For a long time now there’s been a large gap in the record cleaner market. Manual cleaning machines such as the Knosti and Spin Clean cater for the budget-conscious record collector, while mid-priced vacuum machines such as the Okki Nokki and Moth among others cater for those who’ve amassed a larger record collection and wish to achieve better cleaning results than a manual, air-drying machine can offer. And of course, machines such as the Audio Desk Systeme or the ClearAudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic are a significant investment for those with the largest vinyl collections.
The gap exists between the budget and mid-priced sector. There’s a significant jump in price between the £100 spin clean (and of course the £40 Knosti), and the widely regarded Okki Nokki and Moth priced at £400 and £500 respectively. The VCS, a new £299 cleaning machine from revered turntable manufacturer Pro-Ject Audio Systems aims to bridge that gap.
In principle the VCS is not unlike the aforementioned vacuum systems. A cleaning fluid (Pro-Ject’s ‘Wash It’ in this case) is applied to a rotating record, and spread to form an even layer at which point the record is vacuumed and the fluid (and dirt) removed. The VCS however includes a few features omitted from many of the machines at this price – including a label protector and a fast, bi-directional platter enabling a record to perform a full rotation in under 2 seconds. Such features may seem trivial, but make a significant difference in terms of cleaning time and record safety.
The machine is supplied as a complete kit including a 100ML bottle of the standard Wash It concentrate which must be diluted at a 5 to 1 ratio with distilled or demineralised water. The standard Wash It formula contains isopropyl alcohol and is not suitable for cleaning 78s – to that end, Pro-Ject offer the Wash It 78 formula which removes the alcohol component and is therefore safe for use on shellac records. A goats hair applicator brush and a ‘ball knob’ clamp are also included along with a power cable, vacuum arm with a spare set of adhesive velvet strips and the platter and label protector.
An optional dust cover is available for an additional £25, the holes for which are pre-drilled in the rear of the machine. A replacement brush priced at £20, record clamp priced at £55, vacuum arm priced at £55 and draining spout priced at £4.50 are also available. The standard Wash It concentrate is available in 100ML, 250ML, 500ML and 1L capacities priced at £15, £20, £28.50 and £40.00 respectively. The Wash It 78 concentrate is available in capacities of 250ML or 1L priced at £20 and £40 respectively.
The machine supports the cleaning of both 10” and 12” records. The base plate and label protector are too large to enable cleaning of a 7” record, as is the slot on the vacuum arm. While it’s an inconvenience, the inability to clean a 7” record isn’t of concern to me as it’s a limitation shared by the competition. The moth can’t clean them lest the vacuum arm is modified, and the Okki Nokki and those that share its design require an expensive vacuum arm replacement. If you’re a DIY connoisseur with the facilities to manufacture a couple of plastic discs and to cut a piece of pipe, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to create a couple of smaller platters and a vacuum arm adapter for the VCS to clean your 45s.
The VCS looks not dissimilar to other machines on the market. Its veneered wood enclosure features a top-mounted 30RPM platter motor and a tower for the vacuum arm, while the rear hosts an IEC inlet socket and a mains switch. On the right, 2 rocker switches cater for bi-directional platter rotation and vacuum power, while the left-hand-side features a fluid level gauge and a plastic cap which, when removed, provides an opening into which the spout can be inserted and the internal 2.5L fluid tank drained..
The underside features an access panel cut into which are a selection of air vents. Visible through those vents are the machines internals including the large vacuum motor, spindle motor and tank. 4 Rubber feet prevent the machine sliding around on your surface, and raise it up enough to allow the vents to do their job.
The level of fit and finish is excellent, as is the build quality. The switches are neatly set into the machine and don’t protrude as they do on the Moth; and the wooden enclosure is sealed to protect against any accidental spillage that may occur. The only issue I encountered with the quality of the machine concerned the label seals on both the base plate and label protector. They consist of a length of an elasticated rubber material pressed into a groove running around the circumference of the clamps. The material would often come free from its groove, and was fiddly to reinstall. ProJect’s UK distributor Henley Designs are aware of the issue and assure me that it will be fixed in the next batch of machines.
