First, after filling the tank with distilled water to the max line, I de-gased the water following the directions. This process takes about 3 minutes total. The reason you do this is to remove the air bubbles from the water after filling the tank. Now I did not really think I would see air bubbles in the water after filling the tank, but I did! (Just goes to show, there is a reason for everything).
(See the drain hole at the bottom?)
After de-gasing, we are ready to clean some records. The instructions say to put 1.4 oz of 70% alcohol (you can get at any pharmacy or super market), but I did not have any. Remember too much alcohol could harden protein based contaminates to the groove walls, but 1.4 oz of 70% alcohol (which is 30% water itself) in 1.6 gallons of distilled water is not going to have any adverse effects. The real reason one would add that little bit of alcohol as suggested is because it acts as a degreaser. It is effective against fingerprints, any of the mold release agent in the formula that makes its way to the surface during pressing (mainly for new records) and other greasy substances.
Understand that most of my records are used including the ones I list here and have been previously cleaned with my VPI and proper fluids and method.
I started with a record that had a lot of noise left even after cleaning it on my VPI twice with different fluids. (3’s A Crowd by Christopher Movie Matinee). First, I ran it through a cleaning cycle without surfactant just to see what result I would get. The result was no change. Ok, that was almost expected, I think. I then ran it through a second cleaning, this time applying the surfactant to the record. The result was no change again.
You might be thinking to yourself now that this is a failure and you would actually be wrong. I’ll tell you why. This record was cleaned thoroughly on my VPI 16.5 with AIVS fluids and more twice and of course there was a small difference the second time, but nothing noteworthy. Over time I have trained my ears as best a human can to decipher between dirt and damage when I hear noise on a record that has been cleaned properly. One rule of thumb I use is that if I have cleaned a record 3 or 4 times using best practices and assaulting it with everything in my arsenal and I still get a fair amount of noise when played, then the logical leap can be made that it is likely damage of some type either during pressing or improper handling from the previous owner or from being played on bad equipment previously (Assuming your table is set up correctly). Damage can’t be fixed. Having both a vacuum RCM and an ultrasonic RCM one is assured of the deepest clean possible. What that does is makes it easier to know whether the noise you may be hearing on a record is dirt or damage. In other words, it eliminates further element of doubt. (The company tells me that I need to run the record through 2 or 3 more times and it will be a huge difference. I will do that later and report back).
The second record was by The Byrds, simply titled “Byrds”. This was the first release and featured David Crosby in the line up (the only time he was in the group). I cleaned this record with everything I have up to 4 times and only got it to the point of “listenable”, but fairly noisy including 3 or 4 pops on the last track of side one.
I did the same thing with this record. First, a cleaning cycle without surfactant. Result was a subtle improvement. Noise and pops were still there, but somewhat reduced, which no doubt intrigued me. The second cleaning cycle was with the surfactant. The result this time was astonishing. There was barely any noise, if at all and the pops were gone! This is the kind of result one dreams about and enough to prove that correct ultrasonic record cleaning works.
I decided for kicks, to select one of my records I previously cleaned with my VPI and usual fluids resulting in what I know to be as close to perfectly quiet as we are going to get and run it through the machine. (America – “Holiday”). I’m not sure there was a difference, but that is a good thing because it says that this is as good as the record gets, in other words, already squeaky clean (but without actual squeaks of course).
So what did we establish here? We established that ultrasonic record cleaning, done correctly, works and it is the final step if you want your records really clean or especially if you have stubborn ones that you still have lots of noise on after through cleaning with other methods.
I’m now fortunate enough to have both my VPI and the Kirmuss ultra sonic system. I am keeping both because I like the idea of having yet another apparatus in my arsenal for record care and maintenance. Besides, I feel it would be silly to get rid my VPI because I still like bio-enzyme based record cleaning fluids for certain jobs and you can’t use them in ultrasonic machines. In fact, you should never use anything in an ultrasonic RCM, but distilled water or equivalent. I also like to vacuum dry my records. I have found though in using the Kirmuss Audio machine that a microfiber lint free cloth does a good job when using such a machine, you just need to make sure there is no moisture in the grooves and that usually is only a matter of a few seconds more wait before putting the record away or playing it. However cloth drying a record cleaned on a vacuum machine is not only silly, but completely wrong and ineffective.
Summary: Ultrasonic record cleaning works and is the most effective way of deep cleaning your records. In fact, judging by the results I already got, I have to say it is as good as it gets for cleaning records. However, more importantly is using the right machine to do it! Here is the best part in my opinion: The Kirmuss Audio KA-RC-1 (aka “In the groove”) ultrasonic record cleaning machine is the first one to market right now that is solely built with the mission to safely and effectively handle and clean your records instead of built to make money as its end game. In other words, the Kirmuss Audio machine puts record care and people over profits or a fast buck instead of a fast buck over record care and people.
The owner Charles Kirmuss says “Why should we add an extra $2000 to the price, that is not fair. Everyone deserves an $800 washer to have clean records which increase their listening pleasure.” (I could not agree more).