Hifi Pig | 14 Dec 2015
Keeping your records in pristine condition is vital to their longevity and the lifespan of your cartridges. Stuart Smith cleans up his act with the Clearaudio Smart Matrix Record Cleaning Machine at £775.
German brand Clearaudio produce a couple of record cleaning machines (RCMs), the Double Matrix Professional Sonic and the less pricey Smart Matrix Professional which is the subject of this review. The unit retails in the UK for £775.
SMP arrives very well packed with a Perspex lid (an option), vacuum arm, record clamp, 100ml of fluid to get you started, a microfiber brush to apply the fluid, some spare microfiber strips, and of course the unit itself.
The unit weighs a little over 11Kg, measures 13.58 inch square and stands 9.84 inches high. It’s basically a solid wooden box with a thin aluminum skin/veneer to keep it protected from water. On the front you have the operating buttons – power on/standby, platter rotation and vacuum on/off. Atop the box at the business end of the machine is the platter which has a soft foam mat on it. Here you also fit the vacuum arm which is basically a slotted metal tube with microfiber strips either side of the slot to stop your precious records getting scratched.
Clearaudio say these strips should last around 200 sides of very dirty records. It is this slot in the arm that sucks the fluid from your record. Round the back you’ve got a power connector with an on/off switch and a plastic tube with a bung in it for emptying the dirty water tank.
Assembly is a piece of cake with you only having to push the vacuum arm into the hole in the top plate and plug the unit into the mains.
I set the RCM up on an IKEA table for the test.
Cleaning your records is a simple process. Switch it on at the back, remove the vacuum arm, place the record on the platter and screw it down with the record clamped then replace the vacuum arm. Press the power button which spins the platter clockwise, put the cleaning brush against the record and squirt a bit of the fluid onto the record and let the record spin round a few times in both directions… you change direction by pressing the “platter” button. If you have really filthy records, spin the platter more times and repeat the whole process including vacuuming – I buy a lot of my records second hand from brocantes and car boot fairs and most are filthier than a very filthy thing… use your imagination. To initiate the actual vacuuming process, you have to press the button marked “vacuum” (no surprises there), the arm is sucked onto the record surface and then you let the machine do its thing until your record is perfectly dry. Turn the machine off, swing the arm out of the way, turn your record over and repeat.
When in the vacuum phase, the machine is pretty noisy… the cat, initially curious at this new spinning round device, ran away and hid when I pushed the vacuum button… but then she does when we vacuum the carpets, so no surprise there.
The first record I cleaned was a recent buy from a second hand shop and was Joaquin Rodrigo Concierto De Aranjuez with Alirio Diaz on one side and Mauro Giuliani Concerto Pour Guitare, Cordes et Timables OP 30 on the other. It’s from 1967 and had been poorly kept and very dirty. I had to do one side a couple of times and increased the number of rotations of the platter during the cleaning process, but the result was a spankingly clean record that played with barely a snap, crackle or pop.
The Clearaudio Smart Matrix Professional is a piece of cake to use, well built and does what it says on the tin. Yes, it is quite pricey, but the question needs to be asked is it cheaper to extend the life of your stylus and irreplaceable records… I reckon this is money well spent and infinitely easier than my previous manual affair. It’s difficult for me to compare this unit to any of the others on the market; I’m afraid as I’ve just not used any of the similar machines, but I’m happy with it and feel it offers a good deep clean. Definitely a keeper and is my Christmas present to myself… I’ve already ordered fifteen liters of IPA (Isopropyl Alcohol) to make up some cleaning solution which should keep me going!