Clearaudio Record Cleaners – Matrix Silent and Double Smart Matrix
Two Record Cleaner models compared: the affordable Double Smart Matrix and topmodel Matrix Silent
Record cleaning machines. When you hear that phrase for the first time, you’ll probably think you must have misunderstood. At least I did. But as soon as you see such a device in real life, you’ll know that it is serious business. Unfortunately the pricing is usually pretty serious too.
Since I had never built up a record collection and had to start from scratch, I resorted to buying a lot of second hand LP’s which turned out to contain a lot of dust and distortion. This started my interest in record cleaners. One of the cheapest available cleaners is the Okki Nokki but this one is to basic and too fiddly for me. (edit: a few years later a new version is issued which is much better, still available in 2014) Then I noticed the Clearaudio cleaners. They look very smart and seem to be made to a high standard.
Clearaudio makes a range of record cleaners, of which all are considered very good in various reviews. However this turned out to be something you have to test for yourself. But that’s getting ahead of the story. First I bought the Double Smart Matrix. This is the economy version of the Double Matrix. The housing is much simpler and you have to do more manually but the ingredients are mostly the same. And the price is a LOT friendlier. So I gave it a shot.
Double Smart Matrix
This is a smart looking cleaner and judging on first looks, Clearaudio made money savings in all the right places. But sadly the Double Smart Matrix turned out to be unreliable, and potentially easy to damage.
For starters, it is impossible to dose the fluid just right. Either you use too little and the bottom side of the lp stays mostly dry, or you overdose and the fluid drips of the lp and onto the fibreboard housing, and if you don’t clean that up immediately, you risk that the fibreboard absorbs the fluid and deforms, thereby not only causing wrinkles in the toplayer of the cleaner, but also changing the position of the cleaning arms as the MDF expands unevenly.
Above: the Double Smart Matrix is a simplified version of the original Double Matrix. Note the separate fluidcontainer which you have to squeeze manually in order to apply fluid to both platter sides.
Above: inside the Double Smart Matrix
Although the washing result on the topside of the lp is very good, the result on the bottom side (the upside-down side) is below par. So in my case I had to turn the record after the first washing and wash again to get a good result on the other side. This is a problem that I haven’t read of in any of the reviews so this may be a problem unique to my unit. But what remains is the use of poor quality fibreboard and the associated potential problem with fluid. Also, in practice it is handy to clean the record with a soft brush before washing, to remove most of the dust. But with the Double Smart Matrix this wasn’t doable since the record is “floated” in the air, bending all too easily while dusting.
Thus formed the wish to change my washer for a Clearaudio topmodel, and not the Double Matrix, but the Matrix Silent.
Above: Matrix Silent. A completely different story compared to the Double Smart Matrix. The housing is made of some sort of high grade durable plastic, thereby avoiding any fluid problems. Because all internal parts are oversized and have lots of space, this machine is also suited for continuous washing sessions without the chance of overheating.
The Matrix Silent is the Clearaudio reference for single sided washing. VPI also makes a truly reference product but I like the Clearaudio better for its looks. I admit to being a sucker for beautiful looking equipment-as long as it performs well of course. I chose this cleaner after having very bad experience with the Double Smart Matrix (see text above). (edit: the Matrix sadly isn’t available anymore in 2014)
Above and below: Matrix Silent inside (for the transparent versions, the damping material was removed)
Above: note the white cleaning fluid container which is normally applied for car window washing fluid.
The Matrix Silent is indeed more quiet than the Double Smart Matrix but it is still far from whisper-quiet. It is built to a much higher standard, feels more sturdy and has electronic fluid application at the touch of a button. The fluid is contained inside, both before and after washing, making for a very tidy solution. The suction power is much higher than on the Double Smart Matrix: a record is dry in only one turn of the platter. Also very comfortable is that the cleaningbrush comes up automatically after switching off the vacuumpomp, thereby avoiding new static buildup on the platter and dry spots that can cause ticks when the record is played.
How does a cleaned record sound?
A cleaned lp does indeed sound more clean afterwards. Noise is lowered or even eliminated. Small details are more clear, dynamics are much improved, imaging is more focused. All in all a very worthy result. But damaged lp’s cannot be repaired. Even on very badly damaged lp’s a cleaning makes for a lot of improvements but you just cannot undo damage or wear in the grooves.
A word on Cleaning Fluids
The odour of the cleaning fluid is not that bad but it lingers on in the room for quite some time after the cleaing has ended. This is probably also due to the used-fluid container which is actually open to the air via the suction tube. The chemicals are probably not good for you and therefore it is advisable not to use the cleaner in the (family) livingroom. The container for new fluid btw is actually closed from open air by means of an electric valve.
The supplied Clearaudio cleaning fluid was very good, spreading well across the surface and leaving a evenly dry, clean platter afterwards but it is very expensive. I found a similar looking and smelling fluid of another manufacturer (Quality Service) that cost 4 times less and washed just as well, apart from apparently spreading less well on the platter and drying slower. Then there are soap-based fluids which are supposed to work very well but Clearaudio advices against these on grounds of soap’s bubbliness. I suspect that this shouldn’t be a problem with a machine that’s made entirely from plastic, but haven’t tried it myself.
The Double Smart Matrix may be relatively affordable, but I don’t think it works very well. The washing result is excellent for the top side of the platter but the bottom side is difficult to get right. Use too little fluid and you’re dry-cleaning the record, use too much and it spills to the deck below. The deck is made from laminated chipboard which will quickly absorb the water and deform. This I think is a design flaw and so I returned my unit and went for the top model instead.
The Matrix Silent really is an excellent machine with excellent washing results and high comfort. Most second hand records really need cleaning. The process makes the sound more open and reduces or even eliminates surface noise. Damaged LP’s with worn out grooves naturally will never regain their lost high frequencies. The Matrix may be pricey, but you do get what you pay for, and I’m sure that it will last forever.