Attempting to find best record cleaning machine on the market is a tough task for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, price is of course a factor. A good record cleaning machine can cost hundreds of dollars, and some RCM’s run for thousands.
Then there’s the topic of efficiency. To be brief—does a record cleaning machine really do a better job than cleaning records by hand? Is it worth the time and money to invest in one?
Well, in this Project VCS review, we’re going to address all of those questions and more. We’ll also compare this cleaning machine to the Okki Nokki to better help you determine which machine is your best bet.
And, to better help you decide, please take a look at the interactive guide below, which allows you to directly compare the Project VCS to the Okki Nokki, as well as other notable record cleaning machines.
|Pro-Ject VC-E||$$$||Complete Wet/Dry Vinyl Cleaning System|
|Pro-Ject VC-S2 ALU||$$$||Robust Metal Vacuum Arm Deep Cleans Vinyl Grooves|
|Spin-Clean Record Washer MKII||$||Two Washable Drying Cloths|
|Record Doctor VI||$||Vacuum Motor|
|Record Friend!||$||Wash both sides of vinyl simultaneously|
|iSonic P4875II||$$$||Rotates at 5RPM|
|CGOLDENWALL Vinyl Cleaner||$$||Ultrasonic cleaning|
What Comes in the Box
The Project VCS comes with a handful of things inside the box, so let’s break it all down. First and foremost, you get a pretty massive record cleaning machine that features 800 watts of power.
It comes with a base platter that needs to be installed (takes all of one minute) along with a waterproof clamp that will help protect the label. You also get a metal vacuum arm, vinyl record fluid that needs to be diluted in distilled water, an empty plastic bottle that can be used to create your cleaning solution, and a brush to help spread your cleaning fluid onto your record.
The Project VCS is a square cleaning machine that’s very simple in its layout. It comes with a detachable power cord, along with a power button above. On the other side of the machine is where you’ll find two more buttons—one will say MOTOR and the other will say VACUUM.
The MOTOR button will actually allow you to have the platter and your record rotate clockwise, counter-clockwise, or have the motor turned off completely.
One thing I really like is how the VCS handled the fluid that collects inside the machine. If you don’t know, you’re going to have to pour out and discard some of the dirty fluid that collects inside the machine.
Now, on some machines like the Okki Nokki, they’ll say that you should empty out the machine after 30 or 40 or 50 records. But you really are guessing, because there’s no indicator to tell you when to dump the fluid (and if we’re being honest, most people aren’t able to easily recall how many records they’ve cleaned over the course of many weeks and months).
The Project VCS makes this whole process much easier, as there is a white strip on the side of the machine that shows you how much liquid is currently stuck inside the machine. On top of that, Project has a line that reads MAX, letting you know that the maximum amount of fluid that should be in your machine before you dump it out.
Project was also smart about making sure your machine airs out. In an effort to prevent mold or just bad smells from building up in your machine, Project has added an attachable plastic vent that you can just place into a pre-cut circle hole in the back of the machine. This allows the inside of the machine to get fresh air at all times.
And, when the fluid gets close or has hit the MAX line, just detach the plastic air vent and attach the supplied plastic drain spout. Then, pick up and carry your VCS to a sink, tip it back a bit, and let the fluid pour out of the machine, via the spout, into the sink.
Very easy to use.
How to Clean Vinyl Records with Project VCS
Cleaning records with the Project VCS is easy and effective, but there are a few things you should know. Although the supplied vinyl record fluid doesn’t contain alcohol, it still cannot and should not just be directly applied to your records.
Instead, you need to dilute this fluid with distilled water. It is recommended you dilute it at a 10-1 ratio if your records are really dirty (perhaps you bought them as a yard sale or estate sale) or a 20-1 ration if it’s a normal everyday record that could use a thorough cleaning.
Next, place your record over the spindle and onto the small platter base. Then, place the metal label clamp over the record and screw it down tightly over the record label.
