Introduction by Jonathan Monks
Great Britain in the 1960s... a time of change, style, vision, and true innovation. Finally unshackled from the restraints of post-war rationing, the entire country seemed to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose... and its collective cultural, artistic and scientific imaginations literally ran riot.
From engineering to entertainment, Britain led the way with world-class cultural and technical inspiration, invention, enterprise and achievement. Visionaries rewrote the book on style, design, artistry and science creating unique and truly inspired works that have since become icons of their generation, and continue to inform and influence the world we live in today.
Into this melting pot of energy and ingenuity came a fabulously unlikely gadget that changed perceptions of high fidelity sound reproduction forever. A device that captured the hearts and imaginations of discerning broadcasters, sound restoration engineers, archivists, librarians, audiophiles, hi-fi experts and music enthusiasts all around the world. And, like its famous contemporaries from the Sixties, continues to do so to this day.
The Keith Monks is the original Record Cleaning Machine: the world's first commercially available electric device for cleaning gramophone (or, for American readers, ‘phonograph’) records, initially developed for and with contributions from BBC engineers back in the mid to late 1960s from an early original concept from the brilliant mind of pioneering audio designer, writer and journalist Mr Percy Wilson, who then went on to personally collaborate with our engineers on what was to eventually become the Keith Monks RCM. Imitators have come and gone over the years, yet the Keith Monks is still widely regarded as the most effective and professional method of Precision Cleaning and maintaining all types and sizes of vinyl LPs, 45s and shellac (78rpm) records, and the standard by which all others are judged.
Forty years on and records are not only popular once again, they are becoming increasingly cherished and valuable. In a strange twist of fate in the face of proliferating digital technology, vinyl is generally acknowledged around the world as the only part of the music business that is actually growing ! There are all sorts of reasons for this - see Analog in the digital 21st Century for some of them.
Meanwhile the Record Cleaning Machine has undergone a succession of enhancements while still keeping to the basic design philosophy created at its inception - the outstanding long-term reliability record of well-maintained RCMs (many in almost continuous daily use) has made us reluctant to "tinker with the formula" too much - and each unit is still carefully built by hand, now by a third generation of skilled engineers.
However you would be forgiven for thinking that the Keith Monks was long gone. In fact it never actually went away, but has been ticking over quietly in my father’s small cottage industry operation for quite a while now, until I came back to it in 2005. Today of course the world is filled with devices that claim to clean vinyl records and I do recognise that choosing between them is a bit of a minefield, but this is not the level playing field it might first appear. ‘Properly' caring for your prized record collection - we call it ‘Precision Cleaning’ - is a fairly exacting science. Some offer inexpensive techniques, others a variety of models with varying performances (although, if extra vacuum at a higher cost is ‘better’, then are they saying the lower power models don’t vacuum enough?) True, this does at least provide the opportunity to quote what look like higher figures (perhaps like car stereo manufacturers offering a 20W RMS amp as having an output of '5000 watts peak music power'), but also risks further adding to the confusion and bewildering choice for the faithful vinyl follower.
To hear a record at its very best, there is no such thing as ‘degrees’ of cleaning. The record either is dry, or it isn't - and, if it isn't, then it isn't clean. Any remaining fluid is also leaving behind particles floating within it. If anything gets left behind afterwards - dirt simply moved rather than removed, audible residue from evaporated fluid, congealed particles forming large ‘boulders’, and so on – then the whole process will probably make your record sound worse than if you hadn’t cleaned it at all.
All this should suggest by now that the ‘Monks Method’ does things differently. Even so, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, after all these years (decades in fact) it is no surprise to us that others have recognised the superior cleaning method and efficacy of the world’s first and finest Record Cleaning Machine and brought out their own versions. I see this as a good thing though: together we add to each other’s efforts to spread the word about ‘real’ record care far and wide. It also tells me we’re doing something right and, for that alone, we are very flattered indeed.
And yet only the Keith Monks has such a wide range of features that are so critical for precision record cleaning. Many of these are unique, most others very unusual, but all of them are absolutely vital. Features that have kept the Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine the ultimate record cleaner of choice for both the demanding professional and discerning audiophile since 1969.
The Unique Features section deals with a lot of the differences between nearly every other cleaner and the Keith Monks. No ‘tubes and lips’, no noisy hot standard vacuum cleaner motors. We use exactly the same vacuum pump (the heart of the ‘Monks Method’, a medical grade monster from Germany) in all our RCMs at every price point right across the range. Admittedly this does make the Monks vastly over-engineered for average domestic use, but this pump has become an old friend since 1980 and I don’t see why we should penalise private individuals by not giving them the same quality and reliability that has been enjoyed by most major broadcasters and archivists around the world ever since. Decades after its introduction, we know it works, and we know it will carry on working.
The Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine is different. Slower but more precise - as we say, “miracles take a little longer” – but, for anyone that has experienced one, the end results speak for themselves. The Keith Monks delivers a true professional ‘Precision Clean’. It not only cleans but actually improves the sound quality on the record. It runs cool, and very quiet. And records are left completely clean and dry.
