I wanted to relate my recent experiences dealing with the importer of the Audiodesk Ultrasonic vinyl cleaner (Ultrasystem). I received one of these units for review a little over three years ago and was impressed enough with the performance to purchase the review sample. For three years, the unit was relatively trouble-free; however, all good things come to an end. Several weeks ago I began having intermittent problems with the pump as it sometimes failed to move water into the cleaning tank from the reservoir. I immediately contacted the importer, Ultra Systems, who tried to troubleshoot the unit over the phone. With the early units, some of the 24 volt power supplies over time did not deliver the rated power which affected the pump. As it turned out, this was not the problem, so I sent the unit to Ultra Systems for repair. Unfortunately, the problem was the pump. The early units secured the pump to the bottom of the case with glue necessitating a return to Germany for repair. Given that the unit was out of warranty, this would have meant paying all shipping and repair costs and probably a substantial delay in getting the unit back. In lieu of repairing the unit, Ultra Systems offered me the following options: 1) replacement of the unit with the latest model at a fraction of the cost of a new unit; or 2) replacement with the PRO version for an additional 20%. Both of these units were brand new with a full warranty and completely modular so that they could be repaired in the U.S. Given that I had used the existing unit for over three years, I felt that this was a very fair resolution.
Fast forward three weeks, I have had the chance to use the PRO version of the Audiodesk for a couple of weeks and I could not be happier. It no longer leaves droplets of water on the record after the dry cycle. In the new units, the metal drain plug (which was subject to corrosion) has been replaced with a plastic assembly that does not have that problem. Like the older machine, the new machine allows the user to vary the length of the ultrasonic cleaning cycle up to 4 minutes. The addition to the PRO is a two-minute dry-only option by holding the START button down until it stops beeping. This can be useful in drying records after a final rinse with distilled water and avoids the need for a separate vacuum drying machine. I continue to believe that the cleaning solution supplied by Ultra Systems is an integral part of the cleaning process, but that it leaves an audible residue which needs to be rinsed off with distilled or ultra- pure water. Prior to the final rinse, the sound has a slight veiling, a foreshortening of the field of depth and occasionally a bit of added brightness or grain.
On a related topic, much has been said about the superiority of the KL Audio Ultrasonic cleaner (KL). I recently had the chance to compare the KL and the Audiodesk, first cleaning records on the Audiodesk, followed with a distilled water rinse, then on the KL. In some instances, there was an audible difference in favor of the KL, in others there was none; in other words, the results were inconsistent. In further considering why this might be the case, I noticed that the records that improved sonically when they were cleaned on the KL were ones in which I had subjected them to only 1.5 minutes of cleaning on the Audiodesk (one beep). The KL uses a 4.5 minute cleaning cycle. The records in which there was no improvement were the ones which had gone through 4.5 minutes on the Audiodesk. While this was not dispositive of the reasons for differences, it at least suggested a way forward.
Fast forward several more weeks during which I cleaned more records on the Audiodesk but this time I used the longest cleaning cycle followed by a “pure” water rinse. At this point, a record which has gone through an extended cleaning on the Audiodesk is close to if not indistinguishable from one cleaned on the KL. Regardless of which machine is used, a “pure” water rinse results in an improvement in sound. Keep in mind that with either machine you are continuing to use the fluid over a large number of records plus in the case of the Audiodesk, you have the addition of the detergent/surfactant. In addition, neither ultrasonic machine is effective in completely removing certain types of contaminants from records. One example of this is my repeated cleaning of Oistrakh performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto No. 1 (on an early EMI Columbia SAX) to remove a swishing sound in the left channel which I initially believed to be groove damage. Multiple ultrasonic cleanings did nothing to lessen the noise; however, one enzymatic cleaning with Record Time removed the noise. A close friend, the “Evil Weed” had the same experience using the excellent Audio Intelligent No. 15 enzymatic cleaner.
The takeaway from all this is that any serious record owner who can afford to do so should purchase an ultrasonic vinyl cleaner for use as his primary cleaning tool, always followed by a rinse with “pure” water. In some instances, it may be necessary to resort to the use of an enzymatic cleaner or even an alcohol based cleaner as an adjunct to the ultrasonic cleaner. Almost any competent cleaner (vacuum or ultrasonic) will lessen surface noise. An ultrasonic cleaner used in conjunction with a “pure” water rinse will take the sound to a new and somewhat surprising level of clarity. A four-minute ultrasonic clean has a remarkable effect in terms of opening up the full spectrum of sound, especially, for some reason, in the middle of the sound stage. My ears tell me that, if there is any “blur” or congestion left after an ultrasonic clean, it is in the recording. This is based upon listening to numerous records previously cleaned with enzymes and vacuums only, compared to subsequent ultrasonic cleanings. It has been rare that the ultrasonic cleaning failed to bring new clarity to the sound. In this sense, I confess that I have come to find the ultrasonic cleaning to provide a psychological advantage that is nice to have: whatever the record sounds like after an ultrasonic clean is “all there is.” If I don’t like it after that, there is no point in keeping it…with the exception of the occasional (and usually very old) record that responds to a post-ultrasonic enzyme clean, like the Oistrakh. Indeed, the post-ultrasonic clean did not improve the sound – only the surface noise issue. And that seems to happen only about 1 in 4 or 5 times. Several times I’ve tried an enzyme clean after an ultrasonic clean with no improvement in surface noise level.
Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden
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