The World's Best Record Cleaning Machine?

Getting a review sample of this unique ultrasonic record cleaning machine took years because apparently the small German manufacturer could not keep up with demand. I’ve heard from a few sources that reliability was not high during those early days but that now that’s been sorted out as has manufacturing capacity.

This compact cleaner can be thought of as a very high tech automatic version of the $80 Spin-Clean Record Washer I reviewed last year. That hand-operated machine uses a fluid vat that cleans many records before the fluid needs replacing as does this one. Like the Spin-Clean, the record sits vertically in the vat and both sides get cleaned simultaneously, but before the manufacturer and importer of this $3895 machine have heart attacks, rest assured those are the only similarities!

This device is fully automatic and unlike any other record cleaning machine I know of, it uses ultrasonics and a process called “cavitation” to clean records much like an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner does likewise for jewelry. If you’ve ever seen a tarnished ornate piece of silver go into such a machine and then come out gleaming, even in the tiniest nooks and crannies, you know how well it works.

Here, you slip a record into a slot lined with soft lips that widen on one side into a vat. Push the “start” button and the record shifts slightly and begins slowly rotating (sometimes it requires a nudge). Fluid stored in a chamber below begins to fill the vat while 4 bi-directional microfiber drums adjust their proximity to the record and then begin rotating, spreading the fluid on the record.

Meanwhile the ultrasonic condenser fires up, producing compression waves the amplitude of which is sufficient to break the liquid’s surface tension causing it to tear apart and leave behind millions of microscopic vacuum bubbles that compress or implode creating tiny liquid jets small enough to clean inside the smallest LP record grooves—think of the jewelry model.

This micro-agitation process displaces any contaminants on the record surface. The fluid is then drained through a filter and the rotation slows almost to a stop as a pair of powerful fans dries the record completely. Remove the record and its clean and dry and ready for play. The entire process, monitored by front panel LEDs, takes six minutes to complete.

The designer, Reiner Gläss contends that both surface suction (Nitty Gritty, VPI, Clearaudio) and point suction (Keith Monks, Loricraft) designs rely upon brushes to loosen dirt and contaminants buried in the record grooves and that brushes simply can’t do the job. Worse, he contends, they often press the dirt further into the grooves. Surface suction vacuuming, he contends, often smears dirt across the record surface while the rubbing friction builds up static electricity. Point suction is somewhat less prone to static build up but is limited to one side at a time cleaning and still relies upon brushing to loosen particles embedded in the grooves.

So how well does the Audio Desk Systeme work? It’s the most effective, easy to use record cleaning machine I’ve ever tried. I bought the review sample. I cleaned already vacuum cleaned records that were still noisy and the noise went away. Two examples: my original UK pressing of “Let It Be” and my most treasured classical album, an original Reiner/CSO “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (LSC 1806). Remarkably, the latter looked clean when I bought it but was hopelessly noisy. Repeated cleanings over decades using more sophisticated fluids and machines have made it quieter but finally, with the Audio Desk, it’s just about completely silent. The machine is too.

The six minute cycle is not an issue because it’s all automatic. I went on a record cleaning spree, managing a record 120 records in two weeks. Not having to stand there and clean and then turn over and clean again made all the difference. You have to remove the record carefully and lift vertically to avoid rubbing against the rollers or you’ll end up with wet spots. That only happened a few times.

Downsides? You are limited to the Audio Desk’s fluid, which is an alcohol free, biodegradable concentrate said to have excellent anti-static properties (verified). You add a small bottle of it ($14.75 per, or $75 for a six pack) to a gallon of distilled (or much better yet reverse osmosis purified water like Aquafina or from your own reverse osmosis system) and that’s good for at least fifty records until you have to start topping up the fluid (a flashing LED tells you when that’s necessary). So you mix up a second batch and add as necessary.

The $99.95 microfiber cleaning barrels need replacing every 500-1000 LPs depending upon how dirty they were to begin with, and you should drain and change the fluid and rinse out the filter every 100 to 200 records. I’m out of space now so I can’t answer the other obvious questions from skeptics other than to say that really dirty, crusty used records should be pre-cleaned. I use Premiér! from Microcare or an Orbitrac and I still keep Enzymatic fluid around to deal with moldy records. I’ve never had so much fun cleaning records!