Setup is as simple as installing the platter with the aid of a philips screwdriver and placing the vacuum arm into the metal vacuum tower. A small protrusion aligns with 1 of 2 grooves in the vacuum tower depending on whether the arm is in the home or cleaning position. The power cable can then be connected, and the rear mains switch activated.
To clean a record, the record must first be clamped between the label-sided platter and label protector, the rubber seals of which not only prevent fluid damage to the label, but also grip the record removing the necessity to over-tighten the ball clamp. With a record in place, a line of fluid can be applied to the record, and (with the record rotating) spread using the included brush.
Once the record is evenly coated, the vacuum can be switched on and the arm lifted, swivelled, and dropped atop the record. A single rotation taking roughly 2 seconds is all that is required to vacuum the surface of the record at which point the vacuum and rotation motors can be switched off and the vacuum arm lifted and returned to the home position.
This process can then be repeated for the other side of the record. Of course, the bi-directional motor allows the record to be brushed and vacuumed in both directions and in some cases doing so can produce better results; though excessive use of the vacuum can result in a static build-up on the record. Pro-Ject also suggest allowing the fluid to sit on the record for approximately 10 seconds to allow any impurities in the grooves to be dissolved. Total cleaning time on average is less than 2 minutes per record.
Being a vacuum machine the VCS makes a fair amount of noise in operation, though it’s certainly quieter than its competitors. Unlike the Moth, I was able to use the machine for short cleaning periods without the use of hearing protection – though hearing protection is certainly recommended if you’re planning on using the VCS for an extended cleaning session. The VCS doesn’t get particularly hot in operation, and providing the vents beneath remain unobstructed it’ll run for hours without issue.
Results are excellent. First on the machine was a new pressing of Frank Turner’s ‘Tape Deck Heart’. The Wash It fluid combined with the VCS did a sterling job of removing the slightly sticky mould release agent covering the vinyl surface leaving it smooth and shiny. The sound after cleaning is crystal clear and quiet.
Next up, Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged arrived from the factory with a generous helping of mould release compound, served up with a layer of dirt and a healthy static charge. The anti-static properties of the Wash It fluid instantly did away with the static charge, and the machine made short work of removing the impurities covering the vinyl surface resulting in another perfectly clean, quiet album.
Of course, the review wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t test the machine with a couple of truly filthy albums. The 2 albums in question were both compilations – ‘Hot Hits 17’ (MFP50057) and ‘Street Sounds Hiphop 20’ (ELCST 20). The cleaning process for both albums was the same, with the fluid being applied in a straight line to the record and brushed across the surface in both directions and allowed to settle for 10 seconds before vacuuming in the clockwise direction for 2 rotations.
The below audio file captures the side 1 lead in groove of ‘HipHop 20’ both before and after cleaning.
As you can hear, the difference is marginal but noticeable. Our ‘hot hits’ record, however, yielded a far different result. Here is a capture of the lead-in groove and the first few seconds of track 1:
and here it is after cleaning:
As you can clearly hear the sound was vastly improved after cleaning. This record also has significant groove wear and was covered in dirt and finger marks – yet after a clean with the VCS it was certainly more than listenable.
In summary; I don’t know about you, but I think those audio files speak for themselves. The VCS is a high quality yet affordable cleaning machine that produces outstanding results. It’s well made, relatively compact, reasonably quiet and extremely user friendly. Truth be told, I can’t think of a machine that offers the features and performance of the VCS for such a modest outlay. Highly recommended.
Update 31/05/2016. All VC-S models now ship with an alcohol-free wash it solution suitable for cleaning both vinyl records and shellac 78s. The record clamps have also been revised – gone are the elasticated rubber seals which were a source of constant frustration to me the more I used the machine. They’ve been replaced with a pair of adhesive foam rubber discs which adhere to the metal plates and grip the record. This is a far better design, especially as the aforementioned ‘ball knob’ clamp is now also attached to the top plate meaning there are fewer parts to lose when the machine isn’t being used.
