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 de-greaser. It is effective against fingerprints and other greasy or oily substances to a degree. It is ok to use it in the quantity suggested above, but I feel more that it is an option rather than a mandatory thing. I have chosen not to use it because 99% of my records do not have finger prints and such. I also feel the AVIS fluids with my VPI machine does a better job handling such contaminates.
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 prefer to vacuum dry my records, but 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 since vacuuming the record dry in this case is cumbersome at best since the VPI vacuums from the top, 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. Plus it is only water, so you are not cross-contaminating and such. However cloth drying a record cleaned on a vacuum machine is not only silly, but completely wrong and ineffective due to the fact that the whole point is to use proper record cleaning fluids and have the dirt suspended in said fluid to be vacuumed off the record. Using the cloth drying method in that case, all you are doing is re-contaminating the record.
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(s) 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 at the right rate of cavitation and temprature 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).
Updated info: First, as to that “problem record” I mentioned earlier. I did as instructed and put it through the machine 3 more times successively (once with surfactant and twice without). To my astonishment, there was a marked improvement! All the noise is gone. The only noise left is a very tiny barely there bit on the first track of side one. The rest of the LP is as nice and noiseless as you please! I can live with track one on side one very easily. (Hey, its vinyl, one must accept certain things with that).
If you have seen any of the videos on this machine, you may have noticed some recommended things in the cleaning regimen presented that seem a bit off or maybe not. At any rate, I do differ a bit with the suggested regimen. So, here are my suggestions of modification:
- If you are not comfortable adding the 1.4 oz of 70% isopropyl alcohol, you can skip it or use 99% lab grade alcohol at about half the amount. (Just don’t use it if you are cleaning shellac records). I eventually did go out and get some, but personally found no difference in using it or not. Then again, my records don’t have finger prints and such on them anymore after cleaning them on my VPI with AIVS fluids.
- Mr. Kirmuss claims that you should only cloth dry with lint free optics cloth, saying vacuuming is bad because it creates static and re-introduces dust and such via a venturi effect from vacuuming. I disagree. Of course, dish rack drying and fan drying are the worst. Good vacuum RCMS are designed to minimize or eliminate that. If you have a vacuum RCM that vacuums from the bottom, I recommend using it to dry your records after the ultrasonic bath. The way a vacuum RCM introduces static is by improper use. You should only use the vacuum for the very minimum number of rotations it takes to nearly completely dry the record. On my VPI that happens to be two revolutions. You will not build up static that way. The second you take your record out of the sleeve, dust lands on it. There is more venturi effect just playing a record on your turntable than any properly built vacuum RCM. I use lint free microfiber cloths to dry my records after going through the Kirmuss machine. Part of the reason is because my VPI vacuums from top, so that makes it unusable for after that ultrasonic bath cleaning (otherwise I would use it). Also optical cloths are only about 5 inches square usually and get saturated quickly. One can get lint free microfiber cloths on Amazon for a song by the stack.
- Mr. Kirmuss also recommends spreading on the same spray used as a surfactant with the same brush after the record is cleaned and dried before putting it away or playing it. I highly recommend against this! One should never apply anything to a record and leave it on! The only thing that should touch records after cleaning are carbon fiber record dusting brushes and your needle. First of all it is stupid and silly to do this, it only makes things worse and is worse for your needle. I don’t believe in stuff like Gruv Glide and LAST and such. They are lubricants that you really don’t need and your stylus and cartridge especially don’t need them! It is ok to use the supplied surfactant with the Kirmuss machine during cleaning, but that is all.
- Even though the machine uses 35 kHz transducers and a temperature no higher than 95 degrees, you still need to exercise a little caution. While it would take a shorter time to leach plasticizers from the record with a machine at 40 kHz and especially one higher (and with more heat), it can still be done on this machine as well, it just takes more cycles. Such leaching can even be done on a VPI or similar RCM, but it would take extra effort. My recommendation, which goes against what Mr. Kirmuss suggests in running the record through as many times as it takes, would be to run the record through no more than 3 or 4 times. If you are not noticing much or any improvement after that, then either a different method needs to be used or you are likely dealing with a bad pressing or something other than dirt. If the results after 3 times is “good enough”, don’t go for perfect. This machine may be safer than others at higher frequencies (and temperatures), but as with the method itself, I do advise not to throw all caution to the wind.
So with those modifications results should be astonishingly good! As with all machines and methods, some records will require more than one cleaning and some only one.