Since the above review was written back in March of 2012 for publication in the June Stereophile, I have l have cleaned many hundreds of records and have not experienced any problems except as described above and then only occasionally.

I have also cleaned many previously noisy records and most of them came out quiet. Amazing. Yes, it's expensive but if you can afford it, you will not regret your purchase. At this point, it is in my experience, the world's best record cleaning machine.

COMMENTS
Purgerificus's picture

...provided he gets re-elected. That evil, rich Romney will never give me one.

Everyone should have one of these and it's just not FAIR that it's so expensive!

:-)

Michael Fremer's picture

"LIfe isn't fair"—Jimmy Carter

deckeda's picture

"Life sucks, and then you die."

Yes, watch it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd-ZfcYFbJk 

Mfalcon's picture

Mikey,

I'm looking for opinions for Loricraft vs AudioDesk.  I have been very close to buying the Loricraft 4DL.  I was actually just waiting for one to come into stock. 

Now that I have read this review, I'm wondering whether I should look into this one. 

You have/had a Loricraft right?  You prefer it to the Loricraft?  I don't think I will be able to use an AudioDesk to test it out so I'm stuck with information from reviewers and users.

Thanks,

 Mike

msamji's picture

Yes, I have the same question. I was about to pull the trigger on PRC-4 Deluxe.

Mickey, I think you have both. I currently am upgrading from a VPI 17F. I like the VPI, but its a constant battle to keep the brushes clean, the vaccuum tube clean, and to remove the static post vaccuum. 

So what's the verdict? PRC or AudioDesk? 

Should I keep tthe VPI around to do pre-cleaning of really dirty used records? 

LOVE this site. Keep the content coming. 

thanks in advance. 

Martin's picture

A tip for the VPI. Forget the brushes.

Use cotton cosmetic remover pads clipped to nailbrushes with only the center row of bristles, all other bristles rows removed.

Wipe the dust off the record first with a damp rag, then do the wash with your solvent of choice.

Use separate squeezy plastic bottles with nozzles. Forget the VPIs fluid dispenser. Squirt the fluid onto the pad while holding the pad to the records surface.

The cotton pad needs to soak up the fluid too to get a good coating on the record. Wash the record, the cotton pad will gently scrub the record while getting the fluid into the noods and crannies.

Vacuum the record.

The do a rinse with triple distilled water, again using a separate cotton pad.

Doing it this way keeps the vacuum tube pretty clean, just rub off any dust when it dries.

Static is generally not a problem, at least is not for me.

Sometimes I will use multiple washes with multiple pads, the Audio Intelligent
1. Enzyme
2. Super Cleaner
3. Triple distilled water
routine, all using separate pads gets virtually any record clean.

planarhead's picture

I think Loricraft, VPI, Nitty Gritty etc are misnomers in calling them "cleaning machines". The actual cleaning comes from the fluid and brushes the user wipes over the record. A Loricraft just vacuums away the fluid.

The AudioDesk actually cleans the record with the ultrasonics and brushes.

Mikey can you ask the manufacturer how many transducers the AudioDesk has? Some DIY'ers have been using ultrasonic cleaners for a while and those that have experimented with various models have concluded the machines with more transducers (ie 6 or 8) clean better than ones with fewer. Thanks!

Jody's picture

In reading his last sentence of the review, it appears he prefers this to any other record cleaning machine on earth.

 

Perhpas I'll be able to afford one soon, with all the money I'll be saving in health care.

Michael Fremer's picture

The Loricraft is a very nice machine. It's quiet and avoids the lips issues of rubbing that can cause static electricity and of having dirty lips spreading stuff on records...it's also very quiet and cleans all record sizes...but the Audio Desk is i a different league because of how it works...

tubeular's picture

I just got an Audio Desk about a month ago, I like everything about it that you do, but I'm finding that on a number of records there is an increase of popping and ticking in the lead-in and, worse, sometimes the outermost playing grooves, though nothing further in than around 1/4".  These pops sometimes do but sometimes don't go away on re-cleaning.  Have you encountered this?  Trying to figure out whether I'm having some problem with the roller mechanism that turns the record or something on the roller brushes that is depositing something on the outer parts of the record, need to be more careful about wiping any drops of residue when taking out a record or to avoid leaving a record in the machine for very long after the cleaning cycle is finished, but none of these things seems to clearly be the problem.  Also writing to Audio Desk to see what they say about this.  Thanks.  

