Kirmuss

The Ultimate & Affordable, Ultrasonic Record Cleaning & Restoration machine
NOT ALL ULTRASONICS WASH YOUR RECORDS SAFELY: SPECIFY KIRMUSS - 35 KHz! 


The Editors at THE ABSOLUTE SOUND remarked the Kirmuss KA RC1 was " Best  Analog Accessory of Show". 

THE ABSOLUTE SOUND: About our ultrasonic record restoration system: was the "Most Significant Product Introduction (AXPONA 2018); Kirmuss Audio’s "In The Groove Ultimate Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System", makes the process of using this technology more affordable.”

NOT ALL ULTRASONICS WASH YOUR RECORDS SAFELY: SPECIFY 35 KHz! 
 "Sonically speaking", the higher the frequency, the smaller the bubbles, smaller the bubbles, they enter small crevices easier., but a RECORD CONTRARY TO BELIEF IS NOT A SMALL CREVICE, MINUTE DETAILS WITHIN THE GROOVE PROVIDE TIMBER AND THE EXCELLENCE OF ANALOG. THESE INDENTATIONS SHOULD NEVER BE REMOVED! One of the critical KIRMUSS differences, it wont deteriorate your records like others on the market will. 

In 3 years of testing,  35 kHz is  the sweet spot, does not remove these details and does not "smoothen" the grooves as would a poorly designed record cleaner leaving a residue which has the same effect.   Not 45, not 80, not 90 kHz. NEVER 120 kHz or higher. All are proven to damage records over time. Much misinformation out there: We have in house experienced  engineers familiar with ultrasonic generation.  35 kHz is gentle yet powerful to do the job!

A Primer on Sonic Technology:

Under pressure of continuous vibration by the ultrasonic generator at the bottom of the tank bubbles generated rise and stretch and compress at a fast rate. Once they reach a certain size as determined by the frequency and strength of the sound waves produced the bubbles lose structural integrity and collapse violently. When these implosions happen near the surface of an object such as a record,  the bubbles emit high-powered streams of plasma that travel at more than 500 miles per hour and collide with, agitate and remove even very tiny particles and substances from the record's surface.  Using a surfactant attracts further these bubbles to the record. (For new records, 40 mL of 70% alcohol per 6 L of distilled water to remove record pressing residue, our 1% propanol surfactant brushed in for mildly to generally abused records). 

CALLED CAVITATION: In an ultrasonic cleaning machine, explosions occur millions of times per second, removing contaminants. Bubble size relates to how much energy is released when they implode.  That’s why a higher frequency produces less intense cleaning, (smaller bubbles) but because a higher frequency yields more bubbles it’s a better choice for cleaning parts with very tiny features such as blind holes, channels and threads. This a danger for vinyl and shellacked records.  

SMALL BUBBLES DAMAGE THE DEPTH OF THE GROOVE REMOVING TIMBER AND HIGH FREQUENCIES. THE BEST ULTRASONIC FREQUENCY AFTER 3 YEARS OF TESTING IS 35 kHz WITH A MAX TEMP OF 95 DEG F. 

Higher frequencies such as 100, 125, 130 kHz are used for fine cleaning jobs as they enter  small surfaces including microelectronics, printed circuit boards, medical and precision optics. powerful explosions remove post manufacturing matter and dirt. The 35 kHz frequency has a good combination of power, penetration, and especially very even energy distribution and can successfully address most cleaning applications when combined with a properly-engineered cleaning system and also does not damage the stainless steel basin as do higher frequencies. 

MORE MYTHS REVEALED: AS TO OTHER SYSTEMS CLEANING 6, 8, 12 OR MORE RECORDS AT A TIME AND UNDERSTANDING SYSTEM SELECTION.  

THE KIRMUSSAUDIO SYSTEM HAS ITS RECORDS SPACED AT THE CORRECT DISTANCE BETWEEN EACH OTHER TAKING ULTRASONIC FREQUENCY, ULTRASONIC POWER TO THE CERAMIC SONIC TRANSDUCERS LOCATED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STAINLESS STEEL BASIN WITH MEASURED BUBBLE GENERATION AND THE RESULTING CAVITATION EFFECT TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION. 

KIRMUSS THUS ENGINEERED THEREFORE A SYSTEM WHERE 4 RECORDS ARE  SAFELY AND PROPERLY CLEANED WITH ALL GROOVES CONTACTED WITHOUT WETTING THE LABEL.  OUR SPECIFIC SPACING IS DESIGNED WHERE  A MAXIMUM OF 4 RECORDS ARE CLEANED  SIMULTANEOUSLY  IN A 6 LITTER, 1.6 GALLON TUB. 

ANY MORE RECORDS ADDED IN THE ASSEMBLY WOULD SEE THE RECORDS CLOSER TO EACH OTHER AND AS A RESULT GROOVES NEAREST THE WAX RELEASE POINT AT THE  END OF RECORD WOULD NOT BE CLEANED AS WE SEE IN OTHER SYSTEMS OFFERING 6, 8, EVEN 12 RECORDS BEING CLEANED AT A TIME.  

AS WE HAVE DISCOVERED USING UNDERWATER CAMERAS, THE  HIGHER THE NUMBER OF RECORDS SPACED CLOSER THAN 1 3/4" AND LESS SEES THE SONIC BUBBLE IMPLOSIONS  CANCEL OUT AS BUBBLES RISE  AND APPROACH THE WAX LINE AND AS A RESULT,  WHERE 2/3 OF THE RECORD WOULD NOT BE CLEANED.  It's called SCIENCE!

INTRODUCING AN AFFORDABLE SOLUTION TO MAINTAINING AND RESTORING YOUR VINYL COLLECTION:

No matter how you store and use your records  they inevitably will require maintenance. When playing records, dust particles and contaminants  always build up on the stylus as the tone arm moves across the record. This  accumulation on the needle also “dulls” the sound.  

The emergence of the dreaded “audible pops” and “crackle sounds” heard are caused by dirt, grime and particles lodged in the record grooves themselves being hit by the needle, as well as static discharges, all amplified by the cartridge. All are annoying. 

Even new  and latest pressings are subject to the same conditions as your old collection.  Their release agents are found on the record from the pressing process and must be removed prior to use, otherwise they attract at an alarming rate dust and other airborne contaminants. 

Therefore, recommended is the continual  maintenance and care of your records by way of regular cleanings which in turn reduces these unwanted pops and augments therefore one's listening pleasure and audition. Cleaning WILL NOT remove unwanted sounds caused by scratches on the record surface and depending on the age and condition of the record, even repeated cleanings may or may not restore the record to like new condition, but reduces the overall undesirable effect previously described.

EVERY ONE'S AN EXPERT! There is much nonsense published regarding the cleaning  of records. Soaps, chemical mixes and brews, and  especially the use of  large portions of alcohol etc., these  all affect the record negatively either during or after cleaning. Air drying or blow drying of chemicals that are not physically removed further creates issues that are cumulative over time. Indeed, to the rescue,  ultrasonic cleaners have been around for decades and its use and attributes are well known and while care must also be taken as to the introduction of chemicals in the ultrasonic bath, this cleaning technology is a very valuable tool to use. We differ in how we handle the record itself. Nonsense though,  are some of the extravagant prices on cleaning machines available as all ultrasonics operate the same way.  >>Many add 2.5 L of alcohol to 6 L of water, dangerous!<<<

The KirmussAudio  Model KA-RC-1 revolutionizes the way we clean records. First and foremost:  a  Patented record suspension system assures where records of any speed and size see their grooves cleaned safely. No damage to the record by mechanical intrusion of skewers and the like.   

