The Entry Level #3 Page 2

Back at home, it was time to get to work. I would restore these old, dirty records to something like their original beauty, while hopefully retaining at least some of the charms of age and use. In a corner of my kitchen, with a stack of other boxes waiting to be opened, was the Okki Nokki record-cleaning machine, made in Germany by Audio Classics and newly imported into the US by Sumiko. At its price ($499 in black or white; dustcover adds $50), the Okki Nokki puts itself in direct competition with record-cleaning's time-honored standard, a device often found in record shops, radio stations, libraries, and homes around the world: VPI's HW-16.5 ($549). How would the smart-looking Okki Nokki compare with such a classic? How could any product at this price compare? What could be done better, or even differently?

Let's have a look.

With its rounded edges and low profile, the Audio Classics Okki Nokki is sleeker, slightly smaller, and lighter than the VPI HW-16.5, measuring 13.25" W by 8" H by 13.25" D (vs the VPI's 15.5" W by 9" H by 14" D), and weighing 15.5 lbs (vs the VPI's 28 lbs). The Okki Nokki better lends itself to the furnishings of an apartment or home—you won't need, or want, to hide it in a corner or a closet. Whereas the VPI looks like an industrial tool designed for a single purpose, the Okki Nokki's finished look might lead houseguests to wonder: Is it an iPod dock? A turntable? In addition, at some 13', the Okki Nokki's power cord is usefully long—and twice as long as the VPI's.

My review sample came equipped with three sturdy, aluminum vacuum tubes (for 7", 10", and 12" records), a small (50ml) squirt bottle of record-cleaning concentrate, and a slim brush with a single row of 20 bunches of goat-hair bristles. I was at first impressed by the construction of the Okki Nokki's brush—it felt more comfortable in my hand than the VPI brush, and its bristles had a more organic appearance than the VPI's synthetic bristles—but running a forefinger across the Okki Nokki's bristles sent up a small cloud of dust and let loose several strands of hair. Not a good first impression, I thought—a record brush should remove debris from valuable LPs, not add debris to them. I continued to run my finger across the bristles until all signs of dust and loose hair were gone. As a measure of insurance, I rinsed the brush in purified water.

Like the VPI, the Okki Nokki has a drainage tube that extends from a small opening in the lower right hand corner of the machine's rear panel. The VPI's drainage tube, however, is significantly larger in diameter and hangs free of the HW-16.5's case at all times; the Okki Nokki's tube remains discreetly stored within. To drain the Okki Nokki of any used fluid, you gently pull the tube from the body of the machine until resistance is met. (From the manual: "Do not force it. When you encounter resistance—STOP!!") I found that I could extend the tube to about 10" before reaching a point where I thought I might damage the machine and void the warranty. VPI mates its drainage tube with a simple plastic clamp: Engage the clamp to prevent fluid from escaping the tube, release the clamp to let used fluid drain away. For this function, the Okki Nokki's tube has a very small, red endcap. The manual: "Always replace the red cap on the drainage tube and make sure it is secured and closed. Failure to do so will nullify your warranty!!"

Okay, but the red endcap was missing when I unpacked the unit. Luckily, after reading the manual, I found the cap hidden among the packing materials (the Okki Nokki came very well packed). I was glad I knew what it was; otherwise, I might have considered it excess and tossed it into the trash, thus NULLIFYING THE WARRANTY. So be careful. Compared to VPI's clamp, the Okki Nokki's red endcap is a pain. Both removing and inserting it are fiddly operations, and I can easily imagine dropping the little thing and losing it forever. If your endcap goes MIA, a dab of Blu-Tac or Silly Putty—or, hey, a small, plastic clamp—might be a viable alternative.

Unlike the VPI, the Okki Nokki lacks a reservoir under its platter, which means that excess fluid can easily spill over the machine's sides—you'll want to place a towel under it. And about that fluid: Add all of the Okki Nokki's record-cleaning concentrate to 1 liter of purified water and mix well. The resulting concoction is slightly opaque and slightly bubbly, and emits a strange, fragrant odor more earthy than chemical; it's not at all unpleasant, but you don't want to bathe in it. And, unless you do bathe in it, one liter of record cleaning fluid should last a very long time.

My first real disappointment: The diameter of the Okki Nokki's spindle is a good bit smaller than that of an LP's spindle hole. Records can easily shift around the Okki's spindle, which means you'll never be confident that you've precisely aligned a record to the platter. I had to eyeball it—it was like playing a 45rpm single without a 45rpm adapter—which could easily have resulted in eccentric rotation and thus an incomplete bath. Chances of misalignment should be somewhat alleviated by installing the Okki Nokki's record clamp. However, the record clamp included with my sample didn't thread smoothly onto the spindle, but wobbled all the way down. I checked to make sure I hadn't cross-threaded the spindle, but the error wasn't mine. Perhaps my sample is an aberration—but whatever happened to meticulous European engineering?

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