During AXPONA 2018, I was introduced to Kirmuss Audio’s KA-RC-1 Ultimate Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System. The $970 KA-RC-1 system incorporates ultrasonic cleaning in a more involved “vinyl-restoration” process, which Kirmuss Audio has developed. The restoration process is the subject of this review.
The KA-RC-1 system comprises an ultrasonic cleaning unit, a patented record washer assembly and sonic-control process, a drain hose, and an AC power cord. The ultrasonic cleaning unit is a custom OEM model modified by Kirmuss to Kirmuss specifications, approximately 21.3" x 13.3" x 10.9" with an IEC AC power inlet and a power switch on the rear. There is a valve on the lower right front to control a drain on the lower forward right side. Also on the right side is a 3.5 mm power jack for the record washer assembly. The stainless-steel ultrasonic tub is visible from the top. On the top right a control panel allows you to start, stop, and adjust ultrasonic operation-time/type. The control-panel’s display also has a color-coded bar for temperature monitoring. The record washer assembly contains slots to support up to four records—two 12", one 10", one 7". (Note: the 10" slot is configured for 78rpm records.) It will also handle shellac and transcription records. The patented record-washer assembly contains a series of gears, a drive belt, and a sealed motor tucked underneath the top cover. Each record slot has a set of felt assemblies to support records and prevent excess liquid from leaking out during vinyl rotation in the cleaning cycle.
The supplied, and necessary, accessories include: an anti-bacterial/anti-static/ionizing surfactant solution in a small spray bottle, an optician’s microfiber cloth, a combination carbon-fiber and parasitic felt brush, a goat hair brush, a felt mat, a microfiber “Rabbit” cloth, and a non-alcohol-based liquid stylus cleaner. Also included in the package I received were a re-supply container filled with the anti-bacterial/anti-static solution and a KA-RS-1 record platter (which can be used to hold the record during cleaning). To proceed with the KA-RC-1 system’s restoration process, the user will need to purchase distilled water (approx. 1.75 U.S. gallons used), 70% isopropyl alcohol (1.4 ounces used) and one additional spray bottle to fill with distilled water.
The KA-RC-1 system arrived with instructions for use. Towards the end of the evaluation period, the instructions were updated, which added an additional selection to make before proceeding with one of two cleaning processes. This evaluation is based on instructions in the version 8.4 of the owner’s manual (there has since been a version 10). For readers interested in the KA-RC-1 (or for its owners), regular periodic visits to the Kirmuss website for online manual updates are suggested. Because the owner’s manual is filled with many steps, I’d suggest reading through it several times to grasp the process, which is pretty involved but straightforward once understood. With that said, there are sections of the KA-RC-1 restoration process that require user judgment before moving on to the next step. Specifically, the user must determine visually when all the contaminants and residual release agents have been removed from the grooves so that he can proceed to the next (polishing) step. In order to allow space for describing the results achieved, the steps and process will be briefly covered in this report. The user is encouraged to visit the Kirmuss Audio website to get more detail, read the user manual, and view training videos.
A preparation process is required each time the KA-RC-1 system is used. The process begins with adding approximately 1.75 gallons of distilled water to the stainless-steel ultrasonic basin followed by 1.4 ounces of 70% isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol kills any dormant or live fungus removed by the process, and is not part of the cleaning agent. The Ultrasonic washer assembly is turned on, and a one minute and thirty-six-second pulse cycle (to de-gas the water/alcohol solution) is activated. This pulse cycle is repeated a second time. This removes any air that has been introduced in the basin when being filled. Air in the water reduces the cavitation effect and its efficiency. Once the second pulse cycle is completed, the record washer assembly (the device that holds the records) is placed on top of the ultrasonic washer and plugged into the 3.5mm power jack. The unit is now ready for record-groove restoration.
To start the restoration process, the ultrasonic washer is set to a five-minute cycle and the record is placed in the proper rotating slot; the record should be rotating during the process when properly seated. Upon completion, the record is removed and sprayed with the anti-bacterial/anti-static record-ionizing solution in three locations (12, 4, and 8 o’clock). The goat hair brush is used to work the solution into the grooves of the record. The spray process is repeated for the other side of the record. The record is then placed into the ultrasonic washer for a second five-minute cycle. At the end of the second five-minute cycle, the user has to make his first decision.
According to the user manual, if the record has large sheets of water or hundreds of water droplets remaining on its surface, the user proceeds to implement a total of 5-to-6 two-minute wash cycles (anti-bacterial/anti-static solution and goat hair brush followed by a two-minute wash). During this process a “toothpaste-like” material forms after application of the anti-bacterial/anti-static solution with the goat hair brush. This is material that the ultrasonic cavitation has softened and dislodged, and then brought to the surface via the goat-hair brush. If there continues to be toothpaste-like material during final cycle, another cycle should remove it.
After the anti-bacterial/anti-static solution, it is time to move on to the final steps, which Kirmuss calls polishing. These include placing the record on the KA-RS-1 record platter (or felt mat), spraying it with a very light mist of distilled water, wiping the record with the optician’s microfiber cloth, polishing the grooves with the felt side of the carbon-fiber/felt brush, followed by polishing it with the carbon-fiber side, and repeating this process for side two of the record. Next, the owner’s manual says to place the dried record onto a turntable and spray the goat-hair brush with a small mist of the same anti-bacterial/anti-static solution. With the record spinning on the turntable, the user moves the goat hair brush across the record several times. Repeat for side two. At this point, the manual says the restoration process is complete. There are additional suggestions for record maintenance following the restoration process.