Record Cleaning Machine

The HW-16.5 is the standard in affordable record cleaning machines but neither its build quality nor its cleaning power has been compromised. Its high-torque, 18 RPM turntable motor is more than capable of withstanding the pressure of heavy scrubbing during extended cleaning sessions, and its 35-second cleaning cycle per side makes quick work of even the dirtiest records. Now with self aligning vacuum suction tubes for even more accurate cleaning.The HW-16.5's high-powered vacuum ensures quick, deep cleaning, while its newly designed vacuum pickup tube automatically adjusts to accommodate records of any thickness. The internal fluid collection system is made of stainless steel to prevent corrosion, and the fully enclosed design prevents splashing or mess. In the VPI tradition, all components are extra heavy-duty, professional grade for a long, trouble-free life.

"I have found the HW-16.5 to be an outstanding performer. The record surfaces are microscopically clean and are so pristine they look new! -- Bert Whyte, Audio Magazine.


Clean your records with the HW-16.5 and hear what you've been missing.

* Dimensions: 15 1/2" x 9" x 14 1/4" (W x H x D)
* Weight: 28 lbs.
* Vacuum motor: 6.5 amps
* Maximum current draw: 7.5 amps
* Available in 60 Hz/115 Volts and 50 Hz/220 Volts models
* Comes complete with VPI cleaning brush and fluid. Replacement brushes, fluid and suction tubes may be purchased as needed. 
A Dry Report On A Wet Product
By Michael Fremer - The Absolute Sound Issue 78 - April 1992


A vacuum operated record cleaning machine is not an accessory. It is a necessity for anyone with a record collection. (We've said it a million times before, it seems. Consider it gospel. - FD) New records benefit from a thorough scrubbing almost as much as old ones, coming out of the sleeve dusty and usually coated with mould release compound, neither of which is effectively removed with a Discwasher or carbon fibre brush. The records benefit and so does your stylus, which no longer has to navigate its way through a sandpaper-like grooves. Clean records last longer.

The value of a vacuum-operated cleaning machine extends far beyond its obvious ability to remove pops, crackles, and clicks caused by dirt in and on top of the grooves. A vacuum cleaned record - even one that played noise and pop-free before - sounds better.

Vacuum cleaning a record almost always removes a layer of sonic grain, glare, and grit. What you previously took for granted as either endemic to your system, or to a particular recording, or perhaps to the record playing process itself, disappears.

Once the grit and grain are gone, previously obscured musical details appear. Focus improves, instrumental and vocal timbres are reproduced with greater accuracy, and spatial information hidden in and below the grit and grain noise is revealed with startling clarity - if it's in the grooves to begin with.

Space between instruments can be "seen" in greater relief. On a minimally miked recording, the venue in which the recording was made and its boundaries are easier to discern, as are the reflections off of walls and floors. Unfortunately, on multi-miked recordings, the placement of the "spotlight" mikes becomes all the more apparent. On processed pop recordings, the processing frequently separates out from the source.

Vacuum cleaned records exhibit a greater sense of depth and warmth. You can hear further "into" a recording. Congestion and confusion clear, and listening fatigue is greatly reduced. I find it impossible to assess a new album's sonics until I clean it on the machine. Unless you own or have used a vacuum machine, and have experienced these improvements for yourself, I don't blame you if you're sceptical.

The HW 16.5 is a no-nonsense, functional product, consisting of a large vinyl covered chipboard box with a hinged plexiglas cover. Beneath the cover sits a corkboard covered platter driven by a noisy, high torque motor.

No matter, it gets the job done. You place the record on the platter, secure it with the screw-on clamp, flip on the motor switch and you are ready to clean with your choice of fluid. (Among the better fluids is Torumat 7XH, which is non alcoholic, and contains a lubricant. It's my fluid of choice for older, slightly worn records.)

For those who feel lubrication softens the sound, I recommend Genie-In-A-Bottle, which is a highly concentrated liquid; a few drops of this is diluted with triple distilled water and laboratory grade alcohol. The resulting mix must be stored in a glass container. Genie-In-A-Bottle is what I use on new, pristine records. It reveals incredible detail and is as neutral sounding as any cleaner I have tried.

