Ultrasonic LP Cleaning vs. “Thread Type” Cleaning (Keith Monks/Loricraft/etc.)

Many dealers now tout ultrasonic record cleaners as the ultimate, yet companies like Loricraft and Keith Monks continue to introduce new “thread type” (or “string”) record cleaners.

There was a recent discussion in one of Michael Fremer’s on-line columns (https://www.analogplanet.com/content/sme-loricraft-introduces-upgraded-thread-type-vacuum-record-cle...) announcing a new thread type record cleaner from Loricraft. In the comments section, several owners of thread type cleaners praised them and one person stated a “thread type”was better than their own ultrasonic cleaner.

I’m interested in hearing from those of you who have experience with BOTH types of record cleaners, and what you perceive to be the pluses and minuses of each.

As for myself, I’ve been plodding along for years with a VPI 16, and I would like something that is faster to use and that will run for more than an hour without overheating. 😎
Watch the Origin Live video where Mark Baker examines different cleaning methods. Study Better-Records.com and see what Tom Port uses. Hard to think of two more serious vinyl spinners, and they both come to the same conclusion.
The fact that we now have choices that's equivalent to putting a slice of bread in the toaster, wait a few minutes and it's done is appealing.

If you're dedicated to LP playback, spend the money on the best you can afford.
I have a VPI 16.5 and an Audio Desk Systeme US cleaner. The Audio Desk is great and from listening tests, cleans deeper than the VPI.

If you have real dirty on a record it needs to be cleaned with the VPI first.

@millercarbon, I would appreciate knowing the conclusion without having to root through a couple of websites. Thanks.
i’ve owned 7 RCM’s. the VPI 16.5, 2 different Loricraft PRC4 Delux’s, the Audiodesk (3 different ones). and currently only use the KLaudio RCM.

agree that thread type RCM’s have the best potential performance since you can also use chemicals with them for challenging pressings. i would call myself ’agnostic’ about thread verses ultrasonic. i’m more about synergy with my listening.

about 5 years ago i figured out that the best RCM is one that does a great job, is easy to use, quick and always works. it makes my vinyl playing experience the best.

the KLAudio does that for me. unfortunately they no longer make them as they cost too much to build. mine is a keeper. i can easily listen and clean at the same time. it’s on a table outside my listening room door, and is quiet enough that it does not intrude on my listening. easy for me to clean one pressing while listening to another. no muss, no fuss. just distilled water.

