Are Ultrasonic Cleaners worth the price.

Posted by Matt Lehman on Sep 17th 2022

The short answer is Absolutely!

At the time if writing, we have cleaned over 20,000 records with various ultrasonic cleaners.  The first was one that i made a spindle for that I picked up cheap on an online auction.  Next I bought the cheapest one from Ebay that was from China and could wash up to 6 records at a time.  Now I have 2 Isonics that clean 10 at a time.

I generally run an 8-10 minute cycle on them and they do wonders for dirty records.  If its just a dirty record, it can take a VG player up to a VG+ player and even a NM!  Obviously, they will not do anything for scratches or scuffs, but it will actually clean up those scratches so that when it plays its just a tick.  Often, a dirty record with a scratch will have noise around that scratch as well.  (You can fix that scratch, but you'll have to hit our youtube channel for that tutorial. )

There is a lot of talk about how many KH they should cavitate at,  but I'll spare you the boring science class and let you know that all of mine ran at different KH and i saw no damage or better or worse cleaning from one or the other.  HOWEVER, I did change the times and tweak them from machine to machine. The argument is that the higher the KH the sharper the cavitation and that can damage the records.  I never saw anything like that.  

You can damage a record if you are not careful.  I have damaged maybe 10 in 20,000 because it took me a while to figure out what was causing it.  If a record has a pressing flaw, specifically a bubble sandwiched in the vinyl when pressed, the US will pop that bubble and that section of the record will tick and even skip, so I no longer put records with flaws in the US.  They are easy to see and generally don't cause playback issues. 

I had a VPI (vacuum machine) and compared them and the US absolutely destroyed it, which isn't a big surprise if you break it down.  The vacuum machine can not work out anything that stuck to the record or in the grooves and it's just a brush going across the top of the record.  Sure, the work and do a great job, but it is a night and day difference between the two. I cross tested them as well, meaning I cleaned a record with the VPI and played it, then clean the record with the US and played it again. Every record I did this to went up almost a full grade, especially on Jazz records.  I then reversed this test and started with the US and went to the VPI.  There was little to no change, however many of the records sounded worse on the second play which makes me believe that the VPI is leaving dirt and dust on records. 

What US machine is best for you?  Hard to say, but most home users do not need the beast that I have and can get by with a 1 record at a time cleaner.  Once you clean a record, it should be clean for a very long time if you take care of them and put them in clean sleeves.  I ones on Ebay do a great job and i've seen them sell as low as $250 which is about half of what I paid for mine.

Does the really expensive one work better than the rest as it claims?  I have reached out to everyone that I can find that has one and no one will go head to head with me and my isonics.  My thoughts...if you look at the tanks for the isonic and the expensive one, they are VERY similar in size and shape.  I suspect that both company buy their ultrasonic machines from the same supplier then fit them with different faces for esthetics. That means that the transducers are the exact same and in the exact same location. The only difference I can see is in the drying apparatus and, while cool, doesn't warrant the extra $2k and up.  One of the companies also has a crazy cleaning cycle that takes about 30 minute or more for each record as you rinse it with water, clean it, rinse it again, etc.  

Hope this helps and thanks for reading.