Record care has been part of the vinyl experience from the dawn of the LP. Over the years the process has evolved from a simple wipe of an anti-static cloth or a squirt from a dust blower to an all-out-assault on uncleanliness via record-cleaning machines equipped with vacuum pumps, rotating platters, cleaning brushes, and single-to-multistep fluid-dispensers.
Recently, a few of the latest commercial units have added a new wrinkle: the use of ultrasonic transducers to scrub the record grooves the way printed circuit boards or surgical instruments are cleaned after sterilization—through cavitation in a cleaning bath. Cavitation bubbles are the result of the high-frequency pressure waves generated by ultrasonic transducers agitating the liquid inside cleaning machines. Not only does the agitation produce these tiny cavitation bubbles, but it also pushes them into the nooks and crannies of the groove walls and valleys of our records. The force exerted on the vinyl by this cavitation bubble-action dislodges and removes dirt and debris that standard cleaning brushes just can’t reach.
In May 2013, Klaudio (based in Auburn, Washington) introduced its own version of an ultrasonic record-cleaning machine, the KD-CLN-LP200. What is unique about the Klaudio unit is that it uses ultrasonic cleaning exclusively (no brushes), is fully automated, and, perhaps most importantly, requires no special cleaning fluids. The unit only needs distilled water to work its magic.
The KD-CLN-LP200 Ultrasonic Vinyl Record cleaner arrives wrapped in clear plastic, surrounded on all sides by approximately two inches of dense, closed-cell-foam inserts precisely cut to neatly fit into the triple-walled shipping box. Included with the unit are a user manual, marketing/feature brochure, treated fabric dust cover, rubber funnel (more on this later), PVC drain hose, and AC power cable.
If you follow the user manual, setup is pretty straightforward. After setting the unit on a level surface in its final location, use the supplied funnel to slowly add 2.5 liters (0.66 gallons) of distilled water through the fill port on the top of the machine. (The use of the supplied funnel prevents you from too rapidly filling the wash chamber and creating an overflow condition that could potentially damage the internal electronics. In other words, be cautious when filling the reservoir with distilled water, and avoid the temptation to use a larger funnel to fill the Klaudio more quickly, or you may be asking for trouble.)
Once the unit has been filled so the water line is between the Min and Max fill-level in the reservoir window on the front panel, this part of the set-up process is done. The next step is connecting the power cable and turning the unit on. After that, all that’s left to do is to select washing and drying times.
There are three controls on the Klaudio: a rotary switch for wash time (which can be set from 1–5 minutes), a rotary switch for dry time (2–4 minutes), and a toggle switch to select a “wash & dry” or “dry only” cycle. Ease of use and operation is where the KD-CLN-LP200 has the biggest advantage over any other cleaning method I’ve used in the past. The cleaning cycle goes like this: Put the record in the top-loading slot; the cleaning starts; in 3–9 minutes (depending on the “wash & dry” settings) the green “completed” LED illuminates; and you are done.
After spending some time with the Klaudio, I’ve settled on a 4-minute wash cycle for most of my new and used records, with an occasional 1–2 minute rewash on a few newer LPs. A 2-minute drying time has worked for nearly all of the records I’ve cleaned so far. If the record needs more drying, set the toggle switch to the “dry only” mode and reinsert the LP to start an additional rotary-switch-selected dry cycle. (A nice undocumented feature is that if a record requires additional dry time and you notice this before removing the LP from the unit, after the full “wash & dry” cycle is complete a simple flick of the toggle switch to the “dry only” cycle will restart the previously selected drying cycle without any need to remove the record from the unit.)
What is going on inside the KD-CLN-LP200? Inserting a record into the top loading slot triggers a lever switch; the priming pump fills the stainless steel wash chamber while the record is supported—half-submerged in the bath (below the label area)—on four internal rollers, three of which are belt-driven to rotate the record. When the wash chamber fills, the priming pump continues to run, circulating water to maintain the proper level, and the four 50-watt 40kHz ultrasonic transducers (two horizontally placed per side) start the cleaning cycle for the selected wash time. On my review unit, the record appears to complete approximately seven rotations every two minutes. The display panel shows current status and washing progress. (The amount of record wetting during the unsubmerged rotation of the cleaning process can vary from barely damp to what I call “juicy.” This wetting difference appears to be related to different vinyl formulations. In no case has water made its way on to the record label.)
Once the wash cycle is complete, the priming pump stops, the water drains from the wash chamber and the drying cycle begins. During the drying cycle, two centrifugal-type, air-blower fans dry the record surface while the display panel shows drying progress. Once the dry cycle is complete, the Klaudio beeps twice when the “completed” LED illuminates and flashes green until the record is removed.
