Vinyl records, the 33-1/3 RPM LPs and 45 RPM (juke box) discs, first came on the market in 1948 and in the 1950s grew tremendously in popularity until the advent of CD recordings. But then something strange happened. Sparked by music aficionados’ appreciation of the unique sound quality of vinyl vs. digital CDs and the ability of ultrasonic cleaning to preserve and restore these records, vinyl sales increased 32% to $416 million in 2015, a 28-year high according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
The resurgence of interest in vinyl recordings has led to a new service industry specializing in cleaning the discs to preserve their unique sound quality and minimize wear. A leader in this service is Pure-Grooves, LLC based in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn, IL. Company founder Vince Tornabene has developed a vinyl record restoration service based on a dual-frequency, adjustable power Elma P60H ultrasonic cleaner provided by Tovatech. According to Mr. Tornabene, regular cleaning results in better sound, preserves investments in discs, extends stylus life and maintains the value of collectables.
Why Ultrasonic Cleaning is Best for New and Old Vinyl
“Ultrasonic cleaning is unsurpassed for removing all types of contaminants from vinyl grooves because it works on a microscopic level,” Tornabene explains. “The microscopic vacuum bubbles created by the cleaner’s transducers vibrating at the Elmasonic P series cleaner user-selectable frequencies of 37 or 80 kHz (37,000 and 80,000 cycles per second) reach into the grooves and implode in such a way to remove and carry away contaminants. This process is termed ultrasonic cavitation.
“The ultrasonic frequency used depends on the condition of the record with 37 kHz used for extremely dirty discs. This can be followed by the smaller bubbles produced at 80 kHz to complete the cleaning cycle. By removing these contaminants the ultrasonic cleaner lowers surface noise allowing listeners to hear music as originally recorded.” And, he adds, it helps preserve the stylus.
The Pure-Grooves Ultrasonic Record Cleaning Process
Condition helps establish the ultrasonic record cleaning process. For example, extremely dirty discs get a preliminary dunk in a Spin-Clean tub then dried on a vacuum drying machine. All records are mounted on a motorized spindle that holds up to 4 LPs (labels are protected by O-rings) . The spindle rotates discs into and out of the P60H ultrasonic cleaner bath. When records are immersed in the bath cavitation goes to work to safely blast away contaminants; when the discs rotate out of the bath the solution sheets off the surface and drains back into the tank. A typical cycle operates at 2 RPM for 5 to 20 minutes, again depending on the number and condition of the discs.
Pure-Grooves’ vinyl record cleaning solution is a proprietary free rinsing aqueous formulation containing enzymes that handle grease, oil, proteins, starch and sugars. It is formulated to deal with contaminants and keep them in suspension during the cleaning cycle. The formulation is supported by the gentle but thorough agitation necessary for a successful cleaning cycle, which is delivered by the ultrasonic cleaning process. Other variables are cleaning time, cleaning temperature, cleaning frequency and ultrasonic power, all of which are part of a successful cleaning cycle. Eventually, however, the solution becomes saturated, cleaning efficiency falls off and the solution must be drained and replaced.
Why Pure-Grooves Uses an Elma P Ultrasonic Cleaner
“The Elma P series gives us the flexibility to customize record cleaning to their condition,” Mr. Tornabene says. “Our particular unit has a cleaning solution capacity of 1.5 gallons and internal tank dimensions perfect for rotating discs into and out of the solution. The Elma P series supports the variables that go into our ability to develop perfect record-cleaning cycles based on the condition of the discs. These include adjustable power, adjustable cleaning solution temperature, adjustable ultrasonic frequency (37 or 80 kHz) and cleaning time. It also has a critical Sweep mode that provides a slight variation in ultrasonic frequency that assures more even cleaning while avoiding what are called ‘hot spots’ and ‘dead zones’ of high or no cavitation action.”
These cleaners are equipped with a degas mode that speedily removes trapped air from fresh cleaning solutions and other useful features all of which are set or displayed on the control panel.
Mr. Tornabene comments “The Elma ultrasonic tanks are of much higher quality than anything else I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a few, starting with an inexpensive unit from China. These don’t have nearly the power advertised, and are poorly designed. You will find that due to the low power, poor transducer placement, standing waves, or other engineering shortcomings that the cleaning result is sub-optimal. This became more evident when more than one record is in the same bath.
“The Pure-Grooves cleaning process has been validated using A/B (before and after) listening tests and an advanced laboratory-grade microscope. After cleaning, we took the microscope to the limit looking for traces of dirt or residue.”
Contact the ultrasonic cleaning professionals at Tovatech for assistance in selecting the correct equipment and cleaning solution formulation to meet your specific requirements.