Hi Ashley. Do you have, or can you get, any insider information on shipment delays of the Pro-Ject VC-S?
I’m in the U.S. I ordered one from a reputable/authorized U.S. retailer back in August with an expected ship date of sometime in October. In September, the ship date was pushed back to December. Other authorized Pro-ject dealers in the U.S. also report stock-outs with December as the expected shipment date.
The wait is only a minor annoyance. The bigger issue for me is this: Is the shipment delay simply due to super high demand for the machine? Or because Pro-Ject is tweaking the design after users have reported problems, e.g. with the velvet strips coming off too soon.
If Pro-Ject is making design improvements, then I feel a lot better about waiting. Take your time, Pro-Ject! I’m paying (for me) a lot and planning on using my RCM for many years. It’s worth a couple months to make sure they get it right.
But if I’m waiting months and months for a machine that’s just as likely to have annoying defects as the ones other people bought last winter and spring, I’d rather buy a different brand of RCM.
Last month, I asked Pro-Ject about this directly via their Facebook Page. They did not acknowledge any customer problems, rather, they said that each production run sells out quickly because of high demand. They also said they just sent a new shipment to U.S. retailers so I shouldn’t have to wait much longer. That was a month ago. I’m still waiting.
If you have any info about any of this, I’d be grateful.
All of the production issues appear to have been sorted. The clamps were fixed soon after the initial production run, and the issue with the velvet strips had to do with the finish on some arms being too smooth which has now been rectified. The latter issue only affected a small number of units. I have one of the later production machines and it’s been faultless so far, having cleaned several hundred records. There is extremely high demand for these machines, so a December shipment date is about right.
Would it be safe to assume, that in the UK any models in the current supply chain are ones where the issues have been fixed?
Yes. The UK distributor will only be shipping new production units by now. I think the issues were fixed in early April.
So what is the consensus on the best liquid for the Project cleaner, the L ‘Art du Son cleaner or the Wash It non-alcohol?
I have a bottle of the new alcohol-free Wash It solution and I must say it’s very good. I’ve yet to obtain some L’Art du Son to compare but hope to do so very soon. L’Art du Son is cheaper, but I suspect both will give very good results.
Bioethenol and distilled water (50/50). Much cheaper and also is excellent for cleaning jewelry and most other items as well. Leaves no deposit. I have used this solution for over 3 years now. If you add just two drops of dishwasher rinse agent the solution it will remove all static from vinyl and keep them static free.
and Finish rinse agent (though all seem to work as well)
Yes I use them too, or https://golyath.co.uk/collections/distilled-water
I’m having an issue with getting the self adhesive velvet strips to stay attached
Bought a new set and these have started to come away from the vacuum arm too
Very annoying anyone else have this problem
I haven’t experienced this. Did you ensure the surface of the vacuum arm was clean before replacing the strips? Are you perhaps using a cleaning fluid which is dissolving the glue on the strips?
Yeah made sure the area was totally clean and dry I’m using the solution that came with the machine
Sent an email to Henley designs see if they can help
Only thing I can think of its a faulty arm but it looks fine to me 🙁
Some kind of fault with the finish of the arm is the only solution I can think of too I’m afraid. Henley designs are the best people to help with such an issue.
I have raised this question with Henley Designs as I had read elsewhere of this problem with the Pro-ject. They are aware of the issue and working with Pro-ject on a solution.
Having the same issue – replaced with second set and almost immediately started peeling off again. Not sure what to do to sort it. It’s a shame as it’s the only major irritant to an otherwise great product.
Thanks for your feedback. I need to speak to Henley designs anyway so I will mention the issue and see if there’s a recommended temporary solution and when they hope to have a permanent solution in place.
Thanks ashley that would be great if sent them an email too but no reply as yet
Thanks , that would be great
Henley are sending me a new arm so hopefully this will help
And I can get cleaning those records again lol
Hi, Did they suggest the coating/finish of the arm was an issue?
