Think about the way record players work. They make sound by dragging a stylus through the grooves in a PVC/PVA polymer platter, the vibrations of which are turned into electrical impulses. As a result of the physical nature of all this, anything in the groove besides the groove itself is a problem. As such, cleaning your records regularly will not only make them sound notably better but your phonograph cartridge will last longer when not required to track trough dirt, dust, the remaining release compound on a new record, or the powdered remains of seeds and stems from the previous owner’s use.
Pangea Distributing’s Record Doctor VI record cleaning system (buy at Amazon) makes it easy to clean your records. As you might surmise by the VI suffix, this is the sixth version of the machine, and it includes several improved features to make it better than previous versions.
What Makes the Record Doctor VI Special?
Although there are plenty of record cleaning brushes in the audiophile vinyl world, to really clean a record takes more than merely running a brush around a record once or twice. To really clean a record usually requires some cleaning fluid, a way to apply that fluid, and a way to remove the fluid cleanly. A vacuum cleaning method like the one used by the Record Doctor VI system can, once you’ve perfected your brush technique, clean a record as well as any cleaner currently available, regardless of price or cleaning methodology.
Why Should You Care About the Record Doctor Record Cleaning System?
- The Record Doctor VI features a new venting system designed to reduce internal heat and lower the noise level of the vacuum motor.
- The latest version of the Record Doctor has a machined aluminum top plate that enhances the cabinet rigidity, dissipates heat better, and is more stain-resistant than the previous plastic top plate.
- The Record Doctor’s knurled record turner knob is larger and easier to hold and rotate than the previous model.
- The supplied record brush has been improved to spread fluid more evenly and get into the grooves without scratching them.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Record Doctor Record Cleaning System:
- The Record Doctor only comes with four fluid ounces of cleaning fluid, which you will quickly use up on even a relatively small collection.
- The Record Doctor’s brush is much softer than the brushes from VPI, and you may want to get the latter for more difficult-to-clean records.
- To get a well-cleaned record from the Record Doctor requires good technique with your brush work and your record handling. Practice will be required to perfect your skills.
- Even with improved soundproofing inside, the Record Doctor’s vacuum motor is pretty loud. I used my iPhone’s SLP meter app to measure a change from 35 dB room noise level when the machine was off to 86 dB when the machine was turned on, measured approximately one meter away. Yikes.
Does the Record Doctor Record VI Cleaning System Hold Its Value?
This probably isn’t a relevant question for a product like this, as you’re unlikely to sell it. But the Record Doctor should earn its keep in savings from buying used records that you can clean to return to almost their original condition (some things, like knife marks, are not going to be fixed by any record cleaning methodology). Given the Record Doctor’s simple function – it has a vacuum that turns on and off – it should continue to work well for many years as long as you remember to occasionally open and drain out the used cleaning fluid.
What Is the Competition for the Record Doctor VI?
Once you eliminate record brushes, the competition for motorized record cleaning systems is slim. Amazon lists the Vevor Ultrasonic record cleaner ($209) but it does not have any provisions for drying your records after cleaning. There are also “dip and turn” record cleaning systems that go for about $100, but they are not as good in terms of cleaning ability (no brush) or drying convenience. Earlier model Record Doctor cleaners are still available on Amazon for $219, but the latest version is worth the extra cost. Finally, you could move up to the VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine ($999) which has been my go-to record cleaning system for over 25 years.
Final Thoughts on the Record Doctor VI
Record cleaning can be done numerous ways. Some folks have even tried Elmer’s glue, slathered on and then peeled off (I don’t recommend it). You can also clean records in your kitchen sink and try drying them with your vacuum cleaner (I don’t recommend this except to masochists). The least expensive dedicated non-DIY record cleaners begin with troughs filled with cleaning fluid that you spin your records in. They work, but drying incorrectly can undo whatever cleaning you accomplished.
A real-world record cleaning system needs a way to clean your records and a way to dry them completely after cleaning. The Record Doctor VI (buy at Amazon) supplies exactly that. The trick with the Record Doctor machine is to perfect your brush technique so the brush gets into the grooves without scratching them. After 25+ years using the VPI 16.5 (which has a similar clean/dry system) I had no issues using the Record Doctor successfully. Practice makes perfect when it comes to brush technique.
If you plan to, or already have gone down the rabbit hole of buying used or new records, you really need to consider some form of record cleaning to maximize your enjoyment and preserve your investment. While you can spend less on a record cleaning system, none of the lower-cost options offer the quality or convenience of the Record Doctor VI. Currently, the Record Doctor VI is the least expensive complete record cleaning system that I would consider using.