the sonic differences between the top level RCM’s is like counting angels on heads of pins. your listening process and vinyl handling process is equally important......clean room, good HVAC with a proper air filter system. i clean my pressings sparingly unless i buy a used collection.
I use a Monks Omni-basically a reboot of the original Monks with some refinements, in combination with ultrasonics (like Mike, I have the KL, which has -knock wood- continued to function well though it is not new).
If I had to choose one machine, it would probably be the Monks. I do a wash cycle with different fluids depending on perceived need and a rinse step using high purity water.
The ultrasonic step adds another dimension to this which I like very much. I can use the ultrasonic alone for new records but for older grotty copies which have ground in contaminants, I find using something like AIVS #15, soaking and agitating, followed by a reagent grade water rinse, removes some distortion that ultrasonic alone did not. I encountered this several years ago on some high value collectible records, and since then, have employed a double cleaning method utilizing both.
Ultrasonic cleaning can be enhanced through the use of surfactants to lower surface tension of the water and increase cavitation effect. The biggest issue is then the removal of the surfactant after the ultrasonic process (if you are not using water alone in the ultrasonic machine). Some people are more sensitive than others to the residue left by the "cleaning" fluids-- here again, an extra rinse step helps.
If I were going to do an ultrasonic after the KL, it will likely be an industrial grade machine that is adapted for use in cleaning LPs, rather than a made for LP ultrasonic machine. This is not a cost-saving approach, though you can buy ultrasonic baths and the necessary equipment to rotate the records cheaply enough to put DIY ultrasonic into the "bargain" category. Instead, I’m looking for a more robust design, multiple frequencies, ease of cleaning the bath, filtering of the bath water for contaminants (not to filter out the surfactant), degassing and other features that tend to be associated with industrial ultrasonic equipment. The better med/tech machines, like the Elma, offer a lot of these features. The Zenith company, which builds full factory lines with multiple baths, offers a bench top (thanks, Neil!) that has an external power supply and is apparently built for industrial, not medical equipment, usage.
For what it’s worth, it is my impression that the high end community jumped on ultrasonic record cleaning largely due to convenience and got good results--many such users probably have new or pristine copies that were collected by audiophiles and ultrasonic alone may be sufficient for these. The more DIY ultrasonic approaches are less convenient than a one button "pop it in the slot and wait til the bell dings"- but offer more for someone who is crate digging and finding those jewels that need more attention. I’m not a Goodwill/Thrift Shop type record buyer, but rather someone who buys old private label and more rarefied jazz, hard rock and prog, dating back into the ’60s and earlier. Unless you find a sealed specimen (rare and has its own risks), you’ll likely encounter a record that needs some attention to achieve a high state of play.
PS: at the risk of exceeding my welcome by prolix prose, I also find that the vacuum of a record at rinse stage using the point nozzle type vacuum cleaner is more effective at removing residue and contaminants than the forced air drying typical of the "made for LP" ultrasonic cleaners. It sounds like a lot of work, but my processes have been simplified and I can roll through a stack of records in short order. I tend to clean in batches.
Oh, I had a VPI. A 16 that was converted to a 16.5 that I bought in the mid-’80s. That thing would not die. I gave it to a friend when I moved.
I thought long and hard about a US machine and decided against purchasing because of all the potential issues and "work" involved, at least as I see it. I would worry about US actually damaging LPs, as rightly or wrongly claimed by some others. One wants to avoid that, so what frequency for what amount of time is really harmless? What amount of heating is harmless to an LP? Can you use detergents in the bath water? Some do; some don’t. The effluent from my VPI HW17 is filthy, which makes me think I would want to change the US bath water very frequently and/or filter it via an external circulation. When all is said and done I decided to stay with the HW17, which by the way never overheats. I also use Walker Audio enzymes for really dirty LPs and combine that with a distilled water rinse using my VPI. This is purely to illustrate my own thought process and not to say that anyone else’s choice is "wrong". I also had an opportunity to purchase a string type Loricroft cleaner and was put off by the maintenance issues as described to me by a Loricroft owner. I don’t see why it would necessarily be superior to the HW17, and the HW17 presents fewer headaches. I clean my LPs in my basement workshop, well away from either of my two systems, and don’t care a fig about the noise from the HW17.
The Keith Monks is the original RCM. Used by Better-Records, BBC, Library of Congress, etc., etc.
After decades of refinement, the KM RCMs no longer use the maintenance heavy string method. The nozzle vacuums off the dirt with a medical grade German pump. The KM fluid is also special.
The fluid is easily applied and quickly brushed in. The whitish surfactant is seen. The arm is placed on the label and automatically travels one grove at a time as the nozzle vacuums up all the dirty fluid. This takes a bit over a minute a side. Quick and complete.
As opposed to several minutes for the US machines and the records sitting in the dirty water.
@mglik - I think the maintenance and care of the "traditional" Monks is overstated. When I got mine, used, I knew it was not performing as it should and had it rebuilt by the guy who does the institutional work for Monks based out of NY. He also showed me how to operate it properly and we made a few tweaks- he repositioned the "arm rest" and I added silicon washers wherever there is metal to metal contact on a screw. (Some of the old Monks show rust- frightening). Once you get the hang of it, it’s relatively easy to adjust and maintain.
I don’t use the fluid applicator head since I use a variety of fluids and I found that the dispenser flings fluid beyond the platter-- I keep a microfiber towel handy to wipe the surface as it is running, and once done, use some canned air to get water out of any crevasses, empty the waste jar, cut off the "used" thread that has been sent to the waste jar, etc. The machine wipes down easily and threading the bobbin, while not easy, is something that an owner can do with a little time and trouble- it basically involves taking the nozzle off and re-threading the "string" through the arm tube using a little rubber pipe that then allows the vacuum to pull it back through to the waste jar. You can clean a lot of records with one bobbin of the special thread.

Some of the machines may have been abused (commonly, too much waste water without emptying the jar will cause water to flow back to the diaphragm of the pump and then the diaphragm has to be replaced, if not worse). Even with a rebuild, mine came it at less than retail for a brand new Omni. The older models can be brought back to life at some cost. I would recommend that anyone buying an older Monks have it checked by someone who knows the machine. It was an ingenious sort of Rube Goldberg affair when it was first made, and has the quirkiness of a British vintage car, sans the Lucas Prince of Darkness issues.
There is a huge variance in US cleaning machines. Your question is rather like asking if a car is faster than a bike.

As @whart has noted, US results depend on frequency, power, temperature, spacing, surfactant, and rinse. It’s only when you get careful with all of the above that your results approach optimal.

The first question to ask is how much you can trust your US bath to meet spec. If it’s medical equipment from Germany, you can trust it a bit more than flimsy-consumer easy-to-use from anywhere.

