VPI 16.5 Record Cleaning Machine

Captain Bacardi

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Just curious if anyone has used the VPI 16.5 Record Cleaning Machine. I've read mostly good reviews but would still like to know if anyone here has actually used it. Music Direct has one for $649, which is a bit pricey, but I would go for it if it's really as good as advertised.

http://www.musicdirect.com/p-7658-vpi-165-record-cleaning-machine.aspx

 

Rudy

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I know a few who use them. My machine is manual, but still does the essential task of vacuuming off the sludge. The VPI automates much of the process. Getting the right cleaning process is part of the battle--there are many cleaning solutions, and each has their admirers. (I will say that Disc Doctor was the worst I ever used--it foamed up, and required three or four rinses, which was 3x as much work.) Last batch I bought was RRL--Record Research Labs--which was purchased by Mobile Fidelity. It was pricey, and I can't really say it was the best I'd ever used, but it did get the records clean. Some out there make their own cleaning fluid.

There is a big argument against using alcohol or even ammonia, but seeing how diluted these can be and how little time they are left on the surface, I personally don't think they do any damage. But, I am not a chemist. (I did read that vinyl was stable with ammonia up to about 150 degrees.) In fact, I picked up some records from an estate sale and while being in nice shape, they were so covered in fingerprints that only ammonia would get most of the residue off; the rest was probably pitting from the acid in the fingerprints.

For rinses, I now use Aquafina, straight out of the bottle. It is quadruple-filtered and about as pure as you can get without spending more for laboratory-grade water.

I've seen used 16.5s out there, and very nearly jumped on one from a fellow SMAC member locally that was listed for $300. VPI sells parts and supports it, so unless the motors are damaged (usually not--most collectors don't abuse these), a used one is a better deal IMHO. They just don't come up for sale all that often.

The vacuums aren't a cure-all, as sometimes the vinyl itself is noisy, or dirt has been ground in so much that the vinyl is pitted. But still, cleaning the records does remove noise, and even more importantly, especially if you start upgrading cartridges, the dirt removed through the vacuum process prolongs stylus life. Dirt in the grooves is like sandpaper. I keep an older turntable around for playing "beater" records, or ones that haven't yet been cleaned, and save the good ones for the Dynavector. :wink:

Music Direct are good folks; Bes has always been helpful with me. In fact, he's on some YouTube videos for Music Direct, including one where he demonstrates using a record cleaning machine.
 

Rudy

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The more I've been reading about vinyl cleaning in the past couple of years, I'm finding that ultrasonic cleaners are the way to go, but the plug-and-play cleaners made for LPs are outrageously expensive. I might make my own, though--it just requires the basic ultrasonic cleaner, along with a frame to hold a motor and spindle to rotate the records. With those and a good cleaning solution, they would clean as well as the pricey cleaners out there.

Even something like a Record Doctor from Audio Advisor would do the basic job of sucking all the crud off the record.
 

KentTeffeteller

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Good machine for average home use. Support very good. Noisy for sensitive ears. Works well. Prefer Loricraft or Keith Monks (but very expensive)
 

Rudy

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Fremer has tried them all, and said the ultrasonic cleaners have gotten his records cleaner than anything else out there. I tend to believe it, especially if the records can soak for a while. I've never believed vacuum cleaning alone can get all of the crud out, as some dirt is stuck on, and a simple rubbing of the fluid over the record for a minute or so won't always get the deep seated crud out. Think about washing a window outside--there are often specks of dirt that refuse to come off even with hard rubbing, but tend to dissolve if water is allowed to sit on them for several minutes (or longer).

I have let cleaning fluids sit on vinyl for a good 15-20 minutes or so, then vacuumed, and re-cleaned. At least I'm confident that some of the deeper seated crud is getting dissolved and lifted out. The right ultrasonic cleaner agitates the water enough that the water and detergent molecules will abrade and release the dirt deep down. I received quite a rarity a few weeks back and it was in rough shape. It's still not perfect, but that deep-seated crud, once removed, made it play back so much better.

I have yet to see an ultrasonic that costs under $3,000 though. A bit steep. I could make my own (there are a lot of DIY options), but even there, a professional ultrasonic tank large enough to half submerge a twelve inch record costs a few hundred dollars. Regardless, I have many records that I swear still have some dirt trapped in the grooves, and an ultrasonic might be the best shot at releasing the crud.

