Linette Smith gets into the groove with the Ultrasonic record cleaner KA-RC-1 from Kirmuss Audio. 

Having encountered the Kirmuss team at Hifi shows, including at Cranage this year where they were demonstrating their machines abilities on visitors’ records, and also spectacles, we were very keen to give their Ultrasonic Record Cleaner a spin. Kirmuss Audio are based in the USA but the international versions of the machine are available from their authorised dealers and distributors globally. Our review model was supplied by Kirmuss Audio Europe, based in the UK.

Cleaning records is something that nobody really likes doing, but it is essential to preserve your vinyl and also your cartridge. We buy a lot of second-hand records and I have also recently rediscovered some of my records from my teenage years..records that have only ever been cleaned with a spritz of WH Smith’s record cleaning fluid in years gone by, and that have been festering in their sleeves for the last 30 years. The ultimate test for the efficacity of any record cleaner though has to be the dreaded ‘DJ’ records. Stuart was a club/radio DJ in the early 1990’s so records from this era would surely show how well a cleaning machine works. I decided to rootle out some of the filthiest that I could find to see if the Kirmuss machine could revive them.

Everyone has different methods of cleaning records, from spraying and wiping, brushing, painting them with PVA glue and peeling it off, to buying machines that cost as much as a decent turntable to wash and hoover the grime from the groove. We once encountered a second-hand record dealer who swore by cleaning vinyl with Pledge furniture polish, I would say that is one to avoid, don’t try this at home kids!

HOW THE ULTRASONIC METHOD WORKS

 The system controller generates high frequency ultrasonic waves oscillating at 35 kHz, from three strategically located generators on the bottom of the machine. These waves then pass through the distilled water and 70% Isopropyl alcohol mix in the bath, creating cavitation which leads additionally to the generation of microscopically small bubbles. These micro-bubbles burst when they come into contact with the surface being cleaned. This collapsing action dislodges, then pushes the contaminants away from the surface of the material being cleaned. Additionally, gentle heat also aids in the cleaning action.

 UNBOXING & WHATS INCLUDED

The machine arrived well boxed and with everything included to get going other than 6 litres of distilled water and 40ml of 70% Isopropyl alcohol per bath. You also need a spray bottle with distilled water in for rinsing. I would also add that you need to buy yourself a stack of new record sleeves, we have plenty of MoFi Original Master Sleeves, basically the last thing you want to do is spend time cleaning a record and then put it back in a dirty sleeve. The water can be picked up easily at the supermarket and we ordered the IPA online. Full instructions and a quick start guide are also included. At first glance the machine looks a bit like a printer but is ergonomically designed and easy to pick up with the handles on the top. It has a weight to it but is not overly heavy. There is also a touch screen controller on the top.

The ‘lid’ part houses Kirmuss’ Patented Record Suspension System where records of different sizes are dropped into slots. It spins the records in the stainless-steel bath which holds the cleaning liquid, without getting the labels wet.

The records are spaced for optimal cleaning and you can clean two 331/3, one 45 and one 78 at the same time. One ‘bath’ will clean 15 to 20 records.

The accessories all seemed to be high quality and I liked the cheeky touch of the Rabbit logo. You get a mains lead, draining hose, combination carbon fibre brush/para-static felt brush, anti-bacterial/anti-static surfactant spray (99% distilled water and 1% diol2 propyl), stylus cleaning kit, opticians microfibre cloth, 7” felt mat, camel hair brush and a rabbit microfibre cloth. The machine has a 2 year warranty.

The only gripe that I had thus far was that the supplied instruction pamphlet is a little ‘busy’ in its layout and the text is tiny, making it quite difficult to read, this is carried through to the website which again has a lot going on, I would suggest a redesign of both the site and the literature to make it clean, clear and simple and therefore easy to follow.

THE PROCESS

 There is a very helpful video on the website, I watched it and then outlined the steps below to ensure I followed the instructions to the letter.  It all seemed pretty simple, the process is as follows.  