There are threads on this topic which you might want to examine. A high class expert on cleaning technology, whose handle escapes me, contributed to one thread and refined my own cleaning process, for which I am considerably grateful.

I use an Elma US machine from Germany, and doubt very much that my records are less clean than anybody's.
I've been using the KM Prodigy threadless machine for several months, came from a VPI16.5 and find it quick, quiet (relatively speaking) and cleans better than the VPI. Yes US may clean deeper but are not as simple as this machine is. YMMV
I also recently purchased the KM Prodigy. It takes a little experimentation but after 5-6 Lps one should have it down. Just need to fine time the amount of liquid and vacuum for your room temperature and humidity but once you figure that out it holds true for just about every LP.  I can't speak highly enough about how quiet it is. I can put on a record, easily clean 4 LPs, and still enjoy what I am listening to. Not ultrasonic but does a great job to my ears. Never owned any other record cleaner. Can't say I won't upgrade in the future but right now I am smitten with it.
I finally settled on an AudioDesk I was fortunate to get onsale and haven't looked back. 
I bought a Loricraft 4 because it uses a new, clean string every time.
I had no interest in an Ultrasonic cleaner that reuses water that was used to clean the previous record.

It comes with L'Art du Son but I've read that Keith Monks cleaning formulation liquid is better.

Plus I believe that with Loricrafts hospital grade vacuum, it cleans as good or better than an ultrasonic cleaner.

I’ve been told that SME is/has changing/changed Loricrafts design as of the new batches last December. For the worse. Plastic instead of brass and a weaker vacuum.

Terry(the builder before SME) used super high end hospital grade Austin pumps that are so expensive. Prc4 has 24 liters per minute suction power!! And quiet....

I don't know what vacuum pumps are currently being installed in new Loricraft 4's.

I followed an online record cleaning service advise and got the Elmasonic machine  and a Record Stack rotary  
The Elmasonic used 2 frequencies and bounces from one to the other during the process.  Once done I use a distilled water rinse and then let the records air dry. Comes out clean like a piece of jewelry comes out of the jewelry store ultrasonic cleaner. Nothing could be easier or more simple. $1,800 initial  investment.  Will last a long time
@lewm: As @vinylshadow mentioned, these pumps are off the shelf. Monks claims theirs is specially adapted to spec from a pump commonly used in dialysis machines with a low failure rate and the ability to run continuously for a long while. If you saw how a Monks is built inside, it is really very Rube Goldberg, but quite ingenious in some ways. Part of the pride of ownership, apart from cleaning effectiveness, is the sort of quaint vintage charm of something that looks like it was put together by the Wright Brothers using canning jars inside. It is also relatively quiet. I don’t listen while I clean- the "cleaning "station" is in an adjacent room, but it is almost enjoyable to use the thing.
MC is only here to help .
Wait ....
He can’t help it

I can’t fathom an ultrasonic cleaner compromising any vinyl more than physical scrubbing, not to mention it’s speed advantage. Agree Try a cheap one with a few drops of Tegikleen or NP-9 and never look back.
The cleaning expert @terry9 referred to upthread might have been Neil Antin. Neil was responsible, among other things, for developing cleaning methods to scrub 02 systems on submarines for the U.S. Navy. He is a trained engineer with a fertile mind and a deep interest in audio. He has done an extensive paper, entitled "Precision Aqueous Cleaning of Vinyl Records" on the how and why of record cleaning. It is a pretty intense read, but is well organized and takes the reader through each step, from manual cleaning and chemistry to use of chemistry in machines, including ultrasonics and covers the basics in plain English as well as more technical data that supports what he says.
I was honored to publish this paper, for which I’m happy to provide a link. No $ here for me or Neil-- labor of love. I learned a hell of a lot in publishing this and Neil is a delightful human being. Who said engineers are boring?
... the best RCM is one that does a great job, is easy to use, quick and always works. it makes my vinyl playing experience the best. the KLAudio does that for me. unfortunately they no longer make them as they cost too much to build. mine is a keeper. i can easily listen and clean at the same time. it’s on a table outside my listening room door, and is quiet enough that it does not intrude on my listening. easy for me to clean one pressing while listening to another. no muss, no fuss. just distilled water.
+1. I may have cleaned more records in the few years I've owned the Klaudio than I did in the previous decades with my old Nitty Gritty machine. It is an easy, one-button solution for cleaning records.
To Rhoades 98
Elmasonic P60H
purchased from Elmasonic USA direct at Elmatrasonic.com
vinylstack .com  for rotary parts
distilled water and Tegrakleen
15 drops per batch.  Washes at least 30 records.  
Hello @whart !!

