Two models compared: Double Smart Matrix and topmodel Matrix Silent
Record cleaning machines. When you hear that 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. The pricing is pretty serous too.
Since I had no 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. So I looked to record cleaners. One of the cheapest available cleaners is the Okki Nokki but this one is to basic and too fiddly for me. Then I saw the Clearaudio cleaners. They look very smart and seem to be made to a high standard and I like that.
Clearaudio makes a range of recordcleaners of which all are considered very good in various reviews. But this turned out to be something you have to test 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 less. So I gave it a shot.
Double Smart Matrix
Three photos of the Double Smart Matrix. A simplified version of the Double Matrix.
Note the separate fluidcontainer that you have to squeeze in order to apply fluid and the simple inside.
The Matrix Silent is the Clearaudio reference in 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).
De Matrix Silent is daadwerkelijk stiller maar ook weer niet zo heel erg veel. Wel is hij veel mooier gebouwd, voelt beter aan en heeft electrische vloeistofopbrenging vanuit een groot reservoir en nog een paar luxedingen. De Matrix maakt de plaat sneller droog en heeft meer potentie om zeer vieze platen goed schoon te krijgen omdat hij veel harder kan droogzuigen. Hiervoor is een knop aanwezig maar de lage stand is reeds dermate krachtig dat de hoge stand vaak overbodig is.
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 for quite some time after the cleaing has ended. This is probably also due to the container for used fluid which is actually open to the air via the suction tube. The chemicals are probably not good for you. Therefore it is advisable not to use the cleaner in the (family) livingroom. The container for new fluid is 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 that cost 4 times less and washed just as well, apart from spreading less well on the platter and drying less well. 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 suspected that this shouldn't be a problem and bought a bottle of FRENCH SON to try it out. Sadly my short affair with lp's stopped shortly thereafter when I found that most of my second hand lp's were damaged beyond repair. Cleaning them made the sound more open and reduced or even eliminated surfacenoise but damaged lp's that have worn out grooves will never retain their high frequencies. I sold my player and cleaner and never got around to testing the fluid.
The Double Smart Matrix is unreliable, at least my unit was, and the washing process is quite rudimentary but the price is good. The washing result is fine for the top side of the platter but the bottom side is difficult to get right. The Matrix Silent is an excellent machine with likewise washing results and comfort is high. The only downside is its price, for which you can easily buy a good turntable complete with good element. But I suppose you get what you pay for.
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.
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.
Although the wasing 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 I found it handy to clean the record with a soft brush before washing, to remove most of the dust. But this wasn't doable since the record "floated" in the air, bending all to easily while dusting.
Thus formed the wish to change my washer for a Clearaudio topmodel, and not the Double Matrix, but the Matrix Silent.