Sweet Vinyl’s SugarCube SC-1 Real Time Pop and Click Remover—Any Good?

About a dozen years ago at a used record store in San Francisco I bought a “mint” original German pressing of The Beatles (“The White Album”). It was up on the store wall at $75.00. The laminated “top loader” jacket was mint, all of the head shots the poster and the black sleeves were inside looking as if none of it had been touched and the records appeared as minty as advertised.

Of course I bought it. The first side played through “minty” though it was immediately clear that though this version sounded good, the original UK pressing was sonically better. No problem. I was sure I could always sell it and get my money back or more.

“Martha My Dear” sounded “minty” starting side two, but there were a few clicks on “So Tired”. No problem. Then came “Blackbird” and rhythmic, once per revolution “POP” “POP” “POP”. We can all put up with a few pops and clicks on a record. No big deal. Like I tell people who say they can’t stand them on classical music “Then you’ve never been to a live concert. The people there are old. They are coughing, sneezing, spitting up mucous and occasionally keeling over. How can you stand it?” Of course they can because the music is so compelling it’s easy to ignore the EMTs and their stretchers. Same with vinyl.

But if Morris sitting behind me taps his cane to the music, it’s very distracting as are rhythmic “clicks” produced by radial scratches. This one sounded like The Grand Canyon had opened across “Blackbird.”

Examining the record in the kind of good light you never have in a used record store, which is why you should never shop without a flashlight (a dated suggestion now that everyone’s carrying one in his or her smartphone), made obvious what had happened. The record’s last owner or another along the line had dropped the arm and the stylus skidding across three tracks. Fortunately only one was seriously injured. Unfortunately it was the quietest, most sublime on the entire album.

Did the seller know about the defect? Who knows and what’s the difference now? But that bottom line is I haven’t played that side since….until the arrival of Sweet Vinyl’s Sugar Cube SC-1. It was the first record I played after the installation.

The Two SugarCubes

The SC-1 reviewed here is the “basic” $1999 version that offers real-time pop and click removal said to be “non-destructive”, while the more costly SC-2 offers one button USB 3.0 recording and graphic display plus automatic metadata identification and tagging and track splitting.

I chose to start with a review of the “basic” unit because if it wasn’t as “non-destructive” as claimed, why bother with the more costly one? The SC-1 incorporates a 192/24 bit A/D and D/A as well as the aforementioned algorithm based adjustable pop and click remover. Build quality is high, especially the use of rugged, chassis-mounted, gold-plated RCA jacks for signal “in” and “out”. The back panel also includes a wired LAN jack, a USB port for the supplied WiFi adapter, a “pair” button to link the unit to the smartphone or tablet app (for iOS and Android), the power adapter jack and the power switch. When the power is off an internal relay bypasses the “Line in to Line out” (so the signal will pass even when the unit is switched off).

SC-1 Back Panel

The unit’s front panel includes “bypass”, “click remove” and “click mon” buttons and a “strength” knob plus a status screen. The app reproduces all of the functionality. It's how most users will access and control the unit.

SugarCube app screen

Setting up the SC-1

Regardless of your system, chances are there’s a way to connect the SC-1. You can run the phono preamp into the SC-1 and its output into your preamplifier. Or if you have an integrated amplifier with a “tape loop” definitely use that. If your integrated amp doesn’t have a tape loop but has “jumpers” the can be removed to separate the preamp and amp sections, remove the jumpers and insert the SC-1 there. If your turntable has a built-in phono preamp, plug the turntable’s equalized and amplified “line level” output into the SC-1. And of course never plug the SC-1’s output into an active “phono” input (there are some integrated amplifiers that have an input labeled ”phono” that’s not really connected to an active phono preamp and is meant for use with an outboard phono preamp but be sure you know you’ve got that before using it with the SC-1’s output.

Putting any device, regardless of its claimed transparency, between a preamplifier and amplifier is less than ideal, though the designers have done their best to provide a transparent, relay based bypass for when you don’t want to listen to digitized vinyl. While you may be saying here “which is never”, after spending some time with the SC-1 you might want to amend that!

