Cleaning Your Records in Ten (or so) Easy Steps
I knew that the VPI 16.5 measured around 15" x 9" x 14" and weighed something close to 30 lbs, but it still struck me as large and heavy. I sliced through the packing tape to find that the machine was carefully and securely set within its carton, held in place by heavy wedges of foam. Once unpacked, it was clear that the VPI was all business and built to last, as though it could withstand great amounts of strenuous work over much time and from place to place. It's a product made to satisfy its owner. With solid, black side panels and an acrylic top, it may be nothing much to look at, but it's surprisingly attractive in its quiet, utilitarian way. Again, the VPI doesn't mess around. No frills, nothing but what is absolutely necessary. I am tempted to customize my VPI, decorate it with punk rock stickers or a pin-up girl or a name tag or something.
Hmm…. What will I name it?
Beneath the acrylic hood, a cork mat sits atop a turntable platter, this within a reservoir that's about an inch and a half deep. A record clamp locks onto the turntable's spindle. A velvet-lined vacuum pickup tube, equal in length to the grooved area of a record, rests to the right of the platter and rotates to the back of the machine for easy access to the platter. A short, clear drainage hose extends from the VPI's back panel and is kept in check by a simple plastic clamp. On the VPI's front panel, there are two toggle switches: one to activate the turntable and one to activate the vacuum.
Operation is wonderfully simple:
1. Rotate the vacuum tube clockwise, so that it points toward the back of the machine. Remove the record clamp from the spindle, and place your disgustingly filthy record on the cork mat. (Actually, VPI recommends that you pre-clean heavily soiled records with a damp sponge in order to preserve the life of the vacuum pickup tube.)
2. Secure the record by tightening the record clamp on the spindle. The record should be firmly secured. But don't go crazy. As long as the record is held down and in place, you'll be fine. (On one occasion, I failed to sufficiently tighten the clamp. During a revolution with the vacuum engaged, the loose record became slightly elevated from its starting position and worked itself up against the vacuum pickup tube. The platter stopped spinning immediately. Thanks to the tube's velvet lining, the record suffered no damage. Lesson learned. However, stopping the turntable with the vacuum running can damage the machine, so do be careful.)
3. With the record clamped in place, hit the turntable switch. You will feel strangely satisfied. The record will spin. As it does, squirt some fluid onto it, being careful not to get any fluid on the record label. (It's easy! You'll get the hang of it in no time. Well, maybe in a little time.)
4. Use the brush of your choice to spread the fluid so that the entire grooved area of the record is nicely coated. More satisfaction. (It's kind of like spreading tomato sauce on pizza dough. Or painting a fence, or waxing the car, or sand da floor. Again, you'll totally get used to it, no problem, Daniel-san.)
5. Scrub that dirty record! Don't be afraid. The bristles of the VPI brush won't damage the record, and the 16.5 uses an 18RPM motor, capable of withstanding some heavy-duty scrub-a-dub-dubbing.
6. Once you've given your record a good scrub-down, rotate the vacuum tube counterclockwise, so that it rests over the record and points directly toward the spindle.
7. Here comes the really fun part: Hit the vacuum switch! Again, the satisfaction. (People, in past reviews, have made a big deal about the sound of the VPI's vacuum. They say it's noisy. Very, very noisy. I was expecting jets over Shea Stadium or ambulances down Newark Avenue, but it was nothing like that at all. The VPI's vacuum sounds like a vacuum.) Watch as the vacuum tube lowers, locks into position, and starts sucking up all that fluid and dirt. (VPI recommends two full revolutions to ensure complete drying of the record surface. I set my sights on a landmark, such as the record label's logo, and watch as it passes the vacuum tube for two revolutions. On one mind-altering occasion, I went with three revolutions simply because I was hypnotized by the orange gleam of the Warner Bros. logo against the olive green record label. No harm done, but two revolutions would have been fine. VPI does warn, however, that excess vacuuming will lead to static build-up, which, in turn, will attract more dust to your clean record. So, don't get hypnotized.)
8. Turn off the vacuum. (Important: Always turn off the vacuum before turning off the turntable. Again, allowing the vacuum to work over an idle record can harm both the record and the machine.) Things will quiet down, and the vacuum tube will pop up like a slice of bread from the toaster.
9. Turn off the turntable.
10. Move the vacuum tube back to its rear-facing position. Unscrew the record clamp, and remove your record. Admire it. Tell it soft, sweet things. It looks so lovely and new! Repeat the entire procedure on the other side of the record. Relive the joy! (For advanced users: When cleaning any record, Michael Fremer places a second mat atop the VPI's cork mat. He secures his dirty record on this extra mat. Once the first side of the record is clean, he removes the extra mat and happily places the newly-clean side of his record atop the cork mat. This is smart. Using this method, a clean record has less of a chance to come into contact with old dirt.)
Once you get used to it, cleaning a record may take no more than a couple of minutes. Of course, the time necessary depends on the condition of the record. Extra-dirty records will require more time. The process is easy-peasy and truly satisfyinga valuable bonding experience between you and your soulful possession. After you've revitalized your prized record with a good scrubbing, you can fit it with attractive, new inner and outer sleeves. Now it's really ready for a night out on the town. I mean, on the turntable. Your finished album is re-born and all your own, ready to be played, enjoyed, and admired. Love it.