There are not many absolutes in the wonderful world of audio, but one iron-clad, inviolable and wholly unchallengeable rule is that if you have a turntable you must have a good record cleaner.
Record cleaners improve every aspect of music playback, and make your lovely records last a lot longer. And while basic cleaning kits can be dirt cheap, even the fanciest and most effective record cleaning machines on the market today can be surprisingly affordable – and often much, much better.
So let’s have a look at the best machines for cleaning vinyl records, with recommendations and brief reviews of 6 top vinyl record cleaning machines on the market today.
If you’re in a hurry, and don’t want to read the whole buyer’s guide, here are some of my top picks:
- Best Budget Record Cleaning Machine VEVOR Ultrasonic Vinyl Record Cleaner
- Best Record Cleaning Machine Overall Pro-Ject VC-E Compact Record Cleaning Machine
- The Deepest, Most Complete Cleaning iSonic Motorized Ultrasonic Vinyl Record Cleaner
Why Are Record Cleaners So Important?
Simply put, good record cleaners will make records sound much better and last much longer. But let’s look at this in a little more detail.
The Best Vinyl Record Cleaners Make Records Sound Much Better
Vinyl records carry incredible amounts of information in their little grooves. When you think about how any record player playing any record can retrieve different sounds, different notes, different volumes, different relative positions in a stereo image, amazing amounts of detail and even micro-detail, and a all kinds of other sounds and musical cues all at the same time, well, the mind reels just a bit.
Because it’s not just some singer with a guitar, but often a band, a small to large ensemble, even a full orchestra, with dozens of different instruments all playing at the same time, in different positions in space, with different tonal characteristics and dynamic levels and more. And even that singer-songwriter’s voice and guitar produce unbelievably complex sound waves, especially as they interact with the space around them.
But here’s the rub – if you have dirt, dust or contaminants of any kind in those vinyl grooves, it will be much more difficult for even the best, highest resolution turntable, cartridge and stylus to fully follow the intricate and complex structure of the record’s modulations, and so much of that complexity, which makes music believable, powerful and beautiful, will not come through.
Not only can subtle, often microscopically small variations in the record’s grooves be covered by dirt, dust and residue, making it impossible for the needle to read them, those same particles can produce their own sound – pops, clicks, even deep rumble.
All of this has many negative effects on record playback – reduced detail, various kinds of distortion, changes in tonal character and sometimes strongly constricted dynamic range, reduced expressivity, compromised stereo imaging, lack of deep bass and an unevenness in frequency response all the way up and down, general lack of focus and clarity on many levels, and overall a reduction in beauty, power and effectiveness in the music we hear.
But while all of that sounds quite complex, the flip side is quite simple – get rid of the dirt and everything returns – focus, imaging, deep bass, dynamic energy, presence and realism, expressiveness, all of it.
Sounds so dramatic, but this is in no way overstated, and it’s why so many audiophiles, record collectors and music lovers – and, back in the day, so many radio stations – firmly believe that a good record cleaning system is the single most important accessory you can get.
The Best Vinyl Record Cleaners Make Records Last Much Longer
There are two main problems with all of those particulates and various forms of residue in your records’ grooves – one is how they keep the needle from following and accurately tracking the musical modulations inside the grooves, as we’ve just discussed.
And the second is how they can be deeply, possibly even permanently, impressed into the groove walls and those same modulations, and in this and other ways actually damage the records.
The hard surface of the needle, which is usually made of industrial diamond, can and will press bits of dust and dirt, residue and other contaminants deep into the vinyl, which can distort the musical signal modulations – and thus the sound – and add a permanent component of noise, in the form of pops, clicks, rumble and even skipping, to that musical signal.
In addition to doing potentially permanent damage to the vinyl, some of those contaminants and particulates can actually eat away at the vinyl over time, and the embedded bits of dust and dirt can make the needle press with even more force into the groove wall, adding additional damage and distortion.
Luckily much of this damage is not actually permanent, and a good record cleaning system – especially a good record cleaning machine – can reverse the damage, and often return even older and well-played records back to a near-new state.
Why Are Record Cleaning Machines Better?
More than 50 years ago vinyl record collectors and audiophiles discovered something truly wonderful – with the introduction of the first Keith Monks vacuum record cleaning machine it became clear that older, deeply dirty records – and even ones that seemed to be permanently damaged or helplessly noisy – could be brought back to their former glory.
Indeed, the Keith Monks was so good that it even made brand new, unplayed records sound significantly better.
Rather than simply swipe and wipe with a velvet brush and some fluid – as most record cleaning products do – and hopefully dislodging and pulling out some or most of the dirt, grime and residue, the best vinyl record cleaning machine will use strong vacuum force (like the Keith Monks) or ultrasonic vibration to deeply dislodge and separate the particulates and contaminants.
