Analog Corner #287: The Charles Kirmuss Vinyl Restoration System

Back in the 1990s, my friend Nick Despotopoulos and I published an article in The Tracking Angle titled "Zen and the Art of Record Cleaning Made Difficult," describing author Michael Wayne's record-cleaning methodology. That regimen, like the article itself, was the most comprehensive one I knew of at the time.

Though complicated and time-consuming, Wayne's methodology produced outstanding results. His goal was not just to clean a record but to restore it to as-new condition by removing from it every contaminant found on and, in some cases, in the vinyl—impurities baked into the groove owing to heat generated during playback. With Wayne's system, you'd know if the record's original owner was a smoker (or a toker)—yet removing nicotine or THC deposits was but the beginning of an involved and intensive process.

Though Mr. Wayne's system is not to be dismissed, record cleaning and restoring has changed for the better since the publication of that article, especially with the introduction of cavitation-based record cleaning—an approach that uses an ultrasonic wave to create, within a cleaning bath, energetic, microscopic scrubbing bubbles. While ultrasonic cleaning has been around for decades, its application to record cleaning was pioneered by Reiner G;läss in his Audiodesksysteme G;läss Vinyl Cleaner. Today, a number of other ultrasonic record-cleaning products are available, including the Kirmuss Audio KA-RC-1 ($870, footnote 1).

M is for machine
I first encountered the eccentric, lab-coat-wearing, stuffed-rabbit-toting Charles Kirmuss (footnote 2) at AXPONA 2018 (although he was beaten to the lab-coat shriek by Jonathan Monks of Keith Monks Audio Works, just as that company's nominal founder beat everyone else to making a commercially viable Wet-Wash/vacuum-11-dry record-cleaning machine).

719acorn.guy

At Kirmuss's debut at the 2018 AXPONA, a US ultrasonic distributor called iSonic had its display right around the corner, showing a machine that appeared nearly identical to Kirmuss's—although sans his very good patented record-spinning apparatus and with a slightly different control panel (footnote 3).

Both the Kirmuss machine and the iSonic machine operate at 35kHz. Later, I ascertained from a representative of the Chinese company that manufactures these ultrasonic baths that the Kirmuss Audio cleaner is based on a standard-issue, readily available cavitation machine like the one used by iSonic—although Kirmuss told us in an email that his machine is significantly modified by his own factory. He listed several small (but possibly important) differences.

The question of the appropriate cavitation frequency is crucial. It is also contentious. There's a broad, nonspecific scientific consensus—this isn't controversial—that while lower frequencies clean faster, they are more likely to damage delicate materials than higher frequencies are. Higher or exceeding 100kHz—are typically recommended for cleaning delicate things—like records?—while lower frequencies, including the 35kHz range, are thought to be suitable for generic macro cleaning of, for example, dental and medical instruments. Higher frequencies are gentler (in the general case), and because they produce smaller bubbles, they can penetrate into smaller areas—like record grooves. That's a good thing, right? So why not higher frequencies?

While Kirmuss, with his lab coat-and-stuffed-animal shtick, can sometimes appear less than credible, he seems to have given these issues some thought. For one thing, the use of a surfactant seems critical to the Kirmuss method—not just to lower surface tension so that the water can get inside the grooves, but also for its direct cleaning action, stimulated by high-energy (but not too high) cavitation bubbles. Used with a surfactant, Kirmuss says, higher-frequency machines can damage records. "We in our design do not want the full action to enter the grooves," Kirmuss says 35kHz "is safer when compared to what is measured and witnessed with a 40KHz system. We performed the measurement by our 3D microscope"—a reference to the $87,000 instrument Kirmuss uses to evaluate his record cleaner's effectiveness. "Lower, at 25KHz, we see no action," Kirmuss told Stereophile. Of course, there are other 35kHz machines on the market—including the previously mentioned iSonic.

