My good friend Jeff Whitlock got me thinking about the fabulous Clearaudio Double Matrix record cleaner. I mean, who wouldn’t love to own one: press a button and it performs a complete cleaning, vacuuming and demagnetizing of both sides of an LP in 2.5 minutes, automatically! He also mentioned that you can program it for a double cleaning or for an indefinite period of brushing with fluid, and it’s only $6000 - a bargain, if you have that kind of spare change.
I’m not lazy. I mean I don’t mind getting up and down to change LPs, and I don’t mind the cleaning process, EXCEPT, there’s a definite limit to how long I can stand there holding a brush against the LP, so I end up with far shorter cleaning periods than is optimal.
When you apply fluids to an LP, whether enzyme based or alcohol based there is a period of time required for the fluid to penetrate, soak and then lift embedded debris out of the groove. Gentle brushing helps this process along, moving a small wave of fluid ahead of the brush, replenishing the groove at the end of each revolution. You can leave the fluid sitting there, but it will tend to dry out, whereas brushing continually re-wets the grooves. This process can go on for many revolutions, but as I stated, my limits are far short of what I think it takes to really clean a record.
There is controversy over whether cavitation based cleaners are safe for LPs or whether they remove vital microscopic bits of vinyl along with the debris. Also, while a bath seems impressive, a brush pushing a wave of fluid is also a bath, just a very shallow one. With a standard record cleaner you use new fluid each time. You’re not using a tank that gets progressively dirtier as time goes on and there’s no need to empty and refill the tank. I’m pretty sure that gentle brushing does not remove vinyl, but to be really effective it needs to go for 30, 40 or more revolutions. I ain’t got that kind of patience.
So I got to thinking about how could I rig up something that will brush the records without me having to stand there for 2.5 - 5 minutes. What if the record is really dirty and needs two kinds of washes plus a rinse? In my book, the rinse does not need to be as long as the brushing. The brushing should have already loosened the debris and the vacuum cycle should have removed what was released, so the rinse cycle is the least of the worries. But having to do two different brushings at 5 to 10 minutes total is more than this mortal can handle. So here’s what I came up with:
One of these can be put together for under $17 in parts. You need one of these: Helping Hands Magnifier Glass Stand with Alligator Clips - https://tinyurl.com/yagbvl6c, some automobile tire weights: https://tinyurl.com/yb5f6b7k, some rubber bands (these serve two purposes, they keep the weights on the base, as the adhesive on the weights doesn’t bond all that well with the pitted surface of the Helping Hands base, and they grab onto the surface of your record cleaner, preventing the unit from sliding. (I’m using the wrap that goes on tennis racquets, but anything that will give a little grip is a good idea). Finally you need some of the Last type of record brushes.
O.K. So these aren’t cheap, $35 for ten at The Needle Doctor, but your cost for one is $3.50, so I think we are still at or near the $17.00 cost I mentioned. The auto tire weights aren’t cheap either, but you’ll only be using pennies worth of them. The ones that are left over can be used for all sorts of audio improvements. See my tweak of the Acoustic Revive RR-888 below.
I removed the magnifying glass and one of the alligator clips. I added the auto tire weights to the base to make it more stable, and to the brush as well. On its own, the brush will not seat well and needs the weights to make positive contact with the surface of the LP. You might want to experiment with how much weight you add to the brush. Orient the brush so that is about 10 degrees off of plumb and place the base on your cleaning machine. You should be able to press gently on the articulated arm to flatten the bush against the LP (after you’ve added your fluid). Voila! You now have a cleaning machine that will push fluids around the grooves for as long as you choose without having to stand there holding a brush, feeling stupid and building up tension in your back. You can go and check you email or make coffee, and come back, remove the unit and vacuum up the well-saturated debris. Just don’t forget you left the LP spinning there. It will dry out after not too long a while. Keep a paper towel handy in case some fluid gets squeegeed off the edge and drips on your machine.
Since I clean really dirty LPs with two different fluids followed by a rinse, I purchased a second unit so that I don’t have to clip and unclip the brushes. Now I just lift one out and put the other one in. I will wager that this setup will clean every bit as well as the Matrix for just the cost of your existing manual machine plus the materials to make your articulated, weighted brush holder. It’s not automatic. You still have to run the vacuum and flip the LP, but the increase in cleaning time accompanied by the fact you don’t have to stand there any more is well worth the investment. The LPs I’ve cleaned so far are the cleanest I’ve ever had. I experimented with several of my favorite pressings that had already been cleaned. I listened to one cut and then did a one step brushing plus rinse cycle on each side. A visual inspection comparing a previously cleaned side with a newly cleaned one showed the new cleaning to be much more thorough. It is sparkling and pristine. The old cleaning appears slightly dull and grainy side by side with the new. I don't think I would have characterized the old cleaning as not fully clean until I had seen the difference. I came back and played the cut again. In every case the presentation was quieter and more transparent than before.
The downside to all of this is that I may have to re-clean all my favorites. Oy!
Let me know if you try it and what you learn. You can post right here. Thanks.