Nessie Vinylcleaner ProPlus+ record cleaning machine

I'm a music lover first, not the most Type A of audiophiles. Sure, I clean my records, but I'm not obsessive about keeping them immaculate like my audiophile father is; he cleans each record ultrasonically before it lands on his turntable platter, writing the date of each record's last bath and which cleaning machine he used on the outside of a fresh plastic inner sleeve before sliding the LP back inside. I don't think his cleaning schedule is rigid—he has far too many LPs for that—but it's regular. Whenever I visit with LPs in tow, they must pass through the record-cleaning machine (RCM) gauntlet before they're permitted to land on his turntable's platter.

His rule makes sense: All kinds of icky muck—lint, ash, dust, dead microscopic bugs, mold, fungi, pet dander, various human secretions—builds up in those grooves over time. Too much dirt can even damage equipment and prized records. Smooth, clean vinyl helps clear the path for cleaner sound.

Recently, I tried out one of the many RCMs currently on the market: the redundantly named Nessie Vinylcleaner ProPlus+ ($2495), which despite the name does not hail from Scotland, nor is it a monster; in fact it's smaller than some other record cleaners I've used.

The Nessie is not an ultrasonic; instead, it takes the old-school approach, achieving its goal with cleaning fluid and a gentle scrub. This German-made RCM has a platter that rotates automatically, back and forth, as the first arm dispenses Nessie's own "Vinylin" cleaning fluid (or the fluid of your choice), a 200mL bottle of which is provided. The same arm brushes the record, and another arm sucks the fluid up and dries it. The Vinylin fluid is said to dissolve dirt without damaging the vinyl. The package comes with a micro-fiber cloth intended for precleaning, and a clamp with a rubber seal to keep your labels dry.

The Nessie's look is a bit more stylish—less utilitarian—than that of some other RCMs. The chassis is made mainly of thick (8mm) shiny black acrylic. The Nessie feels substantial, standing on four tall, sturdy chromed feet. A raised, silvery silhouette of the dragon-like "Nessie"—an obvious nod to the Loch Ness Monster—emblazons the lower right corner of the front panel.

To the left of the Nessie image are two buttons, a light encircling each. The top one starts and stops the platter's rotation. The one below it, which is labeled with a droplet graphic, controls a pump that dispenses cleaning fluid from a groove in the brush arm, dispersing it evenly onto the LP surface. I emphasize "LP" here because, as equipped, this Nessie only cleans 12" records. If you want to clean 7" or 10" records, you'll need the $275 accessory kit. I didn't order the kit, as I seldom spin those smaller records, or clean them (although just recently I picked up a few new 7" singles at a recent "Paved Paradise" traveling indie-label record show, footnote 1).

The Nessie's manual recommends setting the unit up on a "wipeable" level surface—level to prevent fluid from entering the unit's mechanics and circuitry, wipeable so that you can easily clean up spills. (I didn't experience any.) I set the Nessie up at the end of a long metal table that serves as an island in my kitchen.

Inside the chassis, there's a motor for rotating the platter, a vacuum motor for sucking up fluid, a cleaning-fluid reservoir, and a wastewater tank. A small hose extends outside the chassis for draining accumulated wastewater, a step that's recommended "whenever you have finished washing the records" or after every 40 records washed to prevent buildup of mold and scum and the possibility of fluid overflow.

Setting Nessie Up
Assembling the Nessie was straightforward and took only a few minutes. The main task of assembly is to attach the two arms to the top of the platter: the brush arm, which dispenses and distributes cleaning fluid; and the suction arm, which handles vacuum drying and has a slot on its bottom side that sucks up fluid and is lined with black velveteen.

A clear, hard-plastic clip at the end of the hose serves as a clamp to prevent wastewater fluid from leaking out. I worried that the plastic clip might snap, but the clip held up and maintained enough tension to do its duty. The hose is always attached, but during use it's tucked away underneath the chassis, held in place by a magnet.

The two arms lift and swivel out of the way so that records can be placed on the platter and removed. The manual recommends practicing arm-pivoting before you start cleaning with the Nessie. That might sound silly, but getting a feel for how they lift and swivel was helpful: While cleaning a record, you need to lift each arm just high enough to allow it to rotate onto the record and then off again; lift it too high and it comes off its base. If that happens? No big deal: Just put it back on again.