Even gunk and bits that are deeply embedded into the vinyl can be removed, and in fact consistently are, with a good record cleaning machine, and any record will sound better and last longer.
Now I should clearly state that record cleaning machines are more expensive than simple record cleaning brushes, and even those inexpensive brush cleaning systems can be fairly effective. If a cleaning machine is out of your budget, it is imperative that you have at least a good brush for cleaning, to protect your precious vinyl and to improve listening.
The best basic record cleaning brush I know is the Big Fudge Record Care System, which also has the coolest name. It will remove a lot of the gunk in those grooves, will make records sound better, and is cheap and easy to use.
But yeah, a good record cleaning machine is a whole new ballgame, and to compare them to even as good a brush as the Fudge is just not fair. A brush will clean up the sound, and will do a bit to protect your records, but a higher-level record cleaning machine will bring your records, and your listening experience, to the highest levels possible, and keep them there for years.
Finding the Best Record Cleaning System for You
I will say that without a doubt the Keith Monks is still the best record cleaning system available, but they can run many, many thousands of dollars, and are really only considered by libraries and other institutions, or the most serious – and most flush – record collectors and audiophiles.
Even old, used Monks can cost a few thousand dollars, and those versions will not work as well as several of the products on this list of best record cleaning machines – even though the top choice here is still well below a grand.
But our choices will actually start at under a hundred dollars, and even by the time we reach only around two hundred we will find a record cleaning machine – the Vevor Ultrasonic – that is at least comparable to the Keith Monks in effectiveness. And our top machines are so close to the Monks that I would be hard pressed to tell the difference, and at a fraction of the cost.
We will consider two main types of record cleaning machines – ultrasonic and vacuum – and while there is no clear advantage or preference for one system or the other, and it really comes down to the machines themselves – how well the system is implemented and the quality of the materials and parts, for example – you should know that with an ultrasonic system you can also clean your jewelry and sunglasses.
I’m half joking, of course, but it’s actually true, and I guess to some people…
So let’s have a closer look at some of the machines out there, concentrating more on their effectiveness with records than with Ray Bans, in the hopes that it can help you zero in on the perfect record cleaning machine for you, your budget and your priceless vinyl.
And make sure to check out my Bonus Section at the end of the article, where I make a modest proposal involving thrift stores and wacky math!
The 6 Best Cleaning Machines for Records in 2023
The Cheapest Way to the Next Level
I’m not sure I can really call our first record cleaning machine a machine – the Spin-Clean system is really just a nicely designed frame for holding record cleaning brushes and cleaning fluid, as well as rubber rollers that hold the record safely and allow you to rotate it.
You fill the reservoir with distilled water, add some of the special cleaning fluid onto the brushes, insert your record and spin it three times each direction. When you’re done, you use the nice, soft and very absorbent supplied towels to completely dry your record, and you are ready to drop the needle.
Whether the Spin-Clean is a machine, or just essentially a fancy brush, it is significantly more effective than a basic hand-held brush – even the excellent Big Fudge Record Care System can’t offer this level of deep, thorough cleaning.
At the same time, the Vevor ultrasonic system, just below, is in turn significantly better than the Spin-Clean, though we should be clear that the Vevor is about three times the price.
But, machine or not, the Spin-Clean is the least expensive way I know to get truly deep, thorough cleaning of a vinyl record, and will offer incredible improvements in sound, as well as really taking care of your records. Made in the United States, and offering a lifetime warranty, this is a high quality and excellent product, and highly recommended for audiophiles and record collectors on a strict budget.
In fact, for an even better value, you might want to check out the Spin-Clean Mark II Record Washer Deluxe Kit, which has the same basic ‘machine’ but comes with a lot more fluid – enough for something like 6,000 records – as well as extra drying cloths and a spare set of record cleaning brushes, all at a very good price.
Best Budget Record Cleaning Machine
Now we get into what I would consider a proper record cleaning machine, with the amazingly affordable Vevor ultrasonic record cleaner.
An incredibly effective system, ultrasonic cleaning has been used for all kinds of applications – from heavy industry to fine jewelry – for many decades, and can remove dirt and residue from surfaces and deep crevices alike.
The Vevor’s ultrasonic system warms the cleaning solution – distilled water and a couple of drops of wetting agent – and then vibrates it as a very high frequency, which dislodges particulates, film, oils and other contaminants, and which creates tiny bubbles which further scrub the record’s surface and inner grooves – all completely safely and with amazing effectiveness.
This level of deep cleaning isn’t something you do every time you play a record – for regular cleaning and static control I always use the Audioquest carbon fiber brush, which is the best made. Instead, you more typically would use the Vevor to thoroughly clean lots of records and then put them away for later play.
