When I first started collecting LPs, in the mid-1970s, my record cleaner of choice comprised a liquid and brush made by Discwasher. I would place an LP on my Philips GA312 turntable, and apply to it a few drops of the solution in a straight line, from lead-in groove to lead-out groove. Keeping the platter immobile with one hand and holding the brush in the other, I’d then sweep the brush around the record three times counterclockwise -- and my worn copy of Tattoo You would be good to go.
Three decades later, I’d moved on to a semi-automatic cleaner, VPI Industries’ HW-16.5. I still had to clamp my dirty record in place, move the cleaning wand over it, and apply the drops of cleaning fluid -- but after that, all I had to do was flick two switches: the first got the cleaner’s platter moving, and the second applied suction. Voilà -- a cleaner version of the same 35-year-old record.
A few years ago, Reiner Gläss and his eponymous company, Audiodesksysteme Gläss, based in Königsbronn, Germany, set out to disrupt the record-cleaning business. The first edition of their Vinyl Cleaner did just that, and won numerous reviewer accolades. Some online detractors pointed to its high price (then $4450 USD) and voiced skepticism about its worth without having heard the results, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a reviewer who’s tried a Vinyl Cleaner and not purchased it.
Robert Stein of Ultra Systems, Audiodesksysteme’s US distributor, sent me the Vinyl Cleaner’s replacement, the Vinyl Cleaner Pro ($4199). He told me that the new version offers better, quieter drying; an improved motor; an upgraded pump with ceramic bearings; and several improvements to the electronic control system.
I was quite taken by the Vinyl Cleaner Pro’s overall steampunk aesthetic and mechanics, and by the convenience of its being able to clean a record automatically with one press of a button. And it was a marvel to behold in action. If, like me, you enjoy watching your car go through the various stages of a carwash, you -- and your kids, and your friends, and your friends’ kids -- will be enthralled by the Rube Goldberg transitions this machine makes. You insert your black, tarnished gold into the cleaner’s vat, press the red Start button, and it begins to fill with cleaning fluid -- a proprietary, non-alcohol formula you pre-mix with a gallon of distilled water. The Pro then gently grips and spins the record with four microfiber brushes, while an ultrasonic process called cavitation -- which my dictionary defines as “the formation of partial vacuums in a liquid by a swiftly moving solid body (as a propeller) or by high-intensity sound waves” -- cleans your records for 90 seconds. In this case, cavitation is effected by activating the cleaning fluid to form tiny bubbles, which are then projected at speed at the record surface. After cleaning, the record continues to be automatically spun as it’s air-dried for 4 1/2 minutes, and as wiper blades remove excess fluid. Altogether, the Vinyl Cleaner Pro takes six minutes to clean a record -- it’s not a short process, but it requires nothing of you but pressing that red button. And while it’s doing the work, you can clean up your e-mails or declutter some other aspect of your life.
I listened to what at first appeared to be a clean record, then cleaned it in the Vinyl Cleaner Pro, and listened to it again. The results were spectacular. The sound was better in every way. I felt sorry for my van den Hul Crimson Stradivarius cartridge, having had to track through all that muck of unknown and uncleaned record grooves, but took solace in the fact that I’m still able to avail myself of AJ van den Hul’s free tune-up after the first 200 hours of use, which he offers for all his cartridges.
I couldn’t believe what was hidden in the grooves of my records: previously inaudible musical nuances, blackety-black silences between songs, more detailed and precise images, more of this instrument or that intonation, more microdetail. My cleaned records have dramatically less surface noise. They sound better.
I’m no longer disappointed in the sounds of the vintage LPs I buy from my local vinyl emporium, as compared to brand-new, pristine, 180 and 200gm pressings I buy online. Last month I bought 12 used records for the usual price of two of my online purchases, and each of those vintage records offers unique delights. Among the gems I found for just a few dollars each were Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise WB 6376), Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die (United Artists UAS 5504), Rickie Lee Jones’s Pirates (Warner Bros. BSK 3432), David Byrne’s The Catherine Wheel (Sire SRK3645), Jorma Kaukonen’s Quah (Grunt BXL1-0209), and Electric Light Orchestra’s Face the Music (United Artists JZ 35527) -- a varied cornucopia of buried treasures within buried treasures. Why people sell their LPs and give up all the pleasures of vinyl is beyond me.
Not having had an original Vinyl Cleaner to compare it to, I can say only that the new model is a truly remarkable component. In fact, this vinyl aficionado now can’t imagine listening to his records without it. Didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas? Get yourself an Audiodesksysteme Gläss Vinyl Cleaner Pro, then fearlessly proceed to your local used-record store or yard sale. There’s gold in them thar grooves.
. . . Tom Mathew
- Speakers -- DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93, Horning Eufrodite Ellipse, Jamo R909, Vivid Audio Oval K1
- Amplifiers -- Shindo Laboratory Cortese and Haut-Brion
- Integrated amplifiers -- Luxman L-590AX, Spec RSA-717
- Preamplifiers -- Shindo Laboratory Masseto and Monbrison
- Digital sources -- Aurender X100L music server (12TB) streaming Tidal HiFi, Luxman DA-06 DAC, MHDT Havana DAC, Apple MacBook computer
- Speaker cables -- Auditorium 23, High Fidelity CT-1 Enhanced, Skogrand Ravel
- Interconnects -- Auditorium 23, Sablon Panatela, Shindo Laboratory, Skogrand Ravel
- Digital links -- PranaWire Photon USB
- Turntables -- Garrard 401 with Ortofon TA-210 tonearm; Garrard 301 with AMG 12J2 tonearm; both with Woodsong Audio plinths
- Cartridges -- Dynavector 10x5, Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe and Zero, Ortofon Xpression, van den Hul Crimson Stradivarius
- Phono connects -- Bob’s Devices Sky 30 step-up transformer, vintage phono cable
- Phono preamplifier -- Luxman EQ-500
- Power conditioners -- Shindo Laboratory Mr. T, Silver Circle Audio Tchaik 6
- Furniture -- Kanso audio stands in Indian rosewood, maple burl, and amboyna; Symposium speaker stands
- Accessory -- Acoustic Revive RR-888 ultra-low-frequency pulse generator
- Record cleaner -- VPI Industries HW-16.5
Audiodesksysteme Gläss Vinyl Cleaner Pro
Price: $4199 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Seestrasse 1, D 89551
Phone: (49) 07328-7138.
127 Union Square
New Hope, PA 18938
Phone: (800) 724-3305, (215) 862-6570
Fax: (215) 862-4871