LATEST NEWS HOT OFF THE PRESS :
1) Zen and The Art of Cleaning (Restoring) Records. Received from: Robert Grossman, Retired Music Librarian, Bassoonist, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Audiophile. Jan 2023. Not solicited. Thank you Robert!
I assume you are here reading this as an interested audiophile seeking answers and remedies to caring for your records. If that is the case, then please realize that Charles Kirmuss is an audiophile first and foremost just like you and me. He developed a cleaning machine to address his own pursuits for protecting and restoring records in the best way possible. He shares a common interest with every record collector and listener. He wants to protect, preserve, and hear his records performing at their optimum level of beautiful details, breath of soundscape and resolution with a quiet and clear sound. I spent several hours at the Capital Audio Festival observing and talking to Charles. He was treating records while demonstrating his methodology and answering questions about the machine. He did this for any interested person attending the audio show that wanted to have their records cleaned and restored. Charles does not just thoroughly surface clean a record. His system removes all the dirt and grit, mold and mildew, plus the residue from previous cleaning solutions and record treatment sprays along with the so-called record stamping release agent that occurs as the vinyl is pressed at the high heat of the stampers. (In 1977 the Shure Brothers discovered this "pressing oil", long forgotten until Kirmuss' arrival 11 years ago). The complete removal of all these substances on the records allows it to be restored to play in the absolute best way possible as the needle is now able to sit deeper in the groove and capture the full spectrum of the sound from the elimination of all contamination. Watching Charles in action was seeing a quite affable and knowledgeable guy that was totally engaged with explaining his design, research, and process for restoring records. He then happily allowed people to hear the results. I watched smiles appear on their faces when they did a before and after audition. (He now uses a spectrum analyzer at some shows to prove dB gain over floor).
Even with the background noise of a busy show floor, it was clear from the reactions of people that something special was occurring to clean up their records in a comprehensive way to improve their sound. Now I also took advantage of having Charles clean the ten records that I had brought along to the show as demos. While I thought my records were in good shape and condition, I found out otherwise upon Charles cleaning them. I clearly heard improvements even with his modest turntable and headphones so I was looking forward to hearing the records at home. I was not disappointed when I heard them on my own VPI HW40 turntable and Magneplanar 20.7 speakers. I was quite surprised at the notable improvements in the sound. The surface noise was reduced, the background silence was darker with a deeper sense of space while the music could be more clearly heard. The silent gaps between tracks sometimes fooled me into thinking the record had somehow ended early. The voices of singers took on more clarity and dimension. Instruments had more textures, colors, and overtones. Orchestra or Big Band ensembles had better delineation of the players in each section. The overall effects were impressive and the music took steps into the direction of being more lifelike.
I have been collecting records since teenager years. In fact, my obsessive collecting and organizing of music starting in high school dating back to the 1970’s. This interest led to earning a Master's in Library Science and a lengthy 40 year career as a music librarian with The Philadelphia Orchestra. Part of my research and term papers at Drexel University many years ago dealt with the care, preservation, and use of records. Quite amusingly, I still have those papers that detailed in an annotated bibliography every article and book on the topic that I could locate long before the era of computer searches. My many hours and weeks of manual research work back in 1980 can simply be accomplished these days with Google or other search engines. I grew up in the old days of audio and record collecting making purchases at stores like Sam Goody and Tower records along with Third Street Jazz and H. Royer Smith in Philly. It was a time of many independent music stores with public and school libraries having collections of vinyl to care for. That is quite a contrast to a couple of years ago when I saved the entire classical vinyl collection of 5000 Lps from a music school that was moving and no longer circulating or using records. The records were headed for the dumpster since no institution wanted to take them for their non circulating library.
What does a person do with that many records? I added them to the other 10,000 records that I have been collecting for decades. Which brings me back to discussing the Kirmuss Ultrasonic Cleaner and why I find it to be an excellent solution for cleaning the massive collection of records I own. I have found the results of the Kirmuss Ultrasonic Cleaner (Groove Restoration System) to be a revelation. It is a safe, effective, and productive cleaner for records I use at home. Back in the good old days, the Keith Monk machine was the best although also the most expensive way for libraries, radio station studios, professionals and well heeled audiophiles to clean and maintain their records. The cleaner used a wet washing fluid, brushes, and a vacuum to pull off the residual dirt, debris, and grit from the grooves. The Monk Machine cost thousands of dollars and was used by many libraries, radio stations and other pros. This expensive machine for a cleaning wash and dry process was unaffordable to the average person so Harry Weisfeld at VPI built his early business product around designing and making the excellent HW16.5 cleaner that accomplished the same effective cleaning but at a more reasonable and affordable cost. It has been an exceedingly popular choice over decades and still is a popular and well regarded cleaner today. It is a cleaner I proudly own and use too. My records cleaned with a VPI 16.5 are fine and share the same basic process of wet cleaning records as other vacuum cleaner brands and types being sold today.
