Ultrasonic record cleaning–first impressions

I have so far had pretty good luck with ultrasonic cleaning.  I will do a more thorough writeup, but for now, I will give a few impressions.  I am still experimenting the cleaning solutions, timing in the ultrasonic bath, and methods of rinsing and vacuuming.

I recently bought an RCA Shaded Dog classical record that was VPI cleaned by the seller, and I was less than impressed.  In fact, it was downright noisy.  The other record from the same seller had less noise, but still more than I wanted to hear.  The ultrasonic did its trick–the first record still had a little noise, but most of it was gone.   Sadly, the sound is rather dulled, a victim of groove wear.  The second record, though, sounds fantastic–it plays back with only a few ticks or pops, and I feel some of those are from inadequate vacuum power.

Other records are a mixed lot.  A few that were already considered goners did not improve at all.  One is an MCA pressing of Jack DeJohnett’s Parallel Realities, and I have a feeling it is just a really bad, lousy pressing.  It shows hardly a scratch, but it sounds as though it was used as home plate in a Little League game.

I recleaned many that I had vacuumed earlier.  It made a little difference, and all for the better.  I bought five LPs at an estate sale, which the owner had handled with his greasy mitts.  Some of the fingerprints actually looked as though they were etched in the records.  I gave them some stiff cleaning, but the impressions still remained.

After their trip through the ultrasonic for 18 minutes with a stronger cleaning solution, I no longer see them.  The Dionne Warwick plays back as good as it ever will, and I have yet to spin Sinatra at The Sands to see how it improved.

I put my 45RPM Elvis 24 Karat Hits on the ultrasonic.  I have two copies of this (through a fluke occurrence).  Due to one of the records being slightly off-center, and some being a little more noisy than others, I Frankensteined one good set out of them, and a lesser set that I keep around as a loaner, a tester, or a set I can travel with.

I put this second, noisier set through the ultrasonic/vacuum routine, and now it plays back with maybe one or two minor ticks per track, with an even more silent background.  So, this even works on new records; pressing plants are not exactly a clean environment.

I also cleaned up some sealed Dynaflex records I had purchased several months ago.  They were mildewed, so they were quarantined from the rest of the collection.  First, I gave them a spraydown and soak with some Vinyl-Zyme.  After applying and vacuuming on both sides, the records went into the last run of a batch of water/cleaner in the ultrasonic.  Both records now look spotless.  There is a bit of noise left over from the pressing but otherwise, they play exactly like they would have when new.

I will report more results as I go, but overall I would say on average that ultrasonic cleaning has surpassed other methods I have tried to fully clean records, and this is the only one that has had the ability to reach inside the tiny grooves and work that crud out of them.  Felt applicators only smear water around the surface.  My old VPI record brush uses bristles that are too fat to fit inside the grooves.

I am not impressed with the Chinese ultrasonic cleaner I bought, and I am realizing I need a better vacuum.  For the former, I will likely be returning it.  For the latter, my budget does not allow for a top of the line vacuum, but I have already sourced parts to build my own with the same suction as the top vacuum systems out there.  (It’s easy once you find out which vacuum motor they use.)