And while it is a bit of a hassle to set up initially, the Vevor will let you clean five records at once, and these batch-cleaning sessions end up being quite easy once you get going. It is also a very well made and reliable machine, which should provide years of trouble-free service.
We will talk about machines that are even more effective, and perhaps better choices for top-level audiophiles and the most fastidious record collectors, but the Vevor ultrasonic record cleaning machine is definitely at that level, and the least expensive record cleaning system I know which can truly deep-clean vinyl and transform your listening experience.
Best Value Record Cleaning Machine
At about a hundred dollars more expensive than the Vevor ultrasonic just above, the Record Doctor VI offers noticeably better cleaning, and brings even older records back to very close to their original state.
I wish it were as easy as to say that the Record Doctor’s vacuum cleaning system is just that much better than ultrasonic cleaning, but in fact the best and most effective system on this list of best record cleaning machines, the iSonic below, is in fact an ultrasonic.
Whatever the reason, while both the Vevor and this Record Doctor are excellent units, and pretty amazing values at their respective prices, the Record Doctor VI seems to pull more out of the grooves – this is not necessarily noticeable in an dramatic decrease in noise, as much as it is in a subtle improvement in focus, clarity, deep bass and transient response and many other sonic factors.
So if you are not the most focused, intensely discerning audiophile, listening with undistracted concentration and hearing every single aspect of the sound, is the smallish increase in price worth it? Well, perhaps not from that perspective.
But if you are one of us, those audio freaks who gladly sign second mortgages to get our listening rooms acoustically treated and lay dedicated power lines for our amplifiers, you can definitely pay a lot more for upgrades to your system – speaker stands, cabling, new cartridges, even new speakers or headphones – and not get the small but obvious improvements you will hear by moving up to the Record Doctor VI, which is not just a very effective record cleaning machine, but a wonderful, well designed and high quality product.
The next level, and for only a small increase in price, the Record Doctor VI is, for my money, the best value record cleaning machine on the market today.
Convenience and Quality
I would love to be more enthusiastic about the Wewu Rounds record cleaning system, which is in fact a well made and highly effective product, and well worth considering – it has, in fact, definitely earned its place in this list of best LP cleaning machines.
But while it is a quality product, and does in fact offer a few niceties that the much less expensive Vevor, reviewed above, doesn’t – like auto-lift and integrated drying – I can’t say that it cleans any better or more deeply than the Vevor.
The Wewu Rounds is a bit easier to set up, and a bit more convenient to use, and it does have a bit of a more substantial look and feel to it, including a quieter motor and more stable frame, and while this is just an assumption I would imagine it might be more reliable and last longer – though the Vevor is also clearly a very well made and high quality product.
All that said, even at the higher price the Wewu Rounds record cleaning machine is a very inexpensive way to make remarkably clear and positive differences in sound quality, and to bring back even very old and dirty records and make them suitable for focused audiophile listening.
And it is an affordable and intelligent way to really take care of all of your records and make sure they last as long as possible, and sound as good as they can.
So if some improvements in design and usability, and perhaps a slightly higher level of material and build quality, are important to you, the Wewu Rounds record cleaning machine is a great choice, and can be easily recommended – but if you’d rather spend the extra money on records, honestly the Vevor above works just as well.
Best Record Cleaning Machine Overall
I feel like it has become my mission to somewhat redeem the reputation of the Pro-Ject VC-E record cleaning machine.
The Pro-Ject VC-E vacuum cleaning system is a bit expensive, at just under 500 dollars, and for that amount of money you really want a special product – and I suspect that some poor reviews, and a decent but not overwhelming overall customer rating, might keep some potential buyers away.
But let me be clear in saying that the Pro-Ject is a superb record cleaner, far more effective than anything we’ve looked at so far in this buyer’s guide to record cleaning products. It cleans records as deeply and thoroughly as almost anything I’ve used, and is incredibly well made, well designed, solid and reliable.
I believe that some of the grumbling coming from customers comes from not really taking the time to do it right. Don’t get me wrong – most reviews are absolutely glowing, and call the Pro-Ject the best machine going, but a few are meh at best, and it seems that this comes from, again, lack of proper attention to details.
Because, as a tradeoff for being such a superb cleaner at such a low cost – really, as good as much more expensive professional / institutional cleaning systems out there that can cost thousands of dollars – the Pro-Ject is a bit difficult and manual in some ways.
For instance, unlike the ultrasonic cleaners we’re talking about here, with the Pro-Ject VC-E you have to manually clean your records with the supplied brush first, and then let the VC-E’s vacuum deeply extract the dislodged dirt and grime. A slow, careful and thorough brush-cleaning will make a huge difference, and really allow the vacuum to do its thing.
In addition, you have to let the vacuum really work, without rushing it, so that your records are truly clean and as dry as possible, or your results won’t be as superb as they definitely can be. And even the manual switching and on-off procedures, while simple and straight-forward, are a bit too much of a hassle for some.
