Any advice on buying quality vinyl


As I'm exploring my old vinyl collection with the addition of some new purchases, I'm wondering what the thoughts are on the quality of Mofi, Better Records and the like.  I have leaned toward Mobile Fidelity, but am put off by the insane prices on Better Records Hot Stampers.  Are they worth it?  Your experiences please.
udog
Ime great condition original pressings are still hard to beat.
Usually a good us clean and you are ready to rock.

I am sure you will get lots of varied opinions on this one.
Acoustic Sounds is a good place to get records. Don't have any experience with the hot stamper crowd. I suspect they are more hype than anything else.
I’d avoid both MoFi and Better Records. Absolutely seek out good original pressings, but no need to overpay to the level of "Better Records". Some of your cheapest records will turn out to be your favorite gems, after a good clean. That's part of the vinyl magic - don't give that up to the cash grabbers. MoFi have been really hit or miss (some can be good I guess). Some reissues can be great, but many of the "audiophile" reissues are so, so disappointing. Some RSD issues are great, but many are just lame. New music on vinyl can be lots of fun. Get used to DiscOgs for sourcing the rare and hard-to-find gaps in your collection, and also to scope out what pressings/variants are available with rough values & quality ratings.

Amazon can be really cheap & fast for new issues, but god help you if you like to receive your covers without dinged corners (at the least). Acoustic Sounds & Music Direct know how to properly pack vinyl. But I’ve been caught on the long end of a backorder some of the few times I’ve used M.D., so Elusive Disc probably gets highest ratings from me.
No Better Records is not hype. I've got a White Hot Stamper of Fleetwood Mac. People can whine, argue, whatever about the cost being worth it. What they cannot do is find anything better. The best of what they have is so much better than ANYTHING else I have EVER heard it is not even close. Honestly, I would never in my life have thought anything on vinyl, tape, or otherwise could even be that good. Granted I have never heard a studio master tape. Certainly nothing pressed can ever be any better than that. Whatever. Like I said, bring on the whiners and deniers, its just inexplicably unbelievably awesomely good sound. 

That said, the next big takeaway from this is they are right, no two records sound the same. Once I compared my run of the mill Fleetwood Mac to the otherworldly good WHS I started doing shootouts with some of the other dupes in my collection. The results so far are there are indeed no two copies yet that I have compared that sounded the same. ALWAYS there is one that sounds better. Not a little better. Not like you have to strain to hear. I'm talking like its darn obvious and right away. So obvious in fact that one time I even knew the copy I was playing was a dud and I hadn't even heard the other copy in over a week!

The dud by the way was a BRAND NEW Analogue Productions copy of Linda Ronstadt's What's New. A fabulous George Massenburg recording mastered by the legendary Doug Sax at the Mastering Lab.... RUINED by Analogue Productions! I mean I could only stand a few minutes then yanked it off and replaced it with my worn out old used record copy which sounds a whole lot better. Strings have just the right amount of bite, Linda's voice is THERE with enveloping acoustic, on and on. Much better.

Every shootout I have done, if you can find a decent sounding (not even especially good, just decent) original old pressing I can just about guarantee it will absolutely kill any heavy vinyl audiophile reissue no matter how much they overcharged you for it.
I only buy original pressings that includes some Japanese first release pressings, mostly from 70s. Yes, I have just a few records that I would call Mint condition, most are strong VG+ and NM/NM-, and I have a few rare very playable VG records. Prices I paid vary from $0.99 to $150, about $30-$35 on average plus shipping. 
Uberwaltz, I reached the same conclusion doing a test of three recordings of Madman Across The Water.  I played Tiny Dancer from all three records and the one that sounded the best , save for pops and clicks was my original Uni pressing from way back.  How are you able to determine what is an original pressing?
I think it is impossible to generalize. The attraction of the better audiophile reissue labels is new, usually clean playing LPs that may or may not sound better than an earlier pressing. It depends on the particular record, which usually means you have to dig down and learn about different pressings, compare them or rely on anecdotal comments from other people who have made such comparisons. I don't think there is one easy path.
The biggest limitation can often be the selection of material offered by the audiophile approved labels- in many instances it is the same stuff, reissued repeatedly, because there is an established market for known "best sellers." That said, if you need to fill out your collection of certain rock, jazz, etc. they are worth considering. 
But, if you want to push the envelope and look for less well known records, or are seeking out some records that have never really been bettered by modern masterings, you are in the world of older pressings. It is, for me, a continuing education, not just of the minutiae of pressing details (and how that correlates with sonics), but an ongoing exploration of different music that I wasn't familiar with, or simply ignored. This journey has led me to a lot of music I was unfamiliar with. 
For example, I had lost interest in straight ahead jazz. I had many of the warhorses- great records, to be sure, but I seldom listened to them. A friend turned me on to "spiritual jazz," a movement that took place in the early '70s after mainstream jazz became a dead letter commercially. I started to tap that vein- records from small labels like Strata East, Nimbus West and even smaller, private labels. Some have been reissued (Pure Pleasure has done a number of them, and despite their opaqueness about source material, the ones I've bought sound quite good and are far cheaper than the original pressings, condition is less of an issue, etc.). Speakers Corner did a remaster of Herbie Hancock's Crossings, another eclectic spiritual jazz record that is cheaper and in my comparison, sounds better than a time capsule original US pressing.
I think you have to figure out an entry point. Are there particular records you are seeking? You can research anecdotal comments on "best" pressings. Are you looking for new to you music? Lot's of things to read, and sample. There are any number of lists, including comments here and on other fora, about what people like.
This sounds like work, but it is fun work, and you learn quite a bit along the way about music history, pressings and your taste. I am also listening to a lot more different music than I did 20 or 30 years ago and really enjoy finding things that are a little off the mainstream path. Treat it as an adventure and you will be rewarded accordingly.
"I think it is impossible to generalize."   +1(a plethora of variables)   
+1 with whart on this. It’s work and you have to be patient and visit used record stores and thrift stores when possible and learn (very important) how to visually "hear" the quality of the groove as you tilt the record in good lighting to see and evaluate the condition. Having said that, there will be disappointments. I like stores that allow me to listen to a recording, at least a track per side of my choosing. Discogs is good. I don’t trust Hot Stamper stuff. MoFi is hit or miss. Classic Records has, for most part, been ok, but I got burned with a defective Peter Gabriel 2 on the lead in. Back to Black has consistently been a good bet.

