In Part One of this article, we explored the Spin-Clean Record Cleaner. In this second installment, we’ll look at the more sophisticated and elegant approach to rid your vinyl of clicks, pops, and noise, with a step up to the recently updated and revised Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine. Like the Spin-Clean, the Record Doctor VI washes your albums. But unlike the Spin-Doctor, the Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine washes, and then vacuums your precious vinyl clean.
As I wrote previously, the clicks and pops in my vinyl collection added up. I had a Zerostat to eliminate static, but it never worked that well. But, it was fun to play with! I also used a Watt’s Record Brush, a Parostat, Sound Guard, and a DiscWasher. All were reasonable for obvious surface dust, but didn’t really clean the grooves to my satisfaction. I was in high school when I heard my first commercial click and pop remover, a DBX II unit, but there were still a few noises that didn’t disappear. An archivist friend had a suggestion: add a drop or two of Kodak Photo-Flo to a basin of lukewarm water, spin the record in the mixture, being careful not to get the record label wet. Then rinse with distilled water, and pat the album dry with some clean terry cloth towels.
Voila! Soon the sink was full of dirty, cloudy water. The albums sounded better, with a marked reduction in surface noise, and a more open soundstage. It worked, and impressed upon me just how much dirt had gotten into my meticulously cared for albums. A few years later, my older cousin Ivan had a very cool VPI record cleaner that I coveted, but at that stage in my life, it was way more expensive than I could afford.
The entry point for a high-quality cleaner is the Spin-Clean, a venerable product that first debuted in 1975, with patents and the ability to clean both sides of an album at once, it’s a great choice for audiophiles on a budget, or just starting to collect vinyl. But, for really serious clean, we turn our attention to the Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine, which washes and vacuums your LPs clean. Sucking dirt out of your grooves is the next step up in record washers, and best of all, it’s automated. At the suggestion of Adam Sohmer, PR agent to the audio stars, I tested the newest iteration of the Record Doctor Cleaning Machine. It would be the fanciest vinyl cleaning system to be tested by us, in, well, ever.
This isn’t to say that I was completely unaware of trends in the vinyl-cleaning universe. When I was in Greece, visiting with John Demos, one of the Gods of Leica Photography and the owner of the best audiophile salon in Athens, he showed me his new pride and joy, the Audio Desk Systeme Premium Ultrasonic Vinyl, Record, Album, LP Cleaner, which costs an amazing $3,999. It was very cool, and as I soon learned, many folks consider ultrasonic as the ultimate in record cleaning. But, that unit is beset with problems, and there are some excellent choices at less that one-half the cost. But, ultrasonic isn’t for everyone, it’s slow, a pain, and messy, and as you can see, expensive, but it does blast the grooves clean, if time and money is no object.
Of course, that was until the, cleaning your albums with wood glue craze, hit the audiophile world. YouTube was suddenly awash (clever, huh?) with videos showing just how certifiable this process is. Covering your vinyl with wood glue is not only questionable; it’s also very expensive with a bottle of glue only cleaning a few albums. Don’t want to use your turntable with wood glue? Although there is a chap out of Australia who has created a similar process. Maybe for a future review. Is there a better way? Why, yes there is, using the new Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine.
Physically, the Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine isn't all that large. This is important, because I’ve seen some units that really deserve their own home extension project. Most are large and ungainly, and not all that attractive. The Record Doctor VI is of a manageable size with a footprint smaller than an LP. And it is bonehead simple to use. You put the disc on, spread some cleaning solution on the LP (included in the purchase price of the product), and then use the (nicely improved) brush to work the solution into the grooves. Rotate the album manually, so it’s all nice and wet, and flip it over, turn the vacuum on, and suck the junk out of the grooves. Repeat on the unwashed side. In all, it takes about a minute per side, if you don’t rush it. And it even gets rid of cat hair, which has somehow seemed to find its way inside every one of our album covers.