Next, hit the MOTOR button so that your vinyl record begins rotating clockwise. Take your clean solution and pour (or spray, depending on the bottle you decided to use) it onto the record. Once the record is pretty wet, take the supplied brush you’re given and place it down onto the record. Tilt the brush about 34-45 degrees to the left, as this will help to start kicking up dirt out of the grooves, allowing the solution to enter. Do this for several revolutions.
Then, I like to do the exact same process, but in reverse. So here, I would hit the MOTOR switch again, but making the motor rotate counter-clockwise. After putting more cleaning fluid onto the record, I then tilt my brush to the right, kicking out the dirt from the grooves so it can be more easily sucked up by the vacuum brush.
After I allow the record to rotate for a few revolutions, I turn off the motor. Your record should still be quite wet, but the liquid should be much more evenly spread all over the vinyl record’s surface.
A this point, I then hit the VACUUM button. The vacuum turns on, and I grab the vacuum brush and rotate it to hover over the record. You’ll notice that when you do this, you’ll feel a bit of a “catch” feeling as you rotate it—this indicates you’ve rotated the brush as far over as it needs to go.
I then gently push down on the brush, and the brush attaches to the record. As the brush begins to vacuum dry the record, you’ll notice the wetness begins to disappear. This better helps you be able to eyeball the number of revolutions the drying process has gone through. I suggest letting the record get completely dry, which for me really only took between 2 to 3 revolutions.
Once you’re finished, turn off the VACUUM button, and after a brief moment, you’ll notice that the record will automatically detach from the vacuum brush. You can then push that brush back over to its original resting position and then turn off the VCS motor as well.
Is the Project VCS Worth the Money?
I have doubles of a couple records, as well as records in various kinds of conditions, so I was able to test how records sounded when cleaned on the VCS.
I had two copies of the self-titled album by “The Three Degrees” (and their first album on Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records label), and so I wanted to test how both sounded, especially since record A was cleaned by hand using a drop or two of dish soap and distilled water, and the second using the Project VCS.
The first thing I wanted to say is that they both sounded good, but I did notice a bit of a difference. The main difference I heard was the record B had less static or noise while playing than record A. Record A wasn’t in bad shape by any means, but I certainly noticed that record B was a bit cleaner to my ear. Not dramatically cleaner to the ear, but no doubt a bit better.
I then decided to test a Motown record that was owned by a family member when they were a child. It wasn’t taken care of very well, but certainly was playable.
The Project VCS wasn’t able to make this particular record sound significantly better, however. I likely blame this on its very used condition—scratches and scuffs being the main culprit. Even the best record cleaning machine can’t fix something like that.
My only real criticism of the Project VCS (and to some degree, the Okki Nokki when I used it as well), is that I feel records tend to come off sounding better (as in less pops and ticks and audible imperfections) but also a bit less “alive.” It’s almost as if the cleaning stripped a bit of its natural vitality out of the record.
When cleaning my records, I also made sure to wash them with distilled water afterward—just to be 100% sure all the record cleaning solution was removed or sucked up by the vacuum brush. So, I know this “issue” isn’t related to cleaning solution residue remaining on the surface of the record.
I will say, however, that I don’t feel that I encountered this issue when I’ve cleaned records by hand.
Project VCS MK1 vs MK2
So you may be aware that there’s two difference versions (as of this publication) of the Project VCS: the MKI and the MK II.
The Project VCS MKI (which I’m reviewing) features an aluminum arm and base. The MKII, however, features a nylon arm and nylon base.
So, I suppose the positive is you don’t get the feeling of “metal on metal,” from the MK1. But, in my opinion, the MK1’s metal works just fine, and if you’re going to pay $500 for a record cleaner, you want materials that are going to last as long as possible.
The nylon of the MKII is perfectly fine I’m sure, but if you can only purchase the MK1, I think there’s no reason to be worried that you’re getting a “lesser” record cleaning machine.
Project VCS MKII vs Okki Nokki
Even though I technically used the MKI in this review, since the only major difference between the two is the transition from metal to nylon for the base and vacuum brush, I wanted to compare both of the most recent versions of these cleaners against one another.