My situation provided a challenge. My preamplifier has single-ended RCA “record out” jacks but no “loop” so there’s no way to monitor the results. In other words, the preamp routes to the “rec out” whatever input is selected, so switching to any other input would cut the phono preamp input’s signal from the preamp’s output.

So what to do? I’m currently running balanced XLR between preamp and a pair of Moon 888 amplifiers under review so I couldn’t even do that less than optimal method. Then I realized my CH Precision P1 has both single-ended and balanced outputs. I ran that balanced too, so I could run the phono preamp’s single-ended output into the SugarCube SC-1 and the SC-1’s output into an unused input of my darTzeel preamp. Problem solved! Set to the balanced input would give me the P1’s direct output. Set to the Sugar Cube’s output would give me either its pop and click removed signal or set to “bypass” its direct output.

Is it okay to use both phono preamp outputs simultaneously (one single ended, one balanced)? I don’t want to get into the technical aspects of this here other than to write that the SugarCube’s input impedance is a usefully high 100kOhms. Check on your phono preamp’s specs. Mine has to “see” at least a 10kOhms, so the SugarCube’s 100kOhms of course is fine and adding the second load is well within the recommended spec. There is a minor issue related to adding a load to one side of a balanced load, but not worth getting into here and it’s not something most SugarCube end users will encounter. Another issue is that depending upon the cost of your interconnects, you’ll have to invest either lightly or heavily in another set to go from the SC-1 to your preamp.

I used a wired LAN network connection but if you don’t have one, SweetVinyl provides a WiFi USB stick to connect to your network. Once the SC-1 (or 2) is connected to your system, you download the App to your phone or tablet and pair it with the hardware. Of course you can use the front panel controls instead but that would be foolish. Another thing that’s foolish is the few emails I get about this device that claim “real analog record fans would never use it”. Foolish isn’t the word, but this a family website.

(End of Part 1)

COMMENTS
uniqueusername's picture

I initially suspected this was nothing more than taking software libraries like Cedar/Izotope into a chip, and processing the input on the fly. I can do similar by capturing a rip, open my raw rip file in Audirvana, enable AudioUnits to invoke the Izotope declick module, and listen in realtime while it declicks the output (never touching the source file).

Or, load my rip into Izotope directly, setput the declicker and let it auto-declick the whole side. It takes longer of course, and it is a static setting (how aggressive a declick setting to use).

It sounds like the SC has more intelligence in applying the algorithm, although I am speculating, seems as if it is not applying one blanket setting across then entire LP side? My two methods above both do, so this would be a big point in favor of the SC1/SC2 technology.

Further, much to their credit, I wrote the guys at SweetVinyl who make the SugarCube and asked if I could send my 24/192 wav capture and have them declick it through the SC2 for me, and they happily agreed!
Since the unit has no idea what is feeding the analog inputs, I figured this would be possible, and it was, they explained the only possible impact would be the file would get digitized twice. The results were very impressive to my ears, it gave me a glimpse of before/after, and a chance to compare my own manual declicking with Izotope versus theirs. I want one.

Since the SC2 would save me the time of manually de-clicking, which is typically 2x actual playback time, I definitely want one, I just have to convince the household minister of finance of the value proposition and ROI....

Michael Fremer's picture
You don't have to digitize the album before de-clicking. You can listen in real time, enjoy and put the record back on the shelf!
corsentino's picture

The Strength control on the chassis is a knob not a button.

Michael Fremer's picture
True. I'll ficks it
corsentino's picture

Thumbs up emoticon ;-)

Anton D's picture

This is the perfect toy for beloved yet flawed LPs.

Remember the SAE 5000A back in the day?

It would be big fun to compare and see where this new technology struts its stuff!

A member of our Hi Fi club got one and I will get to hear it in 3 weeks at his meeting.

I have a "minty" mono early pressing of Kind of Blue that has the noise profile of a old 78 rpm disc, so I'm taking that and we will see!!