Secondly: 
Only distiulled water with a maximum of 40 mL ( 1.4 oz) of ISA 70% solution constitutes the bath  and where applied to the record in its second cycle is an anti-bacterial surfactant, pre and post wash neutral liquid agent is used by way of a supplied goat hair brush. Ultrasonics need a surfactant to aid in the cavitation of the water solution to better clean and remove contaminants. 

Third:
Affordability - everyone can enjoy their collection and restore and maintain it.

THE TEAM:  
After 3 years of  extensive  research and trials audiophile and business owner Charles Kirmuss and recognized turntable restoration expert Dr. Eric Watson developed an affordable, simple to use system. With cUl and UL/CE Electrical and Safety Approvals our    affordable system will increase your listening pleasure by removing most of those annoying unwanted pops and crackling sounds  from both new and old records. This is not some home-made product. With Patents both issued and pending, ware also sure that You will be very pleased with the results and benefit from many years of satisfaction with our revolutionary ultrasonic based cleaner.    

All Products

Reviews

All Products

Accessories

KS 01 ITG RCM
NZ$ 1,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
A Primer on Sonic Technology:
WHAT IS INCLUDED WITH THE RCM (and what accessories are additional):When you buy one machine you...
EXTENDED REVIEW: arguably the fastest developing technology in hi-fi, ultrasonic vibration - long...
Accessories

Reviews

Meet The Maker: An Interview With Charles Kirmuss Of Kirmuss Audio Interview By Suave Kajko Of NOVO Magazine
Suave Kajko

Kirmuss Audio has been making some big waves in the audio world over the last several months, since the introduction of the company's Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to chat with founder Charles Kirmuss and learn some insights about his company as well as his innovative vinyl restoration system.

SK (Suave Kajko): I understand that you began building your own audio components and speakers at a very early age. How did you get the 'audio bug' when you were so young?

CK (Charles Kirmuss): Everyone in school thought I was a nerd because I got good grades. But the fact is that I studied little and remembered everything. At the age of 8, my interest in shortwave radio and music as well as woodworking inspired me to build a speaker cabinet from plans in the "Mechanics Illustrated" magazine. I purchased the drivers from a store called Heathkit in Montreal, which was just up the street from my home, nearby a well-known audio retailer Filtronique. Fast forward some 40 years, and Filtronique is now a customer of Kirmuss Audio! My next project was a tube amplifier with huge panel meters. During my high school years every Friday my friend Robert, now an MIT mathematician, and I took the Montreal Metro to St. Catherine Street and visited every audio shop from the east end to the west. We started at Radio Lorenz at 6pm, then worked for an hour at Layton Audio in exchange for equipment, and ended up at the Audio Shop on Mountain Street. All of these stores still exist today. The Audio Shop closed at 9PM but we often stayed until 10pm listening to music. They were the speaker "test lab" for McIntosh products. I still own the McIntosh equipment from the Audio Shop, as well as an Akai GX-747 reel to reel and a Nakamichi Dragon deck from Layton Audio.

SK: When did you start manufacturing cables under the Kirmuss Audio brand and what cables do you currently offer?

CK: Our company has been manufacturing cables for perimeter security for homeland security devices since 1991. Then in 2015, BK Butler of Butler Audio asked us to develop a "crossover friendly" and "neutral sounding" cable for audio applications. Butler Audio has been designing and building vacuum tube music products and guitar pedals for over 25 years for some of the biggest artists in the business, including Elton John, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Eric Clapton. The Kirmuss Audio Adrenaline loudspeaker cable was born out of this relationship with Butler Audio. At the time, it was sold to a select few but now it's available to all musicians and audiophiles. Shortly after that we developed the Kirmuss Audio Sonice speaker cable. This double shielded non-coaxial 8-guage cable was originally designed for power handling in 2-way radio communications, but it proved to offer an exemplary performance for studio, home and car audio applications. Now thanks to the popularity of the Kirmuss Audio Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System, our cables are witnessing unprecedented attention from audiophiles. It's not uncommon for audio experts to compare our twelve-foot $1,200 speaker cables to cables costing nearly 10 times as much. Hmm....

Charles Kirmuss, Jerome Fragman and BK Butler, testing Butler Audio's disruptive blue tube technology.

SK: What makes your cables unique compared to other cable designs in the industry?

CK: Nearly all loudspeakers use a crossover network which separates the sound between the drivers and the tweeters, as seamlessly as possible. We focused a lot of attention on how signals flow through the crossover when developing the Adrenaline loudspeaker cable line, which resulted in a very transparent cable that allows the finest of musical details to be heard as intended by the musician. The cable also allows remarkable separation between the instruments which in turn makes the recordings come alive. As a result, many of our Adrenaline cables have found their way into recording studios.

SK: What made you decide to focus on manufacturing strictly speaker cables? Do you plan to expand your product line to include power and interconnect cables in the future?

CK: Rather than developing many cable products like other manufacturers, we decided to focus our efforts on just a few, very carefully designed products: two loudspeaker cables and the Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System. I believe that the audio market could use a better silver interconnect cable… hmm, stay tuned!

SK: There appears to be a lot of buzz among the industry and audiophiles about the Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System you released earlier this year. What inspired the design of this system?

CK: Four years ago, I showcased the infamous Rogers LS5/9 65th Anniversary Edition loudspeakers at the Munich High End show. Next to my booth, a company was demonstrating both vacuum and sonic record cleaning systems, retailing for $8,000 and $12,000 respectively. I thought to myself "what makes these machines so expensive?" After all, we use $500 sonic frequency machines at Kirmuss & Associates to clean PCBs and aluminum chassis. Why were the other guys asking $8,000? We bought one of each machine and pulled them apart. We quickly realized that there wasn't anything special inside that commanded such high price tags. Further research into this product category revealed that what these machines should really be doing is restoring records, not just cleaning the record surface. All of the vinyl cleaning systems we tested left residue on the record from the cleaning process, which resulted in the cartridge needle making less contact with the record's groove. Most, if not all, did not even clean deep into the groove. We also discovered that some cleaning systems use cleaning agents that are not PVC friendly and some ultrasonic systems promote the growth of fungus if the cleaning system's tank is not emptied immediately after use. Some machines we tested even damaged the records' edges, leaving tiny little pieces of the record at the bottom of the cleaning chamber. Crazy, isn't it? After about three years of tests, we realized that there had to be a better solution to cleaning records. Records made in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s cannot be replaced. Most of the original record stampers have all been destroyed since the advent of the CD. As audiophiles we should be the custodians of this wonderful sounding medium. 

SK: What distinguishes your Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System from other record cleaners in the market? Tell me about the technologies that make up this system.

