I’ve championed the Pro-Ject VC-S as being the best value for money vacuum record cleaning machine on the market since the introduction of the original model. The second generation brought some welcome improvements with only a slight price hike. In typical Pro-Ject fashion, the VC-S has always been a well made, well featured and keenly priced machine. And with the launch of the next VC models, of which there are now two, the bar is raised to new heights.
The two models of machine now available are the VC-S2 ALU (£399 SRP) and the smaller VC-E (£299 SRP, available in October). There’s a £100 difference between the two machines at retail accounting for the improvements of the VC-S2 ALU, though the two machines are principally very similar. A record is spun at 30RPM on a rotating platform barely larger than the label, and fluid is applied with an included brush. The fluid is then sucked away by the vacuum into either a 500ML (VC-E) or 2.5L (VC-S2 ALU) tank. Both machines include the necessary accessories to clean 12” and 10” discs, and a 7” cleaning kit is optionally available at £110 (UK RRP).
While printed lettering and a few screw caps were the only real cosmetic changes between the original VC-S and VC-S MK2, the new models have undergone a significant facelift. Now made from sheets of an Aluminium/PE composite with engraved switching and fluid scale trim plates, the aesthetic is quite a welcome departure from the veneered wooden box of the previous machines. It eliminates the possibility of excessive fluid spills damaging the chassis. It also reduces the weight considerably, the vacuum motor now being by far the heaviest component within. This is certainly a welcome change for those of us who have to store and move our machines between uses.
The basic design of the VC-S has otherwise remained the same, with the same robust vacuum arm and a slightly revised valve assembly with a central separator preventing fingers reaching the motor beneath.
Power is still via a rear-mounted IEC jack and the control layout is identical. So too are the accessories provided in the box, including the clamp and platter, vacuum arm for 12” discs, a draining spout, a spare pair of strips for the arm, a goat’s hair brush and a 100 ml bottle of Pro-Ject’s excellent Wash It cleaning concentrate with a mixer bottle also provided. Even the packaging is vastly improved, with a sturdier box and far better internal packing material. It’s a far more premium first impression.
The remainder of this review will focus on the VC-S2 ALU, making some comparisons with the VC-S MK2. Physically the new machine is roughly 10 mm smaller in width and depth, and less tall at only 210 mm to the top of the case as opposed to 230 mm (approx). Naturally, the most obvious difference is the aluminium casework, though there are some welcome alterations too. For example, the drainage hole is now covered with a permanent grille as opposed to the poorly fitted removable grille of the older VC-S models. I noted also the lack of hinge screws for a dust cover.
Actual measurements (width x height x depth) are 415 x 325 x 272 mm (fully assembled), with a weight of 8KG. The VC-E is more compact at 310 x 266 x 210mm (fully assembled) and lighter at 6.5 KG.
The machine is nicely made, with the front, side and rear panels being a single folded piece, rebated into both the top and bottom panel. The large dome-head Torx screws in each corner do detract from the machine’s aesthetic appeal, but the machine otherwise feels well put together. There is some flex in the aluminium if you’re picky enough to pull on the panels, but nothing that is of any concern if the machine is used properly and carefully. Out of the box, my machine had a slightly loose front right foot which was easily tightened but didn’t affect operation in any way besides a small panel rattle. This is one of the first models off the line, however, so I’ll allow some leeway as I’m confident this is a one-off.
Contrary to what is sometimes stated, I’ve never found the VC-S to be an especially noisy machine – far quieter in fact than the competition. Being a vacuum it’s never going to be silent, and it’s not as quiet as a Numatic Henry, arguably the most widely recognised consumer vacuum machine. But I’ve always been able to use one quite happily with music playing and without hearing fatigue.
The new machine is perhaps a little quieter than the old model but not significantly so. The wood did resonate somewhat, making the vacuum perceptively louder. The aluminium does vibrate, but it can be felt as a physical vibration more than heard. I don’t think the noise level between the two is so significant as to be the deciding factor in justifying the upgrade, but any reduction in noise, however slight, is always welcome. The new casework does have some modding potential in terms of adding sound deadening material, which is something I might explore should I feel the need.
Moving from the original VC-S to the MK2 I did note a slight improvement in cleaning performance, though the difference in the new model is a far bigger jump. You can hear the fluid being sucked through the arm, though as the Wash It fluid is quick to evaporate it would take some considerable use to fill the tank. Air exits through the tank and gradually warms as the machine is used, so any fluid that’s in the tank is likely evaporated into the air by the passing air. Because of this I’ve never seen the need for such a large tank in these machines, though I suppose if one were to use an alternative fluid it may be necessary.
I use the wash It fluid exclusively on my collection and have done since the purchase of my original VC-S. It’s an eco-friendly, alcohol-free fluid which a pleasant fragrance, but most importantly of all excellent cleaning performance and lasting anti-static properties. I mix at a 1:10 ratio with triple distilled water and leave the fluid to sit on the record for 30 seconds or so before vacuuming it away.
AA reader John recently tried this fluid in a manual cleaning machine and reported great success without an undue increase in drying time over the alcohol-based recipe he was previously using. Though the debate surrounding the use of alcohol on vinyl has never been definitively concluded one way or another, I do prefer to err on the side of caution where my collection is concerned and prefer not to use an alcohol-based fluid unless I’m testing one for a review. I certainly wouldn’t discredit or discourage them entirely. Just as there is no definitive proof showing that alcohol is a safe ingredient, there is none to prove it isn’t. I’m sure that Pro-Ject’s choice to remove alcohol from their formula is at least in part related to the restrictions on shipping alcohol-based products, as their original Wash It formula was an alcohol-based mix. Mine is just an opinion, and the fluid you use is a matter of your own opinion and preference.
This new VC-S2 ALU does an exceptional job at bringing dirty old discs back to their shiny former glory. It seems to get deeper into the groove than ever before and copes admirably with records of varying thickness. I cleaned 120, 180 and 200-gram discs in a single session without any adjustment and all came out perfect.
It takes only a couple of rotations to completely dry the record. Pro-Ject recommend one rotation in forward and one rotation in reverse. I usually double this, and though I don’t fully see the advantage to vacuuming in reverse I do tend to do so as I’ve become so used to the VC-S that muscle memory now takes over the switching action.
This is another evolution of Pro-Ject’s excellent vinyl cleaner line. The two new models bring more welcome improvements to what was already a top-class product. It’s lighter, better looking and quieter than before, and raises the performance bar even further. This is one of the best investments you can make if you’re serious about vinyl. Highly recommended.