Thank you for reviewing it, it is on my short list for shopping.

cundare's picture

Heh -- I definitely remember the SAE 5000. As I mentioned to Michael at one point, I remember it filtering out legitimate content in recordings of academic electronic music of the day, like Subotnic's "Wild Bull" and "Silver Apples of the Moon." It appeared to me at the time that the SAE worked primarily by means of edge-detection, so those theoretically vertical attacks sometimes fooled it. Michael's brief description of this new approach might overcome this problem, but I'd still be interested in hearing a recording of how this new device handles tricky electronic content. If you do get that demo at your HiFi club, a 1950s-1970s electronic-music recording (or even certainStockhausen-like percussion pieces) would be a grueling test. Look for sounds that have steep attacks & delays and short duration.
I trust Michael's ears (and equipment) when it comes to evaluating transparency. But this is a completely different question.

mraudioguru's picture

...for the files. It seems to do a pretty decent job. I'm sure you remember the SAE 5000A "Click and Pop Machine"? I had one, it worked, but it really degraded the sound.

Michael Fremer's picture
Is so much better....
edbeta's picture

I have been using the SAE5000A for over 40 years, and am well aware of its limitations.....Recently, I have picked up a KLH/Burwen TNE7000 which I have found to be decidedly superior to the SAE.....I would be very interested in reading a review which would compare the performance of the SC-1 to that of these older products....I also question the cost-effectiveness of the SC-1, especially at the recently increased price, and would be very interested if and when the less costly version becomes available...

Johnnyangel's picture

A fun review, thanks. However, it seems inevitable that someone will mention an existing, much more cost-effective alternative to this device, so I'll be that guy.

Namely, if real-time digitization and de-clicking of records is something you need, it can be accomplished via Bryan Davies' ClickRepair RT software, which runs well even on an obsolete laptop -- total cost only a few hundred dollars if you already have a USB ADC and DAC. ClickRepair RT also appears to be more flexible than what SweetVinyl is offering, though I certainly wish them every success.

Personally, I've never found the need for real-time click reduction, though performing it on a rip is another story. But I can imagine that Click Repair RT (and maybe the SweetVinyl?) would be great for anyone with a large collection of 78s.

Michael Fremer's picture
Not interested in laptop interface...
Johnnyangel's picture

I don't love the fact that a MacBook is on top of one of my audio racks either, but most of the time it is closed and doing no harm. It's a question of what's cost-effective. Two grand obviously buys a lot of records or other fun stuff ...

rtrt's picture

unfortunately

Johnnyangel's picture

This has been discussed quite a bit on the Hoffman forum for instance. Bryan Davies no longer bundles it because of problems with real-time Java support on some Windows machines, but the RT code is easily obtained and legal to use if you buy the standard ClickRepair package.

rtrt's picture

I had a quick look on Hoffman and as you say there seem to be people using RT as of 2017.

One thing I didn't see was whether the RT element was still developed actively and so benefited from any improvements added to the main app or if it's effectively frozen at a point in time.

Any insights?

Johnnyangel's picture

... but I'm definitely not qualified to say! One thing I did glean is that RT will only do up to 16/96 unless you upgrade from Apple's Java to Oracle's latest version, at which point it can do 24/96.

gbougard's picture

I have a catalog of audio files that I sell via SpotifyApple and all the online stores you can think of. I also produce music and reissue older stuff. So while I am not in an audiophile trip like many of this site readers, I do care about sound quality.

I have click repair, Izotope and a few other applications that I use as part of this job. I also am the first beta tester of the SweetVinyl "big" model.

The Izotope does a great job, but Sweetvinyl is at least as good and takes no time to use. On some heavily destroyed records from Jamaica (I'm a reggae speailist), I've experimented with going through Sweetvinyl and then Isotop-ing the file, but the improvement is not really worth it. So 90% of the time I stick to Sweetvinyl, that's how good this baby is.

Of course, all these are less good than a good engineer who restores records for a living, but they Sweetvinyl can be used "almost" professionally. I have captured a record and uploaded it to sell online and nobody has complained.

timorous's picture

I actually enjoy ripping vinyl to the computer and fixing up the ticks & pops (manually in some cases). Yes, it's time-consuming, but if you use the right software and listen carefully to what you're doing, the results are very good.

