Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ultrasonic cleaning on the cheap

I’ve lusted after an ultrasonic cleaner (USC) for the last few years but could never bring myself to part with the necessary money for the Audio Desk or KLAudio machines. I mean, $4k is no small sum, even if I still buy and play tons of vinyl. I tried to rationalize it by determining the unit cost for each record, and even added in the time saving to tell myself that it would be worth it but no, that price was just too much for me. I nearly pulled the trigger on a reconditioned model from KLAudio, and even bookmarked their site just in case one appeared again but nothing could quite get me to write the check.

Like many of you, I’ve looked into the DIY options. There’s a ton of info on the web, some of it very useful but I was always left a bit concerned. Which of those E-bay USCs would work? Then there’s the LP rotating issue. How do you get the records into the water and keep them spinning there safely? Those selling the cleaners never seemed to mention LPs. Those selling record holders/spinners never seemed to mention which USC device would it would fit, other than gross measurements. I signed up online to get one of the most highly recommended cleaners, built to allow timing and temperature control, and even asked the guy making them if he knew about the rotating holders and if one I had my eye on would fit. He answered that it would, but he never said so on his listings and just as I was about to buy one, they always went out of stock.

Well, problem solved now,  so let me share some practical advice. I bought a DIY set up put together by a local audiophile who demonstrated proof of concept and wanted to move on to other devices. You can put this exact rig together yourself for about $700, maybe less if you are lucky, buy used,  or if you are willing to use cheaper machines. But compared to the price of other set ups, this one seems a good deal. Here’s the parts (each one linked to a relevant eBay listing, but check Amazon on the Kendal):

The Vinyl Stack Sonic Spin Kit:

which fits perfectly with a 9L Kendal ultrasonic cleaner 

There are cheaper but this one I can assure you works well.

To clean the water (or keep it minimally clean while cleaning crud from your records) there’s a TopFin aquarium filter that sits on the side of the cleaner. These are about $15 from Pet Smart.

With these three in combo, a little photo-flo, drop of organic dishwasher detergent and a couple of gallons of distilled water from the supermarket, I’ve given this rig a work out on 20 Lps so far. The results are impressive. The records look cleaner than ever, and coupled with a distilled water rinse on my Loricraft afterwards, the sonic results are impressive. More as I go, there’s no end of discussion online about better combos of cleaning fluid and drying but the real advantage here is that I got 20 lps cleaned in about two hours total time, some of that learning the set up, developing a decent workflow, and  running 9 mins ultrasonic cycles (longer than most people recommend but I’m experimenting).

I think I can easily get 10 records cleaned, dried and sleeved in under an hour if I employed air drying, dabbing dry with microfiber cloth,  or if I would cut back on the final run through distilled water on the Loricraft (a process that adds almost 3 min per record on its own given the suction rate of the Lori’s point nozzle system).  But for now, this set up is the best I’ve achieved in home cleaning, better than the Loricraft/Audio Solutions combo that I was using, and it’s comparatively quick. No, you don’t get Audio Desk or KLAudio auto-dry/ready-to-play convenience but you can make a real dent in your cleaning backlog with this set up. If you are on the fence, give this a try.


Dave Sands said...

See the Ultrasonicrecords.com machine with dryer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Many thanks for your very interesting article. I too have "lusted" after an URCM but the cost is prohibitive. Your suggested set up is a very attractive proposition. I have done some research and it seems the results from cleaning with a URCM are a game changer. I hink the only reason large numbers of people (including myself) are not going down this route is cost. The comments I have read enthuse about the sound quality and dissapearance of background noise. I am seriously thinking about giving this a go. The only drawback is that I am in the UK, so would have to import the kit from the USA. Still a fraction of the cost though. Would you recommend I jump in?


PatrickD said...

Steve - I do recommend you take the plunge, but then it is always easy to spend someone else's money :) I am sure the $4k cleaners are convenient, and the drying cycle is nice to have, but I am very satisfied with the results I've obtained with my kit.

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,

Thank you for your email. I have ordered the US Kit and a 10L tank. Can I ask, do you use the fish filter while you clean or between cleaning? do you recommend a water only rinse/vacuum post US cleaning ?...and finally do you recommend any heat during cleaning and a US cleaning time of 5 or 10 minutes?

Thanks in advance. All the Best.

Steve - U.K.

PatrickD said...


glad you are taking hte plunge -- I think you'll enjoy the results.

I run the filter for 5 mins or so before I immerse any records for cleaning, leave it on during the ultrasonic cycle, and allow to run for a few more at the end. Essentially, if the cleaner is going to be used, the filter is running. Because I kept my Loricraft cleaner, I use it for a final distilled water rinse afterward on the ultrasonically cleaned records. I am in two minds on this however as I think it helps but not certain it's needed. Others just leave the records air dry, some use microfiber cloths to dry off from the ultrasonic bath. I find that if I use the Loricraft, I have to add a lot more time to the process and go easy on the water or I just make everything so wet. Is there a sonic difference - not convinced but psychologically, that final rinse seems a good idea. If I am in a mass clean mode, which the Ultrasonic enables, the extra step with the Loricrraft is tiresome.

