A clean record not only sounds better, with less surface noise; a clean record also makes your cartridge last longer since there are fewer abrasive elements left in the grooves after a proper cleaning. So, it simply stands to reason that every vinyl enthusiast should own a record cleaning machine. Even audiophiles who only buy new records, which often contain remnants of the “release compound” used during the pressing process, can benefit from a cleaning device. And anyone who’s into used records and doesn’t clean them thoroughly is missing out on how good they could sound. A thorough cleaning can sonically transform an LP. Along with a turntable, tonearm, cartridge, and phono preamplifier, a record cleaning machine is an essential element in the analog signal chain.
I’ve seen audiophiles on extremely limited budgets using the kitchen sink (and everything in it) to clean their records. Even wood glue has been used by folks who obviously have an excess of both time and wood glue to waste. But if you have a lot of records, buy a lot of records, or just aren’t into extreme DIY, there are many excellent commercial record cleaning solutions available. Some are quite pricey, and some are priced well within the range of most audiophiles. The Pro-Ject VC-E Record Cleaning Machine, which costs $499, is one of the later. For under half a grand (as we Yanks would say) the Pro-Ject VC-E promises to deliver a sparkling clean record with a minimum of muss and fuss. That sounds swell, doesn’t it? Let’s find out if this is the machine to clean up all your dirty work.
The most immediately and potentially attractive feature of the VC-E is its physical size. Unlike my reference VPI 16.5, which is large enough to accommodate an entire LP within its confines, the Pro-Ject VC-E lets the records hang out in the space around its cabinet. Whether this is an advantage to you or not depends on whether space is at a premium in your world and how well your cleaning technique can be adapted to a lighter touch. More on cleaning technique later.
Basically, the VC-E is a mini-vac. It sucks up cleaning fluid that has been applied with a brush via a slit on a wand that is placed over the record, while a motor slowly turns the record so it can make a complete revolution underneath the vacuum wand. The final result should be a clean record. As far as specifications go, there’s no published noise level, but Pro-Ject does list the motor as doing 30rpm. Vroom, vroom.
The VC-E is heavy enough so that it won’t shift around while in use, and the overall level of fit, finish, and design makes it very likely that it will remain serviceable for many years. But there are two small nits I will pick.
First, the top plate and base plate of the VC-E are made of a layered material sandwiched between metal sheets, which I assume helps damp the motor’s noise. But the two plate’s edges are borderline abrasive. A bit more finishing and they would not be so rough.
The second nit concerns the three bolt heads that form a triangle on the top surface of the VC-E. I suspect that at one time they were an almost mirror finish, but on my review sample their surfaces looked as if several households of fleas had been ice-skating on them, leaving little scratches back and forth. Little nits, I know. But fixable.