But Kirmuss's machine differs from all of the other multidisc cleaners in a critical way: Instead of using a cumbersome "barbecue spit" mechanism to spin the records in the open cavitation vat—which means that all the records being cleaned must be the same size and must be removed from the bath at the same time—Kirmuss's patented motor-drive system fits neatly atop the cleaning tank and is more user-friendly. You can simultaneously clean two 12" LPs plus one 10" and a 7" record without worrying about getting the labels wet, and you can remove one without removing the others.

Kirmuss also avers that the distance between the records is critical and that some of the other "spit" mechanisms crowd the records too closely together. Also, Kirmuss's cleaning tank has been modified from stock to include a side-mounted low-voltage jack to power the motor drive system. That way, the records begin to turn the moment you press the cavitation button—a small but significant convenience.

It's also for materials
The Kirmuss Audio KA-RC-1 comes with accessories: 60ml of an antibacterial/antistatic/antifungal spray; a goat-hair brush applicator; an optical-quality microfiber cloth; a larger microfiber cloth (decorated with rabbits) to cover the work space; a circular felt mat to support the record during hand cleaning; a combination carbon-fiber/parastatic felt brush; and a bottle of stylus cleaner.

All of this costs $870—far less than at least one competing system and only slightly more than the iSonic machine and its inferior record-spinning mechanism. Granted, the accessories are not costly, but no matter how you figure it, Kirmuss doesn't seem to be in this for the money: He's not looking to lose money, but clearly he's not trying to make a killing. From what I've witnessed, he's more concerned with waging a worldwide war against fungus.

The antibacterial/antistatic spray is identified in the manual as a "98-99% distilled water, 1-2% propanol 1-2 diol 178 mix." That last one is propylene glycol (footnote 4), an organic solvent used in, among other things, pharmaceutical preparations and as a food additive. It is nontoxic, although I found it to be slightly irritating when accidentally inhaled.

You have to supply your own 70% isopropyl alcohol and as many gallons of distilled water as you can carry home from the supermarket—and a spray bottle that you can fill with either the latter or with reverse-osmosis-purified water.

M is for methodology, too
Mr. Kirmuss's methodology has evolved over the past year, though the essentials remain the same, as spelled out in a new, poorly written, messily laid out, multitypeface color manual that makes the Dr. Bronner's Castile T soap bottle label appear tidy. (Why should an owner's manual for a record-cleaning machine have on its very first page instructions on how to use it to clean jewelry?)

You start by filling the Kirmuss cleaner's vat with approximately two gallons of distilled or reverse osmosis water; then add 40ml of 70% isopropyl alcohol. After that, you "degas" the fluid using a function built into the machine. (Degassing should be repeated after a few cleaning cycles; cavitation bubbles that remain in the water can decrease efficiency.)

Once that's done, you slide the records into the top-mounted slots, start the machine, and let it run for a preprogrammed five-minute wash—the suggested default time, though you can vary it. After that, the KA-RC-1 automatically stops—and then the real fun begins. You remove the record, place it on the circular pad (which has itself been placed on the rabbit cloth), spray the antistatic/antibacterial surfactant onto the record in three evenly spaced spots, and then spread the surfactant with the goat-hair brush using small, circular movements.

Especially on older records that have been cleaned using various fluids, a mysterious white paste will appear, which Kirmuss says is the "liberation" from the grooves of the baked-on crud.

After you do both sides, you repeat the cavitation process. In the owner's manual, Kirmuss suggests repeating the surfactant application and recavitation steps a minimum of four or five times in order to fully expel the paste from the grooves. (Previous versions of the manual suggested fewer cycles.) Once you start this process, you can not stop until all of the paste has been liberated from the grooves; otherwise, once you go to play that record, you'll quickly coat your stylus with a nasty, gummy, white substance that's difficult to remove. (I know some Kirmuss cleaner users have complained about their styli picking up that coating—I've heard from a few! Hence the revised instructions.)

719acorn.dirt

This Ortofon cartridge had to be returned to Denmark to have the crud removed from the stylus following an incomplete record-cleaning via the Kirmuss method. (Photo: Ortofon.)

