Nessie Vinylcleaner Pro LP Washer /
Raison D'être / Existenzberechtigung
the early 1990s, as I was starting my audiophile journey, I scurried from
garage sale to garage sale collecting old LPs that people were dumping in the
belief that vinyl was dead. Having bartered for a vintage Linn LP12, vinyl was
just being born in my mind as I purchased records for dimes on the dollar that I
couldn't afford "back in the day." Even though I inspected each one before
purchasing, it was clear that most needed cleaning – dust and fingerprints
being the biggest culprits, and sometimes mold. Sunday afternoons I would set up
the kitchen sink and countertops for the cleaning operation and several hours
later the walls of my condo would be lined with naked LPs doing their final
dry-time. Even so, I couldn't keep up with recent acquisitions.
Bartering once again, I acquired a new VPI-16 record cleaning
machine. It liberated both me and my collection from the cleaning ritual by
giving me random access, 24/7, allowing me to clean them right before playing.
Not only that, it did a better job with home-brew cleaning fluid than using mild
dish soap with a sponge in the sink. And so it went for nearly three decades as
I periodically hot-rodded my LP12 and upgraded my phono stages. By combining a
good cleaning with a quality contemporary cartridge the dreaded clicks and pops
greatly diminished while those that remain become a lot less audible. Given at
least 2000 LPs I've cleaned and the current $800 street price of the VPI, the
cost per LP works out to $0.40 apiece. Weigh that, if you wish, against the cost
of buying new, remastered LPs. After close to 30 years of service (and still
going strong), my VPI doesn't owe me anything and it still runs like a champ.
Paying The Cost
More basic types don't do as good a job and the ultrasonic
ones take more time. Even the VPI 16 has an Achilles heel. It's even louder than
my 12 gallon Craftsman Shop Vac which measured either 80dB or 83dB, depending on
which side I stood. The VPI puts out 81dB of noise, measured at 1 meter, and a
whopping 89dB at ear level when cleaning an LP. That's about the median level of
music when I'm sitting in my chair. It's disturbing enough when I'm home alone
but it will startle my wife when she's in the kitchen or even in the bedroom
late at night. At parties, when someone pulls an LP off the shelf and makes a
request, the VPI is downright embarrassing.
Keep in mind that a –10dB difference is perceived as half as loud. Here are the in-room measurements I took at home with my Radio Shack SPL meter from 1m in front of the machines and at ear level standing at operating distance (less than one meter).
VPI 16 @ 1m = 81dB (A Weighted)
Vinylcleaner Pro @ 1m = 58dB (A)
With the Nessie platter spinning in wash mode, the meter read
<50dB, lower than the range of the meter. For a real-world comparison, I
measured my German-made Miele vacuum cleaner @ ear level, @ 1.6m, 63dB.
The high gloss acrylic mimicked the piano black on my
speakers, the large chrome record weight had a seal that protects the record
label, automatic left-right rotation, a timer function, made in Germany, and
more. What's not to like? Well, the Nessie logo is a bit gimmicky, but overall,
it had a very classy look. The three Nessie models, plus the HANNL Mera
Professional (a more expensive model with even more automation) are all made by
DRAABE Technologies GmbH in a small town just south of Hamburg in northern
Germany. When Jon called a few months later, I requested the middle model, the
Vinylcleaner Pro, which seemed like the best value of the three.
As the brush cleans the LP the platter periodically reverses
direction – a feature that seemed to do a better job than my single-direction
VPI 16 (though VPI has since come out with a machine that reverses.) There has
to be an LP on the platter and the suction arm has to be swung over the LP
before the suction feature is automatically activated. After vacuuming in
both directions, the vacuum automatically shuts off while the record continues
to spin. A slight lifting of the armtube is necessary to return it to rest and
remove the record, but no line of residue was ever left on the newly cleaned
side. The platter can then be turned off with the front switch.
And wow, is that suction feature quiet! To give you an
idea of how quiet the Nessie is, I had to walk the length of my listening room,
down a hall and turn a corner into the middle of my home office, a distance of
more than 60 feet (20m) before the VPI 16 measured as quiet as the Nessie. My
wife was equally impressed when she heard the Nessie in action. The words in the
cartoon bubble above her head read: "Buy this!"
The magic ingredient of the Nessie design is their use of
Basotec® acoustic foam for insulation, but I suspect the vacuum unit itself is
of high precision and runs very smoothly, too. The unit has very low
vibration in the vacuum mode. The feet slide easily on the surface of the table
if you wish to spin it to facilitate draining the waste.
