I must preface this review by saying I have used many record cleaning machines over the last decade. I have used the simplest Record Doctor machine I bought 10 years ago to making my own using my Dyson home vacuum. 5 years ago, I bought a Nitty Gritty 2.5fi that worked very well, better than my homemade contraption and certainly better than the Record Doctor. I sold it after a few months and went to the Nitty Gritty Mini-Pro double sided cleaner. That one worked as well, but cleaned both sides at once, so a nice time savings! I then started to experiment with different fluids; MFSL, the Walker ones, Nitty Gritty, VPI, and Miracle Fluid from Disc Doctor. What I found is that when I would clean them in a certain order, with 2-3 different fluids, the sound quality improved. It was about this time that I started looking into the higher end VPI machines. I bought a VPI 17 and a 16.5 to compare the two and sell the one I used less. What I found is that they both worked really well, better than ALL the machines I had used prior. I even borrowed a friend’s Typhoon to see if it was worth upgrading to that beast. When it came down to it though, I found that when I modified my 16.5 it worked just as well as the typhoon for a lot less money! I put a 120 volt Ac fan in the bottom of it and added a speed adjuster to the platter so I can slow it down to a crawl when vacuuming the record. I needed the fan as I clean 20-35 records a day so it can get hot!
After I found the perfect vacuum machine I then started working on Steam cleaning. Like many audiophiles, I found that when steam cleaned, records can have much quieter backgrounds, even better than the best enzyme cleaners without the 10 minute wait on each side of the record! After warping a few and damaging a few records, I found a good steam cleaning machine that I used in conjunction with the VPI vacuum machine. I thought that was vinyl nirvana as my first pressing collection was sounding better and better. The only problem was the cleaning method was up to 12 steps and 30 minutes per record! That is fine for a hermit, but not for someone with 2 young children and a business to run. I cleaned the majority of my 10,000 LP collection I have for sale and for my personal collection this way for about 2 years.
It was with great joy that I saw the Audio Desk cleaning machine on Analog Planet.com with a review by the Master of Vinyl himself, Michael Fremer! I immediately bought one with the intention of sending it back or selling it as I wasn’t sure how much cleaner these records could get after 12 steps and 5 vacuum cycles. When I received it, It DID quiet the backgrounds even more than steam cleaning! Bass was more defined and the dynamics, already improved through the 12 step process were EVEN BETTER! At $4,000, it isn’t a bargain by even the highest end audiophiles. I know that many people have made their own ultrasonic cleaning machines for LP’s for the few years, but I never researched them beyond them seeming like a cheaper alternative to a pro vacuum machine.
When I put a truly dirty record into the Audio Desk, it would come out clean, but I noticed if I cleaned 10 or more of those in a row, they would come out still having some grime that was visible to the eye on them. It gets expensive to change the fluid after every 10 records, so I started pre-cleaning them in my VPI, then sending them to the Audio Desk as a final cleaning. That was the way to go as the records came out clean and the fluid could go for about 100 or so records.
After 4 weeks of this, I saw that a guy named David Ratcliff was selling a homemade contraption called the Ultrasonic V-8. He claimed you could clean 8 at once, both sides in a 10 minute cycle with results similar or equal to the Audio Desk Ultrasonic machine. Now, THAT got my attention as I sell 10-20 records a day and would LOVE more free time with the kids! I contacted David via phone and explained my situation and asked a few technical questions. David was extremely professional and I quickly realized he has the golden ears of an audiophile as his system consisted of high end VPI gear. If he says it works this well and the price is less than HALF ($1495 plus shipping) of the Audio Desk, I MUST try it!
It arrived a week after ordering in a well-packed set of 2 boxes. He included a record drying rack for 16 records as this machine will wet clean them but air drying is the recommended method after cleaning. It also came with a filter (think 10 gallon aquarium hanging off the back). A large wooden frame to go around the machine that holds the spindle which holds the records, and a cover for the machine when not in use. It also comes with excellent instructions with pictures (must know us audio guys!). It is completely adjustable as you can adjust the temperature of the distilled water, the frequency pressure of the ultrasonic noise, and the length of time for the cycle. You can also change the speed at which the records rotate in the fluid that cleans them. You can put 1 record or up to 8 LP’s on it for a cleaning cycle. As of writing this, there wasn’t a 45 rpm 7” record adapter for the machine so it would only for 10” or 12” records with the standard small hole.
I put it together (30 minutes) and filled it with distilled water and the supplied photoflo used for water sheeting off purposes. David recommended a small amount of 91% rubbing alcohol or grain alcohol in the mix also. I ran the machine for 10 minutes to de-gas the water and ran it though it’s first cleaning cycle. I tried it with 4 records of varying cleanliness. After 10 minutes, I took them off and let them air dry for about 25 minutes until bone dry. When I played them, they sounded almost identical to my 30 minute, 12 step process except now it was 10 minutes and 4 of them were this way! I was impressed. I was even more impressed when I put 1 or 2 in the machine instead of loading up the spindle with up to 8. It seems to clean better when just 1 or 2 are put on. After cleaning about 50 in a day, the water was slightly off color, but I noticed no difference in sound quality from the first using the cleanest water to the 50th. I let the filter work through the night.
The next day the water color was noticeably clearer and I started the process over again with another 50 or so. They all immediately were more dynamic with less background noise than they had before. I have never used the $7,500 Loricraft or Keith Monk vacuum machines, but Michael Fremer has, and he says that the Audio Desk is the best machine he has ever used. With that knowledge, I can tell you that the Ultrasonic V-8 cleans as well as the Audio Desk.
After using the machine for about 6 weeks now, I have tried various methods of solutions, temperature, ultrasonic speed, and time to see what cleans the best. I would recommend to eliminate the photoflo that David recommends, it does help water sheet off the records, but I don’t know what else it’s adding to the record surface. I would also eliminate the alcohol used as it can leave traces of noise from the containments (the other 9% in the 91% bottle). I would instead add a small amount of professional record cleaning fluid. I use the VPI concentrate with FANTASTIC results. I would recommend the temperature at 50 degree Celsius or more(It goes up to 60 C). The time is up to you as you have to ask how dirty are your records. I run most through at 10 minutes minimum, but I also pre-clean them on my VPI vacuum machine. The timer goes for an hour and it seems it won’t damage the vinyl as I let one record run for 40 minutes at full blast and still sounded great! I run the ultrasonic speed at low-to-mid level as it seems to do a better job on the records at this “speed”.
It works so well that I sold my Audio Desk for almost what I paid for it and am using the Ultrasonic V-8 exclusively as my U.S. cleaning machine. I use an 8 step method that is spelled out on my web site if you are interested. The records come out sounding the best they ever have using this method. I’m in analog vinyl heaven!
David has built an amazing machine at a price that is within reach of most audiophiles. It is an excellent one step cleaning machine and even better when used with a traditional vacuum machine as a pre-cleaner. If you would like more info on the machine, go to www.UltrasonicRecords.com