After a few cycles, the amount of paste pulled from the grooves diminishes, and eventually so little appears that it evaporates with the surfactant. That signals that your paste pulling is finished: Time to place the record back in the vat for a final five-minute cycle, to remove the surfactant from the record.

Next, you dry the record using the supplied optical-quality, microfiber cloth—this takes less time than you might think, given PVC's inherent water-repellency and the microfiber cloth's absorptive qualities—then spray the record with a few shots of distilled water and dry it again. After that, you "polish" the grooves with the parastatic felt brush, then finish by spinning the record on your turntable, spraying a small amount of the surfactant on the (cleaned) goat-hair brush, and gently pulling that brush across both sides of the record. According to Kirmuss, this last step "inoculates" the record against the growth of fungus—something every veteran record buyer has seen, especially on records that have been in humid climates.


Footnote 1: Kirmuss Audio, 51 West 84th Ave., Suite 3401, Denver, CO 80260. Tel: (303) 263-6353. Fax: (303) 862-7170. Web: www.kirmussaudio.com.

Footnote 2: See www.analogplanet.com/content/if-charles-kirmusss-record-cleaning-machine-and-regime-is-correct-everyone-else-is-wrong. By the way, if you go to Kirmuss's website, you will see a video shot in my listening room in which Kirmuss demonstrates his system. He wanted to pay me for shooting the video, but of course I didn't accept. Instead I told him that I'd happily donate to The New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMC) whatever he was planning to pay me. When the check for $500 arrived, I deposited it and wrote my $500 check to NOMC.

Footnote 3: You can see both the iSonic and Kirmuss machine in this video, at around 43:53.

Footnote 4: That chemical name seems made-up, and Kirmuss at first disputed that the ingredient was nothing more than propylene glycol, but a subsequent correspondence made it clear.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Jack L's picture

Hi

The bottom line of any record cleaning liquids is to leave NO residual chemical craps inside the record grooves.

So for cleaning my 1,000+ LPs since day one years back, I only use ionized distilled water available in 4-litre (or 3.5 gallon) plastic bottles dirt cheap from any grocery stores.

However, not all commercial distilled waters are made equal. I've found only ONE make is 100% pure = 0 ppm (part per 1 million parts) measured with my water purity tester.

I got an expensive undersink osmosis purifier system in my kitchen, which pumps out pure water of 10ppm, healthy for drinking for sure. But not yet good enough for cleaning my vinyl.

FYI, I measure my city's raw tape water: 150ppm, & 'natural' spring bottle water: 155ppm. IMO, Not even hygienic enough for pets, let alone human beings.

So I've settled down using only this make of bottled ionized distilled water (measured 0ppm.) for cleaning all my LPs, pre-owned & brandnew. No chemical additives allowed !!!!

This cheapie cleaner works chime with my vinyls. I always play WET by spraying the said distilled water onto a nylon paint brush & apply it wet to any LP before I play.

Sound so quiet (killing the statics due to the moisture) & so FLUID which dry play can never come close sonically.

Listening is believing

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

It's amazing how many 33.3 folks don't ever clean thier vinyl.

Steve Gutenberg just reviewed a cheap cleaner on his YouTube Channel with 150,000 Subscriptions. Phew. Steve admits that he's never been keeping his vinyl clean ( maybe now ).

The Ultimate Jazz Archivist and Curator "The Jazz Shepherd" says he's never cleaned any of his vast collection.

I'm a Cleaner and I can't imagine any of my beautiful ( and pricy ) Phono Cartridge Collection getting clogged up with filth from stored vinyl which is loaded with yuk.

A complementary explanation on properly cleaning phono cartridges should accompany this reporting. Cartridges don't have to be sent back to the Manufacturer!

Overall, the need to clean 33.3 properly is probably the best dam reason for playing music some other way. Properly cleaning one unit can take quite some time and capitol investment in equipment. It's a pain in the ass and very much the territory of the ultra perfectionists.

I personally gave up!

