Precision Record Cleaning:How Records Should Be Cleaned
“Miracles take a little longer…”
“Why clean records at all?”
“Aren’t all record cleaners the same?” “Why does the Keith Monks go to such extraordinary lengths to clean records?” “Can’t you just wipe them with a cloth?” Just some of the questions we’re often asked, and in this section we hope to go some way to answering them. We’ll examine the concepts behind Precision Record Cleaning, why it differs from those of conventional cleaners, and how the ‘Monks Method’ not only pioneered the original principles but now actually exceeds their requirements.
Records love dirt !
The record groove is a superior medium for storing music. Unfortunately its shape is also very good at accumulating a whole host of very ‘unmusical’ contaminants as well: dust and dirt, grease from fingers, spills and the record production process, condensed film from fumes, and so on. Then during play, the friction of a travelling stylus creates static on the record, attracting even more airborne pollutants.
Percy Wilson's original AES paper on the subject, "Record Contamination: Causes and Cure" (Audio Engineering Society, April 1965), details the various forms of external contaminants that will compromise the sound of a record. The paper also describes an experiment that proved that, when a record is playing, the movement of the turntable creates considerable "centrifugal drafts", miniature vortexes in the surrounding air that actively attract fumes and particles towards the platter (this is why you should always play a record with the lid closed - or improvise if your particular turntable doesn't have one - and return the record to its sleeve as soon as possible afterwards).
This predates his later paper "Instruments For Record Cleaning" (Audio Engineering Society, October 1965) which includes proposals for the "Record Doctor", the prototype from which the 'Monks Method' and the Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine were developed (see Making History for the full story).
The philosophy of the Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine is simple: anyone can put fluid on a record - the difficult part is getting it off again. Every tiny last drop, along with all the dirt and other contaminants dissolved or floating around within it. Static needs to be removed for noise reduction purposes and to stop the record attracting fresh dust. Excess oils used in the pressing process that muffles the sound must be removed too. And then – and most importantly – at the end of the process the record must be left completely dry.
Why? Because if any fluid and particles remain, they will be drawn towards each other as the fluid evaporates… until several moderately noisy but relatively minor and inoffensive particles have congealed together to form a very major and exceedingly offensive ‘boulder’. Apply a stylus travelling at speed (and momentarily generating temperatures often over 1000°F !) during play, and the ‘boulder’ inevitably gets driven deep into the soft plastic, leaving the record permanently damaged.
The Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine solves all of these problems - very easily, and extremely effectively. Furthermore, the additional benefits of enhancing the actual sound quality of the record has made the Keith Monks the finest and most famous record care device in the world.
What makes the Keith Monks different?
The Keith Monks is the original Record Cleaning Machine: the world's first commercially available electric device for cleaning vinyl LPs, 45s and shellac records (78s etc), developed for the BBC back in the late 1960s from an original concept by celebrated writer and pioneering audio designer Mr Percy Wilson – who then went on to personally collaborate with our engineers on what was to eventually become the Keith Monks RCM.
The ‘Monks Method’ avoids the 'tube and lips' method used by almost every other cleaner. True, these are fast and cheap but the technique falls short of Precision Cleaning, for reasons that have been adequately explored elsewhere on this site (specifically, they don’t leave the record dry enough). Anyone or anything can make a record wet - the whole point of real record cleaning is to totally remove the fluid, along with all the dirt dissolved or floating in it. If you don't, the record will often end up sounding worse than if you hadn't cleaned it at all.
There are many reasons why the Keith Monks is different – the Unique Features section rounds up the main details. Because it was designed for professional broadcasters, all Keith Monks RCMs use only industrial and medical grade components. This partly explains why only the ‘Monks Method’ can remove the fluid and dirt so completely. But this is only the start of the story.
How the Keith Monks ‘Precision Cleans’ a record
’Precision Cleaning’ is a thorough process: the record must be washed, scrubbed and dried – carefully and completely. Switching on the ‘wash’ cycle on the Keith Monks, the direct drive motor starts the turntable platter rotating at speed: this helps the brush to dislodge stubborn particles embedded in the groove floor, keeps the fluid moving outwards to eliminate premature evaporation, and creates enough air movement around the unit to minimise recontamination from new airborne particles.
On most Monks models, the wash cycle is achieved using a unique built in fluid application system linked to a deck-mounted brush assembly. Handpumps mounted on the front panel (the car windscreen /windshield washer fluid pump from the classic British 1960s Austin Mini Cooper) allow the user to apply a precise amount of cleaning fluid through a tubed reservoir and secreted through an array of tiny holes running along the on-deck brush block. This assembly holds the KEITH MONKS discOveryTM Precision Record Cleaning Brush, its excellent anti-static properties and specially contoured bristles working with the lubricating properties of KEITH MONKS discOveryTM Natural Precision Record Cleaning Fluid, and allowing a good degree of scrubbing action to dislodge embedded particles without damaging the subtle modulations in the groove.
