Similarly to the new Pro-Ject VC-E2, the larger VC-S3 promises several upgrades. But does the larger model have the edge over its more compact counterpart? Is it better at cleaning vinyl records?
Pro-Ject’s flagship vacuum record cleaning machine has undergone several upgrades over the years, moving from a simple MDF construction to the much more durable aluminum chassis we know today.
The latest S3 edition brings another round of improvements (most of which are also featured on the compact version, including the new magnetic clamp, a new-look improved cabinet design, and a new self-adhesive arm strip.
What stands out as different about the VC-S3 is the new vacuum motor, which is said to feature aluminum mounting pads and a cataphoretic surface treatment.
The cataphoretic treatment should make the design much less susceptible to corrosion, which for heavy users should put their minds at rest for any concerns surrounding rust.
New Magnetic Clamp
The new magnetic record clamp replaces the old screw-on design, which Pro-Ject claim secures the record and seals the label, while being quicker to operate – thus, speeding up the entire process.
Having also tested out the smaller VC-E2 model, which has the same clamp upgrade, I can vouch for the new design. Not only is it quicker to secure records, but the spindle is kinder to your records in the absence of a metal thread.
New Felt Arm Strip
The felt strip is a minor upgrade. On my original Pro-Ject VC-E model, there are two separate strips in parallel (see comparison image below). Pro-Ject claim the new strip results in “better cleaning”, but the main advantage from my perspective is that the strips are easier to replace.
The new cabinet design features additional rounded corner braces, which, as I concluded in my review of the VC-E2, definitely improves the aesthetic and likely adds some strength too.
Pro-Ject VC-S3 vs VC-E2
The first obvious difference between the VC-S3 and E2 is size. The S3 is significantly bigger, which for many record collectors, may force the decision in favor of the compact design.
If you can make room for the S3, you’ll benefit from the larger tank for vacuumed cleaning liquid and the new cataphoretic finished motor design.
If I was a commercial record dealer or a record store, both of these features would appeal to the point where I’d make room, quite frankly.
The VC-S3 also benefits from a side-venting design and a handy water tank capacity indicator. The latter does not feature on the compact model, making it quite difficult to check if the tank needs emptying.
If you only clean a few records at a time, this may be a non-issue for you as the record cleaning fluid will simply evaporate from the tank on its own.
As for the vent position, this could be viewed as a benefit over the compact E2 as the top-facing vent position was a common criticism of the original compact design, which could cause small amounts of splash-back onto the record. That said, the vent cover on the new E2 essentially corrects this problem.
One small criticism I have about the vent on the S3 is the cover. I’d prefer the plastic cover to sit flush with the unit and I did find it quite tricky to get off and back on again. Making the plastic cover piece just a little smaller would easily fix this issue.
The cover is removable so you can use the supplied funnel to drain the tank without spilling used record cleaning fluid everywhere.
On Test: Pro-Ject VC-S3
Having reviewed the previous version of this machine, and being the owner of an original compact model, I’ve always found the cleaning performance of both to be identical.
Both models have a strong but safe vacuum power, which does a great job of cleaning records in a way that speeds up and improves on cleaning records by hand or using a record bath (such as the SpinClean, for example).
I always like to use a carbon fiber record brush to dry clean a record before using record cleaning fluid. In my experience, this improves the results as it gets rid of all the loose dust and debris first, allowing the wet cleaning process to work on more stubborn contaminants.
That said, just to demonstrate the proficiency of these machines, I took a used record that was caked in dust and put it straight onto the VC-S3.
The record (pictured below) is a copy of Dire Straits Brothers in Arms. The record had clearly never been cleaned, making it a good test subject.
Pro-Ject do supply their own goat’s hair brush and a small bottle of their now pre-mixed “Wash it 2” record cleaning fluid, but I find I get better results using the GrooveWasher BlackMagic pad and their G2/G3 record cleaning fluid.
The BlackMagic pad is excellent for applying a gentle mechanical cleaning using very fine fibers before vacuuming up the fluid.
If you’d like to try GrooveWasher products out for yourself, you can do so for 10% less using my code SOUNDMATTERS10 on checkout. I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Check groovewasher.com
That said, the Pro-Ject goat’s hair brush and cleaning fluid are great for getting you started right out of the box, and the “Wash it” formula is even safe to use on shellac records; perfect for those old 78s.
The Pro-Ject VC-S3 did an outstanding job of cleaning a dust-caked record straight from the old sleeve.
Copyright issues make before and after samples quite tricky for these reviews, but I can play the run-in groove. You can hear the before and after of this in the video clip embedded in this review page.
One/two rotations clockwise and anti-clockwise using the motor rocker switch is usually enough the remove all the record cleaning fluid, leaving the surface dry and ready to spin.
Leaving the record cleaning fluid on the surface for a good amount of time greatly improves the cleaning result (in my experience). This is because the fluid then has time to work, allowing the emulsifiers and surfactants time to go to work on the dust and grime, holding unwanted contaminants in suspension ready to be removed by the vacuum process.
The Bottom Line: Which is Better, the VC-S3 or the VC-E2?
Which machine should you choose? The VC-S3? or its baby brother, the compact VC-E2?
On cleaning performance, both machines perform the same job and produce the same results.
For my money, most home users can pick up the compact model and not look back. I’ve owned mine for a few years now, and it’s become a staple in my record cleaning routine.
That said, if you are cleaning very large amounts of records regularly (say you’re a record store or an online seller) the larger tank and the handy capacity indicator on the side do come in handy.
If you have the space and budget, the larger version is still the flagship Pro-Ject record cleaning machine, and with the improved motor with cataphoretic surface treatment, it does provide peace of mind if the machine will see intensive use.