And that’s it. Get the grooves wet, brush, flip, vacuum crud and cleaning solution away, and your once-dirty record becomes clean as a whistle. While it might be nice to have a motor to automatically spin the album in a more consistent manner, it would inevitably add to the cost, weight, and complexity, so manual operation was just fine for this music lover. One feature I love, and proves the attention to detail, is the use of a genuine roller bearing to spin the album on. Nice. A lesser company could have easily used a less expensive bushing, but it wouldn't be silky smooth, and as long lasting.
For the most part, I’ve never liked shiny or glossy things. Even our kitchen counters were made with a super-honed absolute black granite, with a lovely flat finish. So, we were delighted to discover that our review sample was crafted with a beautiful, elegant, and hipster approved, carbon fiber-themed finish. It fits right in with our audio components, surrounded with cat toys and other fun bits of audiophile life. Seriously, it’s built to a level of fit and finish, where it looks nice with anything you place it next to. And if you should prefer a gloss black finish, the Record Doctor folks offer that as well.
The Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine also commemorates the 20th anniversary of the first Record Doctor, so pretty cool, huh? One important accessory worth your consideration is their new vinyl case that can protect the unit from dust, dirt, and yes, cats. I asked Adam for a detailed reviewer’s guide, and his reaction indicated that he thought I was joking, as it is so simple to use - just turn it on, and clean your albums. Adam was right; the quick start guide is all you’ll ever need.
Of course, you might ask if cleaning and vacuuming your albums is enough. I did purchase an album at a garage sale that was so dirty and covered with dried salsa, which even the powerful Record Doctor VI vacuum couldn’t get all the crud off. So, I used the Spin-Doctor, to really immerse the album, and then used the Record Doctor VI after, and voila, I had a playable disc. I suppose the next step would be one of those cool 3D printed hacks of low-cost commercial ultrasonic cleaners to really blast it clean. But, I think the Record Doctor VI did just as good a job, with much less hassle.
The Record Doctor VI sports a number of refinements over the still-available Record Doctor V. While we don’t think the VI will get your albums cleaner than the V, it will do so more quietly, with a higher quality finish. The top plate is now metal, so, there is not much to worry about in terms of moisture damage. The clamp and spindle plate are larger, which makes it easier to use, but also protects the label from getting wet. The brush is larger and improved, and the overall feel of the unit is more luxurious.
Small refinements, yes, but they add up to a more pleasant and efficient experience. I’d encourage you to opt for the extra $100 or so for the VI model, because you will most likely be keeping it around for a long, long time. One of the best bargains in audio is the older V model, which at $199 is a steal. We also checked out a few Record Doctor accessories, including their solidly built Record Clamp, and Carbon Fiber Brush for lowering the static charge before playing. While you are at it, pickup a refill of their alcohol free, RxLP Record Cleaning Solution. Why? Because you're going to be addicted to cleaning all your albums once you hear how they sound.
The Record Doctor VI is an easy and affordable way to keep your albums sparkling clean, with barely any effort. It’s solidly built, attractively priced at $299, easy to use, beautifully finished, and really, I can’t imagine that being able to get albums any cleaner, or sound any better, especially at this price point. Even the albums that I’ve kept in pristine shape over many years, revealed more music and presence after cleaning, and the color of the used solution was proof of the cleaned gunk.
If I could offer a suggestion for the Record Doctor Executive Engineering Team, it would be to include a bright yellow container to empty the used fluid into. That way, you could really see and show off the results. But I’m strange like that, I’m really happy when I drain a carpet or a vacuum cleaner; it’s an affirmation of filth no longer. There is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing dirt going down the drain. I'm also pretty good at doing dishes.
But I digress - do yourself and your stylus a favor, and use the Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine. If you don’t, you may find yourself waking up at 3am, wondering whether your grooves and undulations are happy and sparkling, or corrupted with the filth of a thousand grains of sand and dust bunnies. Stop obsessing – the world needs you well rested, and your albums need to be well cleaned for that to happen.
Harris Fogel, with editorial input by Nancy Burlan, posted 8/14/2020
For more information on the Record Doctor VI Record Cleaning Machine visit: https://www.pangeaaudio.com/Record-Doctor-VI-Record-Cleaning-Machine
For more information on the Spin-Clean record cleaner visit: https://spinclean.com