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Linn Owners

Experiences with Record Cleaning Machines.

DavidHB

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I'm starting this thread in the hope that it might grow into a useful collection of information. So far as I can see, the last discussion about RCMs was specifically around the Kirmuss device and methodology, and the most recent post in that thread was the link by @akamatsu to a rather useful summary of the record pressing process. That link is in many ways a sensible starting point for this thread.

If there was one thing that, in the 1980s, moved me over from listening to LPs to mainly listening to CDs, it was the unwelcome noises produced by temporary or permanent imperfections in the record surface. This problem is IMO as acute as ever, and is the main thing that held me back from buying an LP12 for a number of years. Now I have the LP12, I have been trying to make do with the record cleaning service usefully offered by my local hi-fi store (not a Linn dealer). But the Pro-ject VC-S cleaner they are using appears to be effective only to a limited degree, and it became clear to me that investment in a more capable (and therefore expensive) RCM was a necessary precursor to any further upgrade of my LP12. Recently, the opportunity arose for me to participate in a shared purchase of just such a more capable RCM. That is a long and interesting story in itself, and will be the subject of a separate post. The purpose of this opener is to discover whether there is any continuing interest in the subject on the forum, as I believe there ought to be.

One thing that is clear to me is that there is little point in pontificating in absolute terms about the superiority or otherwise of this or that RCM product or technology. A/B comparisons of playing equipment are difficult enough to make with any certainty when the recorded material and the equipment are constants. A/B comparisons of RCMs are all but impossible; once you've cleaned a record, you've moved the baseline. I know that some people say that, if you clean a record with machine A, play it, then clean it with machine B and play it again, machine B is superior to machine A if the results on the second playing are better than those on the first.  But that is false logic, because (1) you are comparing the cleaning of a dirty record with the second cleaning of a clean record and (2) the comparison takes no account of what would have happened if you had given the record a second cleaning with cleaner A. The only comparison that provides useful information is between playings before and after a given cleaning process, ideally repeated a number of times with different records. Even that approach is problematic, because, as can be seen from the description of the pressing process cited above, there is actually a good case for cleaning records before the stylus even touches them.

So there's the quandary. We need to have effective means of cleaning our records, even when new, as surface noise is all too often a limiting factor in our enjoyment of music on the LP medium. But objective, 'scientific' comparisons of different cleaning methods and devices are well nigh impossible to make. We are left with sharing informed guesswork and anecdotal experience - the very stuff of which forum discussions are made  :) , which is the point of the thread title. If people share my view that this is a fun and potentially useful topic, I'd be happy to tell the story of my shared RCM purchase, which included a lengthy training session with the actual developer of the machine in question.

David

 
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Paulssurround

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This should be very interesting topic.

I look forward to reading about your story and your LP 12.

 

DavidHB

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I look forward to reading about your story and your LP 12
The story is not really about the LP12 (though it is always doing its thing in the background); it is more about the recognition that I wasn't going to get full value from the deck until I did something a bit drastic about getting many of my records cleaner. This is easier said than done. I have records which had poor surfaces when they were new 40 years ago, and, countless cleaning processes and devices later, have poor surfaces to this day.

One such, which will figure in the story, is the Neil Diamond Hot August Night live album, one of my few forays into 70s pop. The concert starts quietly with a long instrumental introduction, gradually building in intensity up to the explosive entry of the singer himself. On my copy, the atmosphere of this passage has always been ruined by surface noise; the pressing has clearly inherited more than its fair share of lubricant and release agent. Can this be removed after more than 40 years? Well, the Pro-ject VCS machine at the local hi-fi showed that some of it can, but, even after this cleaning, the surface was far from satisfactory.

I started reading up about the various types and makes of RCM. It quickly became apparent that, if I were to buy a machine that could significantly outperform the VCS, I was probably going to be paying in excess of £2,000. That, in my opinion, was too much money to lay out, sight unseen, on a speculative buy. I needed a proper demo, which, as I live on an island, was a somewhat problematic requirement. But my head scratching was interrupted by a rather surprising turn of events.