CK: Rather than designing another product that cosmetically "cleans" records, we set out to develop a vinyl restoration system. Most cleaning system use water with an enzyme added, which is not enough to truly clean a record. However vinyl actually rejects water. We also found that other ultrasonic cleaning systems available in the market are simply flawed. A surfactant and some elbow grease is needed to get the job done. Our Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System is the only system on the market that physically shows the user when a record has been restored. Usually the restoration process results in 1.5 to 5 dB of signal gain, depending on the condition of the record being restored. That's a great sonic improvement!

SK: What types of music do you enjoy and how often do you get a chance to catch live shows?

CK: At the age of 12, I was given the opportunity to perform some sound mixing for Claude Denjean's recreation of the "Moog!" album. Claude revolutionized well known pieces of music by adding the synthesizer, even with whimsical songs like Joni Mitchel's Taxi. This exposed me to a lot of electronic music from the 70s which I still enjoy today. I also love listening to jazz and disco. I don't get to see live shows as much as I'd like to due to my frequent work travels but I've certainly seen some great performances in the past. I enjoy live performances because they come straight from the heart of the artist – there are no second takes.

SK: How many records do you have in your collection and what are some of your favorites? Why are these your favorites?

CK: My record collection increases weekly. In the last few years it has jumped from a modest 800 to over 6,000 records. My excuse to buy records all the time is that I need used records to demo our Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System. I love albums that exemplify a great sounding music system – recordings filled with strings, brass percussion and dimensionality. The old Denon label resurrected Asian pressings are some of my favorites. Of course I also regularly spin up some of the recordings I used to work on as a sound mixer when I was younger. My favorite record is a radio broadcast of a commentary recorded on glass in 1962, partly because I'm happy that we are able to restore shellacked and glass records  

SK: Is there any significance to the rabbit in the Kirmuss Audio logo or did you simply intend for your logo to look more fun than regular logos? I noticed that your website also features many pictures of stuffed rabbits.

CK: What does a wife give to someone that has everything? We have hares around our home in Denver. One even traveled in my car's undercarriage to Colorado Springs and back, as well as to the office and home for months. So one day my wife brought me a small gift, a stuffed rabbit – courtesy of Ikea – and I named him Sal. I reciprocated with a stuffed rabbit on her birthday, which she christened Sally. Then she surprised me with little Squirt and Itsy-Bitsy. Products of Sal and Sally? We'll never know! As we increased the production of the Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System, they seemed to multiply like rabbits. A rabbit's sensitive hearing also seemed like a good parallel to a good audiophile ear. Much like our Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System, the rabbits are now spreading around the globe since we hand them out a various trade shows. Sal travels with me globally and aids with jet lag. Keep tabs on Sal and Co!

for anyone serious about vinyl it solves the cleaning issue very elegantly and is very competitively priced.
Linette Smith

CONCLUSION: At just NZ$2,000 the Kirmuss is not really an impulse buy, but for anyone serious about vinyl I would say it solves the cleaning issue very elegantly and it is very compeditively. 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.

EXTENDED REVIEW: 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 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.

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 NZ$2,000 the Kirmuss is not really an impulse buy, but for anyone serious about vinyl I would say it solves the cleaning issue very elegantly ans it is very compeditively priced. 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.

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, Kirmuss 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.

........ Linette Smith

I have to declare that the KARC-1 is the best record cleaner on the market. Bar none.

CONCLUSION: to say that I was pleased with the performance of the Kirmuss was to issue a laughable understatement. The KARC-I not only removes troublesome noise efficiently, to give new life to your vinyl, it also provides a level of sonic transparency that is truly astounding. Once you hear the effects yourself, you'll realise that you've never actually heard your record collection. Not properly. As such, I have to declare that the KARC-1 is the best record cleaner on the market. Bar none.

EXTENDED REVIEW: arguably the fastest developing technology in hi-fi, ultrasonic vibration - long used in other industries for cleaning purposes has risen to dominate midrange and high-end vinyl record cleaning too.

The idea here is to dip your vinyl into a specialist bath of distilled water (not low enough to wet the label, of course). That disc will normally be slowly mechanically rotated. Built-in transducers then introduce vibration in the water, producing millions of rising bubbles that stretch and compress. The frequency of the transducers determine how large the bubbles become. Their structural integrity fails and they collapse... violently. If this happens near vinyl grooves, they agitate and remove surrounding particles. This is known a cavitation. Any surfactant (a substance to lower water's surface tension) added to the area attracts further bubbles.

Kirmuss has taken three years to develop the KARC-I, focusing on the right ultrasonic frequency for vinyl cleaning, the correct height to hold the record in the bath, using a degasser (unique in hi-fi vinyl cleaning) to improve cavitation efficiency, developing an effective surfactant and more.

DESIGN
The rear of the chassis features a power cable and rocker power switch. The right side features a drain pipe for the bath. The front sees a sturdy valve switch to open/close that pipe.
Top-right features the touch interface. A readout keeps a track of the cavitation cleaning countdown (78s only need two minutes of ultrasonic cleaning whereas vinyl requires the default five minutes per cycle). Lights indicate the active process and current temperature. Other buttons activate the cavitation time, its duration and that degass operation.

The upper, removable, one-piece motor assembly features a series of cogs and belts that gently turn the record during cleaning. It fits snugly on top of the bath. In it are slots for two 12” discs, one 10" disc and a 7” disc. This format diversity is a real plus point for the Kirmuss.

IN USE

Cleaning a record is long-winded but effective. You initially flip-flop between exposing the record to cavitation for five minutes then you apply the company's own surfactant directly to the grooves as a spray, worked in by the company's supplied brush. The system is extremely thorough and will even remove old, hardened substances that have been resident in the grooves, sometimes for decades. Repeated applications might be necessary before the grooves are totally clean - a visual indication will guide you here (the company provides help to recognise the signs).

Adding a 70:30 alcohol/distilled water mix to the distilled water acts as a degreaser. Audiophiles will recoil with alarm at the use of alcohol but the company is adamant, after consultation with its own chemists, that no damage will occur because only 40ml is used, less than 1% of the bath total. Also, that 40ml is a 70/30 mix with distilled water and fully soluble so it never hits the vinyl in a concentrated form.


There are other steps/tools in the cleaning process that provide a postwash and a de-fungal cycle for the vinyl record along with an anti-static application. The Kirmuss method is nothing if not thorough.

 

SOUND QUALITY

I initially cleaned a dirty record using the machine and surfactant only - no alcohol was introduced at this time. An old Ritchie Havens LP provided a consistent low-level Rice Krispie noise throughout.

After 2 ultrasonic cycles featuring the surfactant, the noise had almost gone. Only occasional (very) minor clicks remained.

I persisted until the noise reduction had reached a plateau of quality that would not change with further cleaning applications.

In addition to the low noise, sonics had also improved. Clarity was enhanced while extra air and space was heard across the soundstage.

I then added the alcohol mix to the bath water.

I listened again, further noise was removed, making this record pretty darned silent in terms of nasty clicks, pops and white noise-type effects.

What really amazed me, though, was the improvement in sonics. Focus, precision, clarity - all rose through the roof, as it where. Haven's voice was enhanced in terms of the texture and gravel-like nature of his crescendos while his acoustic guitar was powerful and expressive during his powerful strumming routines. Transparency and tonal realism were the headline effects of adding the degreaser. The improvements were impressive, to say the least.

