Call me a record dweeb, but one of my favorite activities is visiting used record shops and flipping through as many LPs as I can to discover those platters that have somehow eluded me during my 43 years on this planet. I never know what I’m looking for until I find it. Afternoons spent thumbing through the used bins have led to me some remarkable artists and bands, such as the Good Rats, White Witch, Cherokee and Jimmie Spheeris, and their respective LPs that never got their due.
Almost every one of these albums has required a good cleaning before the first spin on the turntable. Cleaning records ensures you’re getting the most music out of the grooves, helps preserve those precious LPs and protects your phono cartridge’s stylus from unwanted wear. There are several record-cleaning products on the market, ranging from fully manual to fully automatic. The Okki Nokki Record Cleaning Machine is a mostly automatic vacuum cleaning machine that’s simple to use and very effective. After several weeks with the Okki Nokki in my possession — and dozens of clean records — I can attest that it’s worth every penny of its asking price. (Note: Prices vary; the machine retails for £399 at the manufacturer’s official Web site at http://www.okkinokki.co.uk/ and it is also offered by several online retailers and on eBay.)
Design & Setup
Designed in Holland and made in Germany, the Okki Nokki is well built and performed nearly flawlessly. A rugged and waterproof aluminum chassis (offered in white or black) contains the bi-directional turntable motor, vacuum and reservoir for spent cleaning fluid. This base is solidly supported on four hard-rubber feet, which prevent the unit from any slipping or sliding during use. A spindle is centered below the turntable platter, upon which sits a platter mat large enough to support the full dimensions of a 12-inch record. This seemingly trivial detail is actually important when it comes time to clean, as the record sits flat from label to edge and won’t wobble while spinning. The vacuum arm rests on a spring, which allows it to move freely when not in use. When needed, the arm can be turned to fit in a pair of grooves, and as the vacuum motor is engaged, the suction “pulls” the arm down onto the record surface and holds it there as the fluid and dirt are removed. When the vacuum motor shuts off and as the suction pressure recedes, the arm “floats” upward on the springs and off the platter. It’s a simple but every effective design. The machine ships with a vacuum arm outfitted for 12-inch records, along with a goat-hair cleaning brush, record clamp, record cleaning fluid concentrate and detachable grounded power cord. Okki Nokki also makes an optional dust cover and vacuum arms for 10-inch and 7-inch records. A small container of cleaning fluid concentrate is included, which is to be mixed with 1 liter of purified water. I put the concentrate and water into a plastic “condiment” bottle with a narrow dispensing tip. With it, I could easily control the amount of fluid I applied to each record.
The manual recommends emptying the used cleaning fluid after cleaning 10 to 15 records. A plastic tube fitted with a small red stopper is “tucked” into the back of the Okki Nokki. When it’s time to drain the machine, simply pull the tube out approximately 8 inches or so — you’ll feel tension on the end — and remove the stopper. Place the tube into a container — I found an empty plastic milk jug worked great — and tilt the Okki Nokki to empty the fluid reservoir. Even after cleaning 15 LPs, there wasn’t a large amount of waste fluid to collect, but the manual asserts that failing to empty the machine regularly can result in damage and void the warranty. If you get caught up in a frenzy of cleaning and forget to empty the fluid, the machine has a built-in safeguard that shuts it down to prevent fluid drawing into the vacuum motor and from overheating.
Armed with the solution and record brush, it was time to clean some records. I grabbed a couple dozen recently purchased used LPs that ranged from fairly clean to grungy.
I set The Dregs’ 1982 album, “Industry Standard,” onto the Okki Nokki and applied a stream of fluid starting near the record’s edge and curving inward to the label. Setting the motor running in a clockwise position, I brought the goat-hair brush onto the surface and held it against the grooves as the LP spun below. After three revolutions, I re-engaged the motor to now spin counter-clockwise as I used the brush to clean the record as it spun in the opposite direction. After three more revolutions, it was time to dry. This involved running the platter again in a clockwise direction while engaging the vacuum motor. And though I was suspect that it would take more than two rotations to thoroughly vacuum and dry the record surface, the Okki Nokki’s vacuum got the job done quickly to avoid possible damage to the record from over-vacuuming. After two complete revolutions, my records were dry and very clean. In fact, because I could control the application of the fluid and manually clean with the brush, LPs came out with a glossy shine that made them look better than new. It only took one record to see how much dirt was being lifted as I examined the pristine hairs of the record brush turning shades of brown after digging into the grooves. Record cleaning can’t remove scratches or other nicks and dings, but it can dramatically lower surface noise and improve the overall playback of music — from better detail and imaging to separation of instruments and presence. LPs cleaned with the Okki Nokki not only looked substantially better but sounded better, too.
Compared to the fully manual Spin-Clean Record Washer ($79.99), the Okki Nokki makes record cleaning simpler due to its vacuuming capabilities, but at several hundred dollars more. The fully automatic Nitty Gritty 2.5Fi XP ($899) takes all the “work” out of cleaning by dispensing fluid, cleaning and vacuuming. Again, this convenience comes for $400 more than the Okki Nokki. However, of the three washers mentioned, the Okki Nokki resulted in the “cleanest” records I’ve experienced. The combination of bi-directional cleaning while controlling brush and fluid by hand is the best of all worlds for the money.
I mentioned earlier that the machine worked almost perfectly. The only fly in the ointment comes if you don’t tighten the record clamp sufficiently and/or use too much cleaning fluid. The result can be too much drag on the LP for the vacuum and motor to overcome, in which case the turntable platter may stop rotating. It’s a simple fix, though, to tighten the clamp a bit more or cut back on the cleaning fluid the next time. After cleaning a half-dozen records, you’ll know how much fluid is enough. And it’s also important to keep the turntable platter clean. Remember that you’ll be placing one side of a dirty record onto, and then flipping over to a clean surface. You don’t want to transfer extra grit or dust between the sides, which can also lead to static buildup. You can use the record brush to give the platter a quick sweep or use a soft cloth.
One of the best tweaks to any vinyl-playing system is starting with clean records. Give an LP a good bath, and you’ll hear it at its best. Before you upgrade your turntable or re-tip your cartridge, be sure your records are clean. Do that and listening to vinyl will be “Okki Nokki” — European slang equivalent of “it’s all good” — which it is.