My friend and fellow hi-fi enthusiast Chris recently acquired a respectable (non-Linn) record deck from another friend, Clive, whose deteriorating eyesight had sadly forced him to give up playing LPs. Chris, like me, was in the market for a good RCM. He discovered that Jonathan (Jon) Monks, the son of Keith Monks, had revived his late father's RCM building business here on the Isle of Wight and was developing and building new models. Furthermore, Jon was happy to come over to Chris's house and demonstrate his dicOveryOne Redux machine, when he returned from demonstrating it at the Rock Mountain Show in Denver. Was I interested? Is the Pope Catholic?

The Redux (Jon pronounces it "redo", which is not the way we would have said the word in my Latin classes at school) is a compact but essentially fully featured version of the professional Keith Monks machines that have been used by the BBC and a number of national archive institutions since the late 1960s. In the great divide between "'vacuum cleaner" and cavitation/ultrasonic RCMs, the Monks machines come very much in the former category; in fact they can lay claim to be the very first commercially available RCMs. This isn't a sales brochure, so I'm not going to go into too much detail, but one of the more interesting aspects of the machine is the use of a nylon thread, fed from a spool next to the suction arm, to act as a spacer between the nylon suction nozzle and the record surface. A new length of thread (only about 5mm) is used for each cleaning operation. This arrangement allows the use of a small diameter suction nozzle. The only other RCM to use this nozzle-and-thread arrangement, that I know of, is the Loricraft. (Incidentally, Loricraft have recently been taken over by SME.)

While, so far as I can discover, cavitation machines mostly just use distilled, or perhaps even just tap, water, perhaps with a small amount of surfactant, there has long been discussion between users of vacuum pump RCMs as to what is the best and safest cleaning fluid. Some alcohols that were formerly used are no longer publicly available, because they were being used for nefarious purposes.. Jon Monks has sidestepped all these discussions by working with a producer of organic soap products to develop a cleaning fluid which is a mixture of biodegradable botanicals diluted with distilled water; about 5 ml of fluid is used in each cleaning operation. Famously, the older Monks machines used the windscreen washer pump fitted to the old Mini Cooper to disperse the fluid on to the cleaning brush. The Redux uses the pump from the Citroen 2CV; this is a bit of a come down from the Mini Cooper, but the new pump is apparently more reliable.

The more I thought about the Monks machine, the more I liked the concept, in principle at least. I liked the care taken to avoid cross-contamination from previous cleaning operations, with single use of consumables.  I noted that the Keith Monks machines had been used by the BBC for many years, and my Radio 3 FM listening days went back to the time when LPs were played directly to air and much more often than not had impeccably clean playing surfaces. I obviously liked the fact that the machine was locally produced and that the consumables would be relatively easy to source. Most importantly, Chris, who lives just up the road, was prepared in principle to share the cost and ownership of a machine with me, which immediately halved my capital outlay.

So what happened at the demo? Well, this post is already too long, so that bit of the story will have to wait until a later instalment. Do feel free to comment and ask questions. Or tell us about your own RCM experiences, which is what the thread is about. I would definitely not want to restrict discussion to the Monks machine, even though it happens to be the one in which I am interested.

David

 

macfan

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DaveHB: Thanks for staring thread. I have been considering RCMs and reading about them extensively the last few months. For myself this is what I have come up with

  1. I know I do not want it to be too fussy or labor intensive to clean the record - work way to much for complex processes that take hours to complete
  2. As automatic as possible would be great
  3. The ability to clean into the grove is very important rather than a general surface clean.

I have read about many different approaches and theories, some of which are more sound than others, and I have decided to go with ultrasonic cleaning. While there are number of interesting competitors in this area the approach to design and the cleaning methodology that has me most interested is The Degritter developed by a team in Estonia. This team seems to have put a good deal of R&D into the electrics as well as the form and function of the devise. Additionally, the science of why the designer choose a 120 kHz amplifier to produce the ultrasonic cleaning effect vs. the lower frequencies of competitors is compelling. 

I have read quite a lot about this product and get a good vibe. Any questions I have submitted by email have been always promptly and thouroghly answered. There have been a few very lively threads where competeing methodologies preset why one approach is better than another. If you are all interested I will post the links to the discussions.

While I have not purchased a RCM just yet, I plan on getting one of these ordered and shipped over to me here in the US before the end of the year. If anyone has direct experience positive or negative please chime in. Items like this can get off in the weeds and relying on fellow audio types for their experience can be helpful.