However, I have found cleaning records ultrasonically takes the cleaning process into another level of listening results. Regardless of the cleaning action of brushes and fluids with a vacuum system, I think ultrasonic cleaning can do a deeper and more effective cleaning that has a more musical revealing result. This is where the Kirmuss currently comes into play for my record collection.
I had looked at various DIY types of ultrasonic systems as an affordable alternative to wet washing and vacuum drying. There are several of these ultrasonic system gadgets around for sale on eBay and promoted on other forums. I was concerned about their safety and reliability to handle records and not cause any damage to the vinyl. I was not confident that using any basic commercially available ultrasonic tank with an external rotating arm and skewering records with donut shaped O rings to protect the labels was the correct and safest system to use. (Many such systems have been proven to be ultrasonic bubblers, and do not use cavitation).
I have found the Kirmuss to be a very reliable and safe semi-automatic ultrasonic cleaner system for records. I refer to it this way since it does require some manual intervention and supervision along with hand and eye coordination. The techniques and time needed for cleaning, handling, and the involvement to facilitate the cleaning/restoration process is not difficult to learn. I found it took cleaning about a dozen records to develop a sense of the action and number of rounds to optimize the record restoration process. The Kirmuss uses an ultrasonic cleaning tank along with a goat hair brush and (Ionizing) surfactant spray that is manually applied for assisting in the cleaning process.(That changes the charge of the record to be opposite to that of water, attracting the effects of ultrasonic cavitation). The records easily drop into a top slot with rotating wheels for the ultrasonic cleaning treatment yet the cleaned record coming out of the tank requires a water spray rinse and drying with an optical microfiber cloth. Indeed, I have seen and read the comments and complaints on various forums about the Kirmuss process being too time consuming and difficult. It is true that the system requires more supervision and hands on involvement compared to the one step automatic ultrasonic cleaners that simply drop a record into a slot like a piece of bread going into a toaster that pops out when it is done. But the rewards and time spent with the Kirmuss machine are a thorough cleaning and more comprehensive view of the record condition with the visual awareness of the record groove cleanliness and restoration. It accomplishes a complete cleaning of old grease and fingerprints, the elimination of mold and mildew spores, the removal of old cleaning fluids and record treatment residues, and even the so-called release agent that occurs during the manufacturing process of a record. A good amount of speed and quality cleaning can be accomplished with practice, a planned record cleaning ritual and a properly setup workstation on a clean countertop that allows an efficient workflow to commence. (Once done, the 3 or 4 or 5 cycles do not have to be repeated)
As a professional musician and librarian, I am used to having the motivation and discipline to practice and rehearse music. I know that a lot of work takes place before a performance occurs while the audience simply shows up to relax and enjoy the concert. Being a professional musician and librarian, I respect and realize that an approach to cleaning records systematically with organization, accuracy, repeatable results, and efficiency is part of the ritual, need and process for enjoying records. The Kirmuss enables me to clean 10 to 20 records a day in two shifts, morning and night. The clean records are all repackaged with new inner and outer sleeves with a date marked onto the inner sleeve. I have accomplished a lot of practice along the way with having cleaned over 500 records in the past year.
Colleagues in the Orchestra know that I follow an active Hot Yoga practice. I find it to be a moving mediation and act of mindfulness. I find a similar connection and process with cleaning records with awareness and a consistent methodology that brings excellent musical rewards at the end. I approach record cleaning with a Zen like state of mind. I know giving records 2, 3, or 4 rounds in the tank with a surfactant brushing treatment between rounds in the tank will get them to a level of cleanliness and restoration perfection that is a process and path to hear and enjoy music in an enlightened way.
Using the Kirmuss can eliminate the dirt and debris that causes sound playback issues along with groove and stylus wear. Also, my concern for mold or mildew is eliminated because of the small addition of 40 ml of 70% isopropyl alcohol to the tank which does not harm the elasticity component in the record vinyl. (Used to kill live or dormant fungus.) (Records come out virtually dry). . I then proceed to place each of the clean records into new sleeves.