The Klaudio accepts only full-sized records in the range of 11.65–12″, according to the user manual. Every one of my 12″ LPs worked in the unit, including a few warped ones, without any problems. However, recognizing that there are KD-CLN-LP200 users with a need to clean 7″ 45-rpm and 10″ 33/78-rpm records, Klaudio has recently introduced two adapters that allow these smaller records to be cleaned in the Ultrasonic cleaner.
The four 50-watt ultrasonic transducers tend to generate some heat that increases the bath temperature during repeated cleaning cycles. During my testing of up to 21 continuous 4-minute wash-time cleaning cycles, the temperature of the water bath in the wash chamber increased slowly in a linear fashion with each consecutive cleaning cycle, from a room temperature of 72 degrees to upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the last record in the batch. I first took note of this when I observed an LP going through what I would call a “yoga exercise”—or flexing— during the heated wash cycle, only to return to being perfectly flat during the dry cycle. It should be noted that the record never stopped rotating or got stuck or suffered any damage I could discern. When I observed this occurrence, I started measuring the record temperature as it emerged from submersion during the wash cycle. What I noticed was that as the water temperature increased with continuous use, the submerged surface of the record would follow suit. This heated water created a temporary thermal imbalance (via thermal expansion of the submerged grooved area) between the outside of the record and the inner label area, which caused this temporary flexing of the vinyl. This thermal exercise, in my estimation, may increase the cleaning benefit since the record temporarily flexes under the temperature imbalance during ultrasonic cleaning, helping the cavitation process with debris removal. In short, if you see a record in the cleaner begin this little “yoga exercise,” don’t panic. Things will return to normal during the dry cycle.
Besides its ease of use, the Klaudio cleans records deep in the grooves better than any unit I’ve observed to date. I’ve viewed the before-and-after images of cleaning results under 400x magnification with my own records. This has been with lightly dusty records and also with used records that are pretty filthy. In both cases, the resulting images showed groove walls and valleys that were much cleaner than before. I’ve also tried putting some fresh oily fingerprints on test records; they were also, somewhat surprisingly given there is nothing but distilled water in the unit, removed by the ultrasonic cleaner.
Subjectively, Klaudio-cleaned record tend to show across-the-board sonic improvements, most notably in the perceived depth of recording venues, the clarity of images and surrounding areas, and more natural tone, density, and texture on instruments. One example would be Duke Ellington’s Jazz Party In Stereo. The opening track on this record, “Malletoba Spank,” is a horn and percussion festival of dynamic delight. After I ultrasonically cleaned the disc, the impact, tone, and decay of every percussion instrument had greater clarity and less haze, and the horn section went from a moderate wave of occasionally aggressive sound to a full set of instruments with greater resolution of individual players than I’d heard before. On this opening track, the percussion instruments closely followed by the horns are the stars of the show, but what’s interesting is that I could also more clearly follow Jimmy Woode’s bass rhythmically plucking along, providing a solid foundation in the center background. Additionally, Sam Woodyard’s stick work on the cymbals was much clearer after Klaudio ultrasonic cleaning, to the point of having increased noticeably throughout the entire performance, even though the drum kit is deep in the background on the right side of the stage. The Klaudio ultrasonic cleaning took this particular track on the Classic Records reissue from moderately enjoyable to clean, clear, and very near to great sounding. On the other end of the musical spectrum, large-scale classical recordings gained an abundance of depth and recording-venue expansion from Klaudio ultrasonic cleaning. I want to point out that this isn’t the type of effect, similar to a speaker positioning change, where the entire soundstage takes a wholesale step backwards. This ultrasonic cleaning keeps instruments where they were, but allows the recording venue’s full expanse and reverberant clarity to be heard more clearly.
Value is always something of a personal choice, but for me this unit has proven to be an unflagging asset in the enjoyment of vinyl playback. Of course, there are many factors to consider when purchasing something like the Klaudio ultrasonic unit. Some of you may have a backlog of records numbering in the thousands that are in need of a good cleaning. Others may have come to the conclusion, long ago, that it is highly unlikely they are going to perform a multi-minute, multi-step cleaning exercise for each side of their LPs. To them, let me just say that as the quality of analog playback continues to advance it may be that the level of sonic engagement conveyed by Klaudio’s ultrasonically-cleaned records will become increasingly difficult to do without, even if you hate the time spent washing and drying your vinyl.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Ultrasonic record cleaner
Dimensions: 7.12″ x 11.65″ x 17.12″
Weight: 45 lbs.
By Andre Jennings
My professional career has spanned 30+ years in electronics engineering. Some of the interesting products I’ve been involved with include Cellular Digital Packet Data modems, automotive ignition-interlock systems, military force protection/communications systems, and thrust-vector controls for space launch vehicles.More articles from this editor
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