Long time! Yes, Neil Antin is the gentleman. He showed me the final rinse stage, a spritz with distilled water.  What is the link, please?



@mckinneymike, that is heavy news. At least I got my washing station together before that occurred.
Terry, it is a long document, so this article will take you to a link where you can download the 2nd Edition of Neil’s wonderful paper (now a tome). https://thevinylpress.com/precision-aqueous-cleaning-of-vinyl-records-2nd-edition/
Too bad about Vinyl Stack- that was apparently a good product and not crazy money. 
for those wanting clean fluid in the tank just install a small pump and filter assy. Easy.

Antin is the real deal, as i recall he wrote many of the Mil Specs
As a retired goldsmith; I can assure you that the only process that cleans items more thoroughly than ultrasound is live steam; which, obviously would not be much of an idea for vinyl LP records!
Bob nailed it
Kidding aside I'm on the same path and don't know what to get yet is it US or a thread machine. My home situation might change soon (for the best), right now I'm financially stranded and on small town home but following this thread, thanks OP

Thanks. I saw an earlier draft, but this is quite encyclopedic.

Congratulations to all involved!
I have to second whart's thoughts on Neil Antin's ebook on vinyl cleaning.  It is incredibly detailed and covers all aspects of obtaining cleaner vinyl. Highly recommended.   The takeaway for me is that no one singular system is complete in terms of ultimate cleanliness. For those who want a one step one and done, ultrasonics are likely the best bet.  I have a VPI 16.5, V-8 40 khz  US tank, Clearaudio double matrix, and a Degritter (just purchased). I have used them singly and in combination. Each addition hasn't necessarily removed pops and ticks, but has improved the "texture" of the sound.  I have not used a Monks type cleaner because when I started cleaning records, it was an older (not necessarily outdated) technology.  For completists and those who have very revealing systems, a 2 or 3 step process will give the best results.  So to me it's not so much an either/or situation.  Mechanical cleaning with detergents/enzymes followed by ultrasonics is superior to either alone. If you are using any form of detergent, a final rinse will improve sonic quality and can remove any "veil" that remains.  There is an excellent discussion on the Hoffman forum on this as well under "degritter".  It is not limited to that device.
@orthomead- I just want Neil to see your kind words by including him in this thread @antinn. I published the piece so I'm hardly neutral (in the interest of full disclosure) in viewing Neil's work as the most comprehensive single source of information for cleaning records. And, also for what it's worth, there is no single method or piece of equipment that I (or Neil as far as I know) advocates as a magic bullet. 
I'm glad you like the "cross-cleaning" of using both mechanical and ultrasonic. I came to that conclusion several years ago with some high value records that needed more than a pass through the ultrasonic. Ditto on final rinse step.  I treat this as a learning process, rather than claiming expertise. Neil has real expertise, and we are lucky he's also an audiophile!
Bill Hart
Learning process vs claiming expertise, lot’s of wisdom in that statement 

I use enzyme / Walker 4 step in a nitty Gritty with Aerospace grade clean wiper over slot so can be changed each disc., ditto with wipes for brushes. U Sonic on my additional tool wishlist.

for the new records are clean crowd buy the Antin recommended black light…. And see the truth 
To the compliments provided - a humble thank-you.  But @whart and @orthomead summarize it well - there is no best; only the best for you which is based on your own threshold for effort, cost, process throughput and just how clean do you want that record.  

As I wrote in the book," XII.13 The final chapters of this document will discuss machine assisted cleaning methods: vacuum record cleaning machines (RCM) and ultrasonic cleaning machines (UCM). It’s important to consider that machines are generally developed for two primary reasons – reduce labor and improve process efficiency. Process efficiency can mean faster (higher throughput) and/or higher probability of achieving quality or achieving a quality that manual labor cannot produce. Manual cleaning in the appropriate environment with appropriate controls can achieve impressive levels of cleanliness, but the labor, skill, time and probability of success generally make it impractical for manufacturing environments. But for the home audio enthusiast; depending on your attention to details, adopting machine assisted cleaning may or may not yield a cleaner record. However, the ease of use and convenience provided by machines can be very enticing and cannot be denied."

But, make no mistake, regardless of whatever process you use, the "Devil is in the Details".  
I bought the last Vinyl Stack Spinner the company had left. Phew, that was close! I had been procrastinating forever, but learning they were closing shop I finally took the plunge. The I got myself a cheap Vevor ultrasonic bath for now, the one that operates at the slightly higher frequency of 50kHz (all their others operate at the ubiquitous 40k). Just over a hundred bucks directly from Vevor, free shipping.