Finally I cleaned a mucky Jan Akkerman LP with my reference record cleaning machine, which reduced surface noise. Moving this record to the Kirmuss then improved the sonics by a clear distance while reducing noise a tad more and increasing gain by one to two decibels because the stylus tip had a purer contact with the groove. 'Cleaning the same record, once more, with other record cleaning machines I have added a sonic veil to the presentation. It was as if they had coated the grooves with a new layer of grease or somesuch. Re-cleaning with the Kirmuss removed that sonic veil to enhance tonality once more.

 

CONCLUSION

To say that I was pleased with the performance of the Kirmuss was to issue a laughable understatement. The KARC-I not only removes troublesome noise efficiently, to give new life to your vinyl, it also provides a level of sonic transparency that is truly astounding. Once you hear the effects yourself, you'll realise that you've never actually heard your record collection. Not properly. As such, I have to declare that the KARC-1 is the best record cleaner on the market. Bar none.

REFERENCE GEAR:

Origin Live Sovereign turntable, Origin Live Enterprise 12in arm, Van Den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius cartridge, Icon PS3 phono amplifier, Aesthetix Calypso pre-amp, Icon Audio MB845 Mk.Il monoblock amplifiers, Quad ESL-57 speakers with One Thing upgrade, Vertex AQ & Tellurium Q cable, Blue Horizon Professional Rack System, Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components, Audio Desk's Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner

The revelation was absolute. The shock or rather aftershocks of this test were unquestionable.-the Kirmuss was achieving roughly the same anti-noise performance for around half the price.
Paul Rigby -posted on 15th January 2019

Positioning itself as a midrange product, Paul Rigby exhaustively reviews the Kirmuss KA-RC-1 ultrasonic vinyl record cleaner. This is Part One of a two part review. 

Growing in popularity, the ultrasonic record cleaner is becoming an essential part of many vinyl fan’s armoury. I have used every variant of vinyl cleaning known to man (manual and machine-based) and have found ultrasonic technology to be the most effective and efficient out there. I use this type of Record Cleaning Machine (RCM) on a day to day basis.

So what is ultrasonic cleaning, exactly?

The general idea is to dip your vinyl into a bath of distilled water (not low enough to wet the label, of course). That disc is slowly, mechanically rotated. 

Built-in, bath-fixed transducers increase pressure and vibration in the water producing millions of rising bubbles that stretch and compress. The frequency of the transducers determine how large the bubbles become. Their structural integrity fails and they collapse…violently. If this happens near vinyl grooves, they will agitate and remove surrounding particles. This is known as cavitation. Any surfactant (a substance to lower water’s surface tension) added to the area attracts further bubbles.

Kirmuss has taken three years to develop the KA-RC-1, focusing on a particular ultrasonic frequency for vinyl cleaning, the correct height to hold the record in the bath, developing an effective surfactant and more.

The first time I saw the KA-RC-1, it was at the North West Audio Show at the Devere Cranage Estate in Cheshire, last Summer. I want to dwell on this occasion a little because it has a bearing on the product, the company itself and this review. 

My first view of Kirmuss as a company was its staffer bedecked in a white coat. I had to smile at this. I thought, “Hello, what do we have here, then?” The coat may have been worn to instil confidence but that sort of adornment triggers the opposite from myself. Then I saw the machine, it looked bulky and gawky yet the feature-rich chassis was intriguing, as was the long and involved cleaning process. So I interviewed the company there and then.

INTERVIEW

During the interview, Kirmuss talked a lot of sense and it was generally informative. And yet, there were also issues that got in the way. Apart from the pantomime white coat there was also the self-aggrandising, self-mythologising and self-promotion. I was constantly dragging the interviewee back to the point. I’m sure Kirmuss only wanted to be informative but it also sounded like Kirmuss was revealing big Dan Brown-type secrets previously hidden, warning of terrible dangers and pointing a trembling, damning finger at my record collection while stating that the only chance I ever have of reaching analogue nirvana and quite possibly also surviving to my next birthday was via the use of a KA-RC-1. Basically, the spiel was just too much.

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

I wasn’t the only person there who felt like he had just faced a guy who was selling a potion off the back of a wagon that was guaranteed to give long life, enhance my attractiveness to the opposite sex and cure my dodgy knee…and all I had to do is pay him some money for the privilege. This market stall-approach to promotion was and is not the norm in the hi-fi industry. And not in a good way. And so my hackles were up and alarm bells rang.

More than that, I felt that the company desperately needed (and still needs) a professional PR and marketing team to act as a conduit and buffer between it and the public/press. Sometimes companies need help when trying to convey a message to the press and public. Kirmuss needs such help.

That thought would continue and intensify, as you will see below. Nevertheless, I continued to show interest. 

Later, because I also write for the UK news-stand, national magazine HiFi World, I was given the opportunity to review the thing. I liked it too (and Kirmuss has wasted no time in plastering my comments on its website). The problem with print magazine reviews is the limited deadline time you have to fully investigate the product. Which is why, even if you’ve read that print magazine review, you should really ignore it and press the reset button in your memories. Since then, I’ve given this machine many weeks of further research and discovered many new areas that you should be aware of, as well as undertaking additional independent research and interviews, all of which are listed below and need digesting. 

This is a big review but I don’t apologise for that. This product is important because it’s the first ultrasonic RCM to seriously look to bridge the gap between the DIY cheapo machines and the high end, super expensive models. It also has a host of options and potential that needs investigation with many additional, potentially contentious features that require careful thought.  

MANUAL & WEBSITE

The options I mentioned are all described in the accompanying 8-sided, A5 manual, replete with illustrations.

The problem with this? The manual is a mess. It’s poorly planned and laid out, it’s confusing, grammar is a secondary concern and there is no sense of guiding the user through a graduated process of education. 

Yes, the early parts of the manual have a semblance of order but that quickly degenerates into a confusing mixture of vinyl and record format history plus How To… instructions spread over the manual and various paper supplements. 


Clicking the link (below) you flow downwards from this busy part of the screen…

The website (www.kirmussaudio.com) retains this haphazard style with a lack of design thought, spelling mistakes and grammatical issues plus the insertion of massive blocks of confusing white space positioned in the centre of each page.

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

…the featureless desert that is is part of the page and then again down to…

Hence, the overall impression from the public demo routine, the manual and the website is not a good one. They give the impression that you’ve just walked into amateur night. Again, there’s a need for professional PR and marketing help here.

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

…some semblance of civilisation

And the reason I’m telling you all of this? Because, faced with the above (and you might have been at some point), it’s easy to be discouraged. Stick with this product, though. It’s worth investing time and effort into the KA-RC-1. It might not be the magical force that Kirmuss infers but there is a solid product on offer here.

DESIGN

As you can see from the accompanying images, the chassis is a low-and-long design that, unfortunately, demands a fair amount of footprint. Many other ultrasonic cleaners user a vertical design that minimises the amount of space.

