Ash Kramer looks at products from Glass Audio aka Audiodesksysteme Gläss including a CD washing machine and a vinyl washer that uses ultrasonics to clean your records.
WHEN I VISITED PQ Imports with Editor Steel a few weeks ago, I happened to notice a Glass Audio aka Audiodesksysteme Gläss record washer at the back of the room. Sitting right next to it was the Glass Audio CD Sound Improver and the now defunct Disk Cleaner.
Over the years, I’ve had a few discs run through the CD Sound Improver, which is basically a little lathe that trims the edge of your disk to balance it out and allow it to spin more smoothly, much like balancing the wheels on your car eases the ride.
The end result should be a better sound, as the laser and mechanism need to spend less time searching and error correcting. I’ve never had one of these devices at home, so I haven’t been able to do some careful side-by-side comparisons, but it’s a nice idea.
The Disk Cleaner on the other hand, well… that was something else entirely. Paul Quilter from PQ Imports played a brand new CD for us – Currency Of Man by Melody Gardot. On the system he’s got in that room (see here for the full breakdown), it sounded just plain marvelous. Then he put the disc through a cycle on the Disk Cleaner, which washes it in warm water and then air-dries it. When he cued up the same track, being very careful to point out that the volume knob hadn’t been touched, the difference was stark.
As Gary put it in a post on the Witchdoctor forums, “I’m suspicious of magic audio trickery, but the difference really was like night and day”.
There was a noticeable increase in clarity and transparency, certainly more so than you’d expect from a cable upgrade or even between my two CD players. Quite disconcerting until you remember how some CD players will skip on a disk with too many fingerprints on it. If smearing or being out of balance can affect the sound quality, then why wouldn’t a thin layer of gunk or goop that helps a new CD pop out of the mold also have an influence? Most of my discs certainly aren’t pristine, so I get the merit of this contraption.
However, the point when it comes to the Disk Cleaner is moot. Reiner Gläss of Audiodesksysteme Gläss has stopped making these unique units. Why? Because he’s got way too much demand for his Vinyl Cleaner Pro record washing machines. After a look at one of these things, I can understand why.
First it’s worth noting that listening to vinyl records on Paul’s SOTA turntable can be an eerie experience. They’re often almost as quiet as a digital source – I paid very careful attention to a track on a certain Tracy Chapman album, listening for a single snap, crackle or pop. Nothing. We may as well have been listening to a CD player, except for how great the turntable sounded (and it really does sound fabulous).
This seems to be because the Vinyl Cleaner Pro cleans like a housekeeper who accidentally drank 10 bottles of Red Bull. I’ve got an inexpensive manual record washer but there’s a long way between that primitive thing and this clever machine.
Like most high-end record cleaners, it’s a wet cleaning process but this one uses ultrasonics. The process is quite simple – counter-rotating microfiber cleaning barrels aided by a barrage of ultrasonic waves loosen and remove even serious dirt and gunge from the grooves. According to Paul, the ultrasonic operation really makes a difference, and that’s obvious in the aforementioned silence of his vinyl. The records are thoroughly dried by two high-performance blowers. The machine filters the cleaning fluid as part of the process so the dirty solution isn’t applied to the next record to be cleaned.
As expected for a premium offering, the Vinyl Cleaner Pro doesn’t come cheap. You’re looking at $6350, which is in the ballpark for this kind of unit with the ultrasonics instead of just wet and dry vacuum action. That might sound steep, but if you’re the kind of music lover with a really sweet stereo system and a massive pile of albums, then it makes sense not to have to listen to any more audible artifacts than you have to. After all, vinyl’s charm isn’t based on hearing a pop every few seconds.