They didn’t say but was gonna send more strips until I said I didn’t think it was the strips
I’ll update how the new arm goes
I think its more likely to be the type of adhesive used on the pads rather than an issue with the arm.
It might be worth giving the arm a clean with isopropyl alcohol to remove any residues from the factory manufacturing and handling process which may be hindering adhesion.
Frankly, though Henley designs/Pro-ject should sort this problem not the end user. I have delayed purchasing one of these machines until these teething issues are sorted.
New arm received cleaned about 10 records today velvet strips stayed attached and cleaned records like a dream
Thanks Henley designs
I have approached Henley regarding the issue with the adhesive strips. Apparently there have been a few arms that were either too smooth or had imperfections in the finish, preventing the glue adhering to the arm. The factory are working on a resolution, but this is not a universal problem. If you’re experiencing the same issue and replacement strips don’t solve the problem, I’d advise contacting them directly (assuming you’re in the UK of course). If you’re outside the UK, your local distributor or dealer will be able to help.
I have read with interest the article from London Jazz Collector
Having carefully listened to the audio clips on the above website and those here, I believe whilst the audio post cleaning sound significantly quieter, to my ears there appears to be a slight flattening of dynamics and rolling off of high frequency information.
The audio posts here were after cleaning with the standard Pro-Ject fluid as some was supplied with the review sample. I ended up buying the review sample of the machine, but switched to the LJC fluid when the Pro-Ject fluid ran out as I feel their fluid is too expensive compared to the competition and the cost of making your own. That said there are a couple of factors that may influence what you’re hearing, most notably the interface used to capture the audio from the turntable. In person the music sounds identical, I think the perceived lack of dynamics is due to the lead up to the music being quieter in the second (clean) clip.
The effect I hear is on both the audio clips from Audio Appraisal and LJC, but more so on the latter which sound like they have come from a higher quality source and therefore perhaps a bit more revealing.
To digress slightly for a moment, when records were manufactured in pre-digital times using an all analogue recording and mastering chain, it was normal practice for the recording or cutting engineer to apply a slight lift to the high frequencies. This was to counter the fact that as a newly pressed record comes off the stamper it cools and the vinyl relaxes slightly causing contraction of the groove modulation resulting in high frequency roll off.
Back to alcohol based cleaning potions, and I am speculating here, but I wonder whether the alcohol momentarily softens the vinyl compound creating a similar effect to that described above. I have experimented with Isopropyl/Distilled water based potions in the past and have in almost every case heard a change in the sonic presentation of the record with a subtle flattening of micro dynamics and high frequency roll off, which could be perceived as a smoothness resulting from the record being cleaner.
The actual Poly vinyl chloride compounds used for manufacturing records does vary, and the effect I hear varies from hardly noticeable to quite pronounced. This suggests to me that the Isopropyl alcohol does indeed cause some form of reaction with the vinyl and the effect varies as some vinyl compounds are more prone to be affected.
It could also be that the mould release agent present on every manufactured record is effectively a thin film, and that the alcohol removes that film thus altering the sound of the record. Perhaps a comparison of cleaning fluids is in order.
That would be interesting. I mentioned L’Art Du Son as it is well regarded and contains no alcohol, I have no connection to the manufacturer or any connected party’s. I have just done a quick internet search and have found the following information from Needle Doctor describing L’Art Du Son;
The conventional alcohol-based fluid deposited an electronic glaze over the sound, one particularly noticeable on the upper frequencies. This glaze increases the apparent ‘definition’ in the same way that most transistorized amplifiers do, and to these ears, emphasizes the electronic nature of the sound. With the L’Art du Son, that glaze is gone and just the music is left. I like this stuff! I couldn’t imagine going back to the conventional cleaning fluids.”
And Origin Live;
The home brew I’ve used for years contains alcohol. I cleaned successive records on one side with my brew and the other with L’Art, and L’Art won every time! How, you ask?? The L’Art makes records sound more dynamic and airy. The alcohol-based fluid sounded clean, but constricted and sort of flat. I panicked, but thankfully I had been remiss in the frequency with which I washed my LPs. I quickly used the L’Art on the sides I had treated with the alcohol blend and they seemed to improve. Time will tell, but I am retiring the home brew for L’Art.
