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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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!