I have to say that I’m a little bit excited about this right now…..
Over the past week, I have been testing vinyl records in an Ultrasonic cleaning machine and the results have been all positive.
In the past, I have used a Nitty Gritty record cleaning machine (RCM) and in recent years have acquired an old but well-respected Keith Monks RCM (below).
The Keith Monks machine, notably has a unique vacuum-suction record-drying system, which uses a moving Nylon thread interface to prevent the suction nozzle from touching the record.
Ultrasonic cleaning uses ‘transducers’ vibrating at around 40kHz, creating pressure waves that form microscopic vapour bubbles (cavities) within the water. These cavities ‘implode’, creating small shock waves that loosen and remove contaminants from the surface of an object – vinyl records in this case.
The nice thing about Ultrasonic cleaning of vinyl records, is that very little chemicals are necessary. Plain water is enough to allow the ‘cavitation’ cleaning process to happen.
However, it is beneficial to include a small amount (0.1%) of ‘detergent’, which assists removal of dirt & and also promotes rapid air-drying of the record because detergent acts also as ‘surfactant’ or wetting agent – the water forms a uniform thin film on the record surface.
I have been using Triton X-100, which is a pure detergent/surfactant concentrate, without additives. (Tergitol, a similar product, has also been recommended.)
So far, I have felt no need to add a solvent such as isopropyl alcohol – which we are told can remove plasticisers from the vinyl material and is thus undesirable in any significant concentrations.
The Ultrasonic cleaner is more convenient & encouraging to use, than regular RCMs.
Whereas a regular RCM process needs full attention from beginning to end & one record side at a time, with the Ultrasonic cleaner, once the records are loaded onto the rod holder, then you press the button & walk away – the machine has a timer (I set for 15 mins.) and automatically stops. Both record sides are done simultaneously & up to 3 or 4 records can be cleaned together. Normally this (8 record sides) would take half an hour on a normal RCM (including vacuum drying).
And how about drying? It will be slower in winter, but with detergent/surfactant in the water solution, air-drying seems to take only 20-30 minutes (on a rack of some type) at ~20degC. Again, you can be doing something else useful
I think I can say that Ultrasonic Cleaning works better than brush cleaning, either manual cleaning or with a record cleaning machine (RCM).
What I’m hearing consistently is:
- More dynamic range, sounds ‘louder’, as if the stylus has more freedom tracking the groove.
- More High Frequency information – which sharpens ‘leading edges’, everything is snappier, faster, tauter, including bass frequencies. (However there is no extra ‘brightness’ in tonal balance that you tend to hear after cleaning with traditional alcohol-water record cleaning.)
- The above effects give rise to more ‘ambience’ – there is more ‘air’ & ‘sustain’ to musical notes.
- The cartridge often seems to track better – dynamic peaks seem to be ‘easier’, more ‘open’, have more freedom, less strain.
Overall, everything sounds more ‘live’, more ‘you are there’ more ‘in the room’.
The rotating motor and record spindle attachment shown, is a prototype for testing – soon I will have more details of the finalised tank attachment design, for anyone interested. See Ultrasonic record cleaning Pt 2.
Update 25 Mar 2017: (New video, final prototype.)