patsuh's picture

Hi, 

I have too the same machine and we had found that previously records threated with gruve glyde or sort of similar records threatment tends to damage the rubber rollers and contaminate them. Replace those rubbers rollers with new ones and clean with a steamer inside before putting new parts inside

Michael Fremer's picture
I just saw this. This is a serious problem that has been noted by Audio Desk and fixed. I assume they either repaired at no cost or replaced your machine.
tubeular's picture

I should have posted an update long ago to be fair to Audio Desk. I got a new machine from the dealer when I told them about the problem and have not had this problem since. I believe, but others can confirm or contradict, that these kinds of reliability problems were much more in the early days and have largely gone away. Don't need to draw invidious comparisons between a number of fine machines, but over the years I have had a VPI, a Loricraft, a Keith Monks and now the Audio Desk. I have been the most satisfied over all with the Audio Desk both for cleaning and sound as well as the very important general convenience of being able to let a record get cleaned and dried on both sides in an automatic cycle in the machine without having to do anything after pushing the button. I guess there are Clearaudio machines that may achieve something like this but I have never tried one. I do have to keep a clean microfiber cloth around to wipe off remaining drops on the outer edge or inner grooves and occasionally I need to nudge the record at the start of the cycle to get it to seat in the rollers to rotate correctly. But again I do not have to stand over the machine the whole time to intervene during each step of the cleaning cycle (putting on fluid, brushing it around, watching the drying cycle and then turning the record over for the second side for the same). Like the Audio Desk, the Loricraft and Keith Monks machines did have the advantage of not over-brushing/vacuuming the record so as to create a huge static charge to re-attract dust particles. I had to be very careful about that with the VPI. The string mechanism machines and the Audio Desk also don't have the problem of contaminated velvet brush "lips" at the vacuum slit. The theoretical point about the contamination of the used fluid in the Audio Desk machine has to be acknowledged, but I can say after years of use on many hundreds of records that I have not found this to be a practical problem. If one is really worried about this, I guess you could run each record through some simple cheap washer to clean it off roughly first and then run it through the Audio Desk (the machine isn't bothered by putting a wet record into it, unlike the problems you would have putting a wet record on a platter based machine). That would keep some dirt and contaminants out of the Audio Desk's fluid well. But I use the same fluid (with some topping up with distilled water and maybe a touch of photo flo) for two and three times as many records as Audio Desk suggests on their cleaning fluid labels and I don't feel I have any problems. But I should say I don't clean really dirty records very often and if I get a grungy used record I will at least rinse it first to reduce the dirt and grime I get in the fluid.

There's a long answer you didn't ask for. Don't know how others' mileage may vary.

jpvisual's picture

Hi Michael,

How does the Audio desk stack up against the Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic Record Cleaning Machine? The Clearaudio is $1,500 more @ $5,500.

Are you planning on reviewing this machine? Maybe someday I can step up to something like this.

Right now I use a VPI 16.5 with enzymatic cleaning fluid. I leave the fluid on for 5 minutes each side. Am I wasting my time with this method? It's the only method I can afford at the moment. Does this method get the record clean at all? I'm guessing it's better than nothing? What are your thoughts?

It's interesting to learn about all these expensive products, but I really like when you give options for the average Joe vs. Joe millionaire. BTW, I know you already do that. I Love this site!

Thanks.

Michael Fremer's picture
Between any vacuum/velvet lip type machine and cavitation based ultra-sonic cleaning machine. However if this is too costly consider the V-8 (www.ultrasonicrecords.com), which is far more affordable and cleans up to 8 at a time...
jpvisual's picture

Well in that case, I'll just keep saving my money for the ultra-sonic machine.

Until then cleaning my records with a "vacuum/velvet lip type machine" is better than nothing, right? Or is it?

Thanks, this is very helpful.

freejazz's picture

what about cleaning non-12" discs? does this machine have a way to clean garage sale 7" and thrift store 10"?

