Here on Audio Appraisal, we’ve covered a range of record cleaning devices from the budget-oriented Spin Clean and Disco Antistat, to the mid-priced Moth MKII vacuum RCM. These devices all function in much the same way – fluid is brushed onto the record, and thence removed either by vacuum succession, a micro-fibre cloth, or simple air drying.
The subject of this review, Audio Desks Systeme vinyl cleaner, is a machine which offers a radically different approach to cleaning records. A fully automatic machine, the Audio Desk employs a fluid-filled trough, and short frequency ultra-sonic vibrations to dislodge the dirt particles from the grooves of a rotating record. These vibrations also cause microscopic bubbles, which when allowed to come into contact with the vinyls surface assist in dislodging dirt particles and dispersing them into the liquid bath.
This method is far more effective than traditional cleaning devices. Conventional fibre brushes, like those employed by most other cleaning machines, cannot hope to tackle the dirt embedded deep within the vinyl grooves as their diameter is simply too large. Many of them also cause a build-up in static electricity, an issue which is particularly prevalent with vacuum-based cleaners.
And, while the majority of traditional cleaners rely on the ability of the chosen cleaning fluid to dissolve dirt particles, the ultra-sonic cleaner relies primarily on ultra-sonic vibrations to remove dirt from the record, meaning it is far more effective at removing embedded dirt that simply will not dissolve.
Out of the box, first impressions are positive. The system is a compact unit, measuring just 33CM wide by 20CM deep and 27CM high. It’s solid, too – and well finished. It looks like an expensive hi-fi component, as opposed to an industrial cleaning machine. Only the power supply is a little disappointing – it’s a cheap generic-looking unit and feels a little lacklustre when compared with the machine itself. It also generates a huge amount of RF interference, especially when the Audio Desk is in the drying stage – so you won’t be listening to traditional radio whilst cleaning records.
The principal is simple. Fluid is poured into the top of the machine, comprising of a small pot of proprietary cleaning concentrate diluted with 4.5L of distilled or demineralised water. The fluid is held within the machine’s internal reservoirs until the cleaning cycle begins.
The record is inserted into the slot at the top, and gripped between 2 rollers at the bottom of the machine. Those rollers rotate the record, both during the cleaning and drying cycles – while a set of rubber wiper blades wipe excess fluid from the record, ensuring no fluid drips onto the record label. It’s important that the machine be situated on a stable, level surface. To that end, the Audio Desk features a spirit-level situated atop the machine – a nice touch.
Once cleaning is initiated, the machine fills with water up to the record label. During the cleaning cycle, 4 rotating microfibre rollers move into position either side of the record, removing finger marks, surface grime and other contaminants. They also disperse dirt removed from the LP towards the bath filter.
The length of the cleaning cycle is user-configurable, making it possible to give seriously dirty records a deep clean.
Once cleaning is complete, 2 powerful fans dry the record while it slowly rotates, speeding up briefly during the cycle to remove any residual drips.
Operation couldn’t be easier, and is fully automated requiring no user intervention. The front panel of the machine features a clear window comprising 2 controls and a set of status LEDs. Behind a second window is a white float, allowing you to gauge the current level of fluid in the machine.
Once fluid is added, a record is inserted and the machine is powered on, a green LED will illuminate to indicate the machine is ready for use. This LED also serves to alert the user to when the disc can be removed.
Pressing the red button will emit an audible tone and begin the cleaning cycle. Holding the button increases the cleaning time by 1 minute for each further audible tone emitted, allowing up to 5 wash cycles. The machine will then begin to fill the trough with fluid, at which point the record will begin to rotate. A gentle anti-clockwise nudge is often required to enable the rollers to engage and grip the edge of the record. Throughout my time with the Audio Desk, I noted that on occasion the rollers would become slick with water resulting in their failure to grip the records surface. They also did not grip particularly well with some thinner pressings.
The yellow LED illuminates when the cleaning is under way, while the red LED alerts the user that the machine has insufficient fluid and requires refilling. In this state, the machine will refuse to operate until the fluid has been replaced.
The machine is not particularly noisy during operation – only the drying portion of the cleaning cycle generates any significant amount of noise. Step outside the room, however, and the machine becomes almost inaudible – making it perfectly suited for use in domestic environments.
The machine requires minimal maintenance. 1 batch of fluid is suitable for cleaning 100 records – at which point, the fluid must be drained via the outlet valve on the rear of the machine. It is recommended that the 4 micro-fibre cleaning barrels be replaced every 500 LPs, depending how dirty your LPs are to start with.
During operation, the cleaning fluid is permanently filtered by a rectangular sponge-like filter situated beneath a lid atop the machine. This filter should be cleaned during each fluid change, and is a simple matter of removing the filter and rinsing it with distilled water.
Results using the Audio Desk are excellent. The 100 or so records I used for testing ranged from records which were previously cleaned using vacuum or air-drying cleaning methods, to records which had never received a clean since they came out of the pressing plant and hence were astonishingly filthy. In every case, the record came out cleaner, quieter, and clear than before. Surface noise was dramatically reduced – and with a reduction in noise comes a greater sense of musicality, the records sounding crisper, clearer, and… well… cleaner than before.
In some instances, dirt lodged in the grooves would prevent a record from playing – causing the stylus to skip or jump. In every instance, after a run through the Audio Desk these records played from start of finish without so much as a click. Obviously no cleaner can repair a physically damaged record, or a record which is simply warn out. However, many playback issues are simply caused by dirt lodge in the grooves – and the Audio Desk andSysteme vinyl cleaner is the perfect way to get it out.
There’s no doubt that the Audio Desk is an excellent product. It’s more than just a record cleaner – it’s a device that allows you to breathe new life into your vinyl collection. The difference this machine makes to even new pressings is astounding.
There are a few disadvantages – the first of which being the inability to clean anything other than 12” records. Many collectors, myself included, have a huge number of 10” and 7” EPs and singles, and it would be nice to be able to clean them.
I have been informed by Audio Consultants, Audio Desks UK distributor, that there are plans for an adapter to clean 7” singles and 10” LPs. Upon release, such an adapter will be an optional accessory, but those who have already purchased a machine will be able to purchase one at a preferential price.
The machine also doesn’t cope particularly well with thinner records. And, while the fully automatic operation is convenient, the need to more often than not nudge the record at the start of the cleaning cycle can become somewhat frustrating.
However, if you have the budget, and a collection comprising mostly 12” albums, the Audio Desk Systeme vinyl cleaner is a great way to clean and rejuvenate your vinyl collection. And, especially with a recent price drop to £1895.00, the cost of your collection, not to mention the reduced wear on your records and stylus more than justifies the price. Highly recommended.