The heat has been debated a lot, and I find in use the water seems to heat up anyhow, as indicated by the temp dial. Living in Texas, the water is pretty warm to start with, so I keep it in the mid 20s C when cleaning. Some folks go warmer, I'd be cautious though I have never had a bad experience with too warm a setting.

Enjoy and keep us posted! There is hope for those of us who can't or won't pay the price of the finished ultrasonic systems.

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,

Many thanks for the email and the information you forwarded, which is most helpful. I shall experiment when I get everything set up, but I think I am going to try at first drying with a microfibre cloth and leaving to air dry for a bit.

I did see a very clever design on Youtube by a guy from Italy who designed a centrifugal device, with the LP clamped on horizontally, which spin dried the LP after cleaning on the USC. This would be very good and if you had a slow and fast setting you could rinse with water, brush it in and spin it off!, that would solve the problem of the very wet records on the Loricraft?. Unfortunately I would not have the knowhow to make such a machine and it might push my wifes patience even further!..."Why do you need so many records" etc etc:)

My kit from the USA is coming this Tuesday and I am very much looking forward to giving it a go. I have the tank already and a filter so I am good to go. I shall follow your advice and start off with a 25C setting with a 5 minute cleaning cycle and go from there. In terms of additions to the water, I was going to add a little Isopropyl and a few drops of surfactant...or maybe just some surfactant and a few drops of RinseAid? . Can I ask, when people talk about degassing , say for 10 minutes prior to cleaning, does that just simply mean turning the machine on and setting a cleaning cycle for 10 minutes prior to adding the records? Any other tips are welcome!

I shall keep you posted on how I get on.I have a feeling this is the way forward and I agree with you...I am also in the camp that will not or cannot pay $4000 (I think it is quite an elite boys club' as much audiophilia is , in my opinion....£20000 for a tonearm?, my first house was less than that and I can't believe some of the ultra expensive esoterica makes such significant improvement, especially in realtion to the prices of some kit I have seen discussed).

Anyway!, All the Best...Steve

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,

Well, I have had some time now to set things up and do a couple of cleans. The fist time I used no heat and dried off with a microfibre towel. The music sounded good but there was quite a lot of background noise still, which was dissapointing. The second clean I heated up the water to 35c (it actually went up to 40c during the cleaning session). I then gave a run through on my Discoantistat with D.I.water and vacuumed off with my KABEV1. I just used the microfibre cloth to remove water from the run in groove at the start of the records. This seemed to bring better results with very clean looking records, which also sounded very good and reduced background noise (except on a couple and this I think was due to the quality of the vinyl itself i.e damage already caused prior to me purchasing them). I still hope to remove more even background noise and do further testing...any thoughts?. I kept the water in the tank and binned it after about 30 records.Don't get me wrong,I am pleased with the results but I believe I can get better (less background noise)...maybe it's partly down to the effectiveness of the 40hz Chinese built tank I bought? I am using deionised water, a small amount of Isopropyl, a few drops of surfactant and a few drops of Rinseaid.I look forward to hearing your thoughts.Cheers.


PatrickD said...


Well it seems that we both find the extra step of rinsing with clean water to be beneficial. I've not tried double cleanings but I suspect it might be useful for some records, certainly read of others reporting as much. Just for kicks, this morning I washed 10 Lps and just left them to air dry. Noticed a couple of things. First, it takes a long time. They might look dry minutes after coming out and standing upright but a little touch revealed that a layer of moisture remains. Second, wiping with microfiber at this point can smear stuff around but it's hard to ensure you get the residue off the surface. Makes me wonder if I need to think more about the mix of photo-flo and cleaner in the water. With my filter, I get a sudsy top on the water while circulating. This might not be too good and yet I thought I was underutilizing these given the size of the cleaner. Third, and most unpredictable, some records seemed to dry clean and spotless, others less so. I think this reflects their original condition (many of my records are used) but it might also be related to position on the spinner. While it's nice to clean 5 at a time, I wonder if more space between LPs might be useful, so another experiment called for.

All to say, I don't expect all records to come out spotless and pop free upon play. Freddie Green and Herb Ellis spinning now, couple of minor ticks but since I did not play this record which I just bought used before cleaning it, hard to know the before-after difference. Of course, the thing to to is give it another wash to see if that cleans it further. And then to give it a Loricraft wash to see if that is beneficial. Oh, and then I need to reverse this and and try the Lori first....ah.....one might drive oneself insane with this...or spring for an Audio Desk :)

Let's keep trying.