 

Thanks,

 

/d

homersoddishe's picture

It only cleans 12" discs.  So, I guess if you get this cleaner, keep your old one too. 

 

http://www.ultrasystem.com/usfeaturedprodsAudioDeskVinylDesigner.html

Michael Fremer's picture
Now makes adapter rings for 10" and 7" records. But with this kind of machine it's best to pre-clean really dirty records before cleaning it with the Audio Desk or KLAUDIO machines...
detroitvinylrob's picture

Hmmmm, Finally a record cleaner that eliminates most of the fuss, one side at a time cleaning, recontamination, and includes ultrasonics. Expensive, yes but, so are record collections, cartridges, and listening time. Thanks for another informative review Mikey!

Happy Listener! ;^)>

jimel84's picture

How cool that the record in the machine has your picture on the label.

Gotta love it.

dleonard's picture

Michael - thanks for a very informative review.  A fascinating machine, but I'm a little skeptical on a couple of points.  

I understand the water + contaminants are drained through a filter, presumeably by gravity.  I would be concerned that this would leave a residue on the record, akin to a ring around a bathtub.  Also, the machine blow dries the record.  Not sure that would be as efficient as vacuum drying, and undrained contaminated water will be blown back onto the record.  Any thoughts?  

Cheers.

  

Young Skywalker's picture

 

Michael - thanks for a very informative review.  A fascinating machine, but I'm a little skeptical on a couple of points.  

I understand the water + contaminants are drained through a filter, presumeably by gravity.  I would be concerned that this would leave a residue on the record, akin to a ring around a bathtub.  Also, the machine blow dries the record.  Not sure that would be as efficient as vacuum drying, and undrained contaminated water will be blown back onto the record.  Any thoughts?  

Cheers.

My thoughts exactly. One cannot mechanically filter used surfactant (detergent) which means this is equivalent to dunking your silverware in dirty dish water, letting them air dry and then expecting them to look clean. I am a firm believer in the ultrasonic principle of cleaning but this product does seem to have some design weaknesses when it comes to drying the record and removing all traces of used cleaning fluid.

To correct the designer of this product, it is not the mechanical brushing action which removes (or claims to remove) the organic contaminants with traditional suction-type record cleaning machines but rather the surfactant properties of the cleaning fluid itself which is why the amount of contact time is important. The brush is simply there to distribute the cleaning fluid evenly over the LP surface.

mauidj's picture

Michael. I used my Audio Desk cleaner for the first time today.

First up a couple of A1 condition 1953 Maria Callas Seraphims, Lucia and Norma.

These discs are in great shape an have hardly been used.

First I played a side for my wife and we both noted how quiet and free of surface noise it was. The sound was somewhat thin and the soundstage quite receded. But overall pretty good for a 60 year old recording. My wife presupposed that she would likely hear no difference between it pre and post cleaning. I wasn't expecting too much as this was a pretty quiet record already.

6 minutes later while she was out of the room I qued up the cleaned disc and just 2 notes into the first side my jaw hit the floor. All I could think was...she's in the room!!! Now please note I am not a jaw dropper. I've hardly had a jaw dropping experience in audio. Was I hearing things? Was I over compensating for having spent so much on the machine? Anyway I stopped playing the album until my wife returned. I said nothing to her.

After a while I set it up for her to hear. Also thinking that after this amount of time she would probably not notice much of a difference and that maybe I had been exagerating in my initial reaction.

Litterally 2 notes into the track Vivienne looked at me with a face full of wonder and blurted...."She's in the room!" "Surely this is not the same album." "Before it was like she was in another room...and now she was right in front of us."

Night and day! Jaw dropping!

And the effect is just as great on new albums. You can't be prepared for how much of a veil gets lifted after a clean in this amazing machine. I'm still shaking my head.

I have NEVER heard such a sonic improvement offered by any piece of gear. I've owned an original KMAL for 30 years and I now must say it just doesn't hold a candle to the Audio Desk. Crazy good!

But Michael, how do you get an album out without smearing from the rollers?

Dpoggenburg's picture

Mr. Fremer, first thanks for such an informative and entertaining web site. I've been a fan of yours for many years.