Another downside? The KA-RC-1 chassis also looks like a toy. There’s even an ill-advised cartoon graphic stuck on the side to emphasise the Toys R Us feel. One that I would remove 30 seconds after removing the chassis from the box, to be frank. When I first unpacked the KA-RC-1, I actually looked for the Nintendo logo. The KA-RC-1 chassis is even bedecked in that classic Nintendo gray shade. 

Kirmuss won’t volunteer the information but this chassis is not their own, it’s bought in. Other, non-hi-fi, third party companies also use the same chassis as a basic ultrasonic cleaner. When I asked about the bath, Kirmuss revealed that it had approached the manufacturer and modified the original design to suit its own purposes. Hence, Kirmuss has invested in its own bespoke, vinyl-centric top plate section and has removed the temperature/heating options. The chassis normally arrives with its own internal basket to hold items for cleaning. That has been removed but can be bought back from Kirmuss if you want the KA-RC-1 to clean other, non-vinyl items in its chassis. 

Of course, not developing its own chassis is how Kirmuss has been able to maintain a relatively low price for its RCM.

I do like the built-in handles on the chassis of the KA-RC-1. Other ultrasonic cleaners forget that you need to move cleaners around on a semi-regular basis during cleaning and refilling. I always feel that I’m about to drop my Audio Desk RCM, for example. Without built-in handles, accidents threaten. Kirmuss has the right idea here.

The bath system uses six litres of distilled water as the basis of its cleaning process, which is a lot. Competing systems (like the Audio Desk) often use a lot less – four litres is common – so you’re going to be spending a little more money on distilled water with the Kirmuss. This is not such a big deal, though because distilled water is not, in the grand scheme of things, that expensive.

The rear of the KA-RC-1 chassis features a power cable and rocker power switch. The right side is where the outlet pipe is situated, allowing the exit of bath water during cleaning, with the help of a supplied add-on flexi-tube. The front sees a sturdy valve switch to open/close that pipe. I tested both and they work with no issues.

The top-right features the cleaning controls and readout. The latter keeps a track of the countdown during a selected process, underneath the clock is a set of lights indicating the process underway as well as a colour-coded temperature gauge. Under that are buttons to change the cleaning time (78s, for example, only need two minutes of ultrasonic cleaning whereas vinyl requires the default five minutes).

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

Beneath those are two further buttons. The first is to set the ultrasonic cleaning in motion. The second is a degass (aka Pulse) button to remove latent bubbles within the distilled water. Reportedly, de-gassing makes the water bath a more unified body of water, enhancing cleaning efficiency. Without it, says Kirmuss, the cavitation process spends half its time removing the bubbles in the water, instead of concentrating on cleaning your vinyl.

After filling the KA-RC-1 bath with distilled water, I was asked to degass the water twice, a process that took just over 90 seconds each. Kirmuss recommends that you do this when you first fill the RCM but that you should also repeat after several disc cleans. The feeling being that the water will have been agitated enough to produce extraneous bubbles within the body of the bath liquid content.

RECORD ASSEMBLY

I loved the whole KA-RC-1 Record Assembly Unit concept. The modular nature of this area is quite brilliant and this one area justifies the larger chassis footprint. For a number of reasons. Firstly, it provides a range of record format options from the off, as a default. No costly extra adaptors are required for 7” or 10”/78 records. Both of these formats are included as part of the package, as are two 12” size discs: four in all. This is a welcome decision by Kirmuss to give the user this quality of choice from the basic package.

More than that, this Assembly is operated using an almost clockwork array of belts and cogs. It looksfixable by replaceable parts. It appears to be something that, if it broke down, you could actually repair. A concept that is rare nowadays.

More than that, the Assembly is a drop in solution. That is, the top assembly loosely fits onto the top of the bath. A short electrical lead connects to the side of the chassis to provide power to the gearing.

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

Two 12″ discs can be inserted for cleaning at the top, third slot down is for a 10″ with a 7″ disc slot at the bottom

What I want Kirmuss to do now is work on a range of Assembly choices, to provide various format options. Hence I’d like to see Assemblies that you can buy as additional accessories. In my own mind’s eye, they could cater for: four 12” discs, four 7” discs, four 10” discs and an Assembly with half and half (two 12” discs and two 7” discs). And then I want Kirmuss to produce a rack for them all, holding a maximum of four Assemblies so that I can then pull the Assembly I need for that day from my rack, drop it into the KA-RC-1 and off I go.

Apparently Kirmuss is working on a new drop-in unit with an alternative slot arrangement but whether Kirmuss will actually have the cash and wherewithal to fulfil all of these record cleaning fantasies of mine is another question. It also depends on user demand.

That sense of potential flexibility is very exciting for someone who not only has thousands of vinyl discs in his collection but has a range of formats sizes to address.

CAVITATION

There are effectively two KA-RC-1 stages to cleaning a record. Firstly, there’s the active ultrasonic cavitation process. Then the record is removed and a sort of After Care process is begun. I’ll describe the cleaning process first. After Care – which is more significant to this review than you might think – will be dealt in Part Two.

The standard KA-RC-1 cleaning process, according to the manual, goes something like this.

You insert your record into one of the KA-RC-1 size-compatible slots. You can either change the cleaning time or run with the five minute default. The process begins after the top mounted On/Off switch is pressed twice. 

After a single clean, for new records, Kirmuss wants you to remove it and play the thing there and then. 

For used records, Kirmuss advises that you place the record on a 7” felt mat (supplied, I talk more about this mat in the After Care section in Part Two) and pump three sprays of Kirmuss’ ‘surfactant’ (also supplied) around the record. This stuff apparently helps to soften the muck and grime but its principle job is to remove surface tension from the distilled water and cavitation bubbles, allowing the bubbles to get closer to the grooves to remove groove muck. In effect, it makes the water wetter.

I want to emphasise the importance of a surfactant to this review. This is a first. It is the first time that any commercial company  has promoted such a step in vinyl record cleaning. General cleaning liquids are applied to the record surface, yes, but don’t count because they are in effect all-in-one cleaning solutions and home-made recipes are excluded here too. I’m talking about a commercial, officially promoted system. This is a first. Other ultrasonic cleaners talk about surfactant use but they often include it as part of the bath liquid. Not as a separate application applied directly to the vinyl surface itself to then be washed off during the secondary cleaning process.

The surfactant is sprayed around each side of the record which is then worked into the grooves by a densely bristled brush (again, more in Part Two). Back into the bath the record goes for a further five minutes of ultrasonics to remove more gunk and wash off that surfactant. Then out comes the record for the After Care section.

Let’s pause right here and backtrack.

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

The Record Assembly is connected to the bath with this cable. Not exactly elegant but it works.

Firstly, if Kirmuss is recommending a surfactant at all, why shouldn’t you be using it with a new record as well as old, used records? After all, the surfactant is supposed to enhance cleaning efficiency, isn’t it? Hence, I recommend the use of surfactant on new records too. 