All a VPI and similar machines do is automate the process of applying fluid and sucking it up. The cheaper vac I use, you have to hand-rotate the disc on the vac. I clean the records on an old turntable mat. I had thought of maybe using a Spin Clean to do the scrubbing/cleaning part, but I don't see how a plastic vat with a pair of brushes and some rollers constitutes $80 or more.
 

KentTeffeteller

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When ultrasonic cleaners get affordable, I am interested in trying one. And I can bring some grimey thrift finds to put it to the ultimate test. Rudy, you have a practical sense of things audio, I have high respect for that.
 

Rudy

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When ultrasonic cleaners get affordable, I am interested in trying one. And I can bring some grimey thrift finds to put it to the ultimate test. Rudy, you have a practical sense of things audio, I have high respect for that.
Thanks! I know you have a lot of knowledge on it also. :thumbsup: I know we bump into each other here and there. In fact, I've been at AudioKarma in recent weeks since the changeover (Grumpy, in fact, is a local acquaintance and we're hoping to get together for a listening and BS session soon, once my schedule calms down).

I'm not above trying to make my own cleaner. My biggest concerns with a DIY ultrasonic cleaner are: 1) finding the right type of ultrasonic cleaner (which won't damage the grooves), and 2) protecting the labels from water.

They are indeed expensive. Even the vacuum machines are expensive for what they are. That is why I always keep an eye open for used ones. I had to pass up a VPI 16.5 earlier this year that a local SMAC member was selling for $300 or so. It was just after I'd purchased the power amp (aka "room heater"), so the timing was terrible. :wink:

Overall though, cleaning records is a necessity once you start getting into pricier cartridges. Even a $250 cartridge with replaceable stylus can be a bit of a setback if the stylus wears prematurely due to the crud deep down in the grooves. My cheap "beater" equipment? A quick hit with the Discwasher or other brush or cleaner is fine. Otherwise, I like to keep that "schmutz" off of the stylus. :D
 

KentTeffeteller

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Yes, and especially when it is gimpy homeowner on a budget. I am very fortunate, I get to repair gear and make enough at it to afford nice gear for me and some nice records. P.S. Sometimes repair customers have found me deals. There's the $100 grimy McIntosh MC 2505-2 and MX 114 (wood cases even) which survived some smoke damage in a house, cleaned them up, cleaned up switches and pots, and polished ugly chrome, had to replace a few small electrolytic caps and some tantalum caps. the MX 114 will need new front glass and a minor FM oscillator alignment touchup, both work well and I use them daily. Put a lot of work into them. And enjoying them.
 

Rudy

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When ultrasonic cleaners get affordable, I am interested in trying one.
I may have an opportunity--there are some sellers on eBay that offer a system that you can use with any large ultrasonic cleaner. It suspends the records on a shaft with a low-speed motor/gearbox. With the right tank, the system could come in near $500. Here is one well thought out system:

Ultrasonic Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit - "Vinyl Stack ULTRA Sonic Spin Kit" »

With an appropriate ultrasonic cleaner (not too powerful, but large enough to fit a record), it's a great alternative to the Audio Desk and KLAudio ultrasonic cleaners.

We've been discussing a homebrew cleaning fluid over at AK you may be interested in. Essentially, it's a mix of Tergitol (which the Library of Congress uses), purified water, and a touch of isopropyl alcohol which will loosen the greasy residue (fingerprints). I can use a more dilute mixture in the ultrasonic cleaner to act as a surfactant. But for now, vacuum cleaning is all I have. I just don't find it to be all that effective since it can't really loosen the deep crud out of the grooves (even if I soak it for a stretch). Comparing to the ultrasonic will be an eye opener I'm sure!
 

Rudy

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Four years after this topic came up, I'm happy to say that I did take the plunge on ultrasonic cleaning, largely due to Harry Weisfeld's experiences with both ultrasonic cleaners and record vacuums. (He is the founder of VPI Industries, a turntable and record vacuum manufacturer.) This is an evolving thread where Harry experiments with different cleaning methods and finds a combination that works for him. It involves a short trip through the ultrasonic cleaner to break loose the crud, and a rinse stage through the vacuum to remove all of that loosened crud and further clean up other dirt found in the grooves.

I've found the two-step ultrasonic/vacuum process works better than any other I have used, although I still need to up my game on the vacuum and get something more powerful. I always felt that ultrasonic cleaning alone was loosening the dirt, but wasn't always rinsing it away, as Harry's experiments showed--when he runs his ultrasonic-cleaned LPs through the Cyclone vacuum, the water he dumps out is grey from dirt.

I find that I can just about keep up if I do three records at a time in the ultrasonic cleaner.
 
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