The concern I've always had, is the extra wear and tear on the poor stylus, compared to playing really clean records. If I'm ripping an LP that I know is in questionable shape, I have a spare stylus on hand, saving the 'pristine' stylus some grief and wear and tear.

Michael Fremer's picture
A good point. I wouldn't play seriously damaged records and having the spare stylus is useful. However, while I don't enjoy fixing the tick and pops manually I do enjoy seeding my lawn one seed at a time. So satisfying! So precise!
treyroscoe's picture

I've heard the PureVinyl folks at shows proclaim benefits of applying RIAA digitally, and this seems like another great potential feature for the Sugar Cubes since there is already ADC conversion going on. Is there currently a way to accomplish this with either of the existing Sugar Cubes (with or without help from something like PureVinyl software)?

theroey's picture

I'm so glad you showed this to me at the LA Audio Show last year. I look forward to getting on of these in my system so I can feel more at ease by used vinyl.
Tape loop is going to get some use again!
Roey

Anton D's picture

My thoughts, exactly!

Cheers!

annalog's picture

Could you also check the real time performance using the laser turntable as vinyl source? Unless you haven’t build a dust free clean-room the LT’s laser will detect every tiny dust particle and produce more clicks and pops than any other needle based cartridge. A real challenge and a tough job for the Sugar Cube!?

tbromgard's picture

Hey I have one of these in NM condition. Looks like it went up in value since I bought it 25 years ago!

SeagoatLeo's picture

Hi, I'm glad you finally answered my question on the fourth forum try. I thought there would be a slight change in character using a digital conversion; however, the overall benefit is superior, especially for damaged or poor quality surfaced records.

I plan to use the SugarCube SC-2 for mastering from 78s (I have 7,000 in my music room and 4,000 in storage) and noisy and damaged LPs (I have 25,000 LPs with similarly rare but worthy music to be savored). It is very convenient to use in the tape loop position, switching it in or out of the pre-amp.

This is something that archival university 78 rpm record collections should use instead of their "one size fits all" declicking, noise reduction technology and then converting to MP3s instead of higher resolution files. With the SC-2, they can download the corrected version to a harddrive immediately.

Michael Fremer's picture
I should have done a few of those. Maybe in a follow up with some audio posted. The Caliburn runs at 78rpm as does the Technics SL-1000R
analogdw's picture

Enjoying it?

Lazer's picture

I heard a 78 of Rachmaninov actually playing the piano himself on his 2nd piano concerto in the sweet vinyl listening room at Axpona. They A/B before and after and the results were stunning. It was truly jaw dropping to hear such a historic recording sound so pristine.

foxhall's picture

Those of us willing to transcode vinyl and remove clicks in a workflow are likely an extremely small niche group.

I get the impression the SC-1 will just make LPs more enjoyable without any effort.

davidz's picture

I own an SC-2, and think that it is worth clarifying that it is still very much a beta product. Track tagging and splitting have not been implemented. they have been promised in "the second quarter."

cdlp4578's picture

Wondering what it would do to tracks that are supposed to have clicks and pops in them, like The Flaming Lips "She Don't Use Jelly", XTC "Respectable Street" and many others.

jon9091's picture

They originally announced these at $1500 list for the SC-1 and $2500 list for the SC-2. Now, they are each $500 higher, which prives them right out of my interest. They shot themselves in the foot back jacking up the price.
Here’s the original interview. (go to 6:35)
https://www.analogplanet.com/content/sweetvinyl-sc-1-and-sc-2-and-runnin...