  1. Fill the bath with distilled water up to the full mark, the instructions say this will be about 6 litres. Measure 40 ml of 70% Isopropyl alcohol and add. Then plug in the machine and switch on the power switch at the back. The LCD screen will show 5 minutes.
  2. To get rid of bubbles you then press the pulse button twice and the ultrasonic pulse activates to de-gas the mixture. This takes 1 min 36, once done repeat for a second time.
  3. Place the ‘lid’ with the record suspension system on the top of the machine and connect its cable at the side.
  4. Press the power button twice, the motor starts and then slip in the record. The record will spin for 5 minutes.
  5. After 5 minutes take out the record and place onto the felt mat which is placed on the microfibre ‘rabbit’ cloth.
  6. Take the bottle of surfactant and apply one spray at each of the positions of 12, 3 and 8 o’clock on the record. With the camel hair brush, lightly brush the surfactant into the record. Turn over and repeat. (Don’t be worried if you see a toothpaste like residue on the record).
  7. Put the record back into the machine and run through another 5 minute wash cycle.
  8. Make sure you rinse the brush with distilled water from a spray bottle and brush dry on the microfibre rabbit cloth to clean between each use.
  9. Repeat step 6 again, you will probably see more of the white ‘paste’ appear. Repeat step 7.
  10. Keep repeating steps 6 and 7 until no more of the white tooth paste like stuff appears, when you don’t see the paste at step 6, you just need to do step 7 and then move on. Really dirty records may need 7 to 8 cycles.
  11. Keep an eye on the indicator on the display, if this goes into the red zone and flashes you need to turn off for around 15 minutes and allow the machine to cool down, this is perfectly normal if you are running the machine for several cycles.
  12. Mist the record lightly with some pure distilled water and gently dry with the opticians’ cloth. Repeat on the other side.
  13. Wipe the record in a circular fashion with the parastatic felt brush.
  14. Before playing or storing the record, put it on the turntable and set it spinning. Take the clean and dry camel hair brush, spray it lightly with surfactant and then hold it gently against the record as it spins to apply the antibacterial solution. Repeat on the second side.
  15. Then you can either play the record or store it in an antistatic, antifungal sleeve.

 RESULTS

Visually, the results were very obvious.  As you get used to the process you soon get a ‘feel’ for when the record is clean and when you need to keep repeating the cleaning cycle. Of course, cleaning will never get rid of actual scratches in a record, so don’t put in a badly scratched disc and expect miracles.

First spin in the machine

Ready for the first surfactant application

The ‘toothpaste’ substance appears as you brush the surfactant in in a circular fashion

After the final cycle…a very clean record!

I spent a full Sunday afternoon cleaning various records for my test. Given the filthiness and general DJ battering that the Tresor record in particular had received over the years, I wasn’t expecting a ‘water into wine’ type miracle, however that’s what I got. Yes, it took me a long time to get that pair of discs clean, but it was worth it. The sound was like a new record, no surface noise at all. The record also seemed to have a lot less static on removing it from its fresh sleeve and attracted much less dust from the environment. Like I said earlier, I specifically selected records to really give the Kirmuss machine a difficult test, it has gone above and beyond what I expected from it…to say I am impressed is an understatement.

CONCLUSION

 At just under £1200 in the UK the Kirmuss is not really an impulse buy, but for anyone serious about vinyl I would say it solves the cleaning issue very elegantly. If you were very strict with yourself and made sure that every record that you bought was cleaned straight away (even new ones) I am sure that it would prolong the life of both your records and your cartridge. For a professional second-hand record dealer, I would say it would be an essential piece of kit as it does transform dirty records. Once you get a feel for the process it is very, very simple and as it is very ‘hands on’ you know that your precious records are being taken care of, there is nothing to worry about as you are in complete control and can see what is happening all the time. If the cost was an issue, it is the kind of product that you could club together with a few like-minded friends to buy between you, perhaps record cleaning parties could be the Tupperware parties of 2019.

Double LP comparison. Left-hand disc has had a full clean, right-hand disc untouched.

There are a lot of record cleaning solutions out there but for me, carrying on trying different methods now would just be a false economy. You buy the machine once and then all you need to buy as you go on is distilled water, 70% isopropyl alcohol, fresh sleeves and more surfactant (available for £19.99 a bottle from Kirmuss who say that one bottle will clean 100 – 150 records). The Kirmuss system should not be seen as simply a record cleaning machine, it is a professional grade archival system that has been made affordable to anyone wanting to preserve or restore their vinyl collection and as such thoroughly deserves Hifi Pig’s Oustanding Product award.

AT A GLANCE

Build quality: Feels very ‘professional’ and high quality. Looks serious and fit for purpose.

Ease of use: Quite time consuming, especially for a very dirty record, however, the process is very simple and once you pick it up, becomes like second nature. It is actually quite a relaxing way to spend an afternoon!

Value for money: Comes with everything you need other than the ‘bath’ liquids, spray bottle and new sleeves so you can basically get going straight out of the box. It is a big investment, however will be something that once you have bought you would stick with and use forever. I can’t see myself bothering with trying other methods now as this does exactly what it says on the tin.

Pros: Video is much easier to follow than the supplied written instructions or website. The machine is not silent when the motor is running, but is a lot less noisy than machines that ‘hoover’ up the cleaning liquid. The ultrasonic bath can be used to clean other things such as jewelry, glasses etc (using a basket adaptor that is available for £47.99, or by holding your glasses in the bath). When the records are clean, they are REALLY clean. You feel confident in the fact that it is not doing any damage to your records.

Cons: Literature and website are difficult to follow and read, a bit of a case of ‘too much information’ rather than the simple steps you need to know.

Price: EU price £998+Vat, USA price $850.

Linette Smith

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