Some months ago I was astonished to come across an app called Dust ’n Scratches—a sounds generator that adds the background effect of unclean vinyl’s crackles, hisses, ticks, and pops to digital music playback. For nostalgia’s sake, apparently. (Yes, I know there’s an app for everything, but still….)
Audiophiles know better. And we analog hounds are well aware of the harm dust and dirt can cause—not only to the sonics but also to the longevity of an LP. Yet record cleaners often get left in the dust—considered the “final frontier” of gear purchase priorities. Not only are they a “mere” accessory (albeit an important one) but their price can also go up very quickly. Enter the Record Doctor V, the latest model of the affordably priced and quite effective Record Doctor cleaning system. For those who love and care for their vinyl but don’t want to break the bank on a cleaner, the Record Doctor offers a smart design compromise that keeps its (and your) costs down: Most of its functions are performed manually, as the system eschews the complex mechanics and motors that upper-tier record cleaning machines employ for each cleaning step. But the Record Doctor still uses a powerful motor-driven vacuum to handle the final step of fluid, dust, and dirt extraction.
Setup and operation are a snap. The Record Doctor V kit comes with everything you need, a black leatherette dust cover is optional. Additionally there’s a smallish handheld two-sided brush (with plastic cover) for fluid distribution and sweeper-strip cleaning, a small record platter (about the size of an LP label) that fits over the spindle atop the main unit, a round record-turner (of similar size to the small platter) that has a wooden top with three rounded, carved-out areas where your fingertips go and a thin layer of rubber on the bottom, and a 4-oz. fluid applicator bottle of Record Doctor RxLP cleaning solution. The main unit’s features include a high-performance vacuum motor (the same as the ones found in more expensive record cleaning machines) with felt cleaning strips around the suction tube; it also has an attached 6-foot power cord.
How does the Record Doctor work? First, you place the LP on the platter (on the unit’s spindle) and put the record-turner on top of the record’s label. Next you apply a thin line of cleaning fluid from the LP’s outer edge to its central label. With one hand you hold the brush (shifting as needed) as you slowly turn the record three or four rotations to distribute the fluid and prepare the surface, a process that co-mingles the debris and fluid, making the extraction process more effective. Then you flip the record over (on the platter) so the clean/damp side is on the bottom, and put the record turner back on top. Flip the toggle switch to start the vacuum, then rotate the record a few more times to dry it. Repeat the process for the other side—and voilà! Clean, shiny vinyl.
The user’s guide with illustrations identifies all parts and details step-by-step instructions, along with some helpful hints. I found that I needed even less cleaning solution than I thought. Also, I’m right-handed and used my right hand to turn the LP and my left hand to brush but you could reverse the unit’s orientation to switch hand functions. One minor quibble: For some longer-playing records (i.e., those with grooves extending over more of the vinyl’s surface area), it would be nice if the brush had been just slightly longer to span the LP’s entire radius from label to edge. On certain records I simply adjusted brush placement and added a couple more rotations to clean the whole surface—no big deal. The manual says the vacuum noise is loud, and it is: I clocked 90dB sitting directly in front of it. But you only need to have it switched on (via the toggle switch on top of the unit) for a short time to dry the LP. It does the job quickly.
Sure, this machine requires a little more hands-on effort than more expensive record cleaners, but the process didn’t seem to take any longer. This easy “manual labor” might even be appreciated by those (like me, along with others on our staff) who enjoy more traditional hands-on interactions with other possessions like manual-transmission cars, watches you wind, and audio components with buttons you push and knobs you turn. (For more on this idea, see Allan Moulton’s Guest Editorial in this issue.)
Overall, the Record Doctor performed even better than I expected it to. And the sonic benefits were also noticeable—smooth sound minus the crackles, and it was goodbye to most ticks and pops thanks to less static. Naturally the Record Doctor V does not compete with ultra-high-end sonic or fully automated vacuum record cleaning machines—nor is it meant to. A worthy, easy-to-use accessory, the Record Doctor V is an effective, handy, and affordably priced cleaning system for vinyl aficionados who would rather allocate more budget dollars to other hi-fi gear—and to records, too (clean ones!).
Specs & Pricing
Type: Manual operation with an electric-motor vacuum
Dimensions: 12.5" x 7" x 7"
Weight: 9 lbs. 1 oz.
Price: $199 (230V European version available for $249)
Pangea Audio Distributing, LLC (U.S. Distributor)