I bought the Audio Desk unit this week (arrives next week -- hurray), and wanted to verify one point if you have a moment: When you say Aquafina as a possible water source, you mean the standard issue drinking water brand you buy in markets and gas stations, correct?

Thanks!

Warmest Regards,

Dennis

mauidj's picture

Dennis... I am using Reverse Osmosis water from our local Water Store. They claim it has solids down to about 3-4 ppm so I recon it's as pure as you can get. (Aquafina averages 4 ppm). Costs just 50 cents per gallon. I pre mix one gallon with the fluid so I can top up whenever necessary.

Enjoy your new cleaner...it is a fantastic machine!

Aloha.....Ray

Dpoggenburg's picture

Thanks Ray, I appreciate the tip!

Regards,

Dennis

orthobiz's picture

I'll be selling my Loricraft to buy the Audio Desk, if and when I do, but am concerned about the reliability issues I've read about elsewhere. One person I know had his machine fixed twice and advises "keep the Loricraft."

Anyone else with breakdown problems?

Thanks,

Paul

anthem68's picture

I, too, am almost ready to purchase this vinyl cleaning wonder. And I, too, have heard of reliability problems. However, I also heard that this was a problem several years ago, but recently the manufacturing process has had an overhaul and that all past issues have been resolved. Can anyone verify this? Have any current owners had any issues? It's a lot of money to spend on something that might eventually break down...

rlw3's picture

Before using the audio desk cleaner on really dirty discs would a simple rinse under the faucet be ok? how extensive does the pre clean have to be?

audiotom's picture

I looked at both machines
Both do a great job on getting down into the grooves and releasing the low level information and better resolving records
braveo

The KL Audio is a much more robust machine with a much more powerful motor, none of the operation issues, and doesn't require cleaner fluids or expensive rollers

wim's picture

I traded in my Hannl Mera EL for the Audio Desk, and I'll never look back! I've cleaned only 30 records so far, without any issues.
I just played the original UK mono Beatles For Sale after cleaning it with the AD, and I can honestly say that I hear details that I've never heard before (the percussion on "Words Of Love", to name one, has never sounded like this before). The soundstage is wider, vocals are better defined, the bass is tighter (heard some bass line variations in "Old Brown Shoe" on the Hey Jude album that I'd never noticed!), amazing!

theboogeydown's picture

So great to spend (stretch) several grand on an audio rig only to learn that what I really need is a $3500 record cleaner to actually make it all worth while. Really takes the wind out of my sail. Honestly, how does one sit there and enjoy what they've set up only to realize that, yeah, it sounds pretty good, but it would sound great if your shit was just CLEANED PROPERLY! UGH!!!!

jeraldej's picture

I just got my Audio Desk and I too am experiencing the "lifting of the veil" on many old recordings. However, my unit is noisy enough to where I can't listen to music while it is operating and my wife asks me to close the door to the media room when it starts the drying cycle. I'm likely to move the unit to a different room and clean the records there.

Michael, you originally wrote in your review that it is quiet. All things relative, how quiet was yours at that time? Now that you've had several years of use, is it still the same? Have you seen the need to replace any parts other than the rollers or the lips?

jtsamarinda's picture

Has any one confirm that the Audio Desk is a Ultra sonic machine?. To my amazement it's not. There is no ultra sonic transducer and there is no ultrasonic amplifier. Make a simple test remove the four rollers in the system switch it on, watch if you can see any cavitation(Bubbles).It's just a scrubber using the four rollers. The only ultra sonic machine in the world for vinyl record cleaning is the KL Audio. A miss representation of a product by Micheal Fremer and Audio Desk. Unless they can prove me wrong.

BillK's picture

There most certainly IS an ultrasonic transducer in the unit - it's located on the right, usually hidden from visibility from the wiper "blades."

navydiver's picture

Thinking of ordering one of these (on sale $135 Canadian). Looks pretty interesting:
https://youtu.be/QbphnT1d-ys

Here is the young upstart site:
http://www.squeakycleanvinyl.com/home.html

I like the idea of not having the record immersed in a progressively dirtier soup. Fresh wash and dry every time. Thoughts on this anyone?

Likely not a competitor for best machine in the world but I am intrigued.