I'll be using my VPI HW-17 for final rinses and drying. I can't imagine being without it.
@bdp24 Having started where you are currently at, I would offer some unsolicited advice.  Unless you have a plans for high end water filtration on your ultrasonic unit, I would clean the records first with the VPI to remove the major crud, then ultrasonically clean, then rinse and dry on VPI.  Without an initial step, your ultrasonic bath with be polluted very quickly.  I am currently addressing some LPs that I have previously cleaned and am stunned at the amount of detritus present in the ultrasonic bath despite prior cleanings.  Without the initial clean you will just need to change your ultrasonic bath more frequently.  I currently exchange the bath every 15-20 lps, once I see stuff on the bottom of the tank.  I would also highly recommend you read Neil's chapter on fluids.  From experience, you will do better with adding Triton x-100 or Tergitol 15-s-9 to the distilled water.  For me it was quite apparent, and this is why I am readressing the previously cleaned lps. It is worth the time.
1+ thumbs up @orthomead. I would also add that for something that may be long or more heavily contaminated, I prefer the manual or mechanical clean first anyway to get the heavy grunge out; after vacuum and rinse vacuum, then into ultrasonic for what I find is a more fine cleaning. Sometimes, on a few challenged records, it was repeating this process, with a final rinse of pure water and vacuum after ultrasonic. 
I brought a couple early UK Vertigo Swirls from send 'em back to go to copies simply by this process. And several other records that had wispy tracing distortion that I was able to eliminate through combined cleaning methods. 
Anyone hear about the newest KM Prodigy "Blue" that is being released soon? From a dealer heard it's supposed to be a few big steps ahead of the original. 
@Orthomead: I first learned about Swirl due to Sabbath and have them as UK Swirls, but then descended into the vortex:
Gracious!, the Cressida albums, Patto, May Blitz, etc.

I think I have roughly 50, some duplicates, not all the super rare ones but not all of the catalog was equal in terms of music quality. Pressing quality in the era was good though and the engineering was straightforward.
Interestingly, the guy who was really responsible for launching the imprint-- Olav Wyper-- left Philips after a year or so to go to RCA. That is why I recommend the 1970 Annual as a Vertigo starter kit- 2 LPs from some of the more recherché acts. Affinity and a few others, the names of which escape me right now, were part of the catalog. And it doesn't command the price of some of the Swirls, it's almost reasonable!
One curiosity is that King Crimson’s In the Court was released as a Swirl back in the day in NZ or AUS. Never saw one in the wild. (UK release was Island Pink Label).
Thanks @orthomead and @whart.

When I ordered the Vinyl Stack Spinner, I inquired as to whether or not they had any of the single-disc models left. That model was simply two of the Vinyl Stack "platters" with a handle attached, designed for pre-cleaning a single LP with, say, a sink’s water faucet (or @shaw’s steamer method). The answer was no.

So I embarked on a search for a similar product, and eventually found it on ebay. It is just about identical to the Vinyl Stack single-LP model: a pair of plastic plates (clear to the Vinyl Stack’s frosted white) just large enough to cover the LP label, with a rubber sealing ring on each to prevent water from seeping in, and a handle on one side. $18.99 plus $2.99 shipping from China.

I got the above product to facilitate washing dirty pre-owned LP’s, rather than putting them on the HW-17 prior to ultrasonically cleaning. For new LP’s, unless they exhibit obvious "dirt" (which is unfortunately not THAT uncommon, found even on the new All Things Must Pass boxset) I will skip that step.

I have my HW-17’s tank loaded with distilled water for final rinsing, and after two revolutions of drying the LP is ready for a treatment of Last Record Preservative. I have procured a bottle of Tergitol 15-S-9 surfactant for my ultrasonic bath mixture, needing only some isopropyl alcohol to complete it.

While I’m here, I must thank Bill (@whart) for publishing on his website that incredible dissertation on ultrasonic cleaning of LP’s, which I need to again read! Bill often mentions the Vertigo "swirl label" LP’s, and I can add one more Vertigo title to his list of recommendations: Chapter Three by Manfred Mann. Though remembered for their early "British Invasion" hits ("Do Wah Diddy Diddy", "Pretty "Flamingo"), and later their excellent take on Dylan’s "The Mighty Quinn", by the time of 1969’s Chapter Three they had evolved into a Rock/Jazz Fusion band, and a good one. Interesting music (I say that as a non-fan of Fusion), great sonic quality.

both Nitty Gritty and Walker  ( probably many others ) make excellent enzyme cleaners, excellent first process step for soiled discs… Another reason where a flexible multi machine process is desired IMO.

great thread, super solid contributions