As for that surfactant, what actually is it? Kirmuss, in its manual, describes the liquid as 1% propane-½-diol or Propylene Glycol, as it’s more commonly known. It’s used in the eco-variant of anti-freeze. Don’t panic, though, it’s the stuff which stops anti-freeze actually freezing and is non-aggressive. Propylene Glycol is even used in skin care products, in vaping, foods such as ice cream and it’s also in fake fog you might see in the theatre. Glycol isn’t a surfactant, though. It’s there to, in effect, keep the surfactant in place and stop the actual surfactant pooling on the vinyl surface. When Kirmuss mention the surfactant in the manual and suggest that it is merely distilled water and Glycol, that is a half truth. The actual surfactant ingredient is hidden from view. Kirmuss won’t talk about it. You can tell it’s there because this stuff has a perfume and it bubbles up in use. Glycol is greasy and has no smell. I asked Kirmuss on three occasions to reveal the full contents of the supplied surfactant liquid but it was reluctant to do so. Even when I promised to keep my mouth shut about their surfactant secrets. When pushed, it did reveal a rather confusing and murky chemical/brand name but refused to supply further information or links. I wanted to know more because of this…

WARNING

The Propylene Glycol is rated as safe in any documents you might read on the Internet. Potential hazards are few and far between and there’s no long lasting issues that I could find within the documents I found. That said, I had a reaction because of that unknown part of the liquid, the perfumed surfactant I mentioned above.

What happened was this. In use, when sprayed at the vinyl surface, a small amount of the spray kicked back and flew upwards from the vinyl surface. Looking closely, you could actually see this happening. I then unintentionally breathed the stuff in, it irritated my throat and I flew into a coughing fit. I had to reach for water to stop coughing. This occurred on four or five occasions, immediately after spraying. I did this to make absolutely sure that there was no other possible reason for the reaction (the things I do for you, eh?) The surfactant was used on older and, I hasten to add, brand new records. 

I reported this to Kirmuss and owner Charles Kirmuss replied, “The splash back could have been…something coming off of the record as fungus.” Then he hurriedly quoted information relating to how safe his surfactant liquid was – even though I have no idea where the information came from, had no opportunity to double check it and didn’t know what liquid it referred to. Kirmuss’ assumptions may have had grounds if my treated records were all old and had been badly stored but mine were not. As I say, some were even brand new, so fungus infection was doubtful in the extreme. Kirmuss’ scientifically enquiring mind also didn’t think to ask any questions of myself. To save him the trouble, I can tell you that I can react badly to strong perfumes and I guess that was the cause of my reaction. Nothing more. I hope.

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

The surfactant is supplied in the tall bottle. More about the other tools in Part Two

Again, I know that a PR and marketing team would have handled this situation better, would have been more thorough, less dismissive and more supportive.

I trust that this is the only issue in terms of health and I assume that, even then, only some people with sensitive throats will be affected in this way. That said, I’d rather not be breathing this stuff in at all and I was. As I say, I could see it lifting off the vinyl surface. It might not do me any bad but it certainly won’t do me any good, either. The day after my coughing fit, I had a slightly sore throat. Nothing worse than that, though.

So, what to do? Forget the KA-RC-1? No, there’s no need to take such drastic steps. As I say, any spray hitting vinyl will rebound upwards towards your face. If you want to continue with the Kirmuss-supplied liquid (or if you spray any surfactant of any type onto any vinyl surface), I’d recommend buying a pipette, eye dropper-type bottle from Amazon with a relatively high capacity bottle (click HERE to see more). This will stop the issue of spray entering the air, retains my good health (and yours too) and, an additional benefit, will be more precise in terms of application so it won’t accidentally spray all over your precious record label.

THE USE OF ALCOHOL

Then we get to the bath of distilled water. There’s something else included within the water itself. Kirmuss recommends the use of Isopropyl alcohol. This is not sprayed onto the vinyl, as I say, but added to the actual bath of distilled water. Hence, your vinyl is cleaned with distilled water, cavitation and alcohol. You need to buy the alcohol yourself. It’s not supplied. Kirmuss recommend a bottle of 70% alcohol. This liquid is sometimes labelled as Rubbing Alcohol and arrives in two flavours: pure and ‘tainted’. The latter includes impurities for safety reasons, added to make it taste pretty bad. Some Rubbing Alcohol products are pure, though and that’s what I used in the review. Others are literally labelled as 70% alcohol. The other 30% volume is distilled water. You could, of course, use less of the 100% Isopropyl alcohol variant too. 

When preparing the bath of liquid for the KA-RC-1, you add 40ml of the 70% solution to the bath of distilled water which amounts to 0.43% total volume. A very low figure indeed.

The addition of alcohol and its recommendation by Kirmuss will be of major concern to some. It was to me, I have to admit, even if only 0.43% was being added. To this point, I have had a zero tolerance of the stuff. In the past, I’ve found it to be nasty and aggressive. It can ruin a vinyl disc.

I have tested an LP to destruction with 100% proof Isopropyl alcohol. In those tests, the first couple of cleans produced a brilliantly clear and open suite of sonics but subsequent cleans produced an increasingly edgy and harsh sound, brittle and bright in tone. After a while, the LP became unplayable, such were the sonic extremes that the alcohol took the sound. The reason? Melting vinyl and groove damage. I’ll address that subject in more detail below.

Suffice to say, I avoided Isopropyl alcohol from that point. I know plenty of people who use it now and swear by it and use various liquid recipes containing it. Often 25% or 20% volume is a common figure in many user’s recipes. I was nervous, though, because I had no facts or figures as to exactly when alcohol caused damage. What was the boundary, over which damage to vinyl occurred? When did alcohol change, transferring from a friendly groove-cleaning product to a damaging, ruinous acidic destructor? Where was the line to be crossed? Was it more than 25%, How about 40%? Maybe it was 15%? Who knows? No-one I ever talked to could tell me for sure. Everyone had an opinion. But no-one actually knew.  

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

Bottom right is the power connector. To its left is the toggle power switch

Because alcohol is so contentious as a cleaning ingredient and because the liquid is so much at the core of the KA-RC-1, I felt that I had to learn more about it. How could I truly recommend the KA-RC-1 if I could not trust a key part of its cleaning process?

So I undertook lengthy independent research to find out which was spread over a period of months. I reached out to the vinyl industry because, if anyone would know the answers then they would, right?

NEW RESEARCH

I approached five separate sectors of the vinyl industry. I first talked to a UK company, Transcom, that supplies acetate discs to Abbey Road. These discs are made from a soft acetate to test a master before committing to a full pressing. I talked to a Canadian-based chemist, a lady whose name I’ll keep to myself to retain her personal privacy, who also works on a regular basis with Abbey Road and knows vinyl. Next, I talked to Vinyl Factory, a UK vinyl pressing plant and the guy who runs the place. Based in the UK, this is a factory that actually makes vinyl records. Finally, I talked to the two largest producers of vinyl pellets in the UK, one was Dugdales the other wished to remain anonymous (it’s a nervous and competitive world, the vinyl pellet business). I’m talking about the raw vinyl. The core material that is supplied to the record pressing plant. Bags of these pellets are supplied to the vinyl pressing plant for processing.

Now, surely, if these guys didn’t know the answer, then no-one would. 

I initially asked these experts about alcohol but learned a lot more than I bargained for – all of it valuable and fascinating and of use to audiophiles. I’ll share some of this information with you now (Not all, I’m wary at the final size of this increasingly large review!) and hope to share more, for those who might be interested, later in a separate feature. 

