Record cleaners are huge, noisy boxes that get relegated to the shed at the earliest opportunity. Not any more, the Vivac range changes all that with compact, attractive machines that let you listen while you clean.
I’m not sure who declared that record cleaners shall be substantial lumps that make a racket when they are in use, because after all they’re cleaners, you don’t listen to them. But that seems to have been the approach adopted by most of the cleaning machines that have appeared on the market over the years. Quite often they are little more than a vacuum cleaner under a turntable, I had one like that with a steel box underneath it and it made a heck of a lot of noise, I used to wear ear defenders! This is where newcomer Pristine Vinyl got started, founder Jason Walker wanted a cleaner that looked good enough to leave in the same place as the system and which was quiet enough to use whilst enjoying music. The result is a cleaning machine that looks great and doesn’t take up any more space than a regular turntable, equally crucial is that while it isn’t silent it is quiet enough not to be too intrusive.
The Vivac RCS is a thread and vacuum style wet cleaner, it’s built around a slab of solid wood that supports all the functional elements, much like the plinth of a record player. Underneath this plinth are the vacuum pump, turntable motor and a reservoir for dirty cleaning fluid and thread. There is a power input on the back and control switches on top, these sit next to the tubular arm that automatically works outwards from the centre when the system is running. The three switches control the bi-directional platter motor, vacuum pump and arm motor, you can leave all but the the first permanently on.
There are two RCS models, the more affordable RCS1 that requires you to squirt on cleaning fluid by hand and the RCS2 (£200 extra) which has a precision pump that will poot forth the requisite amount for the job. I tried the RCS1 manual version and have to say that the measured approach does appeal, I guess you would become familiar with the right amount with practice but it’s easy to use too much liquid and have it fly off. But given that cleaning fluids are not toxic this is hardly a disaster. Pristine now has its own Deep Clean Solution but the review machine was supplied with an isopropyl alchohol type cleaning fluid and a vegetable enzyme based one, both of which seemed to give similar results.
Using the RCS1 is pretty straightforward, you put the record on the platter, turn the drive motor on and squirt enough (but not too much) cleaner on then distribute it with a supplied brush, spreading it right up to the label is recommended. Then you swing the arm across and past the spindle until its own motor cuts out before bringing it back to the edge of the label. This movement pulls out some of the thread that runs up through the arm and out of a PTFE nozzle at its end before returning back along a separate tube and eventually gets to the reservoir for used cleaning fluid. Its purpose is to create a small air gap between vinyl and vacuum tip from which dirt and moisture can be extracted.
The Vivac RCS2 is identical to the RCS1 except for the addition of a fluid applicator.
Once you place the end of the arm next to the label its motor pulls it slowly back over the record, a process that takes about a minute. Once it gets to the outside and comes off the edge of the vinyl the vacuum pump and arm motor stop, which means you don’t have to stand there waiting but can leave it to get on with the job. The platter is covered in small rubber feet for minimal contact area, inevitably while you clean one side the other side might leave dirt on the platter so this reduces the transfer effect.
That is essentially it, at some point you will have to empty the jam jar reservoir but the amount of fluid collected means this must take several hundred LPs to fill up. The only unintuitive part of the process is remembering to dry out the vacuum pipes after use by leaving the vacuum pump on for a minute or so. If you don’t the thread could stick to the inside of the tube, inevitably I forgot but this didn’t seem to cause any problems.
I used the RCS1 on a variety of records that I haven’t cleaned in the past and did a few before and after comparisons. Generally the effect is to brighten up the sound and to make both the signal and any damage easier to appreciate. With older records the extra clarity is somewhat undermined by the fact that the scratches and pops also become more obvious, but in the scheme of things it's a worthwhile exercise that effectively renews the recording.
With newer albums like Leo Kottke’s Great Big Boy from the eighties you get a considerably greater result, the sound becomes calmer and quieter and it’s possible to hear more of the music; more of the nuances of playing and singing. On a relatively new pressing, Patricia Barber’s Modern Cool, it opens up the soundstage and delivers what is essentially a cleaner sound. All in all this machine does a useful job with vinyl of all vintages but can’t help if there is actual physical damage, unfortunately nothing can.
Build & design
With a vacuum formed cover for the working parts beneath and the aforementioned solid wood plinth the RCS cleaners seem to be well thought out and executed. The machined aluminium platter seems like slight overkill but it should ensure longevity. The arm is in aluminium and stainless steel and very nicely finished a bit like the rest of the design. Overall it’s about the best looking cleaner on the market and also takes up the least amount of space.
The technique used will be familiar to anyone who has seen a Keith Monks machine which are available for a similar price but are larger and less contemporary in design. It also avoids the problems inherent with velvet strip type suction cleaners where the strips are likely to become dirty and need regular replacement. The other approach is ultrasonic cleaning which looks like a great idea until you consider that they require a bath of cleaning fluid that will be contaminated with each record cleaned yet is to large to warrant changing for each disc.
The Pristine RCS1 achieves what its makers and many vinyl lovers desire, a cleaner that can be left out and used without waking the neighbours. Combine this with straightforward operation and a sensible price for the build and finish quality and you have a machine that seems like excellent value.