Once the two brushes were attached, I poured about a quarter of the bottle of Vinylin fluid into the tank, and I was ready to roll—or rather, to spin.

The spin cycle
Its two arms attached, and cleaning fluid in the tank, the Nessie was ready for action—or almost. I put Roxy Music's live EP The High Road on the Nessie's platter, placed the weighted clamp on top, then toggled the switch on back to power it up. Before you clean a record, the manufacturer recommends wiping it down with the included microfiber cloth, dampened with warm water, to moisten the surface and remove easy-to-remove debris.

I lifted and rotated the brush arm onto the record's surface and pressed the top button to start the platter rotation. Then I pressed the second button to apply the fluid to the vinyl's surface via the brush arm. For most records, I pushed it three to six times, applying that many doses, depending on how dirty the vinyl was. The LP surface needs a healthy coating—"a rich film," the manual says—but not to the point where the liquid pools.

The platter automatically reverses direction every 30 seconds or so as the brush on the first arm continues its contact with the record's surface. Watching the Nessie alternate between clockwise and counterclockwise was kind of fun. So was pushing the buttons. This degree of mindless engagement can be relaxing.

At least 90 seconds of rotation/cleaning time is suggested. If the record was very dirty and you think it needs more brush-mopping time, you can let it rotate longer, adding more fluid if you wish (but not too much). After 90 seconds, the light surrounding the control button begins to flash, signaling that you can start the vacuuming and drying process. First you lift away the dispensing/brushing arm. Then you rotate the vacuum arm over and lower it gently onto the record surface. The vacuum motor starts automatically.

Now it's time to repeat these steps for Side B—but after cleaning Side A, don't just flip the record over. Side B, which is still dirty, has been resting against the platter this whole time. You don't want to get Side A dirty again, so remove the record, set it aside on a soft, clean, lint-free cloth—a second microfiber would be welcome here, but they're cheap enough—then carefully wipe down the platter. Speaking of platter cleanliness: Between uses, you'll want to cover the Nessie's platter with something—maybe an old, disposable (but clean!) record, to keep the platter mat clean, or you can buy an extra mat for $35. Probably the best idea is a dustcover; the one for this model costs $150 on Music Direct's website and also, presumably, through your local dealer.

Once I started cleaning records, I didn't want to stop. It was fun and satisfying to see how shiny the records' surfaces could get. Sonic improvements, too, shone through. After cleaning, records were noticeably quieter. Ticks and pops became rarer—though some of that is due to a reduction in static electricity, not dirt. Playback tracking had a better sense of fluid continuity. Quieter musical passages became more pleasing. Decay tails seemed longer. Many LPs contain subtle sounds that are apt to go missing. Toward the end of "Close (to the Edit)" from the Art of Noise's (Who's Afraid of) the Art of Noise (LP, Island Records ZTT 90179-1), a distant egg shaker in the right channel came through more clearly and obviously. Throughout the track, the near-cacophony of the synthesized percussion effects struck more startlingly, at times with more squeal. Samples of oddball mechanical sounds seemed more distinct and clear-cut.

After cleaning, leading-edge transient attacks seemed cleaner, especially on percussion. I revisited a reasonably clean copy of African Piano by Abdullah Ibrahim (LP, Trio PA-7057/JAPO Records 60002), a live recording captured at a 1969 concert in Copenhagen. Before cleaning, it sounded fine. After a quick run through the Nessie, the rhythmic impulses of Ibrahim's stride-inspired piano felt more dramatic and regular, including, specifically, "Sunset in Blue."

I'd recently seen Rhiannon Giddens perform live with Francisco Turrisi and brought home a new copy of They're Calling Me Home (LP, Nonesuch Records 075597915730). The performance was still fresh in my mind when I put on the album, cleaned it, then listened again. After cleaning, on "O Death," the song they opened the show with, I heard a reasonable (studio) approximation of live, flesh-and-blood people and instruments: Giddens's spirited vocals, Turrisi on frame drum. (On the recorded version, she doesn't play her flawless clawhammer on her fretless cello banjo.)