The most important conclusion from talking to all of these industry experts is that no-one, I repeat not one person I talked to, knew how alcohol affected vinyl. Not in all encompassing and definitive terms, at any rate. Yes, they told me that Isopropyl alcohol was an issue when used neat. I knew that already but no-one knew when Isopropyl alcohol actually became a danger to vinyl. No-one could tell me at what stage or at what point or at what strength Isopropyl alcohol actually attacked vinyl or if repeated use of safe levels was a problem over time. There are, I was told, no figures. None at all. Yes, everyone had a personal opinion and the conversation quickly degraded into conjecture but nothing official was offered.

To say that I was surprised at this was an understatement. Then I found out why. The reason is down to the vinyl itself. You may think that vinyl is vinyl is vinyl. PVC, eh? No. In fact, far from it. Vinyl records are not made from a single substance. The vinyl in your collection is created from a recipe of chemicals. Only one of those is PVC. There’s between four and 10 elements to any one vinyl recipe.

One contact I talked to had many recipes, ready to go at any one time, “We have around six difference black record formulations we make depending on the state of the [pressing] machines but that can increase if the presser wants something ‘a little softer’, for example.” The “state of the machines” refers to age and wear and tear and if the pressing machines vary in pressure and the like. So that’s at least six (maybe more) different types of vinyl recipe from this one company here and today. But there’s more, my contact’s company has changed the recipe of its vinyl pellets over time.

One of the supposed devastating effects that Isopropyl alcohol has on a vinyl record is to distort the plasticiser with it. The bit the helps the grooves retain their form. Everyone I’ve ever talked to in the hi-fi industry believes that plasticiser is and always has been part of a vinyl record. Now I find that it’s just not so, at least not exclusively, “There is no plasticiser added in our formulations,” said my contact, “other companies might add them but we stay away from them as they distort the record if the balance isn’t right and depending on what it is, the surface finish would be hazy and not crisp and glossy.”

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

Typical vinyl pellets used in the production of vinyl records

Other chemicals have come and gone too. This adds to the variations in the vinyl recipe. If one company requires six vinyl recipes at any one time then, as above, replaces the plasticiser to create another new recipe (so, that’s six new recipes available on a daily basis), then changes more chemicals (another six variants multiplied by the changes) and keeps doing that over the decades, imagine how many different types of vinyl there are on the market from that one supplier alone? And if you have a different combinations of chemicals making up vinyl disc, it makes sense that alcohol will react differently to each, yes?

There’s more than one company out there making vinyl pellets to create vinyl discs, though. And it’s a highly competitive business. Each company lives and dies by its own bespoke recipe, “…every compounding company will have their own formulations and ingredients, there is no set formulation,” said my contact.

If every company has its own secret formula, how many companies are there in the world creating raw vinyl? My contact said, “I would say, including us, there is around 40 to 50. Could be wrong but Asia have a load and the US have loads as well.” And then going back into history? What about those companies who don’t even exist any more?

Just how many variations are there exactly? No-one knows. It’s an impossible figure to consider. What is entirely possible is that there are hundreds, more like thousands of different types of vinyl out there. You might play 20 vinyl records from your collection and it’s possible that every single one is constructed from completely different vinyl recipes. Or not. Who knows? Because of that, each vinyl disc, theoretically, will react differently to cleaning with alcohol.

So what to do? I decided to put my fear of alcohol to one side and complete a sound test with and without alcohol.

78s

Before I get to that, a word about alcohol and 78s. Kirmuss recommend that you clean 78s in its bath containing 0.43% alcohol. Most 78 users are told that alcohol should never touch a 78 disc. Kirmuss says that the 78 discs will not be damaged because the cleaning cycle is ‘only’ two minutes long and the discs are not exposed for long in the tiny amount of alcohol contained in the water bath. I didn’t have a chance to test this because of limited time, I’m afraid but you have been warned.

SOUND TEST 1

I began the first KA-RC-1 sound test tests with a Richie Havens original release. The LP, Something Else Again and a track called From The Prison. The track possessed a continual stream of noise that sat underneath the vocals. 

I undertook the sound tests, initially, by the Kirmuss book but included no alcohol as part of the bath of distilled water. So I firstly inserted the vinyl into the KA-RC-1 to soften up the muck and dirt in the grooves, ran through a single, five minute, ultrasonic cavitation cleaning process, took out the LP, applied the spray-on surfactant to the LP (to soften up the muck some more) and cleaned it off with another cavitation clean. 

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

Havens – working for the audiophile cause

Sonically, I noticed a dramatic reduction in noise. Some noise could still be heard but the overall effect was much improved with sonics also benefitting from being smoother, less edgy and with an informative midrange. 

I decided to give the same record an additional surfactant spray and another ultrasonic/cavitation application, again without alcohol as part of the bath contents.  The noise reduced still further while sound quality improved again. Clarity improved while extra air and space was heard across the soundstage. 

I did notice a mucky build up on my stylus tip. So I tried a third time. I sprayed more surfactant, cleaned that off with another cavitation cycle and played the record. It was this third application that I realised that I’d hit a bit of a wall and no further sonic improvements were occurring. 

At this point I added the alcohol to the water, degassed the KA-RC-1 liquid bath again and repeated the cleaning process. More reduction in noise occurred. What remained was very low level, mostly heard between tracks and at the very beginning of the LP. This could easily have been age and vinyl wear. 

What really hit me, though, was the sonics. The effect was, how can I put it, less, “Oh that was nice.” And rather more, “Wow!” The minor levels of alcohol are supposed to act as a “grease remover” and that sense of a veil being lifted from right across the frequency range was certainly heard here. Focus, precision and clarity were all enhanced as was a slight increase in gain. Haven’s voice was enhanced in terms of the texture and gravel-like nature of his crescendos while his acoustic guitar was powerful and expressive during his powerful strumming routines. 

I did notice a tiny deposit on the stylus tip so maybe the record could have done with one last clean (see the After Care section in Part Two for more on this). I decided to leave that, having satisfied myself of the enhanced sonic qualities. 

Instead, at this point, I took the record out of the KA-RC-1 and ‘cleaned’ the same record in my Audio Desk ultrasonic cleaner. The latter featured bespoke Audio Desk liquid within. No alcohol was present in the Audio Desk RCM.

I then played that same Havens’ cleaned record on my reference system and I have to say that, compared to the KA-RC-1, a thin veil had now newly appeared over the music once more. The sound quality was still excellent, lots of detail and so on – this wasn’t a disaster I was hearing by any means. So, let’s not get carried away. That said, there was a dulling, a muting of the top end and a lack of excitement around the vocal delivery. String plucks lacked that organic tonality that I was hearing before. The KA-RC-1  naturalism had largely gone or, at least, had been softened and restrained. Almost as if a thin layer of something had covered the grooves.

KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner From Kirmuss

Drain pipe on the Kirmuss’ RCM, to remove old bath liquid. A pipe is also suppled to attach to this nozzle

I then took the record out of the Audio Desk and cleaned that same record once more with the KA-RC-1 RCM and the passion come back, so did the dynamic reach, the mids opened up allowing space and air within the soundstage once more, tonality was enhanced, the reverb ‘ring’ off the back of the strummed guitar strings was more evident now and the vocal was far more expressive…even the gain increased. 