The Heart of all Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machines
The original ‘Monks Method’ is still the only way to achieve a true Precision Clean, and its key component is at the heart of all Keith Monks RCMs: our system employs a specially customised medical grade vacuum pump - expensive but necessary, and very quiet too. This heavy duty, medical-grade component is made in Germany and designed and engineered for 24 hour use (it’s ‘day job’ is in kidney dialysis machines, so there really is no compromise - it is built by design to keep going all day, every day).
The pump is connected to a motorised pickup arm mounted on precision bearings with a hand polished suction nozzle at its head. The nozzle is suspended off the record surface by a piece of thread – a specially selected fine grade of anti-static nylon with soft yet sturdy strands - which is being constantly motor-fed and renewed, creating an always-clean protective buffer between nozzle and disc. So the part of the Machine that actually touches your precious record is tiny and always fresh, clean and uncontaminated.
The narrow gap thus created between nozzle and record combines with the force of the huge Keith Monks vacuum pump to develop an intense concentration of suction at the nozzle tip, endowing the Machine with its unrivalled, optimum drying performance. And yet the use of whisper-quiet components means that the suction is virtually the only sound you hear.
Switching to ‘Dry’ activates this vacuum pump and arm drive motor assembly. The arm is then swung over to the centre of the record – the arrangement of arm drive belt and pulley shape is specially designed to grip during operation but slip during manual movement, simplifying the whole procedure without putting any strain on the mechanism and motor. The arm and nozzle assembly then efficiently (and near-silently) glides across the record – from the inside outwards, following the movement of the fluid from centrifugal force – and vacuuming off the fluid together with all the particles dissolved or floating in suspension.
The record is now completely dry and ready to play.
The entire wash and dry process for a 12” LP side takes on average less than a minute - a little longer than some other cleaners but, as we say, “miracles take a little longer”. A little at a time vacuums the record completely dry. So your records sound better. This is why we call it Precision Cleaning.
The Noise Reducer
Results are a completely clean record. Surface noise and ‘clicks and pops’ from condensed, spilled and particulate matter are removed. Grease and excess stamper oils are dissolved and removed. Static is virtually eliminated by the process, so the record keeps itself staying cleaner for longer.
The Sound Enhancer
Perhaps most surprising though is the improvements in the actual quality of the sound itself. Not just for noise reduction either: it is the improvements to the sound itself that has made the Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine especially famous, and this has been constantly in our minds during the development of the discOvery TM range of natural record cleaning fluids.
Results of the new formula have been beyond our expectations: middle and upper frequencies sparkle with clarity, and the lower registers glow with previously unheard warmth and depth. Recordings become more open and detailed, with the soundstage dramatically improved overall and made more panoramic and yet completely ‘natural and real’.
Record pressing plants have often used excessive amounts of production stamper mold-release oils in the pressing process to speed up production, but this does clog up the groove. Removing much of the excess oils yields a clearer, more natural sound on almost any turntable. The effect is perhaps most pronounced on brand new mint records where a travelling stylus has yet to attack the congealed amalgam of oils and particle detritus left by the pressing plant (once installed in all BBC Libraries, staff quickly adopted a regimen of cleaning every new record before despatching it for its first play).
Although all Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machines are compatible with any or all of your favourite proprietary or homemade cleaning fluids and chemistries, we naturally maintain that the KEITH MONKS discOvery TM Natural Precision Record Cleaning fluids, working in perfect harmony with the Keith Monks RCM for which they were developed, will without doubt give you the finest results.
The entire system is self-adjusting for any thickness of record: 45s, 78s, standard LPs and thicker 180g/200g audiophile pressings. The new ‘Omni’ on-deck brush block also features interchangeable brushes and a fluid distribution system adjustable for any size of record from 7” up to 12”, and up to 16” for the ‘Archivist’ models.
The choice of the professionals, and built to last
Set-up and operation is simple and comprehensively described in the owner's manual supplied. The Record Cleaning Machine is designed, engineered and hand built to exacting broadcast standards using sturdy industrial and medical grade components and, if kept well maintained (and regularly used – Keith Monks RCMs hate sitting around doing nothing !) then you will see why the Keith Monks has earned its worldwide reputation for year after year of trouble-free use (and why it therefore costs so much to build).
The industry standard for professional broadcast and archives, the costs necessary to achieve this level of performance will reward in the long-term. We have no hesitation in offering our conditional 5 year manufacturer’s guarantee across the entire RCM range: the Keith Monks is built to last.
The First… and still the Finest
A precision instrument, that delivers a true Precision Clean, with whisper-quiet operation. No digitising, no processing, just pure analog audio “the way nature intended”, with nothing added, and nothing except noise and those excess oils taken away.
And, together with the new KEITH MONKS discOveryTM range of completely Natural Precision Record Cleaning fluids, your record transformed into a true collector's piece - restored, revitalised and, with continued care, preserved for life.
Adequate is immediate. Miracles take a little longer…
Keith Monks. “Making records sound better since 1969.”