The slots and wheels on the Kirmuss lid allow for the easy and safe handling of your records. The reaction and cleaning of the record grooves to the ultrasonic cleaning bath water can be observed and seen for a person to decide upon the required rounds. The wiping with a microfiber cloth using the Kirmuss record pad spinner totally dries (removes the few droplets of remaining water). I use a record rack with silicone tips on the dividers so the records can accumulate to the end of the cleaning session before being packaged into new sleeves.
I also happen to own 300 of the old 1950s era 10-inch records so some days I clean the smaller discs.
In summary, the care and cleaning of records is a serious responsibility and detailed process. It is an important investment of our time and effort. A proper worktable and cleaning area to spread out all the equipment and records is helpful and necessary to be relaxed and focused while treating the records. The results from cleaning and the use of a new replacement acid free sleeve is a reward for protecting our precious and valuable records from damage and deterioration from dirty playing time along with hearing music presented with a much clearer and engaging sound. The Kirmuss ultrasonic will do a superb job of cleaning your records while allowing the process to be directly observable so you can learn the condition of your vinyl. It is safe for your records and will not leave any residues. It is a musically rewarding use of your time relative to the volume of records that can be cleaned in a dedicated session. The results are so great that I will no longer play records without them being cleaned (restored) by the Kirmuss. I have a pile of records waiting to be cleaned. It is a process of anticipation and waiting for hearing something else like going to the store for acquiring more records since I know the cleaned records will be revealing new music information. It is now an indispensable part of my approach of enjoyment and preservation of music for my stereo system.
2) TRUTH IN ADVERTISING:
In Michael Fremer's Analog Corner, August 2022, Stereophile Magazine, he questions the matter of record cleaning and care, suggesting there be standards. Just as J.R. Boisclair of Wally Tools has disrupted myths surrounding tone arms and cartridges and their alignment, so has KirmussAudio, presenting evidence as to testing of various record cleaning machines and processes. Many sold as ultrasonics do no use cavitation. As to records, at the DC show, Kirmuss restored used records from visitors that were initially surface cleaned and shined by vacuum cleaning systems, measured was on average a1.8 dB gain over floor after processing using the Rowland Design Capri S2 preamp.
Proven, using digital microscopy and signal analyzers, only does the Kirmuss Process remove films left over from prior cleaning methods used as well as the pressing oil that surfaces during the record manufacturing process.
The Keyence VHX-7000 digital 2D/3D microscope is used to see dirt and dust caught in the pressing's release agent that surfaces to allow the "hot" record to "pop out" of the stamper, heard as a pop in a new record. The microscope measures the reduced height of the groove where the release agent has been removed.
With the "pop" removed by the Kirmuss process, a net increase in signal over floor is measured depending on the provenance of the record, this measured using signal analyzers, Shure and Ortofon Cartridge testers, and VU meters. ..and your ears! (Before and after measurements taken).
With release agent and any films left over from air or vacuum drying removed, this increases the imagery, soundstage, and timbre of the record, it's like seeing your needle ride the stamper!
As to the myth of ultrasonic frequency: The Kirmuss KA-RC-1 uses a 35 KHz, 810 Cavin measured even ultrasonic signal throughout the tank, which is modified with a passive resonance of 70 KHz to even out the known uneven effects of cavitation. Mentioning “wattage” on a product data sheet has no meaning. Rather, pressure needs to be measured throughout the tank to see even effectiveness between records from record's edge to the dead wax area. This as where ultrasonic transducers produce an audio signal which when coupled to a stainless steel metal tank then excites the liquid that it makes contact with, creating microbubbles that rise, which in turn implode unevenly, causing that uncontrolled “plasma wave”. The closer the records are to each other, standing waves negate the effects of cavitation. As dust, dirt and fungus are 3 to 5 microns in size, they are removed easily by a 35 KHz base sonic signal. The 40 KHz and especially 120 KHz and higher frequencies while they, to the layperson, create a smaller bubble size with increased velocity as a result of cavitation, to the contrary assumption, these are not destined and known to easily remove dirt and dust of 3 to 5 microns in a 6 to 35 micron “V-shaped” groove. Rather, these higher frequencies are best suited to be used on items of greater detail than those found in a record's groove. The 120 KHz range sonics if they do use cavitation are therefore destined to better remove the smaller sub micron 0.05 bacteria found in the manufacture of silicon chips, substrates, spacecraft borne items, especially bacteria found in endoscopic cameras and medical instruments. Not dirt and dust in record grooves. Further: Bacteria do not affect the needle picking up music and the detail pressed by the stamper. To 25 KHz machines as used by many DIY enthusiasts with those notorious rotisserie skewers assemblies: known for their annoying loud noise, they are best suited for removal the removal of oil and grease.