March 2010

Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner

For the last 15 years, record-cleaning machines have been limited largely to vacuuming devices. But now there is an innovative, convenient, effective, and expensive alternative -- the Audio Desk Vinyl Cleaner ($3495 USD).

Record cleaning has evolved greatly since the days when all anyone did was blow off the dust. Next came washing records at the edge of the kitchen sink or perhaps the Diskwasher brush and cleaning liquid. I think, however, that "real" record cleaning sprang from the vacuum machines of Nitty Gritty and VPI. These were followed by the small vortex, string supported, vacuum machines of Loricraft, which came after the early and cantankerous Keith Monks machine in the 1970s. Of course, the Keith Monks machine is now once again available.


The Audio Desk Vinyl Cleaner represents a sharp departure from the labor-intensive vacuum idea. For one, there is no vacuum on this machine. Moreover, it is also virtually automatic. As their information says:

Audio Desk Systeme's Vinyl Cleaner is the first and only LP cleaning machine that incorporates an ultrasonic cleaning cycle in addition to a more conventional mechanical cleaning via bi-directional rotating microfiber cleaning drums, and the result is the cleanest LPs ever.

Ultrasonic is sound generated above the human audible level. A physical effect called "cavitation" results from the generation of ultrasonic frequencies in a liquid. In this cavitation process an ultrasonic transducer creates ultrasonic "compression waves." When the amplitude of this soundwave increases to a level where the surface tension of the liquid is broken, the fluid will "tear" apart leaving behind millions of microscopic vacuum bubbles. These vacuum bubbles then rapidly compress or implode creating millions of tiny liquid jets small enough to clean inside the smallest grooves of an LP. This process, also called "microagitation," displaces any contaminants on the surface of the LP.

And it is fully automatic -- just put the LP in the slot, push the button, and come back in five minutes for a thoroughly cleaned and dried LP (both sides).

The basic operation of the unit is simple. You insert the record into a long narrow slot in the top between two sets of microfiber brushes and two white plastic lips on the right side. The instructions say to then slightly rotate the record counter clockwise to get the lips facing upward against the record surface. The cleaning brushes move to embrace the record to assess its thickness and then retract for a brief moment. Counter rotation then moves the lips up and the record remains engaged. I did not find this counter rotation to work well as the wheels that drive the record counter clockwise did not properly engage it. A kind gentleman on an audio forum suggested doing this counter clockwise rotation after the start button was pressed and as the tank was filling with water from the reservoir below. Nevertheless, about five minutes after hitting start, you can return to find a cleaned record ready to pIay.

If you are there immediately after it alerts you that it is done, you may find some drops on the record, particularly at the bottom. Also you have to be careful in removing the record to avoid the cleaning brushes or they will wet the surface. However, you see no evidence of deposits left in the fan-drying process. This is no doubt to the benefit of the cleaning fluid as well as the continual filtering done by the unit.

This cleaner is a sturdy metal unit measuring 12" wide by 7.8" deep by 10.6" tall. It weighs just over 12 pounds without the just over one gallon of water and cleaner used in the cleaning.

The cleaning fluid is unique. In order to treat the vinyl as gently as possible, and create the best possible sound, the cleaning fluid, specifically developed for the Vinyl Cleaner, avoids the use of alcohol, instead relying on a mild biodegradable mixture with excellent cleaning properties and outstanding antistatic characteristics. Just one container of cleaning fluid concentrate ($14.95 per bottle) -- two are included in the delivery package -- is enough to clean approximately 100-200 discs (depending on the level of disc contamination).


A convenient bathroom sufficed for setting up this cleaner. One would not want it in your listening room, especially during the drying cycle because it is noisy. Also as the fluid needs to be drained after each 100 records cleaned, the availability of a sink is quite useful.

I should note that I presently own a VPI 16.5 with the Walker Delrin nozzle and use Walker’s Prelude four-step cleaning system. It typically takes me just under ten minutes of attention to what I am doing to clean both sides of a record. The Walker displaced my Loricraft for two reasons. One, records cleaned with the Walker/VPI system after having been first cleaned with the Loricraft unit also using Prelude, sounded better. Two, the Loricraft unit using Prelude took me over 20 minutes per record.


Once I had the Audio Desk Vinyl Cleaner loaded with 4.5 liters of distilled water and the bottle of cleaner, I chose a record that I had just played the night before -- Duke Ellington and Ray Brown’s This One’s For Blanton (AcousTech/Pablo 2310-721), a double-record 45rpm pressing. This record had been previously cleaned on both the Loricraft and VPI/Walker setups. I was quite attentive to the cleaning on the Audio Desk this first time, although it functioned flawlessly. When finished I immediately put it on my Shindo Labs turntable and played it again. What I heard was clearly more extended on the top end and very involving in that the soundstage was wider and deeper than before this cleaning. I listened through the whole of the first side because I was so engrossed in the music. Ray Brown’s bass was realistic and his presence was vivid in my room. The Ellington piano was less recessed than it had been in the previous listening. The level of detail, such as Brown’s fingerings, lent great realism to the music.

