area before? Do the little black bits represent vinyl castings or burrs that were pushed into the grooves during the manufacture or welded inplace during play?
    I'd love to play with one of these but just do not have the room, which is why I went with the Nitty Gritty 1.5fi. (portable and 1/3 rd the size of other RCM's)
     
  12. ress4279

    ress4279 Forum Resident

    Location:
    PA
    Do the ultrasonics run $700-$800?
     
  13. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    Location:
    Atlanta
  14. proufo

    proufo Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bogotá, Colombia
    Will check my old mailboxes tonight.
     
  15. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    Location:
    Atlanta
    Thanks. :thumbsup:
     
  16. Metralla

    Metralla Joined Jan 13, 2002

    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    "It worked well" - as in, it worked.

    I saw a similar demo at the Munich HiEnd Show - can't recall the manufacturer. They had a stand in the ground floor "Halle" and had several machines and several records and they demo'd cleaning them. It was a bit weird.
     
  17. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident

    A basic bath type ultrasonic cleaner is perhaps $200-$500 depending upon the design and the size. These are generally for cleaning small metal parts. They work great for cleaning metal parts. They are often used to clean jewelry as well. Those really small tanks are probably not so expensive but then they won't allow a record to fit either...

    I don't know enough about the various frequencies and power ratings to recommend a specific unit. I do know that models are made to clean just about anything and some can damage pretty much anything. Just like with pressure washing, a little can go a long way. The trouble with ultrasonics is that you can't really see it happening at the microscopic level that this application requires. Vinyl is probably resilient enough not to be damaged by a short bath and the power levels available for affordable models. After all, you do drag a diamond across it intentionally...

    Still, it does sound like there might be some concern about overdoing it as well. Just as the other poster states, it does stand to reason that if it can dislodge stubbornly bonded material (models are even made for cleaning deposits in weapons) that it could also possibly get under the skin of a softer material. For this same reason, I am also skeptical about continued use of an ultrasonic cleaner on bonded components such as a phono stylus. While it'll no doubt clean lint from a diamond surface without harm, it might also dislodge the cement that bonds the diamond to its cantilever. That's a process that you really can't see or measure, so it's a crap shoot IMO.
    -Bill
     
  18. dgsinner

    dgsinner New Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Far East
    And using the ultrasonic bath on a record is time consuming too, but when it does the job like mine did in this case, it's worth the effort. That is -- a quite track with a tick (it wasn't even that intrusive, but it bugged me to no end because the record was playing at NM playgrade otherwise...)

    In the case I described, had I not had the ultrasonic cleaner, I'd have gone through a second wet cleaning/vac cycle, then put the record through a close examination to better see if I could find the offending grit by placing the record flat on a table equipped with multiple lamps, a small version of one of those 'loupe'-lamps like you see at the dentists, and a couple of hand-held magnifiers/loupes. I've done this on some records before, located the offending grit, then worked on it in isolation with various cleaners, cloths and brushes. I've had some success with that, but it is a lot of work and it's not always successful. Also, it's completely dependent on the grit being something visible, not black.

    Dale
     
  19. dgsinner

    dgsinner New Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Far East
    I've read that here and on the 'Net. I tend to think that may have been the result of use of a cleaner with a higher frequency/stronger effect than mine.

    I first encountered using ultrasonic cleaners on records at a collector's record shop in a suburb of Tokyo. The owner of the store raved about how effective it was -- the best cleaning regime he'd ever found, he said. I tend to think that, seeing how obsessive Japanese record collectors and audiophiles are, he'd have investigated any risk using the machine on his extremely valuable vinyl. But you never know...

    Dale
     
  20. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident

    Yeah, I can see how it might have been at least as fast in that case. I'm not disputing your results; it's great that it worked. I am fascinated by the proposition actually as most people have never even heard of it much less used it.

    I'm still really skeptical of exactly what the exact forces were at play there though. Surely ultrasonics can be used to clean and may accelerate other cleaning processes, that I am not disputing either. It just so happens that this method also involves soaking in a solution for a longer period of time than most any other methods. That is the factor that I'd like to see isolated here.

    All good work you've done!
    -Bill
     
  21. dgsinner

    dgsinner New Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Far East
    Well, I'm no scientist and I suppose the vigorous cleaning I did with the Knosti and vacuuming went the three-quarters of the distance on getting the grit out and the last let with the ultrasonic shook things loose. All I can say is that my impression was that ultrasonic was what finally worked.

    On the black bits -- they completely dissolved and seemed more like ash than remnants from vinyl as the bubble-popping theory suggests. I don't know that the ultrasonic cleaner would have such zapping strength to so completely disassemble the vinyl like that, but, again, not being a scientist...

    One other observation I've made over time using the thing -- on several occasions I noticed that crackle and surface noise on the lead in was reduced more by using the ultrasonic cleaner than with my usual regimen. I guessed that was because the KAB-EV1 pads don't reach to the very edge of all records, so that portion doesn't get vacuumed.

    Oh, someone asked about the frequency on the machine -- I think it's 40kHz, but I'll have to check.

    Dale
     
  22. Koptapad

    Koptapad Forum Resident

    Water does absorb into PVC. I would assume the absorbtion rate and total percent varies depending on the PVC formulation.

    Ultrasonics are a little odd in that a higher frequency causes less damage to a surface. 20 kHz is the most aggressive.

    Ultrasonics are amazing cleaners but there are exceptions. One exception we found was that graphite could not be removed off a plastic surface. We tried all kinds of cleaners and different ultrasonics but there was always a thin film left. BUT, a little gentle wipe with your finger would easily remove the graphite.

    We also use ultrasonics from cleaning metal samples we polish (5 silicon carbide sandpaper grits, two diamond polishes, one silica polish). Ultrasonics used between steps easily clean off any superficially imbedded debris from grinding/polishing. This type of application is very well suited for ultrasonics.
     
  23. proufo

    proufo Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bogotá, Colombia
    When I researched this, it seemed to me that the best approach was a variable frequency unit, as it would avoid resonances.
     
  24. proufo

    proufo Forum Resident

    Location:
    Bogotá, Colombia
    This is the extract of messages related to the ultrasonic RCM.

    From the Teres DIY turntable list.
     

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