There are a wealth of other benefits and improvements which you will see discussed on the following pages. It is the Original Record Cleaning Machine, and still to our knowledge the only one in service with the BBC and most other broadcast companies, noted libraries and archives around the world.
Rather than take the easy low-cost route (and believe me, we have tried), we prefer to sell our RCMs purely on reliability and performance. I'm happy to say our customer base is growing actually faster than at any time in the Record Cleaning Machine’s long history, with many claiming to be upgrading from one of the many alternative record cleaner types. That we remain successfully in business after four decades in the face of such fiercely priced competition is, I like to think, a sign that we're hopefully doing something right.
Following my father’s untimely death in 2005, it now falls to me to somehow build on his success. Armed with ten years running the RCM production line back in its mainstream heyday, a bit of a soft-spot for this unlikely contraption (as you will have by now noticed !) and a lifelong love of music the scope of which I am regularly accused borders on the medically certifiable, I am now taking the RCM helm - or, as one agent enthused, ‘steering the Monks ship into the next generation’ (thanks Anton). First and foremost, I had to make the business viable by training up a new generation of skilled engineers in the ‘art’ of making a Monks RCM, and we have now put them in a large factory production facility so we can build enough of them to satisfy the growing demand.
You will see I’m also taking the opportunity to introduce a couple of new ideas which have been fermenting away merrily in my head for several years now - not least of all the discOvery TM range of Natural Precision Record Cleaning Solutions (our own cleaning fluid – at last !). All of which I hope will further enhance the appeal and performance of the Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine, and make it even more of a joy to use.
Look out too for new additions to the Keith Monks range, as we reintroduce the classic Keith Monks hi-fi record accessories from the 1970s, all designed to further add to your day-to-day enjoyment of playing records.
It’s been a real labour of love bringing the Keith Monks RCM ‘back’ - but, from the reactions received, it’s already been more than worth it. After a 15 year ‘leave of absence’ it does feel like a whole new industry, I’ve had plenty of pitfalls along the way and I’m sure there are many more ahead into which I will gleefully propel myself. Why? I’m not an accountant or someone brought in more for their general business skills than a passion for their craft, although I am fortunate enough to have the background and experience. But first and foremost, I’m a music fan. The Keith Monks makes music sound even better, and this is reason enough to want to raise the Keith Monks flag that little bit higher.
This new website has taken almost as long too – there’s a lot to get through here but, for anyone with even a slight interest in records and audio history in general, it’s an interesting tale and I think well worth a read. I’m especially pleased with the Making History section which, as far as I can see, tells the true story of record cleaning for the very first time on the internet. It was co-written with the original designer of the Keith Monks Machine, who actually worked with Percy Wilson on taking Percy’s basic principles and turning them into ‘reality’, and his original documents and photos largely debunk the myths you’ll read elsewhere. Time to set the record (!) straight, and who better to do it than the man who was there right from the start.
We have been entrusted with the future of a classic, one of the finest and most highly respected audio products ever made, and Keith’s lasting legacy is one I believe we should cherish and nurture. For those of you already intimate with the Monks RCM, expect all aspects of the Record Cleaning Machine to be as you have come to expect and respect: improved levels of production, engineering expertise and quality control, the same exacting standards of component engineering and realisation.
And of course, our equipment will always proudly bear the name ‘Keith Monks’.
I hope you’ll find this future to be in safe hands and that, in the process, you’ll forgive the odd lapse into self-indulgence and hyperbole for which I’m unfortunately notorious. I am genuinely excited about the renewed and growing interest in my father’s work, in records and record cleaning in general, and in this Machine in particular. Having grown up in the sixties and seventies sharing home (and once I recall, obviously during an early busy moment, my bedroom !) with all these strange gadgets around me, and then having spent most of the eighties actually working alongside them, it still sometimes amazes me the high esteem in which Keith’s name and his products are still held. So I think it really is time he had an appropriately grand monument to help us consolidate his work and take it into the 21st century.
Special thanks for this go to the amazing work of our web designers Roger Sean and Martin at Netguides, graphics wizard Graham Picher at The Graphic Project, and photographer Steve Thearle – all talented experts based right here on the Isle of Wight.
I would also like to take this opportunity to give special thanks to several people without whom you would almost certainly not be reading this page: Pete Keeley, Mike Simon and Dan at KNF, Phil Liz Gareth and Tim at Sound Induction, Annette and Jay Batista at Keith Monks America, and John Reddecliff and Steve Harris for their invaluable business and PR advice and support.
And thanks to you, for your interest in the Original 'Record Cleaning Machine'. I hope you enjoy exploring our website, (re)discovering the Machine, and reading its amazing story. And naturally, I hope it will help you decide that you’d like to buy one.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Jonathan Monks, Isle of Wight, August 2008
Keith Monks. “Making records sound better since 1969.”