The revelation was absolute. The shock or rather aftershocks of this test were unquestionable.

Yet there was a single variable that was proven to be responsible for this sonic change. Alcohol. At least alcohol enhanced by the ultrasonic action – and I think the latter is very important here. Remember, only a tiny portion of alcohol was used but this one factor (in conjunction with the ultrasonic action) was key to the change in sonics. Up to the addition of the alcohol, I felt that the performance of the KA-RC-1 and the Audiodesk were roughly on par in terms of sound. That is, sound quality was very good indeed in terms of sonics and the removal of noise, pops and clicks. These physical obstructions had been reduced by both machines to a similar level. 

That, in itself, was an intriguing find because the Kirmuss was achieving roughly the same anti-noise performance for around half the price. 

Nevertheless, it was the the addition of the alcohol (plus ultrasonics) that was giving me the addition of the sonic lift, removing that dulling veil across the entire soundstage. The alcohol was the important part of the recipe that increased sound quality.

At this point, I’ll end Part One of this test of the KA-RC-1 RCM. Please don’t draw too many conclusions from this one Sound Test – there’s more to come and the story changes. I hope to see you for PART TWO which includes the After Care section, more direct tests with the Audio Desk RCM plus a few suggested tweaks to hone the performance of the Kirmuss (and the Audio Desk) and that final rating.

So does all the ultrasonic stuff work? Absolutely, without doubt....what makes this one even more special is that of all the ultrasonic cleaners, it appears to be the most affordable one.
Stephen Dawson

The principles of operation of the other cleaners in this roundup are clear, and familiar to anyone who has ever cleaned, 

The principles of operation of the other cleaners in this roundup are clear, and familiar to anyone who has ever cleaned, well, anything. Two are variations on soap and water. The other uses an adhesive to pick up debris. All very simple.

The Kirmuss KA-RC-1 uses a different principle: high-powered ultrasonic sound. You put the record in a fluid The sound-200 watts at 35kHz-is fired into the water. Then, somehow, the dirt in the record grooves falls out. How does this work? Indeed, does it work at all?

We'll see shortly that it does work. And I will note that the Kirmuss device isn't the first to be based on such principles. What makes this one even more special is that of all the ultrasonic cleaners, it appears to be the most affordable one.

The principle by which it works is to use the ultrasound to cause cavitation to form between the particles of dirt and the vinyl. Cavitation’s are tiny air bubbles (there's always some air dissolved in water). They are created, and then they collapse, creating small shock waves... small, but intense in their immediate locality. This is what moves the dirt.

The particular implementation in the Kirmuss KA-RC-1 is neat. The unit is a large box with a plastic outer case. It appears rather like a piece of lab equipment. It measures 515mm wide by 280mm deep by 280mm tall. There are carry handles built into it. When empty it weighs around ten kilograms. Filled, it weighs around 17 kilograms.

On the top are four slots for the insertion of records. Two are designed for a standard 12 inch LP, one for 10 inch records (typically 78rpm) and one for 45 inch EPs or singles. At one end of each slot are two pads to guide an edge of the record to make sure it's parallel to the slot. These also perform a little mild scrubbing. Underneath the slots is a motor, some nylon cogs and some wheel guides upon which the undersides of the records rest.

The motor and cogs turn these slowly so that the whole recording rotates, with the grooves under the fluid, but the label held clear. I didn't think to time the rotation, but it probably took about twenty seconds per rotation

The fluid is in a large stainless steel tub within the housing. You supply the water, leavened with a touch of ethanol. To fill the tub to the correct level I used about six or seven litres of water. Kirmuss recommends distilled water, I used demineralised water, which is available very cheaply from most supermarkets for only about 80 cents per litre. To that one has to add 40ml (a large shot) of 70% alcohol. You should only use 99.8% isopropyl alcohol, The point of the alcohol, as I understand it, it to help break surface tension so that the water flows smoothly all the way into the grooves

You pop in your records and set the built-in timer going for the default of five minutes. Then you take it out and work into the grooves using the supplied camel-hair brush (my wife tells informs me that the one supplied is just a high-quality makeup brush) some of the supplied surfactant solution. This is 98% distilled water and 2% of 1,2 propanediol (also known as propylene glucol) or can be 99% distilled water and 1% propanediol, You get 60mm of that with the unit. I reckon that'd be good for a hundred or so records Then you put the records back in, do another five minutes, take them out, rinse them with more water (distilled recommended, demineralised used by me) and dry them off using the included microfibre cloth.

Clean them up with a soft pad and carbon-fibre brush (included) and then they're right to go. Well, not exactly Kirtauss recommends an additional treatment with the surfactant it also supplies some more with a pretty useless brush for cleaning the stylus). 1 skipped that step. I like my vinyl to be naked

As usual, with anything wet you have to exercise care, and keep some paper towels handy to dab off the inevitable splashes on the record labels. One should replace the fluid in the bath every 25 or so uses. Clean-up is easy, thanks to a drainage hole and tap to allow easy emptying and an open tank which is easy to wipe clean compared to the problem of many RCM which have enclosed tanks so you could end up washing LPs in mouldy water because you can’t access inside the tank to clean it, not good idea to say the least!.

This is a well-thought-out package. All the needed bits are provided, including even a drainage hose and a microfibre 'bunny rug' to cover your work area. All you need to supply is the distilled water and the alcohol

PERFORMANCE 

So, does all the ultrasonic stuff work? Absolutely, without doubt. Wow, some of the records were transformed. One of the old records I found was Crosby, Sulls & Nash. It was utterly unlistenable, particularly on the second side (Graph 13). There were still some clicks and pops after treatment (Graph 14), but perhaps five per cent of what there had been. It was not restored to out-of-the factory purity, but it was certainly listenable afterwards. Another album that benefited enormously was a glorious performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch and the amazing Jascha Heifetz on violin. This was a mono disc and seems to have been released some sixty years ago. Again, most of the clicks and pops were eliminated revealing a glorious performance (Graph 16).

Another little treasure I found in a charity shop, and which the Kirmuss cleaner recovered for me, was an a appella arrangement of Nicolas Saholy's Douze Noels Provencaux'. Again, the noise was mostly removed, as was one giant spot of something or other I helped get rid of that when applying the surfactant between blasts of sonic power. Once it was gone, what had made the stylus jump back continually left no hint of sound. 

CONCLUSION

To me this exploration of record cleaning options has been both revelatory and depressing. The latter because it has forced me to accept that much of the noise on my LP collection shall remain there forever more, or perhaps get worse over time.

But it has been a revelation that if a record truly is dirty, it can be cleaned. And it can be cleaned in ways as different as that offered by the Spin-Clean or the VRCS.

And all four of these systems worked, but does one work better than another 

I followed up on the Spin-Clean-ing of several records by subjecting them to VRCS treatment, the improvemet - Minimal to nothing. 

I followed the VRCS cleaning of an album with a decent go on the record cleaning machine. The difference - Nothing I could See. 

Finally, If you do start cleaning your records, invest in new inner sleeves to hold them. It makes sense to keep your newly cleaned records clean.

……Stephen Dawson