Also - for those who have used any form of ultrasonic cleaning gives us your thoughts. 

 

Audio Al

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I started with a OKKI NOOKI it did the job but was very NOISEY 

I then tried a Moth and found that very NOISEY 

I now have a Loricraft PRC3 and its bliss , The vacuum is hardy audible , a pleasure to use, A big difference from the 2 units above 

I could go into further detail if required but this is a quick comment 

 

DavidHB

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... the cleaning methodology that has me most interested is The Degritter developed by a team in Estonia ... I have read quite a lot about this product and get a good vibe.
Yes, I too found that to be  an interesting product, as are all the fully engineered cavitation machines. There are folk on this forum who have high praise for the Audio Desk Systeme, which is a somewhat more established product than the Degritter. My own interest in the Monks machine arose as much as anything because I could try it out for myself, and after so many failures down the years, that was important to me.

When we think about record cleaning, it is important to consider (1) what form the various contaminations take, (2) how those contaminations get on the record and then contrive to stay there, (3) how contamination can be dislodged and (4) how the dislodged contamination is removed and disposed of. Effective record cleaning has to deal with all these issues, and every record cleaning method faces challenges in respect of one or more of them. In the case of cavitation cleaners, the reports suggest that they are effective at dislodging contamination, but there are concerns about how well they remove and dispose of it.

The conventional form of cavitation cleaner rotates the disc in a bath of vibrating fluid (typically distilled water and surfactant). Dislodged contaminants remain in the fluid. If they are denser than the fluid, they will sink to the bottom of the bath, out of the way. But they will come a point in the usage of any particular fluid bath, when there is cross contamination from previously cleaned records. Filtering helps to reduce the rate of build-up, but will not remove all contaminants, like the oils left over from record manufacture.

A second issue relates to drying. Both air drying and fan drying will remove residual moisture, but not necessarily any contaminants suspended within it. Vacuum machines (which have their own problems, of course) remove moisture and contaminants together, to a special waste fluid container.

Note that, from my perspective, these concerns are essentially theoretical; our real concern is how functionally clean the records come out in practice. I am aware, of course, of the impressive 'before' and 'after' pictures on both the Degritter and Monks websites, but one picture does not a clean record make. Which is why I think that it is useful to share actual experience. In the end, it does not matter which is the best (or least worst) system; what matters is whether the records end up clean and fully playable.

David

 
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DavidHB

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... is noisey just extra noisy  :) ?

Either way, I suspect that all the sub-£1,000 vacuum machines are noisy beasts. I would certainly not want to use the Pro-ject VCS for any length of time.

The Monks machine, which uses very similar technology to the Loricraft (or is it the other way round :)  ?), has a medical grade diaphragm pump (by far its most expensive component), which is also very quiet.

David

 
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MickC

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I started a thread on the Audio Desk machine when I bought mine, a little under a year ago.

My search for a cleaning device lasted a great many years (although not with much priority initially). My limited experience of most cleaning machines was that they are pretty much all just dryers, rather than cleaners, and that the result of the cleaning process on those was very dependent on the operator. 
I wanted a machine that took on the process from start to finish, with consistent results, so I looked at cavitation/ultrasonic machines. Colin at WYSaH took on the Audio Desk machine last year and invited me over for a play. I took an LP that I’d bought in a charity shop and that sounded like Friday night at the fish & chip shop, it was so noisy. After a run through the machine it had almost no surface noise at all (there was a little damage on one track but that’s obviously something cleaning will never resolve).

I’m still using the machine (I’ve cleaned around 150 LPs so far) and have no issue with the high cost compared to the regular dryers.

Mick

 

DavidHB

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@MickC 

Many thanks. Yours is just the kind of post I hoped we would see when I started the thread. I also recall the thread you started, and I hope that we don't lose sight of it.

In principle, the cavitation machines like the Audio Desk and the Degritter seem to be far the simplest to operate. Stick your LP in the 'toaster' slot, fire the machine up, and wait for the process to finish. Vacuum machines are at best semi-automatic, though, depending on the configuration, they can give you a bit more control over the cleaning process.

How easy has it been to support and maintain your Audio Desk machine? Does WYSaH supply the consumables?

