Keith Monks classic Mk.IIc review

Keith Monks introduces the updated version of its classic seventies record-cleaning machine

Keith Monks classic Mk.IIc
The beauty of the Keith Monks system is that as well as reviving old records, it can also improve the sound of fresh vinyl

TechRadar Verdict

Regardless of the slight quibbles, the Classic Mk.IIc is a real godsend for the vinyl fan. As noted above, the improvements in the music and its quality that this machine produces can be little short of staggering


  • +

    This machine does a fine job of rejuvenating dirty (and brand new) discs, so they look and, more importantly, sound significantly better


  • -

    Even after practice it can still be a bit of a sloppy process, with surplus cleaning fluid – which, admittedly, does no harm – spraying off the disc onto the deck

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If you need a record-cleaning machine (RcM), then there really is only the one option: Keith Monks.

Not only is the brand acknowledged as the best in its field; its products have been used by the BBc and other notables for some 40 years.

These genuinely professional machines are true heavy-duty workhorses engineered to clean records non-stop, all day and every day, if required. For example, the normal home of the customised vacuum pump they employ is a kidney dialysis machine, where failure is not an option.

This pump is used in every model across the range, so domestic buyers enjoy the same level of performance and reliability that the BBC, other major broadcasters and archivists experience.

Eco-friendly cleaning

The cleaning fluids recommended for use with the machines are Monks proprietary discovery solutions that contain no alcohol, artificial chemicals or additives.

Totally treehugger- friendly, the biodegradable liquids claim to remove all manner of contamination from records, including muck and grime from your charity-shop purchases and particle residue from pressing stampers on your brand new albums.

Damage prevention

The classic Mk.IIc is a single-brush cleaning system with a combined deck-mounted brush cradle and built-in fluid-dispensing system for 12-inch records.

It's supplied with a dedicated cleaning brush that's engineered to reach safely and effectively to the bottom of the record groove. Equally noteworthy is the proprietary vacuum-and-buffer-thread record-drying system, which safeguards the record from any potential damage while it's being dried.

The 'classic' name is entirely appropriate here, because this is a near exact copy of the original machine that was launched in 1969, except that it enjoys improved quality and reliability and better finishes, including classic White, Royal Blue and english oak.

As with the first machines, fluid is still applied to the disc using a manual screenwasher pump button from the Mini – that's the original Sir Alec issigonis/Leylanddesigned Mini and not the more recent BMW-built pretender.

Hefty machine

Getting to the stage of using the cleaner involves a little preparatory work, not the least of which is taking the classic out of its packaging. Don't try this unaided if you have any back problems, as the machine weighs 32kg.

Once it's unpacked, you need to fit a component that supports the cleaner's deck while you work inside, before removing a couple of transit fittings from the pump and the scrubbing brush. Then all that's left is to fit and adjust the counterweight on the suction arm.

Once you have your machine set up according to the comprehensive instructions (which would benefit from a few helpful illustrations for those who don't enjoy ploughing through pages of text), then it's time to fire up the cleaner and rejuvenate some vinyl.

It's worth kitting yourself out with a stock of new record sleeves, because there's little sense in putting your shiny discs back in the old ones.

Cleaning method

Operation of the machine is simplicity itself: having filled the cleaning-fluid reservoir, you place the record on the special platter mat and throw the main toggle switch to 'wash', which starts the assembly rotating.

You then position the record-cleaning brush over the disc and push the washer button to release the discovery liquid. The brush encourages the fluid to penetrate into the groove and dissolve or loosen any solid contaminants.

Finally, you swing the washer arm back to its rest position, switch the main switch to 'dry' and lower the suction arm onto the disc label, from where it tracks back to the outer edge of the disc, sucking up the fluid as it goes.

If you've applied the right amount of fluid you should end up with a perfectly dry disc ready to be flipped and have its bottom wiped, as it were. If you've applied too much you'll need to repeat the vacuum operation.

Impressive sound improvement

Judging exactly how much fluid to use so that records are both perfectly clean and dry when you take them off the classic Mk.IIc is something that you'll only learn by practising on a few LPs. There's no danger of causing any real damage here, but it's probably best not to use your favourite, irreplaceable discs until you've figured how many pushes of that Mini washer button work best for you.

Having ascertained that one full depression plus a half-hearted stab worked for us, we carefully introduced the classic Mk.IIc to one of our oldest albums, a 42-year-old chuck Berry recording that had been liberally and regularly dusted with cigarette ash and played on various Dansettes and music centres during our carefree teenage years.

After listening to this badly abused disc following the RCM's ministrations, we have to admit that we were more than delighted. As a matter of fact, we weren't far short of being amazed.

Certainly the absence of noise, clicks and pops was appreciable and welcome, but what delivered the killer punch was the increased amount of music that was being unearthed: subtle changes in Berry's guitar sound, inflexions in his voice, echo on the drums, even previously unnoticed bass lines all became overtly apparent.

Enhanced quality

Purchased in the 1980s from a record wholesale outfit housed under a filthy London railway arch, Barry Reynolds' I Scare Myself still sounded cosmetically flawless, so we were fascinated to hear how it would clean up.

To be honest, we weren't expecting much – certainly not the vibrancy and enhanced dynamics that the band exhibited after its wash and brush-up, nor the increased level of subtle detail that emerged out of the mixes.

Only one album, a very regularly played Joni Mitchell disc of dubious provenance, failed to show any immediate audible benefit after cleaning, but a second spin on the machine with a little more fluid and a touch more downforce applied to the vacuum arm finally did the trick.

The cleaning even seemed to eradicate the previously ever-present hint of sibilance in Joni's voice.

New depths

Even a 19-year-old clubber appreciated the effects of the classic Mk.IIc, when we cleaned and played The JAMs' album Shag Times and listened to Whitney Joins The JAMs.

Eere was a young man who'd heard many of the loudest and clearest PAs in the UK, being absolutely astounded by all the previously unheard information he could detect on a track with which he was very familiar.

Vocal clarity and instrumental timbre both showed dramatic improvements after cleaning, and the reduction in vinyl noise was equally remarkable.

Fresh experience

The beauty of the Keith Monks system is that as well as reviving old records, it can also improve the sound of fresh vinyl by washing away contaminants that remain on the disc after the manufacturing process.

We tested this by cleaning some brand new, never-played vinyl after using Monks's special BreakTheMold™ pre-wash fluid. The improvement was astonishing: guitars and voices sounded incredibly vibrant, fuller and richer harmonically.

On Off Night Backstreet, Joni Mitchell sings, "Maybe I'm just dramatising... I don't care", which might well be the delirious reaction to this device by any vinyl enthusiast who hears his or her albums after they've undergone a thorough laundromatting on the classic Mk.IIc, especially after hearing the wealth of previously undiscovered information waiting to be set free from those grooves.

The differences frequently seem on a par with changing from a £100 moving magnet cartridge to a £1,000 moving coil.

Essential audiophile purchase

Everyone with a cherished record collection needs access to one of these devices.

Hardcore vinyl fans with huge collections should buy their own, while everyone else might consider, perhaps, buying one with a group of like-minded friends in some sort of timesharing deal.

The purchase won't be one that anybody will regret.