My next cleaned record was Ella Fitzgerald’s Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! (Verve VG-4053). This record has always been a problem on the lead-in grooves. There are many pops and clicks that have resisted many efforts to remove. No, the Audio Desk did not remove them, or at least all of them, but it did have the above noted impact on soundstage as well as adding top-end extension. Again, I had a hard time moving on and listened to both sides of the record delaying my getting to bed that night.

The next day I decided to clean Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book (Verve 314 539 759-2). I had recently acquired this multiple-record release and had not yet cleaned it. I listened to the first record uncleaned, then I cleaned it on the Audio Desk and immediately relistened. The noise level went down greatly and again the top end became more extended as though the stylus was better tracking the grooves. Perhaps because of this, the soundstage was more realistic.

I then cleaned Harry Belafonte’s Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall (RCA lSO-6007), again, a Classic reissue. I have used this album repeatedly because it is live, there is an expansive left-to-right soundstage, the audience is noisy, and the city outside the hall is quite audible, including the subway, which often approaches, stops briefly, and then goes on its way. All of this was more evident when this previously VPI 16.5-cleaned album was recleaned with the Audio Desk. The performance became more engaging, sounding like one was on stage or perhaps just behind it, and when the audience applauded, they sounded as though they were in front of you.

This apparent extension on the top end, great realism in the soundstage, and reduction in the noise level was evident in all of the many albums I cleaned. Also, when there was profound bass energy in an album, it was cleaner and deeper than before. I should say something about one last record, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out (Columbia CS 8192). "Blue Rondo A La Turk" and "Strange Meadow Lark," were just awesome. On these recordings, Brubeck’s piano has always seemed poorly captured and off to the right, and as much as I enjoyed the music, I could not hear a well-defined soundstage. This was true on several vinyl releases of this album that I own. Not after this Audio Desk cleaning, however. I was transfixed and enjoyed the piano for the first time and heard a soundstage that I could really grasp.

Further observations

The Audio Desk's designer, Reiner Gläss, says, "The Vinyl Cleaner is a disc-cleaning machine that follows a different path: the cleaning process is fully automatic, simultaneously for both sides, ultrasonically, and by means of counter-rotating microfiber cleaning barrels, with subsequent drying. This form of cleaning is not only quieter and more convenient, it is above all highly effective and extremely gentle on the disc's surfaces." I can take no exception to any of these claims. But it is a complex piece of equipment and a good deal more expensive than my reference record cleaner, the VPI 16.5 with the Walker Delrin tube. Certainly, the VPI is much less convenient but is it less effective? This question troubled me greatly.

Early on I found that the sound of a previously VPI-cleaned record improved after a further cleaning with the Audio Desk. Does this prove the Audio Desk is more effective? I thought so initially but somewhat accidentally I found this was not necessarily true. The earlier mentioned Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book led to an interesting finding. I had not cleaned this album earlier with the VPI. Having cleaned one of the four records in this album with the Audio Desk and being quite happy with the improvements I noted above, I thought why not see if the VPI adds anything. I took this record and further cleaned it with all four steps in the Walker Prelude cleaner on the VPI.

Much to my dismay, listening after further cleaning with the VPI, I heard greater transparency, more detail, a noticeably more delineated soundstage and more detail. I took another record and first cleaned it with the VPI. I found it was much improved. Obviously, the next test was to clean it with the Audio Desk, and yes this was again a major improvement. Many further tests of the hypothesis that cleaning with both machines was better than with one, confirmed it. What an unsatisfying conclusion! Who is going to own two record cleaners, and what does this mean anyway? Does each machine clean up what the other leaves? Does the Walker enzyme better remove the molding compound, or does it leave something on the record that improves its sound? Does the Audio Desk's cavitation remove deep dirt in the grooves and keep both sides from contaminating each other, as each is face down on the VPI platter while the other is being cleaned? And would another combo of cleaners outperform these excellent units? Life is too short for me to entertain these further questions. All that I can say is that cleaning with both of these cleaners gives a more satisfying vinyl sound.

As I noted above this is a very convenient automatic machine, but it is very complex. Water has to be filtered and brought to the tank where the cleaning takes place. The thickness of the record must be assessed and the drive posts engaged on the record. The brushes then have to be engaged for one minute per press of the On button as the record is rotated. Once this is completed, the water has to be drained into the lower tank before two fans turn on in order to dry the record’s surface as it spins through a cycle of three different speeds.

At the end of my test of the Audio Desk, I did have a problem: The records stopped rotating. I reported this to Ultra Systems, the US importer, who examined the unit when I returned it and reported that "one of the drive rollers attached to a spindle had worked lose from the spindle. [We] had not seen this problem before, but apparently Germany has, because they had already changed the adhesive used to secure this roller in the next production run." I therefore expect this resolved the problem.


I will sorely miss the convenience of the Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner, as the VPI with the Walker Prelude that I own takes about four times as long and you have to be constantly present while cleaning a record. The Audio Desk Vinyl Cleaner is very convenient and effective. I would certainly recommend it to anyone.

. . . Norm Luttbeg

Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner
Price: $3495 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

Ultra Systems Inc.
127 Union Square
New Hope, PA 18938
Phone: (800) 724-3305 or 215-862-6570