To those who might object to having to put the clean side of
the LP down on the anti-static foam platter that may contain dust from previous
dirty sides, I will share my secret technique: I only clean one side at a time.
If, after deciding the first side was enjoyable and I want to continue on to
side two, I will then clean the other side. Sometimes I only get through a
couple of songs before deciding that life is too short to listen to the entire
album. "Clean cup, move down!" said the rabbit to Alice. "Feed your head" sang
the Jefferson Airplane.
The Zen Of Nessie
With the Nessie, cleaning is an island of quietude between
LPs. With its automatic turntable and scrub brush you can let your mind drift or
engage in conversation with friends rather than count the revolutions while you
hold down a manual brush. The slight noise of the vacuum doesn't interrupt a conversation and should your mind drift off the Nessie will shut down
automatically after two revolutions, reminding you it's time to get back to the
music. Once you internalize the routine, it takes only 1:50 minutes to clean per
side. (On the flagship Vinylmaster, should an LP prove exceptionally
difficult to clean, holding down the blue button will set the platter to
continue for 20 minutes with periodic automatic dispensing of fluid while the
brush does the work.) The value of such a serene process? Priceless!
Another Zen-inspired appreciation of the Nessie involves the beauty of the machine. It looks as good as a lot of components you will find in High End audio and better than most. (I eventually became oblivious to the oversized Nessie logo.) Compare the elegance with the competition that looks like it should be in a science lab, or sounds like it should be in your garage. There is no comparison. I placed it proudly on a table one step away from my wall-mounted turntable where using it becomes a modest Tai Chi dance between the two.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye!
At the other end of the spectrum is the Kirmuss cavitation
system that touts a record restoration regimen that will likely get rid of all
the grit in your grooves at the cost of more time and physical effort. The
Nessie falls somewhere between these two. If your LP collection consists of
highly collectible or rare LPs that might eventually be donated to an archive,
perhaps the cavitation approach is justifiable. In my case, most of my LPs are
of the One-and-Done variety. I listen once, then offer them to my kids, and if
they don't want them, they go into next summer's Garage Sale bin. Those that I
hang on to will get cleaned more than once, improving a little each time.
The unexpected benefit from the Nessie was an increase in
transparency of the music and the accompanying absence of surface noise. The
increase in transparency revealed more inner detail, brighter tonal colors and a
bit better resolution. It also brought the soundstage a bit further forward and
the music jumped out toward me with greater dynamics. The reduction in surface
noise was the elimination of a faint scraping sound. This allowed the music to
sound more liquid, or "analog" if you will. At first, I heard this as a loss of
resolution, but closer listening revealed the improvement of both liquidity and
resolution. I almost hesitate to make too big an issue out of this as my rig
is of fairly high quality, especially since the recent addition of the AGD
Audion monoblocks and Synergistic Research Foundation cables. It is also very
well dialed into the room and further refined with numerous tweaks.
My Linn LP12 is also highly hot-rodded with only about 40%
still original Linn parts. A moderately-priced Charisma Audio 103 moving coil
cartridge was used throughout this review. Will you be able to experience all of
these same benefits with an entry-level or even mid-level rig? I'm not sure.
Certainly, you will hear a decrease in clicks and some degree of improvement in
sound quality. The lack or reduction of clicks will certainly lead to greater
enjoyment. You will also experience an absence of dust bunnies on your stylus
that will make you wonder if you should clean your stylus before every play. (I
did – using AmCan Audio DuSt-ylus silicone stylus cleaner which seems to work
as well as the high-priced brands.)
The Nessie also comes with anti-static mats and extraction
(vacuum) arms for 10" and 7" records. Since my Linn still operates only at 33.3
rpm, I didn't try 7" records, but it looks to be a simple conversion.
Beyond that, look at the size of your collection and the
condition they are in. Ask yourself how a record cleaning routine would fit in
with your life circumstances and where you would use it in your home. Does it
fit the lifestyle you have or anticipate? The perceived value of any record
cleaning machine will also depend on your personal financial condition. You will
have to weigh these factors yourself. I'm not about to hack your bank account. I
started out washing garage sale records in the kitchen sink. I've come a long
way since those days. From what I've seen on the market and used in my home,
this Nessie is a very sweet proposition.
Moreover, cleaning records immediately before playing became a
delightful, serene experience filled with anticipation of how great the newly
cleaned vinyl might sound. If its virtues coincide with your commitment to vinyl
and the size of your collection, I highly recommend it. I've purchased the
review sample and look forward to exploring my great unwashed collection as well
as re-visiting previously cleaned gems.
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