I feel for those poor souls with 10,000+ filthy records begging for a proper bath & scrubbing, I have a hard time keeping my eyeglasses and phone screen clean.

Tony in Venice

ps. thanks for the reminder of what audiophile life used to be like.

Jack L's picture

Hi Tony

I did not know you're so "slobby" until you just told me now.
Keep it up, pal !

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

...standards of cleanliness.

How could you infer that I fit that adjective? I don't think that I do and most folks would say I work too dam much. Hmm.

You just might be attempting a lazy insult.

Abandoning 33.3 because of the work load it imposes is not Slobby or me.

I've owned injection moulding equipment. It's a dirty business. 33.3 needs a thorough cleaning!

Properly cleaning a Large Collection ( and continued maintenance cleaning ) is too much of a commitment now that Digital Audio Converters are good.

Tony in Venice

Jack L's picture

Hi

Just a bit of fun on you. Take it easy! Don't mean to offend at all.

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

I'll take it.

Tony in Venice

Jim Austin's picture

Some people like vinyl. Others like digital. Why is that threatening? Listen to whatever medium gives you pleasure.

This is directed at everyone in this thread. Be nice.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Jack L's picture

Hi

Tony is being a bit too over-reacting ! So are you too.

What "threatening" ??????

If you care to read again the caption of my above thread to Tony:

"I have a hard time keeping my eyeglasses and phone screen clean."

I pointed out his being sorta kinda "slobby" for not cleaning his personal stuff. NOTHING ever mentioned about vinyl or digital !!!!!

Jack L

Jack L's picture

........ begging for a proper bath & scrubbing." quoted Tonykaz.

Thanks goodness, I only own 1,000+ vinyl (95% dirt cheap preowned from thrift stores). I never need any record cleaning machines + consumable cleaning liquids. Yet I don't ever get any issues of surface noise problems due to dirts hidden inside the record grooves. Surely no stubborn dirts glued to the the needle tips yet.

Lucky me? Nope. I rinse & scrub each every one LP in a ionized distilled water bath with a lintfree cotton cloth & hang it dry before I ever start to play it. Effective yet costing me peanut !

Play smart !

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

Do you make trips to the NY used record shops? ( and/or the Audio Salons like Andy Singer or Stereo Exchange )

I think you're committed to the format.

Tony in Venice

Jack L's picture

Hi Tony.

Yes, I am addicted to vinyl though I still keep my digital gears for casual convenient listening: CD, DVD-audio, Blu-ray players, DAC streaming.

I live in the Great White North, & I can't cross the border now due to the pandemic !

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

Seems the Frozen North has extraordinary clean ambient Air and Water.

I'd abandon my "American" citizenship to live in Yellow Knife if it wasn't for the ambient temperatures. Phew Canadian Culture is otherwise worth the sacrifices which include high Postal rates for shipping eBay sales.

It was 65F here in this Venice sunrise morning, quickly warming up to the mid-80sF. Swimming remains miraculous at all temps above 82F.

I have some Montreal & Quebec neighbours I'm awaiting, they summer along the St.Lawrence and fish from our Jetty. They typically catch 10+ lb. ( 5kg. ) kinds of fish.

Tony in Venice

Jack L's picture

Hi

If you don't mind very short summers & sub-zero COOL winters + slippery icy roads driving up here, Welcome to Canada !

My younger son & wife live & work in the Silicon Valley with their young family, They still keeps their Canadian passports!

Why? What Canada beats USA is healthcare: FREE healthcare to all Canadians living in the country.

I got relatives & friends living in USA. Those still working want to keep on working after retirement age to retain the medical coverage by their employers ! My cousin still working in the Bay area does not want to visit his doctor as the medical deductible he got to pay is staggering !

For us to live in USA without medical coverage? Thanks but no thanks.

Jack L

Glotz's picture

of how Steve didn't have a cleaning process at all...

"I just watch the dust go round and round" I think that's what it said... lol..

So funny, and that guy is Very Important to the audiophile world!

tonykaz's picture

NY is a dirty place.