OldschoolE's picture

It is a shame they did that. I have seen both these machines demoed live twice and I think they are fantastic. One can use them with any turntable and any system (provided there is a way to hook it up), regardless of cost. At one demo I got into it with a guy (who was a reporter for some outfit), whom tried to claim that you have to use a $10k turntable to get the benefit and that vinyl was going away again anyway (total idiot).
I was mainly interested in the SC2 since the first time I saw these units, but I struggle to justify the cost even at $2k. Very tempting though in functionality! I grew up with vinyl and I have mad cleaning skills and such so I don't mind the occasional tick or click. (It does bother me on classical music, but then again my classical LPs are noiseless anyway. (It is the one near guarantee in used record buying - classical albums tend to be near pristine). I liked the SC2 so I could eliminate several steps in putting some vinyl on a jump drive or what have you and eliminating extra noise such as clicks, ticks and pops were and added bonus. (I normally try to do that manually through Audicity, but it is far from perfect as I am only willing to filter so far so as to not lose too much).
By them raising the price another $500 pushes more folks out of market. I must say though that the work the guys making the devices put into it is tremendous! On top of that they keep working at it perfecting it more and more and providing good support updates and such, so you do need to pay folks well who are willing to go to such lengths. So even though I am well priced out of the SC units now, I can see both sides of the street and have to give credit where it is due.

mschlack's picture

Dan Eakins description of Sweet Vinyl's algorithms sounds in part like what I remember of the Dolby Digital feature on my old cassette deck. Specifically, zeroing in on the attack/decay differences between noise and music. I never liked DD much -- at least in my modestly priced deck, it seemed to kill the treble pretty well too. If you remember the sound of DD on cassette decks, how would you compare its effect to Sweet Vinyl?

gbougard's picture

the difference in sound is minuscule, not like Dolby. You can hardly hear it whereas Dolby was a total pain in the @$$

OldschoolE's picture

To this day, I steer clear of Dolby because it is still a total PITA.

Lazer's picture

I don’t care about cassettes, neither should you. I listened to sweet vinyl today at Axpona(the difference was stunning); you read Michaels review. If your a skeptic, fine. Maybe give it a sample in person before comparing it to cassettes. Do you really want to use DD on cassettes as a comparison without even hearing for yourself? Do yourself a favor and sample it in person. You will bet happy you took my advice. Good luck.

SweetVinyl's picture

Just thought we would jump in and provide a little feedback from the team here at SweetVinyl. First thanks to Michael for spending the time and putting the SC-1 through the paces on his amazing system and all the effort he has put into covering our project over the last several years.

On the pricing front, we were left in a dilemma as we believe the basic systems should be less than we are at right now for the SC-1 and SC-2, inline with our original pricing model.

However digitizing analog in the best systems with little to no perceptible difference comes at a price and the cost of the hardware in the system crept up as we refined the design forcing us to raise the list price. As a result our first products can sit in a system like Michael's and improve the experience.

We did offer very attractive pricing to anyone who came to visit us by adding them to our email list and inviting them to the Indiegogo campaign.

As there is still a need for a more affordable design point we started working on some stripped down models that will have less hardware features and a step down in the finish of the enclosures which will improve the list price to be at or better than our initial targets.

We have a lot of work to get the SC-2 out of Beta and into production with track splitting and meta-data tagging working on the units in the field - as well as other software updates to the systems as we make improvements and add features.

If you are at Axpona, stop by and say hi, we will be on the 6th floor and we have a special demo we will be showing of surface noise reduction on 78 vinyl running on a SugarCube!

Yours in SweetVinyl.

OldschoolE's picture

I have been dreaming about getting an SC-2 ever since I saw my first demo. (I'd go for an SC-1, but I can do much more with the SC-2 as I am not bothered too much by the occasional tick and click and one pop won't send me running out of the room either. Of course, really bad records will, but none of mine are that bad, so far). Unfortunately, both units will remain out of my reach, but I think they are a fantastic product.

My last demo was at the Newport Show 2016 where I had to defend you guys live from two idiots, one was a reporter who hates vinyl and the other was some joker who walked in claiming that it doesn't work with turntables less than $10k and carts less than $1000. This was in spite of the fact that you were using a $500 table and a $100 cart in the demo! (I wish Michael was there with me at the time, but he said I did good when I told him later).
I am pleased to hear that you are working on a more affordable unit though as that can only help!
You are right about the cost of materials and such, but I also consider the labor that goes into the product. Not just building the units, but the research and development to make it and continually improve it, which I fear will never end. It is just the nature of the beast. The world in which you work for this product is constantly changing, so it is all you can do just to keep up.
So yes, keep going! I look forward to seeing the less expensive version when it comes around, not to mention anything else you come up with.

