In 1886, Emile Berliner invented the flat disc record. A year or two later, that disc was probably covered in dust, dog fur, and an infinite number of mould particles. No doubt Emile ran into the same problem that all vinyl-philes do: how do I clean the damned things?
During the past five years, a few courageous vinyl nuts have brought record cleaning machines (RCMs) to the audiophile market which use ultra-sonic transducers. These machines clean records in a similar way to that which high frequency sterilization has been applied to surgical tools, precious gems, and printed circuit boards.
Kirmuss Audio’s new KARC-1 vinyl restoration system (MSRP $1,200 CAD) is the first RCM to offer ultra-sonic record cleaning at, by audiophile standards, an affordable price.
Kirmuss Audio’s KARC-1 measures 22” wide x 11.5” high, x 11” deep. The unit features a top panel mounted LCD touch screen control.
Three transducers in the bottom of the unit generate ultra-sonic “waves” at the 35 KHz level. These high-frequency waves agitate the cleaning solution held within the machine’s basin and create microscopic bubbles. The cavitation forces the microscopic bubbles into a record’s groove walls and valleys. Upon contact, the bubbles burst. The bursting bubbles dislodge and expunge dirt, dust particles, mould, microbial fungus, and microscopic contaminants which, Kirmuss claims, vacuum and brush-based RCMs do not remove as effectively.
The unit comes with an A/C cord, a drain hose, a parastatic felt brush, and a wee bottle of anti-bacterial / anti-static surfactant spray that’s comprised of 99% distilled water and 1% diol-2 propyl alcohol. A budding vinyl enthusiast only needs to buy distilled water, isopropyl alcohol, and a clean spray bottle to dive right into using the machine. A two year warranty also comes standard.
The *12-Step* Cleaning Method:
Somewhat like trying to diffuse a dodgy homemade Yemeni time-bomb in a breathtakingly humid +140˚ Fahrenheit Algerian lavatory that’s choking with wafting autumn dog flatulence, using an ultra-sonic RCM for the first time is intimidating. And I get that. I really do. I found, however, that Kirmuss’ machine was easy to work with. Like any repetitive process, once I’d gotten into a rhythm with cleaning my records, it became routine.
At the time of this writing, the Kirmuss Audio website needed a serious re-think. It was very… ehm… busy. As such, to help potential buyers better understand how to use the KARC-1, I’ll go through the cleaning process in detail. [Editor’s note: since this review was written, Kirmuss Audio has launched a new, significantly improved website. The new site contains links to a how-to-use tutorial as well as a written guide].
Step#1: Place the KARC-1 on a flat level surface. BEFORE plugging the unit’s A/C cord in, fill the basin with a mixture of 6 litres of distilled water and 40mL of 70% solution isopropyl alcohol. Depending on how dirty your records are, you’ll need to discard and replace this mix after 15 to 20 cleaning cycles. Be sure that the machine is NOT powered up when filling or emptying the basin. Never turn the power *ON* with an empty basin. Doing so might damage the machine and will definitely void its warranty.
Step #2: Install the supplied A/C power cord and then flick the rear-panel “Power” switch to the *ON* position. The top panel LCD screen’s display will read “5 minutes”.
Step #3: To “de-gas” the water / isopropyl solution, press the “Pulse” button twice. This removes the air from the solution, which was introduced as the solution was poured into the basin. This process takes about 1 minute and 30 seconds.
Step #4: Re-attach the top cover, press the “Power” button twice, and then slide a record or two into the cleaning slots. Kirmuss’ KARC-1 can clean two 33⅓ records, one 45, and one 78 speed record at the same time.
Step #5: After the 5 minute cleaning cycle is complete, remove the record and place it on the supplied 7” diameter felt mat and micro-fibre cloth.
Step #6: Spray the supplied surfactant agent at the 12 o’clock, 4pm, and 8pm positions on the record. Then use the goat hair brush to work the surfactant into the grooves in a circular motion. Flip the record over and repeat this process for the B-side. A residue that’s similar to a light veneer of toothpaste will (probably) form on the record’s surface. Don’t fret none… this is normal. Slide the record back into the KARC-1’s cleaning slot and repeat the 5 minute wash cycle. The surfactant, together with the ultrasonic action, dislodge the contaminants in the grooves of the record during this step.