Last year, at the Montréal Audio Fest, I did a solid for Mat Weisfeld, president of VPI Industries. Throughout that weekend I’d been in and out of various rooms that featured VPI turntables, and during those visits Weisfeld and I had struck up brief conversations. Close to the end of the show’s final day, as we discussed VPI’s MW-1 Cyclone record-cleaning machine, as I was picking his brain about the finer points of the Cyclone’s design, Weisfeld asked if I’d mind taking the display unit home with me. “We’ve got enough to transport back to the States -- it’d be a great help if you could look after this for us.”
I’m just so selfless. So accommodating.
Clean your LPs
If you’re serious about playing LPs, a good record-cleaning regime is vital. As delivered, even new records are often somewhat grimy, and even records that look clean can be contaminated enough to add surface noise to your music. That noise can manifest as audible clicks and pops, or just plain old rumble and aural grit. Remember, a record stylus works by friction -- it rubs sound out of the groove -- so some of the mungus that’s made a home in there will end up baked on to the end of the cantilever.
Ever since my teens, I’ve been obsessed with keeping my records clean. I’ve tried most of the popular techniques, from my first Discwasher, to Last products, through an Orbitrac, and on to a Record Doctor vacuum machine, right up to the present day and the Spin-Clean V2, which is spectacularly elegant in its unpowered simplicity.
VPI makes two models of record cleaner: the HW-16.5 ($699 USD) and the MW-1 Cyclone ($1200). For the most part, the Cyclone is a beefed-up version of the HW-16.5, with all metal parts in place of MDF, as well as a replacement for the HW-17, with one important difference -- its platter can spin clockwise and counterclockwise.
The MW-1 Cyclone is a tool of almost frightening power. While it’s found a loving home in the Thorpe household, the Cyclone is built more to a commercial standard than the strictly consumer-oriented record-cleaning products of my experience. Indeed, when we chatted at the Montréal Audio Fest, Mat Weisfeld made it clear that the Cyclone was designed for continuous, heavy-duty use in, for example, record stores.
I find the Cyclone’s distinctly industrial feel reassuring in a world full of fussy, often delicate audio gear. With its heavy-gauge aluminum case and stainless-steel water tank, it has few plastic parts -- every aspect of this machine looks and feels seriously overbuilt. The two toggle switches on the front panel engage with a solid thunk and feel like they’ll last a hundred years. I found the MW-1 Cyclone straightforward to use, with a couple of nifty design flourishes.
The basics: Lift off the clear top cover and set it aside. Place a dirty record on the cork platter, screw on the record clamp, and flip up the Turntable switch to Forward to start the platter spinning. The Cyclone requires that the supplied VPI cleaning fluid be applied manually: Squirt about a tablespoon of fluid onto the record, then use the supplied brush to scrub the fluid into the groove as the high-torque motor spins the record at 18rpm.
The VPI brush has many, many very fine bristles, but strangely enough is very firm, and can withstand a fair amount of pressure without collapsing. It seems just fine to really lean on the brush -- at least, the Cyclone didn’t seem to mind when I did this: the record didn’t slow down in the slightest at the greater resistance. When I really pushed down the motor made a bit more noise, but it never sounded stressed or overworked. In fact, the Cyclone’s motor and bearing still felt as if they were loafing.
After three full revolutions, flick the Turntable switch down, to Reverse. The platter then spins counterclockwise, and you repeat the process with the brush. (VPI has found that records get a better, deeper cleaning if they’re brushed in both directions.) After three more revolutions, it’s time to swivel the vacuum wand from its rest position at 12 o’clock to 9 o’clock, across the record’s playing area, and flip the Vacuum toggle up, to On.
This is the neat part. As the vacuum starts sucking -- it’s viciously powerful -- the wand automatically descends until it presses against the record’s surface. In two revolutions the record is dry. According to the Cyclone’s manual, you can reverse the platter direction while the vacuum is working, but I never felt the need to do that. Turn off the vacuum and the wand rises, ready for you to swing it back to its rest position. Most likely due to the solidity of the chassis and case, the vacuum is reasonably quiet. My old Record Doctor machine was as loud as a jet engine; in contrast, while using the Cyclone I could comfortably hold a conversation.
Unscrew the clamp, flip the record over, and screw the clamp back on. Repeat all above steps to clean side 2. Done.
But I’m seldom content to follow instructions. I used up the squeeze bottle of VPI fluid in short order and brewed up some of my own: four parts distilled water, one part isopropyl alcohol, and a couple drops of Kodak Photo-Flo 200 as a surfactant. (I bought a bottle of Photo-Flo a lifetime ago and still have enough for at least another generation of use, assuming my daughter will be cleaning her records.)
Because my homebrew fluid contained alcohol and soap, I added a step to the above cleaning process. After cleaning and vacuuming, I followed up with a rinse using distilled water and a different brush. That’s one scrubbing, one vacuuming, one rinse, and another vacuuming per side.
I found the MW-1 Cyclone easy to care for. There’s a drain tube around the back that VPI says should be used to empty the reservoir after every six records. I often spilled a bit of fluid off the edge of the record, and, per VPI’s suggestion, used a cloth to soak it up right away. The seams around the edge of the plinth (for want of a better term) are sealed with clear silicone caulk -- the Cyclone seems essentially waterproof. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially given that under the plinth are a motor and bearing, neither of which will appreciate coming in contact with water.
VPI has been building record-cleaning machines since the year gimel, and parts for the HW-16.5 are still available, so odds are the MW-1 Cyclone will be supported long into my retirement.