The above are suppliers of L’Art Du Son and therefore probably not impartial but does concur with my own findings BEFORE I was aware of the above articles.
Interesting. I will get some in and compare them.
I should add that L’Art Du Son ALLEGEDLY contains no alcohol, what the solution is actually comprised of is unknown and kept secret by the manufacturer. Snake oil perhaps?
According to Henley Designs, the Pro-Ject is now being supplied with a non alcoholic cleaning solution. The data sheet here states “It does not contain alcohol, which may harm record surfaces.”
I suspect that this could be the non alcoholic “Wash it 78” formula for shellac records repackaged.
Whatever, it does appear that Pro-Ject have taken the view that using alcohol in the solution may be harmful to records.
I will look forward to your review/comparison of different fluids, this will be a very useful guide for anyone using or considering the purchase of an RCM. Particulary as I believe the type of fluid used is likely to have a significantly greater effect on the end result than the type/model of RCM used.
Interesting, I hadn’t spotted that update. I do wonder whether the update has something to do with the restrictions on shipping isopropyl alcohol in some countries. I will endeavour to find out exactly why the change was made, and while i still think it’s overpriced I’ll add the new fluid to the list of fluids to compare.
Lol, I want some of what you’re smoking. So you read the review on Needle Doctor, and now you can hear the highs rolled off? I’ve got some cables to sell you.
Has anyone tried using it with L’art Du Son fluid?
Not that particular fluid, I use the London Jazz Collector’s recipe. That said there’s no reason why you can’t use L’Art Du Son.
This discussion can be rather pointless when you consider that most people are buying their records second hand and therefor probably buying from dealers who wash the records in all sorts of concoctions. The damage will in most cases all ready be done.
true, but many buy from private eBay sellers as opposed too, or as well as, second-hand vinyl dealers. Those records are rarely cleaned. And there’s a lot of new vinyl being sold also that should be cleaned before playback.
Do you have to use the supplied liquid solution and brush or can you use other types with the machine – e.g a mofi solution and the mofi brush?
You can use any solution or brush you like. I bought the review sample but don’t use the Pro-Ject fluid.
I’ve also used Knosti fluid as well as Into the Groove fluid and they all work well. The latter 2 you don’t have to mix like the Pro-ject fluid, but I find the Pro-ject Wash It works very well. Also just purchased a SRM/Tech Super brush to try as well.
I recently purchased the Pro-ject VC-S after having used a Knosti manual cleaner for over 15 years. What made me purchase it? One, the price, as it’s £100 cheaper than it’s nearest rival, the Okki Nokki, Two, I have an upgraded Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable, so well aware of the company’s build quality etc, and three, I just wanted something extra to really clean those extra dirty records. I haven’t been disappointed. The VC-S is an excellent cleaner, better than the Knosti and very quick. My only gripe is the motor/spindle is a little noisy and the vacuum sounds like a plane taking off from an aircraft carrier, it’s that loud, but it proves and shows how powerful it is. Very well made, you won’t be disappointed. It’s proving very popular in the UK and I had to wait a month for delivery and still waiting for the optional cover that I have ordered. A couple of records that I had cleaned with the Knosti that I still wasn’t totally happy with, were re-cleaned with the VC-S and there was a definite improvement.
Thanks for sharing your feedback and I’m glad you’re enjoying your VC-S, it really is an excellent machine. The spindle motor noise is due to the gearbox used to provide enough torque to keep the record turning when the pressure of the brush and vacuum are applied. And I can certainly see where you’re coming from re the vacuum noise. In both respects however it’s one of the quietest machines on the market; many machines, even the more expensive models, have a very loud gearbox; and machines such as the Moth are especially noisy in the vacuum department.
That’s useful to know as I haven’t used one before and was wondering if the gearbox noise was usual or a fault