I like both of these record cleaning machines, but I think there are some differences between the two worth noting. Now first, I wanted to mention that I find it almost a draw to compare the efficiency of both of these record cleaners.
I think they both do a very good job of cleaning vinyl records, and to suggest one is better than the other would be hard for me to do. Based on my experience, I didn’t feel one cleaned records better or more substantially than the other.
So, if you’re interested in buying one over the other, you have to throw that potential comparison away.
Here’s where I do think, however, the Project VCS stands out.
On the VCS, you place the record you want cleaned onto a platter that’s no bigger than the size of your record label. Then, you clamp the record onto the base by using the supplied clamp.
I love this system, because the clamp itself is only as big as the record label (just like the platter). So when you go to flip your clean record over (to clean the other side of the record, which is dirty), you never have to worry about cross contamination.
By contrast, on the Okki Nokki, the platter is as big as the record. And while that might be good from a stability standpoint, if you are cleaning a dirty record, one half of that dirty record will rest on the Okki Nokki’s platter. When you clean side A, and you go to flip the record so you can clean side B…well…side A (which is fresh and so clean, clean) is now laying on the same platter that hosted the filthy side B.
Now, this is probably more of an OCD problem than a TRUE problem. No one’s records are now unplayable because the clean side got a bit of cross dust and dirt contamination thanks to laying on a slightly uncleaned Okki Nokki platter for five minutes.
But, if you’re looking for the best solution in this particular area, I think it’s the Project VCS hands down.
Another thing I like about the Project VCS is that it comes with an extra pair of vacuum brush pads. You’ll need to replace these on your vacuum brush after every 50 to 100 records you clean (or depending on how fast you can tell they’re wearing out). It’s nice to have a good backup.
Another thing I like, too, is that you get an indicator on the VCS that lets you know when to dump out the dirty water. The Okki Nokki doesn’t have that.
I do kind of like the pre-installed snake-like drain that the Okki Nokki has, though. It allows you to easily drain the machine into a sink or tube or cup (i.e: allowing you to quickly dump out the dirty water that’s collected inside the machine).
By contrast, to drain the VCS, you’ll have to pick up and lift the machine onto a sink and tilt the VCS so that the dirty water can flow out of the spout. Luckily, the VCS comes with a removable drain spout attachment.
The Project VCS record cleaning machine is a very nice product that does indeed do what it claims to do—properly clean records.
When I acquired the Project VCS, my initial hope would be that cleaning vinyl records using the machine would be faster than cleaning them by hand.
But that really wasn’t the case.
Between spreading the record solution onto the record using the supplied brush, and vacuum drying a given record (and then cleaning the record in distilled water after—although this is admittedly an optional step that not everyone needs to do) I found that it took about the same amount of time, if not a bit longer.
The other “downside” to remember is that record cleaning machines require maintenance. You’ll want to clean off the record brush in between record cleanings. You’ll also want to use a soft brush—maybe a nylon brush—to clean off anything that sticks to the vacuum pads.
You’ll also need to drain the machine every so often of the built in fluid, and once your vacuum pad strips get worn down, you’ll need to remove them and add new ones.
So yes, there is definitely “upkeep” when it comes to record cleaning machines.
What I can say, however, is that in my opinion, they do get records cleaner and less noisy than cleaning them by hand. To what degree is a bit hard to decipher, but I was able to notice a at least a bit of a difference. Whether or not you find that sound difference worth $500 is up to you.
Lastly, I will say that although you should always clean your records —be they brand new or used—I feel that if you buy a lot of records from yard sales or estate sales (or even just used from the record shop), throwing them onto the cleaning machine to get them nice and fresh (as opposed to having to put in a lot of elbow grease to hand wash them) is really nice.
Perhaps you won’t hear a massive difference in sound compared to cleaning vinyl records by hand using household products, but you’ll probably be able to sleep better at night knowing they got a much more thorough and proper cleaning than had you gone the dish soap, distilled water and microfiber rag route.
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