I represented Nitty Gritty and VPI in my Esoteric Audio and realised that the majority of my Customer base wouldn't own any sort of advanced cleaning tools. I sold plenty of the simple brushes. 33.3 has static charges attracting dust particles.

People have a wide range of comfort when it comes to Cleanliness. I would like detailed clean if I could but my life kind of mandates me avoiding filth more than pursuing ultimate New/Fresh in all things. I'm annoyed by dirty window glass. My General Motors Career was in filthy engine Manufacturing Plants, working on improving efficiencies. A clean machine is more efficient than a dirty one.

Injection Moulding uses and needs mold release. The person in this report is correct, I think, Injection molded things like 33.3 will need appropriate cleaning before safe usage. I once owned a Injection Molding outfit that made Surgery tools requiring certified cleaning before sealed packaging.

Living Clean is wonderful, Florida rains keep our Cars nearly spotless ( unlike the constant filth of Michigan Roads ). My Florida House HEPA Air filter seems to capture only about 2 grams of airborne per week. ( Florida breaths Ocean Airs which are super clean ).

Tony in Venice

ps. I cleaned CDs with a microfibre towel and Car detailing solutions, I could restore some scratched Library Loaners.

Glotz's picture

I sincerely say that. You are more interesting than the Most Interesting Man in the World ads... seriously.

I cannot stand dirty windows nor dust covers, nor tv screens of any kind.

I've sold in a leather tannery for a stint, and That was dirty. And smelly beyond belief.

I've also worked for P&H Harnischfeger in the 90's and while it was very clean for a crane manufacturing plant, it was still dirty with dust and oil mist from machining large winch parts.

I personally am amazed that even the highest priced LP releases don't have some kind of wet cleaning process. But I imagine that a business doesn't innovate until there is a need to drive it effectively.

I also loved the weather in Florida for the year I was there in Tampa. Simply gorgeous white sands groomed daily for tourists to make a mess. Lol.

I still think the lowest bar for anyone in vinyl care is Record Doctor 3, AI NO.6 solution for the wet clean (and distilled water to alternate), a real carbon fiber brush (Ursa Major), a real anti-stat tool (Furutech), a good Art Dudley stylus brush (sable art brush cut to a gentle size for stylus'), HiFi plus ultrasonic stylus cleaner (just seriously clean and safe).. and whew! That doesn't even touch the rest of the supporting accessories... (Tony is right..) this an expensive and invested process!

All of my records were bought 40 plus years ago up to today and most are Mint, as I use a damped dust-cover that does a great job of staying out of the way during playback, and I make Sure that there is no dust on that slab when the cover comes down. It's a pain to be sure, especially in the winter months, but my records are testament to good, borderline crazy care.

Not Kirmuss or Tracking Angle nuts... mind you! (Kidding!)

tonykaz's picture

We sail in the same Seas.

I suspect that we might think of 33.3 as it's own world & hobby: Phono Cartridges, Headshells, little Litz wires, various Arms, Players, Mats, Cleaners, Interconnects, step-up devices ( my favourite was the Electrocompaniet ) Preamps, Racks, Record Storage systems, and at least 1,500 cu.ft. to house the collections.

Done properly Vinyl is a house filling hobby.

and of course it needs: significant disposable funds to buy new Acoustic Sounds, Linn and European releases.

33.3 Vinyl is at least a $40,000 investment, not counting the residential space costs or the happy spousal/marriage costs! )

My personal Will arrangements include being buried with a little Solar powered Digital Player, there won't be enough room to include a vinyl system. ( I'll have music in my next life as a wandering Albatross while wearing Elinore Rigby Sunglasses ).

Bon Voyage & Bon Vivant

Tony in Venice

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yes. I still recall I was given a 5-day free trip with my wife down to South Bay, Florida years back as a reward for my performance achievement in my company.

Fresh air indeed.

Jack L

volvic's picture

The idea of sitting and wiping down a record with a cloth after cleaning is a deal breaker. Also, even if it cleans really well, why would I want to redo the whole cleaning process until I removed a white film that appears on the record? No thanks, the Degritter or Audio Desk is a better proposition.

