Some gadgets save us time and cash and offer genuine solutions. Others are a complete waste of plastic. GARY STEEL assesses on a case-by-case basis. This time round he’s got a popular vinyl record washer in his sights.
There’s nothing like a viral lockdown to make you focus on the important things, like those wee gadgets and doodads that make life easier. Or in some cases, prove to be totally fucking useless.
Let’s be upfront about the Spin Clean Record Washer MKII, then: It’s most assuredly not fucking useless. But I’ve encountered a number of issues in using this highly regarded product. Am I just too fussy? Read on and make up your own mind.
Having seen numerous positive comments about the Spin Clean system over the years, it was actually our own audiophile guru, Dr Richard Varey, and his review on this very site that convinced me to make the cash outlay. Knowing that record cleaning systems in the rarefied world of connoisseur hi-fi can fetch many thousands of dollars (truly) I figured that the $149.95 asked by New Zealand vinyl record store Southbound was very reasonable, and their price does compare well with other sellers of the system.
But somehow, I never quite got around to unboxing the Spin Clean, and it sat around for more than a year before the current lock-down finally presented an opportunity for some dedicated record cleaning time.
I’ve always kept my records spotlessly clean, and I’ve got vinyl I bought in 1970s that’s still perfect. But sometime around 2003 I went to a Lions book fair in Tauranga, where I found that there was a huge quantity of second-hand vinyl for sale at incredibly cheap prices. And by that, I mean something like 50 cents per disc! Amongst the usual surplus of Nana Mouskouri and Val Doonican records, there were some startlingly unusual finds, so I bought up large. My brother was there at the end of the weekend and he was literally given a trailer-load of unwanted leftover albums.
There are approximately four crates of Lions Book fair records that have followed me from abode to abode since 2003, just waiting for me to find the time to audition them. The current lock-down seemed like the right time, so I got the Spin Clean out of mothballs and figured out how to use the thing.
As I’m a dunce when it comes to anything technical, I was kind of scared. Would I do something wrong? Would I break it? It turned out that the Spin Clean was practically fool-proof. It’s a chunk of yellow plastic with a trough running through it. You pour distilled water into the trough up to the high tide mark and then pour three capfuls of the included record cleaning solutions over the two soft cleaning brushes, and away you go. Those brushes are attached facing each other in the middle of the trough, and you place your dirty record through the slit between the two brushes (or more accurately, squeeze cloths). Each side of the vinyl rests on a roller thing, enabling me to physically turn the record three turns to the right and three turns to the left before pulling it out and wiping it in a clockwise motion with one of the supplied soft white cloths. And that’s it!
At first, I was delighted with my brilliance at working out how to do it, and the simplicity of doing so. And cleaning records really is quite therapeutic, if you can repress any thoughts about what the dirt in the grooves actually is. Every time I encountered a dirtier than average album or 12-inch single I couldn’t stop wondering about who had formerly owned the thing and what kind of parties they’d had and exactly what they’d done to dirty up their precious vinyl. Perhaps they’d lived really exciting lives. Perhaps they were dead. How did they die? I would never know.
To be honest, most of the “dirt” was the odd finger-mark and occasionally, a small patch of some unknown spilled substance. And the Spin Clean does an amazing job of getting off the grunge. I was amazed just how lovely a lot of very old records sounded after a clean.
But then I started thinking. The Spin Clean Record Washer MKII is a piece of garish yellow moulded plastic with two small plastic rollers, two small brushes, two cloths and a small, 400ml plastic container of record wash solution. And it costs $150! Jesus! I couldn’t stop thinking that the whole kit and caboodle could probably be made in China for about $5 and offered to the public for $20 or less. Are vinyl buyers more gullible than average consumers? Is this just the price we have to pay for accessories to our passion?
The product proudly proclaims that it has been manufactured in the USA since 1975, and I couldn’t stop wondering in that case, why more improvements hadn’t been made over that time. As much as the Spin Clean was easy to use, there are a number of things about it that piss me off.
One is the action of the plastic rollers, which suit some vinyl but threaten to come out of their sockets with other vinyl. Perhaps it’s when the edges of the vinyl aren’t exact or they’re too sharp or too blunt, but the shunting action of the rollers is really annoying. Another is the fact that you’re supposed to use three capfuls of the cleaning solution, but the cap is white and the cleaning solution completely transparent, so you can’t easily prevent spillage. This might seem a small point to some, but if a company has one product that they’ve made a lot of cash out of over some 50 years, why can’t they get it exactly right? Yet another annoying facet is that sometimes when you’re hand-turning the vinyl – first right, then left – sometimes it sticks and there’s lift-off. That is, the whole thing will momentarily lift up, simply because it’s not enough weight in it to prevent it from doing so. Perhaps if the wee rollers operated absolutely smoothly then this would be less likely to happen.
Oh, and one more thing: when you lift your vinyl out, at least one of the brushes is liable to lift off its hinges at the same time. That really is annoying.
So, is the Spin Clean Record Washer MKII fit for purpose? Absolutely yes. It cleans records well and is a great alternative to washing them with detergent in the sink. It also helps that with this system, the labels stay more or less dry (unless the drying cloth gets wet… I did have one smear).
But heck. The fact that it’s a MKII suggests that it’s an improvement on the previous model, but only one improvement in 50 years? The Spin Clean commands a premium price given that it’s essentially a piece of plastic and its function is entirely manual, and for that, it should be absolutely flawless.
POSTSCRIPT: Well, since writing this review I’ve found that the Spin Clean is doing its job less and less well. Yes, as far as the cleaning solution goes it’s doing its job. But the plastic rollers have become a major problem. Every single time I turn a piece of vinyl in the Spin Clean one of the rollers will pop out of its socket. Consequently, I’m having to revise my assessment. If an inherent design flaw prevents me from using the Spin Clean Record Washer as it was intended, then in my book, it’s not fit for purpose. I notice that Richard Varey – who gave the Spin Clean a rave review on Witchdoctor – has had to revise his assessment as well. When I shared this review on Facebook, there were numerous complaints about the Spin Clean. And when I tried to share this review on the Spin Clean Facebook page, my post was summarily deleted.
* Fit For Purpose is a regular Witchdoctor column inspecting both the good and the bad in handy doodads and gadgets.