abby normal's picture

I gotta know, how does it [the Sweet Vinyl Sugar Cube] compare to the CEDAR DCX/CRX Digital Declicker/Decrackler combo? I have one of those, and I have not found anything else at any price to exceed its performance on the widest variety of phonographic material. the only place where it falls down, is on low brasses, it cuts the teeth out of them unless the levels are set very low, which allows some crackly grunge to slip in at those times. I am wondering if the Sugar Cube has any similar problem with low brasses or musical transients?

marechalney's picture

A regular, "old" classical music concert goer here in New York City, it seems to me that there are more younger
people at the concerts I attend than there were when I sat in the balcony in Carnegie Hall listening to Leopold Stokowski conduct the American Symphony Orchestra. Of course, my evidence is purely anecdotal as is yours, Michael, If your looking for a demographic to single out for a laugh, try the wives an girlfriends, young and old, who having been dragged to concerts kill time by flipping the pages of their programs collectively creating an amisical racket.

marechalney's picture

Line 6: your to you're.

Line 7: an to and.

Apologies.

DigMyGroove's picture

I purchased the SC-2 soon after seeing a demo at the 2016 New York Audio Show via Sweet Vinyl's indiegogo campaign, so glad I did. Since receiving mine a year after placing the order I've played loads of records through the SC-2 and find it to be an indispensable part of my system. It works as advertised and 95% of the time I cannot hear any difference in the sound with the SC-2 engaged or bypassed. I'd say that percentage was even higher using a solid state amp, but when I added a hybrid SS/tube power amp to my system I found that small difference more apparent on some records, but not most.

I haven't done much recording yet, but I look forward to the full implementation of the software before I'll really spend much time doing so. What recording I have done has left me impressed.

There have been a few bumps with the software, however recent updates seem to have really smoothed out the experience of using the phone app as a controller, and they kindly sent me a new wi-fi dongle as I was having trouble connecting with the original one, the new one has worked right every time.

Those interested in further discussion of the SC-2 can look for my thread over on the Steve Hoffman forum where I have several recorded samples posted throughout the thread.

Chemguy's picture

After having the SC-1 for over 7 months now, let me tell you how indispensable this unit is! When Michael uses words like "miracle" in a write-up, you know he must be impressed; I have found him to be one who is not prone to exaggeration over the years.

It is truly a remarkable product. I have played many hundreds of lps now, testing everything from the new and the mildly clicky, the click and pop-ridden, to the "this looks too damaged to play" . The SugarCube not only makes them all listenable, but, unlike Michael and his trained ears, I cannot discern the slightest difference in sound dynamics when the unit is on or on bypass. All it does is remove clicks, leaving the exact sonic signature and decibel level behind.

A few weeks ago, I journeyed to my used record store that had a 5 buck copy of Friends, by The Beach Boys. Five bucks because 'loved up' is far too kind as a description of the scratchfest that is the vinyl surface. Bought it, cleaned it, played it without the SC-1...ouch. Turned on the SugarCube...perfection. I kid you not.

It has transformed my vinyl listening experiences. Yes, it's like I have a mint copy of everything.

Audiophiles, listen up! You won't regret it...get one.

Lazer's picture

The 2 best accessory items I heard at Axpona were the sugarcube and audio envy cables.

bfrank53's picture

Not many of us are fortunate enough to own original Paramount 78s of Charlie Patton, Son House, or Skip James. So we rely on cds on Document, Yazoo, or Third Man. Many of these records, American treasures all, exist only in one or two copies collected by intrepid collectors in the 1960s. Yesterday at AXPONA I asked the designers if the algorithm would work with these cds, through a regular cd player, and make some of these nearly unlistenable recordings sound good again. They assured me that it would. My question is: has anybody tried this yet? If this works it would, I imagine, revolutionize the reissue business and, hopefully, bring new listeners to this wonderful music who's enjoyment has thus far been, shall we say, challenging.

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