For extremely filthy records, I recommend Record Restorer from Electrotech, Inc. It is a concentrated purple solution that smells suspiciously like dishwashing liquid, although the importer assures me there is no soap or detergent of any kind in it. Diluted with distilled water, it does a great job of cleaning greasy fingerprints, wax, and leached plastic (from those awful poly lined sleeves - get rid of them now!).

To clean a record on the 16.5, you pour some fluid on the record and scrub it with the nylon bristle brush. I like to thoroughly wet the record and really bear down, brushing forward, backward, and side to side, in order to dislodge the dirt and gum that usually accumulates, particularly on older records. The high torque motor can take as much pressure as you can apply without slowing down.

Leave the fluid on the record for a minute or more to let it really loosen the dirt, then flip the vacuum switch, which draws the velvet cushioned, slit plexiglas suction tube down to the surface of the record, accompanied by what sounds like the Electrolux of the gods. (The vacuum on the 16.5 is extremely noisy.) A few rotations are all that is usually required to thoroughly dry a record. Flip off the vacuum switch and the spring loaded tube rises from the record surface, without leaving a line of dirt or liquid.

Turn the record over and repeat the process. The whole operation takes but a few minutes - and boy, is it worth it! My experience is that most records can be made quiet by a good cleaning. Records that appear to be trashed can be made mint - I'm not exaggerating.

As far as cost is concerned, my machine paid for itself in a few weeks. I found a copy of Fritz Reiner's Spain [LSC-2230] in a collector's basement. It looked to be unplayable, with filth and scratches. "Ninety-nine cents, and it's yours," the guy laughed. I had the last laugh of course. I took the 1S pressing home and cleaned, scrubbed, and cleaned some more (really dirty records require a few cleanings to get the dirt up and out).

I ran over a few of the bigger scratches with my finger, and I could feel them. I wasn't optimistic about what I'd hear, but I was amazed. Aside from a tick that repeats about four times at the beginning of Side One, the record sounds absolutely mint! None of the scratches I could feel proved to be audible.

I have since bought many seemingly trashed records - "Shaded Dogs" and Mercurys among them - dirt cheap (no pun intended), cleaned them and ended up with mint copies, thanks to the VPI.

Maybe you're wondering where the fluid goes after it's sucked up. On older machines it just ended up at the bottom of the box where it was supposed to evaporate. Older boxes began turning to mush, so VPI later added a plastic container. Good idea! I've never had to empty it, so I guess the fluid does eventually evaporate.

Are there any negatives with the 16.5? Well, the 16.5 is functional, but it sure is ugly! Also, you must carefully adjust the height of the plastic suction tube or it will dry the record unevenly and/or crack. A replacement costs about $20. The velvet pads get dirty and saturated with fluids quickly too, so be sure to keep them clean, and dry them after a few cleanings.

The 16.5 isn't designed for continuous use. For that purpose, VPI manufactures the HW 17 fan model for libraries and radio stations. There's also a 17 without fan, which offers the convenience of a fluid reservoir and pump, plus a turntable that rotates in both directions. It's more convenient and quieter than the 16.5, but I don't think it cleans as well because the brush comes permanently suspended over the surface of the record. It makes pretty food contact, but, in my opinion, there's nothing like scrubbing by hand. (It is possible, however, to manually push down on the 17's suction tube for better contact.)

Owners of older model 16s can upgrade to the superior 16.5. Also, the foam mat that came on the older units can and should be replaced with the cork one. Plexi-tubes are available for cleaning 78s and 45s as well, though VPI does little to publicise them.

I bought my unit used in the mid-Eighties and despite constant use, it has worked perfectly ever since (with a few arm tube replacements along the way, until I got the hang of adjusting them properly). VPI obviously doesn't have much faith in the product; they only warranty it for 90 days.

If you value you LPs, and you are in the hunt for the great used treasures left in the field, you cannot afford to be without a record cleaning machine like the VPI 16.5. Viva vinyl!


vpi industries, 77 cliffwood ave. 3b, cliffwood, new jersey 07721. (908) 946-8606
source reviewer owned
serial number n/a
price $450
warranty 90 days parts and labour
torumat fluid torumat, 8081 dick cook road, loomis, california 95650
genie-in-a-bottle postal station q, box 1199, toronto, ontario m4t 2 p4, canada
record restorer soundings - electrotec, inc., po box 10004, winslow, washington 98110


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