David

 

macfan

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@DavidHB

Good point on the filter and dislodged contaminants - especially for tank based systems. While it appears most of the ultrasonic systems use a filter of some sort The Degritter does use active filtering. Water in the tank is drawn in toward the top of the tank, filtered, and then added back in. Similar to a swimming pool. The active nature would introduce a circulation effect and help prevent the contaminants from settling at the bottom. The filtering occurs while the particles are still suspend in solution. The filters are user replaceable. 

Another solution could be to use the ultrasonic cleaner for the heaving lifting and then a vacuum cleaner to remove the moisture and any left over particles that did not completely dislodge into the tank. This would be more work than I am willing to take on however. 

With firmware updates, cleaning programs, and ability to control the length and speed of the fans that support drying, this solution gives enough options to make most of us happy it would seem. I have just gotten back into vinyl this last year and took delivery of my LP12 only in June. It has been great. I personally find that clear vinyl sounds best and has the least imperfections followed by some of the colored variants. Black interesting enough has the most clicks and pops. Records naturally fall toward a clear color and an additive called carbon black is added when making them. I have read the following theories of why this is added to make the black records we have known since we got into this hobby:

  1. It reduces static electricity of the PVC which attracts dust. The dust would accumulate and due to the interaction of the stylus and needle could cause damage to the needle and could even bond the dirt are particles to the groove wall. 
  2. It increases structural integrity of the record - more associated with shellac records than PVC based production
  3. It hides imperfections in the vinyl pressing
  4. It reduces groove friction

Reason #1 is in fact the primary reason this is done but I still tend to like the clear. However, one of my favorite records which is a clear pressing has developed a few ticks that were not initially there. So there could be something to the theory. Perhaps if I had an ultrasonic cleaner I could help have reduced or even remove the clicks that have appeared.

Oh, this brings up the point especially for those buying new or collectible records. The more we wash, the more the cost of the cleaner goes down. And when one considers the price we are paying for some of these records, the investment may not be all that bad. 

@MickC

Your findings are similar and glad the Audio Desk is working for you. Helps support my decision to acquire an ultrasonic cleaner. I am thinking of getting it toward the end of this year.

 

MickC

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@MickC 

Many thanks. Yours is just the kind of post I hoped we would see when I started the thread. I also recall the thread you started, and I hope that we don't lose sight of it.

In principle, the cavitation machines like the Audio Desk and the Degritter seem to be far the simplest to operate. Stick your LP in the 'toaster' slot, fire the machine up, and wait for the process to finish. Vacuum machines are at best semi-automatic, though, depending on the configuration, they can give you a bit more control over the cleaning process.

How easy has it been to support and maintain your Audio Desk machine? Does WYSaH supply the consumables?

David
Consumables aren't really an issue. At the time of purchase Colin was hesitant to buy in any consumables as there's pretty much no overhead on them for his business when bought in small quantities (and who knows? I may be the only customer to purchase a machine). However, all are easily available online.

Cleaning fluid (and the water) is replaced every 100 LPs - the distilled water I get from Amazon, and the machine came with two bottles of fluid.

Roller brushers, 'wiper blades' (for want of a better description) and filter should be replaced every 500 LPs.

Brushes, blades, fluid and filters are easily available through various dealers (who presumably buy in enough to make it worthwhile) and ebay, as are spares in general, so for the time being at least, I have no concerns in that department. We shall see how things go over the next few years!

Mick

 
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DavidHB

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@macfan

Thanks for the interesting post

most of the ultrasonic systems use a filter of some sort
Indeed, and filters (provided they are cleaned and/or changed reasonably frequently) ought to be effective in removing solid contaminants. They are probably less good at removing the oily compounds left over from the disc manufacturing process (and indeed to the chemical composition of the LPs themselves). The interesting thing about oils in the context of a cavitation machine is that, surface tension being what it is, it is possible (at least theoretically) that any oils in the cleaning bath may coat the 'bubbles and make them less effective at dislodging dirt from the record. I emphasise that this is is only a theoretical thought; if the machine does its job in practice, 'bubble coating' is not a major problem.

