From End Users On Our KA-RC1 Record Cleaning & Restoration System
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.
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. 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. (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. 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 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. (Even new pressings). 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.
May 2023, Volunteer record custodian
I have been using the Kirmuss machine for about 4 years. I started studying record care before the Kirmuss machine was known about or brought to market. I studied everything I could get my hands on about record care and cleaning and got into the possibility of "restoration". I then went deep for two years looking at chemicals, their reaction with PVC, methods of cleaning, spoke with undergrads studying different aspects and even running my own experiments as I could, etc.
I eventually landed on a vacuum RCM (VPI) and AIVS chemicals (which I know backwards and forwards of the ingredients and what they do and do not do, which is why I use them exclusively) as my way, mostly because I could not afford a "cavitation" machine and in my research the ones available were the wrong transducer frequency, wrong array, terrible transport systems, used fans or air drying and not conducive to record cleaning let alone restoration. (In fact some made things worse)!
I learned what the correct configuration for such a machine would be and waited for somebody to come out with one. A few years later, Kirmuss Audio produced just such a machine, the right transducer frequency, the right array, the right transport, all of it! I contacted Mr. Kirmuss to congratulate him on that and ended up in lengthy conversations talking about it all. At first, I was skeptical in calling the machine and subsequent process "restoration", but then I looked into what it takes and the process to restore paintings and photographs and it is almost the exact same sans the ultrasonic! So now it makes sense and on top of that the evidence that restoration is happening is irrefutable.
I still use the VPI for initial "cleaning" as that is "cleaning" NOT "restoration". Technically, it is the first step in the restoration process though. Doing that helps care for the ultrasonic machine and I don't have to change the water after every record as the surface contaminates have been removed without any residue left and therefore it is easier to then get at the deeper more embedded contaminates straight away that the chemicals and all the vacuuming in the world just can't do. The Kirmuss machine not only does further cleaning, but "restores" records through the process.
(I don't mind vacuuming the record dry when cleaning with the VPI because I know what I am doing, but that is on the cleaning side, using the Kirmuss machine only requires lint free microfiber hand drying. Any other method is a step in the opposite direction and wasteful).
I see many (especially audiophiles) that do not like the Kirmuss machine and the method required simply because "it's too much work" and they prefer spending two to three times the cost at least to get a fully automated "so-called cavitation" machine that is really just a bubbler or of the wrong frequency, or water, chemical unknown and scrubber, etc. thinking that it is the same but more convenient. Sorry, not the same at all! (note once restored with films left over from prior cleaning systems vacuum or air dried, film from the outgassing of the record's plasticizer trapped in the record's sleeve, and the release agent (Pressing Oil-Shure Brothers 1977) removed, only a 2 minute "sufrace cleaning" needed if we have handled the record and left skin and fingerprint oils on the record, something unavoidable)
Restoring anything requires time and correct methods, it can't be done in five minutes. It is like cooking good food, it takes a certain amount of time to prepare a good meal, a 4 minute microwave dinner is not the same thing and tastes completely different. A good meal or dish can be savored and enjoyed, a microwave dinner can not!
Some records may only require two 5 minute cycles or a little less, while others may require 4 cycles or 6 cycles, etc. I say after 6 or 7 cycles, if no improvement or what have you, then that record is not restorable and time to give up and move on and get a different copy or something.
Not only does restoration help your stylus last longer and all, but the big immediate thing is the difference in how your records sound. I'm into original pressings and the like. Much of the music I enjoy has not been reissued anyway and what has been is of provenance unknown. With what I have gained as I started using the Kirmuss system (with some very subtle modifications in methodology of my own to ensure protocols with my education in it - full-time study for two years just in the restoration part) is nothing short of astounding. I have brought records I thought had no chance at all back to life and not barely, but fully playable with at least 3 times gain and little to near no extra noise. I monitor grade the records I work on using studio monitor flat headphones as I go through the process. I have turned records with a sonic grade of G into VG++! (That is the colloquial "holy grail" or goal to achieve for used records. I have had higher grades of M- to M on occasion after restoration, which is pure gravy). I have had total fails as well, but that is very infrequent. Out of 800 records I have had about 5 or 6 total fails that just would not get above a sonic grade of G+ (which is fairly unlistenable) It happens, perhaps too many of the wrong things were used by the previous owner, or the record was played with an improperly set up table or whatever. Can't help that, but otherwise it is pure pleasure. For me, it is not about monetary value of records, you can't nail that down at all, it is all over the place. I don't sell records, I purchase them to have in my library and play them to enjoy. Restoring them and the Kirmuss machine has made that a reality. A real game changer.
So I am a proud owner of one of the first anniversary machines and still going strong. While I like the Upscale 5th anniversary version, I can really only track two records at a time in the process, so the original transport is good for me even though I have no 10 inch records and maybe only six 7 inch.
The other thing I notice in the comments here and elsewhere is that people are calling the chemical used a cleaning agent or surfactant. It is neither. The cleaning agent is the water and transducers, etc. of the machine. The spray (propyl 2 very basically) merely changes the charge of the record to attract the cavitation (bubbles) to do the work. "Surfactants" change the surface tension, which is not the same thing. Some also complain about the cost of the agent. Sure, it is a bit pricy, but what isn't now? Everything has gone up. However, when you factor in what it does and the role it plays in the process and that one can do a number of records with one bottle and finally, the results..it is worth saving a few extra pennies to get more when you run out. It is also not a sin to take a break for a month or something once in a while. The most important rule is to have time to listen and enjoy the music!! I don't know anyone who wants to spend years strictly restoring or cleaning records.