But let me be clear – this Pro-Ject VC-E, if you take the time to use it correctly, is an incredibly deep and effective record cleaning machine, and the best vacuum cleaner you can get without spending at least five times the money – a brilliant product that will completely recover old, dirty discs, improve even new records dramatically, and upgrade your sound and your listening experience in a way that even substantially better audio gear isn’t able to match.
My choice for the best record cleaning machine overall, the Pro-Ject VC-E cleaning system is also quite probably the single most cost-effective improvement you can make to your sound system, and a must for serious record collectors.
The Deepest, Most Effective Cleaning
I don’t think we can make any accurate or helpful generalizations about whether vacuum record cleaning or ultrasonic record cleaning is better or more effective, and it probably ultimately comes down to the quality of the machines themselves and how you use them.
That said, the very best record cleaner I’ve ever used under a thousand dollars is this iSonic ultrasonic machine, which cleans records even more deeply and thoroughly than the excellent Pro-Ject VC-E I describe just above, and is substantially easier to use as well.
And, not for nothing, the iSonic is not just the best record cleaner you can get under a grand, you would have to spend so much over a grand to get a marked improvement in cleaning that we’re talking a whole different level of investment.
But in my experience there is little reason to go to that much higher level, as the iSonic provides such deep, complete cleaning of any and all vinyl records, new and old.
Indeed, we are clearly in the range with the iSonic where audiophiles begin to rave about clear improvements in imaging and phase coherence, a new level of authority in deep bass, subtle but dramatic increases in dynamic and microdynamic representation, and thus expressiveness, much lower distortion and better focus, the clearing up of congestion in dynamic peaks, greater tonal accuracy and realism and so much more.
A more interesting question, and a more valid comparison, is between the iSonic and that Pro-Ject VC-E, which is pretty darn close in performance and a few hundred dollars less in price.
To me the improvements you get with the iSonic are, if small, quite easy to hear – again, here we aren’t necessarily talking about a significant decrease in noise, which both machines remove to an extraordinary degree, but rather improvements in sound.
And in these ways the iSonic does make records sound better – to be clear, though, the difference between the two machines is pretty much only audible on fairly high end stereo systems, or systems specifically designed to provide the highest resolution, most revealing analog record playback possible. But with the right associated equipment the iSonic will not just improve specific quantifiable elements like bass or sonic accuracy, but will greatly improve energy, excitement, tonal beauty and the sense of music happening in time and space.
So does the less expensive Pro-Ject, and to nearly the same degree, and all things considered – including price – the Pro-Ject still is my choice for best overall.
But yes, the iSonic ultrasonic record cleaning machine is better. Whether it’s around 350 dollars better is up to you, but if the highest levels of realism, musicality and transparency in vinyl playback are top priorities, or if you are a serious record collector with a substantial collection, the iSonic is definitely the product to get, and the most effective record cleaning machine on our list.
Bonus Section: Are Record Cleaning Machines Worth the Money?
This is a bit of a silly question, and if you’ve read this far you are probably a pretty serious listener, an audiophile or ardent music lover and/or a record collector, and so you’ve already answered that question for yourself – yes, of course they are!
But if you’re still not sure, I have an idea which might help – a proposal that also is a bit silly, but serious as well, and might turn out to be an enormous amount of fun.
Decide which record cleaning system is best for you, for your needs and wants and for your budget, and click away. And then, after you’ve gotten your new beauty, spend another fifty bucks, and a weekend day, prowling all of the thrift stores in your town or city – or as many as you can handle, at least.
You will find, in maybe every single thrift shop you visit, tons and tons of old, dirty, ‘unplayable’ records, all usually for around a quarter – maybe a bit more or less, but an insignificant amount of money either way.
But them all! Or at least buy any and all that are of any interest to you whatsoever. Then take them home and clean them with your new record cleaning machine, and I am willing to bet that a large majority of them will not only be nicely playable, they will sound amazing, and may even be in better condition than when they were new.
So, let’s sum up – my top pick, the Pro-Ject VC-E Record Cleaning Machine, is right around 500 dollars. New, high quality vinyl records seem to run right around, or maybe a bit above, twenty bucks a pop (not speaking of audiophile pressings, which can be a lot more). So if you figure that for each record you have purchased, and actually love and keep, you will save approximately 19 dollars and 75 cents, the VC-E will pay for itself that very day.
Silly question, silly idea and silly math, but you get the idea – even without factoring in the enormous increase in sound quality and listening pleasure, or the health and longevity of your vinyl records, record cleaning machines are well worth the money, and will greatly increase the selection of music available to you.
And if you do factor in sound quality, listening pleasure and record care this may be the best investment you’ve ever made!