I have read the following theories of why this is added to make the black records we have known since we got into this hobby:

  1. It reduces static electricity of the PVC which attracts dust. The dust would accumulate and due to the interaction of the stylus and needle could cause damage to the needle and could even bond the dirt are particles to the groove wall. 
  2. It increases structural integrity of the record - more associated with shellac records than PVC based production
  3. It hides imperfections in the vinyl pressing
  4. It reduces groove friction
These may be reasons why the great majority of LPs are still black, but I suspect that they were black in the first instance because that was the colour the buying public expected. This was a significant issue, because the LP was a big change for the market to adapt to. I am old enough to remember my father being frustrated and bewildered because he could not play the new-fangled long playing records on his elegant radiogram.

The more we wash, the more the cost of the cleaner goes down. And when one considers the price we are paying for some of these records, the investment may not be all that bad. 
Very true. And that is without considering the investment in the playing equipment. The cost of even a high end record cleaner is small relative to the amount I have spent on my Hi-Fi system

David

P.S. I notice that there have been enough views of the thread to suggest that that there is a bit of interest in the topic. As a bit of a spoiler, I can say that my friend Chris and I did buy the Keith Monks machine. Chris is going away next week, so it will be coming to my place for a while from tomorrow, which will enable me to describe its operation and effectiveness in more detail. For now, the only cleaned albums I have are the four that were cleaned at the demo. As another spoiler, I can also say that those are currently the only four albums I actually want to play ...

 
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Guzziboy

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Interesting thread, so why's it in the LP12 ghetto? I'm sure that there are many more turntable enthusiasts in the general Wigwam population.

 

DavidHB

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Interesting thread, so why's it in the LP12 ghetto?
The honest answer is that, being a refugee from the now defunct Linn forum, I don't often venture outside the Linn Club, and it was natural for me to start the thread here. Not a particularly good reason, I know ...

Incidentally, I do still intend to do a write up on the Keith Monks machine. But I only got my hands on it today, and I've been busy cleaning records and listening to the results. I have commitments until Wednesday, so hopefully I can provide some sort of report later in the week.

David

 

Guzziboy

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The honest answer is that, being a refugee from the now defunct Linn forum, I don't often venture outside the Linn Club, and it was natural for me to start the thread here.
I also migrated here from the Linn Forum, but now find I spend far more time among the general population.

 
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macfan

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Matteo:

Yes. This is the RCM I have been considering. I like that is really seems like a well thought out purpose built product rather than a process supported by a variety of parts assembled together in support of the defined process and presented as a product. The downside is this RCM is from a small company and it looks like they are just getting going. There is always a risk when purchasing from a relatively new upstart, which is especially true when the company is geographically very far from where I live here in the US.

That being said I am close to giving it a go.

Nestor:

Don't sell yourself too short. Completely understand about wanting to have a go at something and feel comfortable with how a product works but we are never too old to learn and try new things.  That being said I totally agree with local dealer support. Ideally this is the best way to go and is what I normally do over 90% of the time.

However, when I jumped into the world of the LP12 I had to accept my closet dealer was 250mi/402km away. For an item like a RCM, getting it from an internet dealer is usually the way we have to go due to lack of local dealer support. This becomes especially true the more narrowcast a product becomes. While purchasing from the internet does have its risks, this is such a niche item with the effort to produce a working product rather high, it all seem on the level to me. 

 

DavidHB

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I think dealer support for a RCM is as important as it is for any other component.
The fact that my friend Chris and I could get training and support for the Keith Monks machine from none other than Jon Monks himself.was the USP that convinced us to purchase. I agree that getting the best out of an RCM (including being realistic about what it can and can't do) requires a learning process that dealer training and support can considerably shorten. If I were buying a cavitation cleaner, MicKC's report on the Audio Desk machine, coupled with the fact that it is recommended by Colin Macey of WYSaH, would weigh quite heavily with me. Buying any niche product (which actually includes all Linn gear in my book) sight unseen is a no-no for me. But I will make an expensive ferry trip and a 150 mile round trip to visit my dealer. He doesn't carry RCMs, so, but for our piece of good fortune, any purchase would have involved a long trip (perhaps to WYSaH).

More generally, today's progress report is that I have so far cleaned 20 LPs on the Monks machine, and have listened to about half of them (I was in London all yesterday, which has slowed progress). The promised report later in the week is still looking feasible.

David

 
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