Elikestunes's picture

Wow, what an eye opening article! I am currently in the process of "cleaning" and digitizing my Dad's 78 (and LP) collection...discs going back to the 1930's that were not given TLC...the amount of "gunk" is incredible, but thanks for this article...not sure I will jump into this, but very informative!

barevinyl's picture

Thanks Michael for bringing this cleaning machine to your column. There is no doubt that this Kirmuss guy is a bit of a kook and I don't understand the stuffed rabbits at all but who cares. I absolutely love my machine and it does a fantastic job. The two times that I've called Kirmuss headquarters he's dropped what he's doing and took my call. He's nice and jovial and does his best to answer questions. Once he pulled his car over to take my resupply order for more cleaning supplies. Brother that is good customer service and rarely found these days. Sure it's a process to clean the records but they sure come out nice in the end. It's a bit of a cleaning ritual (much like keeping your bong clean) but well worth it. I love buying old Deutsche Grammophon records from decades past and restoring them with the Kirmuss. I only listen to vinyl and keeping them clean is just part of the game. If you're really into vinyl, this is a cost effective essential piece of gear that I recommend completely.

shawnwes's picture

It works exactly as Michael says it does. Yes it's a PIA to do the full prescribed scrub but when you have a noisy pressing the end result is often a completely noise free record groove. I spent about half an hour yesterday working of a Blue Note 75th anniversary pressing of Ike Quebec's "Blue and Sentimental". Lots of intermittent noise due to the mediocre pressing by you know what pressing plant. A single pass through the cleaner helped a little but after a half dozen repeated scrubs followed by a few minutes in the tank gave fabulous results with just a couple of minor ticks left which may be permanent.
It works as advertised.

Jack Pot's picture

For a comprehensive overview of vinyl cleaning, read no further than the exhaustingly researched articles by Paul Rigby, the Audiophile Man at https://theaudiophileman.com/
Paul actually investigated all manner of cleaning devices and came to definitive conclusions. I follow his findings re ultrasound cleaners and now operate my Glass Audiodesk vinyl cleaner as he suggests:
1. fill the vinyl cleaner with 4.5 ltr distilled water (as per the manual) to which I add 1% by volume alcohol
2. apply a tiny amount of wetting agent (diluted Tergikleen in my case) with a pipette to the record surface and rub in with a Kabuki brush; treat both sides of the record
3. wash in the vinyl cleaner for 5 minutes (optional: interrupt the drying cycle to shorten the procedure)
4. repeat the 5-minute washing cycle and allow the drying cycle (another 4 minutes) to complete
The (pleasant) procedure takes abt 20 minutes, no white sugar or black magic involved
5. replace the water in the tank every 50 records
The above process improves the washing process dramatically. I was abt to put aside my Audiodesk vinyl cleaner because Glass recommends adding his proprietary formula to the water in the tank. This always leaves a “sonic veil” on the LP (though even in that case the sound already improves substantially compared with non-washed LPs). Therefore, never add wetting agents or other to the water in the tank of an ultrasound cleaner. Always apply directly, in tiny, diluted amounts, to the surface of the record.
(Re)washing LPs along the lines of Paul’s recommendations truly reveals the spectacular sonic improvements achievable with ultrasonic cleaning. I suspect ALL vinyl ultrasound cleaning machines will benefit from Paul’s procedure. The vast majority of my records are bought new.
My own recommendation re Audiodesk: never buy 2nd hand, the machines invariably break down after some use and are unrepairable. I exchanged mine (after 500 washes only) for the latest version confusingly named The Original. The trade-in cost me a fortune. But this latest version is a dramatic improvement over earlier versions. I have no experience with other cleaning machines, except for the Spin Clean Record Washer: it used to remove “dirt”, even from new records, but did NOT improve the sound at all. Ergo: ineffective.
Diluted Tergikleen: 3 drops in 500 ml distilled water

Enjoy the music

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