Rudy's picture

This Squeaky Clean system is nothing more than a less expensive variation on the Nitty Gritty and VPI machines--in essence, vacuum cleaning. It is not ultrasonic and any vacuum cleaning will not work as well as that. I will admit that getting some of the crud off is better than none, but ultrasonic/cavitation cleaning is in a different class entirely. I have used a vacuum based system for over 20 years now and still have never been satisfied with how it cleans, and I've tried many different cleaning formulas. (I've started making my own with purified water and Triton X-100--I find it cleans no better, and certainly no worse, as all of that expensive crap out there. If it's good enough for the LOC, it's fine for us too.)

Swishing water on a record and vacuuming it off never made sense to me either, even when I bought my machine back in the mid 90s. I likened it to washing dishes. Stick a dirty dish in the sink and let the food dry on it for a day. Wet it for 15 seconds, use a sponge to wipe (not scrub) off the food, and tell me what happens. Yep, much of the food doesn't come off. Soaking does help; scraping with a plastic utensil helps more, but you can't scrape a record, and soaking the vinyl isn't convenient, especially for the time needed to really get that dirt to loosen up.

I thought of concepts like power washing and ultrasonic cleaning even back then (as we used ultrasonics in our industrial work), but I never could fathom how someone could successfully keep a record immersed in a tank without ruining the label. I never thought of suspending it partially into the fluid and rotating it slowly.

As for the "dirtier" water, keep in mind that the right cleaning solution can keep some of those contaminants suspended in the water vs. letting them apply themselves to the vinyl. (Like a clumping effect.) The Audio Desk also has a pump and filtration system to extend the life of the "bath water." It does need to be changed out, but it's less often than you'd think. Reportedly the cleaning solution that comes with the Spin Clean does the same, so, it's not a unique idea.

I am considering getting an ultrasonic tank and building my own record cleaner that way. It may still be expensive (especially when getting a good ultrasonic system, not one of those weak chinese systems), but it would still be 20-25% of the cost of the KLAudio or Audio Desk cleaners. And, I can live with that. I'd rather do that than buy the latest VPI, which is just a more automated version of what I have already.

There are also devices sold on eBay that will hold and rotate the records over any ultrasonic tank you choose. In fact, many report they work better due to a higher ultrasonic frequency (which creates the smaller cavitation bubbles that get deeper into the grooves) and a longer rotation time in the bath, which gives the ultrasonic process more time to work properly. There's a huge thread on the DIY Audio forum about making an ultrasonic cleaner. It's tedious but informative. :)

navydiver's picture

So I bit the bullet and ordered one and received it a few days ago. I am absolutely gob-smacked at what a difference it has made for me. I'm sitting at roughly 25 or so albums of which 2/3 are used purchases (I had hundreds in the 70s and eighties). For a meagre collection that I likely won't let grow past 100, a device like this is an absolute best bang for the buck IMHO. Ultrasonics and fancy tech I am sure are better but certainly not worthwhile for a guy like me who will stay entrenched in the digital world but keep an analog presence out of nostalgia. Interesting read that goes over many pros and cons:

http://www.recordtech.com/prodsounds.htm

Lotsavinyl's picture

There are several UK company websites selling Audio Desk Systeme PRO. The cost is about $2600 (delivered) due to the devalued Pound against the USD. Also, USA residents don't have to pay VAT. Additionally, the fluids and extras are cheaper than in the USA marketplace.

At that price, you should seriously consider it against the DIY units on the marketplace that are in the $1500 price range. For just a little bit more money, you can get the new and improved 2016 Audio Desk PRO model that is bullet proof. And a WHOLE lot easier to use.

5stone's picture

I took your advice and just bought a unit and 2 bottles (4.5 oz I believe) of the fluid for ~$2400 all told. GREAT price. My local record store washed a couple of problem records with the Audio Desk and I was quite impressed. Went from a nice to have to a must have when I started thinking about what I spend on TT mods and other tweaks to improve my system. Starting with the cleanest records is a no brainer. Going to a UK online retailer is highly recommended. Amazon still has this priced at $3699.

One question: I realized that lab distilled water is the best, purest route, but it's also very expensive is good old distilled water sufficient?

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