The topic of cleaning vinyl records is a hotly debated one. As if the DIY and more affordable methods didn’t have enough conflict over which cleaning cloths are the best, there’s plenty of varying takes on the more thorough and costly record cleaning machines their efficacy. Today, I’ll be comparing 2 of the more popular machine cleaning methods: pitching Ultrasonic record cleaners vs Vacuum record cleaning machines.
I do, however, want to caution that we’re not going to take a side in this conflict between the 2. They’re both very effective cleaning methods that both do very thorough jobs of cleaning vinyl records. And if you’re a novice who’s still hesitant about shelling out the money for a record cleaning machine, you might even find that DIY cleaning methods are good enough for now. As with any hobby, there’s a fair amount of snobs out there that tout that true audiophiles will get the very best products for their records, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to invest in a full on vinyl record cleaning machine till you’re ready to do so. As an additional note, record cleaning machines are great for cleaning large amounts of vinyl records, so if you haven’t gotten quite as big of a library yet, you really are better off cleaning your records with a microfiber cloth and home solutions.
On to our comparison proper, we’ve got 3 metrics to measure which of these two methods are better:
- Price – A great cleaning device should be of a reasonable price; vinyl collecting is already an expensive hobby, plus a cheaper cleaner means more money for records!
- Efficacy – This needs no further elaboration. Can’t have a cleaner that doesn’t actually clean after all.
- Design – Design is another thing to watch out for, as a clunky cleaner can definitely be a turn off for those of you who might struggle to find space for it.
Both these cleaning options are fairly expensive compared to the rest, which is of no surprise given that they’re fairly specialized in use. However, vacuum record cleaners are a fair bit cheaper, ranging between $400 to $1000, compared to the ultrasonic cleaning systems that fall between the much more exorbitant range of $700 to $2000. This is, however, largely due to how new ultrasonic cleaning is as a technique and the additional rig needed to even mount a record to a ultrasound cleaning machine.
Most vinyl record shops and retro-fanatics will favour the older and more traditional vacuum cleaner. It’s been around much longer and is a fair bit more accessible and easy to make. Ultrasonic cleaners, on the other hand, are much newer and advanced. There’s still a lot of hype surrounding them that translates into higher demand and thus higher prices.
If price is a key factor for you, I’d wager that the vacuum cleaning systems win hands down. They’re more affordable by a large margin. However, you do have to consider that the higher price you pay for a ultrasonic cleaner is for its more advanced design that we’ll be diving into next.
2. Efficacy and Function
The most important factor in this list. The two cleaning systems are very different in how they work, so gauging which works better for cleaning records requires a little more elaboration on how they work on their own.
Vacuum Record Cleaner Machines work by either having users apply cleaning fluid themselves onto the record as it spins or might even apply it automatically with built in cleaning fluid appliers (though these usually cost more than the standard ones without). The brush arm then brushes out any gunk in the record as it spins. After which, most users rinse their record out with distilled water to remove the residue and air dry it after. It’s essentially an automated version of most DIY processes, though it speeds up cleaning large batches of records drastically. This video shows how one of these work
Ultrasonic Record Cleaners, on the other hand, work like record baths with the added ultrasonic component. The ‘ultrasonic’ name refers to the use of high frequency sound waves being produced in a solution. This agitates the solution and generates tiny pockets of vapour (called cavitation) that can target smaller crevices, even the grooves of records! All this while the record spins and dips into the solution bath. It’s a higher precision cleaning process that’s been known to be great at removing more stubborn dirt.
Vacuum cleaners are great at brushing out dust and dirt, but they are limited by how thin their brush bristles can be. However, ultrasonic cleaners are able to target even the tiniest grooves of records, and plenty of other ultrasonic fans swear there’s a noticeable audio quality improvement when they use them. On the other hand, many have also claimed that it really isn’t all that substantial a change, and decry that swapping out the water in ultrasonic baths as a hassle since leaving it in to clean multiple batches of records only weakens its effectiveness.
Ultrasonic cleaners win this round though since it is the highest precision cleaning system on the market right now. I would be cautious to say that it does so by a large margin, however, given the variation in how much it actually does for most vinyl enthusiasts’ listening experience.
This is more of a visual and aesthetic factor, so I’ve placed it a little further down this list. If you’re the type to leave all their machines and devices out, or if you think you’re planning to keep a dedicated space for a record cleaner so you can clean them fairly easily, this is an important factor to consider.
First off are the vacuum record cleaners. These cleaners look a lot like actual record players, with a place to put your records on to spin as they are cleaned by the stationary vacuum and brush arm. The key design difference is that their base is pretty big, almost box like. They can look fairly unwieldy, and their horizontal nature mans that they’ll be taking a lot of table space. CLEARAUDIO SMARTMATRIX and the Pro-Ject – VC-E Record Cleaning Machine show how boxy they can get. The only more sleek one is the Nitty Gritty vacuum record cleaner, though parts of the record will hang out over its side which might run the risk of having a record break if you aren’t careful
On the other hand, ultrasonic record cleaners like KLAUDIO KD-CLN-LP200 and LP Vinyl Record Ultrasonic Cleaner are less obtrusive due to the fact that they clean records vertically. They typically look a lot more sleek too. Frankly, I’m more of a fan of the ultrasonic cleaners’ designs due to how little space they take, meaning that they can be very easily left on a table to clean your records at any time without being much of an eyesore or taking too much space. They’re reminiscent of cheaper record bath systems but with a whole lot more functionality.
The ultrasonic vinyl record cleaners win 2 out of our 3 criteria, though I have to say that it’s pretty close! Efficacy isn’t too differentiated between ultrasonic versus vacuum cleaning, given the largely stellar testimonials for the two. It comes down to whether you’re valuing price less or more than overall design. Personally, the pragmatist in me would pick out the vacuum record cleaner due to how affordable it is. On the other hand, the ultrasonic cleaner is a lot less clunky, and I’d happily leave one sitting near my record player or collection to make cleaning quick and accessible.
All in all, it’s really up to you to decide. Each vinyl collector has varying philosophies on how to care for their vinyl collection, and you shouldn’t let the opinions of others sway your choices. We just hope that we’ve managed to lay out all the pros and cons in a way that’ll help you get a better feel for what you want in a record cleaning machine! Have any thoughts or preferences between the two cleaning systems? Share them with us in the comments!