Over the past few months I’ve cleaned a couple hundred of my records, and invited friends over for record-cleaning parties (woo-hoo!) -- the review sample of the Cyclone has had a serious workout. Despite our best efforts, it hasn’t flinched, and still works exactly as it did the day I received it.
In my experience, a vigorous washing of LPs goes a long way toward reducing noise of all sorts, and while I was first astonished at the improvement in sound, I now kind of take it for granted.
After learning the VPI’s ropes by cleaning some cheap albums I don’t care about, one of the first valued LPs I disinfected with the MW-1 Cyclone was Muddy Waters’s Folk Singer (LP, Chess/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 593). I’ve owned this album for over 20 years and have cleaned it with a variety of tools, so it’s not filthy. But I hadn’t cleaned it in a few years, and felt it might benefit from a freshening up. Three times left, three times right, flip and repeat, and on to my turntable for a spin. I’d already given my favorite track, “Good Morning Little School Girl,” a spin before cleaning the disc, and was most satisfied to hear that the trip through the Cyclone had removed from it a couple of clicks and lowered the surface noise. A clear win for the VPI.
Lately I’ve been rooting through my lower shelf of assorted garage-sale classical LPs, trying to sort out the gems, of which I’ve found a few. The biggest winner so far is Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Schubert’s Piano Sonata in G, D.894 (LP, London CS 6820), a disc that features one of the hugest piano sounds of any recording I’ve heard -- it feels as if the piano is going to jam itself down my throat. But this record was abused by its previous owners and is still not in the best of shape, despite my best efforts with my Spin-Clean washer. A trip to the VPI spa produced more good results. While the Cyclone couldn’t get rid of one annoying click that’s obviously the result of a scratch, it did reduce surface noise to a thoroughly acceptable level.
Along with the benefits of reduced rumble and clicks, I began to notice an increase in overall three-dimensionality. This was obvious with the Schubert disc, which already produces a huge illusion of acoustic space. After cleaning it in the Cyclone, I could hear further into the decays of notes as they ricocheted off the studio walls. Perhaps the deep cleaning by the Cyclone uncovered more information previously masked by grunge in those grooves?
But these two albums, while representative of much of my collection, had been fairly clean to start with. How would the Cyclone handle a really filthy record? The Police’s Ghost in the Machine (LP, A&M) answered the call. This is a decent pressing, with “Sterling” in the dead wax, but it’s a garage-sale find I’d never bothered to clean. I’d left the thing encrusted with fingerprints, dandruff, and what looked like some sort of hard, dried gum that I had to pick off with a fingernail. No way was I going to play this record in its current state.
The poor dear emerged from its jacket with a gritty rasp. There was no inner sleeve -- for an LP, that’s like walking through brambles naked. For this disc I laid down an old paper sleeve over the VPI’s platter -- I didn’t want to contaminate the machine -- and went to work. Feeling it warranted, I also added an extra splash of alcohol to a tablespoon of my homebrew fluid and had at it. Even giving each side six or seven rotations didn’t rid it of all the filth. Another quick splash of alcohol, a few more revolutions, and it was as clean as it was going to get. I hadn’t yet vacuumed off the dirty fluid, and feeling it was now too dirty, I first sopped it up with a microfiber cloth, then applied more fluid for one last cleaning. This time I vacuumed, and followed it up with a rinse.
The result was way better than I’d anticipated. There was still a bunch of ticks and pops -- no surprise -- but the album was now totally listenable. This is great music, and a good pressing -- as resuscitated by the Cyclone, what was once destined for the trash can now comfortably take its place in my record rack.
Some logistics: Even when I lengthen the cleaning process with my extra-rinse regimen, I can still process both sides of an LP in just over a minute. That’s damn fast. And thanks to the Cyclone’s very powerful engine, the record is completely dry and ready for immediate play.
Don’t discount the value of speed. Many times in the past few months I’ve pulled a record out of my rack, removed it from its jacket, then stood there with it, poised over the turntable, only to decide that it really could use a cleaning before I played it. Then I’ve nipped over to the Cyclone, scrubbed the disc to within an inch of its life, and thrown it on the ’table. I then grab my handy Sharpie and mark a little X on the top right corner of the (new) sleeve, so that the next time I pull it out I know at a glance that I’ve already cleaned it. After the first ten or so LPs, this process became mostly automatic.
With VPI’s MW-1 Cyclone set up in my basement close to my turntable, I feel as if I’m something of a professional vinyl guy. While $1200 might seem a bit stiff, once you consider the fact that the Cyclone will likely last a literal lifetime, it begins to feel like a bargain. I can’t recommend this thing highly enough.
. . . Jason Thorpe
- Analog source -- Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable, Roksan Shiraz cartridge, Ortofon Quintet Blue cartridge
- Digital source -- Logitech Squeezebox Touch
- Phono stage -- AQVOX Phono 2 CI
- Preamplifier -- Sonic Frontiers SFL-2
- Power amplifier -- Audio Research VT100, Simaudio Moon Evolution 870A
- Speakers -- Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L, Focus Audio FP60 BE
- Speaker cables -- Nordost Frey
- Interconnects -- Nordost Frey
- Power cords -- Nordost Vishnu
- Power conditioners -- Quantum QBASE QB8 Mk.II
- Record cleaner -- Spin-Clean V2
VPI MW-1 Cyclone Record-Cleaning Machine
Price: $1200 USD.
Warranty: 90 days parts and labor.
77 Cliffwood Avenue #5D
Cliffwood, NJ 07721