· By Steffen Smith
Are Ultrasonic Record Cleaners Worth the Money?
Hopefully, you’ve checked out the Deaf Man's previous blogs and videos on the best ways to clean your vinyl records. So far, we’ve covered how to bust the dust using a carbon fiber brush and a Discwasher pad. We’ve gone over wet cleaning with record cleaning solution. And we’ve played around with very effective little cleaning machine, the Vinyl Style Deep Groove Record Washer.
We’ve been moving up the pyramid of cleaning accessories, and now we’re at the very tippy top. At the pinnacle are ultrasonic record cleaners. These are the thermonuclear option for getting the gunk out of your grooves.
Tiny Bubbles, Clean Grooves
Ultrasonic cleaners use high frequency vibrations to push water — actually tiny bubbles — into the grooves. It’s the same technology that jewelers use to deep clean a diamond ring. These microscopic bubbles implode with a force that loosens and carries away contaminants.
Unlike the other cleaning processes we discussed, this one is touchless. There is no physical contact with the record — no brushes or cloths to potentially drag dirt particles across the surface of the record. So, no risk to the record. Bottom line, an ultrasonic record cleaner is more effective at removing dust and grime than any other process I’ve found.
Watch Your Water
The setup is pretty simple. You fill the tank with water. Distilled water is the best way to go, but I have a pretty serious under-sink water filter, so I use filtered tap water. I’d be cautious about using unfiltered city water or well water, which often has funky chemicals as well as suspended sediment and minerals floating around. I use warm water, and my ultrasonic cleaner has a built-in heater, which I use to keep the water at a steady temp.
To the water, I add two capfulls of cleaning solution, which breaks the surface tension of the water and helps the solution get deep into the grooves. It also helps the records dry spot-free.
Ready, Set, Blast
Then, you load the records onto the spindle, separating them with plastic label protectors, which have an o-ring to prevent the cleaning solution from reaching the record label.
Next, set your cleaning time. I use the 5-minute run time when I have an otherwise clean record that has just a touch of dust on it. You can also use this for a quick clean of new records before playing them for the first time. My model also has an 8, 10 and 15-minute setting. I use the 15-minute setting to blast the gunk out of really gnarly records. Then, you switch on the spindle drive and push go.
An ultrasonic machine isn't noisy per se, but it does have a distinct sound. Kind of a cross between a dentist’s drill and the buzzer in that game Operation that I had as a kid. Noticeable, but not unbearable.
When time is up, turn off the spindle drive and tilt the spindle up to keep everything out of the solution, and let it drip.
You can leave your records on the spindle to dry, but if you’ve got a bunch of records to clean, you can pull them off and put them on a drying rack. I use dish drying racks and do about 60 records at a time. I’ve also cleaned 7-inch 45’s with this system.
How Much Does an Ultrasonic Cost?
OK, so now the downside to ultrasonic cleaners … they’re bloody expensive. You can easily drop a grand, maybe 2 grand on one. That’s why I was stoked to find this one from Isonic. In March of 2022, I got this model for $693.
But as I looked the other day, the prices are more in the $750 to $850 range. What I love about this one is that it can clean 10 records at a shot. I clean tons of used records every day for our record store, and this helps me really plow through them.
Does Ultrasonic Cleaning Work?
Absolutely! You wouldn’t believe the gunk that winds up at the bottom of the tank. Speaking of which, my Isonic comes with a drain hose that you attach, open the valve and let the dirty water out. Bottom line, you’re not going to believe the improvement in sound quality when you deep clean all that schmutz out of the grooves.
One caveat: In my experience, an ultrasonic cleaner will typically not remove fingerprints or greasy smudges. You'll need to go over them with a lint-free cloth as you're drying your records after a run through the machine.
So, is an ultrasonic record cleaner really worth it? Well, it depends. This is big-boy toy. But you don’t need to be an audiophile to cost-justify this thing. If you routinely buy a lot of used records full of flea market funk, it makes sense. If you’ve inherited a collection from someone, it makes sense. If you want to go back and deep clean your existing collection, it makes sense.
A Special Offer for YOU!
For the money, it’s hard to beat these ultrasonic cleaners from Isonic. And for a little icing on the cake, I reached out to them, and they’ve agreed to give friends of the Deaf Man a few extras when you order from their website. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention "Deaf Man Vinyl deal." Depending on the model you choose, they'll throw in an extra bottle or two of cleaning solution ($11) or a set of double sided tape discs ($18) that allow you to stick label protectors back to back, which is a big time-saver when loading records.
Of course, we’ve got a full line of record cleaning accessories at www.deafmanvinyl.com — including carbon fiber brushes, Discwasher pad cleaners and even Deep Groove record-cleaning machines. We always appreciate your business.
Until next time, keep 'em spinning!