Cleaner records convey more, more subtle details. It's those subtle details that evoke realism, drawing you deeper into the music.

These differences were relatively subtle. This was, after all, a new LP, but like too many new LPs, it wasn't immaculate when I unwrapped it.

Cleaning warped records is not recommended—but how warped is warped? I cleaned a few slightly warped LPs with no problems.

Considerations and a couple of comparisons
Beyond questions of cost, there are some practical factors to consider before you buy a record-cleaning machine: How often do you clean your records? How deep-cleaned and pristine do you expect them to get? How much space do you have? How hands-on are you willing—or wanting—to be with your cleaning process?

Different kinds of record cleaners have different advantages and disadvantages. Ultrasonic cleaners, like the Degritter MkII and the Kirmuss machine, clean both sides at once. They're platter-free, which means there's no horizontal surface for dust to collect on. In most such cleaners, no previously soiled brush makes contact with the record. Ultrasonic cleaners may get records cleaner. Then again, with ultrasonic cleaners, the fluid gets dirtier with every record cleaned, and the filters included with such cleaners vary greatly in quality and likely effectiveness.

I own the Record Doctor VI. It's a very simple, platter-and-brush cleaner, like the Nessie but more manual, more hands-on. It's handy for occasional cleaning, and there's no record-cleaner reservoir to mess with: You just drizzle fluid directly from the bottle across the vinyl's surface. Use a clamp and a hand to rotate the record, using your other hand to hold a brush in place across the record's radius, wiping as you turn. The Record Doctor is equipped with a strong and efficient vacuum for sucking up the fluid and drying the cleaned surface via a slot on the bottom side (footnote 2); the liquid goes into a reservoir for used fluid, and there's a plug for draining it, but I find draining is rarely necessary. (I guess the fluid must evaporate.) The Record Doctor is quick and easy to use—and it sits underneath its soft-vinyl dust cover between cleanings.

I found that that manual method took about the same amount of time as an average Nessie wash-and-dry cycle—about two and half minutes, minimum, to do both LP sides. I thought the Nessie did a more thorough job than I usually do with the manual cleaner, and its vacuum motor is quieter. That's important, because vacuums can be loud. The Nessie manual specifies its maximum volume as a modest 57dB. It was quiet enough that you could continue listening to records while cleaning other records. Note, however, that the Nessie costs about four times what the Record Doctor costs.

Every RCM requires maintenance. The Nessie must have its tanks emptied and flushed with water. Its brushes (which regularly come in contact with dirty records) need to be cleaned often and replaced occasionally. Ultrasonic machines like the Degritter must have their fluid—distilled water plus an additive, usually—replaced frequently, and on those that have filters, they need to be replaced.

The Nessie shouldn't sit unused for very long while filled with fluid, lest it develop mold or scummy buildup on the inside. I found it easy to unclip the drain hose and release the fluid from the wastewater tank into a small container, which I poured down the drain. I then flushed the waste tank by pouring a cup of clean water into the opening where the suction arm attaches, as recommended.

There's something to be said for the Nessie's pleasing method of action, which mirrors a turntable's action (except for those frequent reversals of direction). The Nessie is well-suited for vinyl lovers who clean records frequently and like to be involved in the process—but not too involved. The Nessie made me want to clean my records, more often and more scrupulously.

The Nessie is not the least expensive record cleaning machine on the market—nor is it the most expensive; Music Direct calls it a Goldilocks machine. It made cleaning records easy and was fun to use—even habit-forming. It may sound goofy, but I mean it seriously: It's a good way to spend more time with your records. Most importantly, it works: Records sounded better after a good Nessie cleaning—even new records.

Footnote 1: Paved Paradise, a traveling record and merchandise fair featuring independent labels, made a tour stop in Cincinnati at Rhinegeist, a local brewery. For more information, visit

Footnote 2: I've got one, too, although it's probably an earlier version. This Record Doctor suctions off the bottom as you're cleaning the top—which means that it's in contact with the second side before you clean it—and then in contact with the side you've just cleaned. That's not ideal.—Jim Austin