Good luck! This is part of the fun because, when you get a really good pressing, it makes the effort all worthwhile!

And, if you don't already own one, get yourself a good record cleaning machine!
How are you able to determine what is an original pressing?


thats what Discogs is for, and also the vast majority of sellers there are reliable and of course you get full pricing data. Even if buying from other sources you should use it to check prices
What Bill suggests would be a part time job and possibly big expenses. As for obscure musicians, anyone can play like Miles or McLaughlin ? Never liked Hancock, by the way. I stopped listening to classical jazz a long time ago too, though.
I wouldn’t assume that the ’original pressing’ is necessarily the best sounding copy either. On the early Elton John records, I found that the early DJMs from the UK sounded better than the US pressings from the same period. But among those, there are differences in sound, e.g. Tumbleweed has several iterations, with different stamper numbers and each sounds different, and that’s just among the UK pressings from a limited period of time.
@inna-- it’s more time than money in some cases-- but yes, even buying half a dozen different copies of a common record could add up. I’ve sort of backed into it many times, where I had some vaunted audiophile copy and compared it to a more common old record and preferred the latter. Not always though. As to anybody better than Miles or McLaughlin? I’m not sure that’s the point for me. I listen to a lot of different stuff.
The fun to me is finding records that are sleepers, musically and sonically, where you don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for something you enjoy. On the other hand, I have spent money on certain records, a subject we discussed at some point here, I think.
What’s also interesting to me is that a lot of the lore about different pressings really came after the fact, from collectors and bin divers and sound hounds. Many of the record companies back in the day just had ’em made and done- it was a commodity. Nobody was sitting there at the time saying "man, I really think the last pressing run we did was a killer."
I think there are deep narrow pockets of knowledge across the spectrum- some folks know Deccas, or EMIs from the period in classical, or Blue Notes in jazz. Me, I’m a dilettante -- I’ll find something interesting, do some research, buy some copies and see what I think. I also listen to a lot of early hard rock, folk, some prog, and each of those has its own following and knowledge base.
If I were just starting out, I’d probably look for Warner US pressings, typically the earlier the better, from the green label onward; UK Islands- , pink label, onwards; not that I shop by label, but both had good catalogs and pretty good sound. Plus, there’s a fair amount of anecdotal information on pressing variations on the web that is fairly easy to extract.
It’s a subject that is a full time job for collectors- but the collector thing is different than seeking out the best sounding pressing. You bang against collectors sometimes though, because the better sounding copy may also be rare or desirable. The cost of some of these can get nuts (and condition is always an issue, something I’m not sure the collector market is quite as focused on-- visuals and completeness are important, but noise free grooves? Good luck). That’s where the reissues can be a good alternative.
udog I think what most people mean by original pressings is just that they aren't reissues. Original pressings could be made over many years. There could even be reissues made during the same time the original is still being run. Original pressing in other words is not to be confused with first run.

None of that matters, not really. Only thing that really matters is how good it sounds in your system. As you learned and as I have found the oldest/noisiest often turns out to have the best sound. I am still looking to see if I have ANY MoFi or other "audiophile" reissues that sound as good. So far none do. Huge waste of money. Oh well. Live and learn.
Hard to be sure what is the first run and what is not, I just follow catalog numbers.
If you are a good musician it is real easy to demonstrate it anywhere.
I even heard on youtube and a few times live in New York City some quite good street musicians. No recordings in most cases, I guess.
One homeless British guitar player on streets of Paris was most impressive - very much in line with fusion era Miles. Another was sax player on 5th Avenue, very deep into the blues.
I bought two brand new vinyl few weeks ago at Target in a sale.
Both new pressings, not reissues or remastered.
One, Mumford&Sons is just flat and tuneless, lifeless in the extreme.
The other, Traces by Steve Perry is excellent, very well done and is actually one of my goto reference recordings now as it is minus pops etc and exceedingly good SQ.

But I would have to say that was more luck than judgement.

Playing right now though is a $1 Kinks album on Arista label and it is divine.
udog,

I have bought 2 different Super Hot Stampers, the second best record Better Records sells out of a set of the same albums.  In both cases, the original records I've had since college both sounded better than the records from Better Records.  Granted, it was not a White Hot Stamper--their best, but I'd have to say, I was more than disappointed.  Tom is good about taking records back and refunding you promptly.

I agree about MoFi records can be good or just average.  The vinyl has always been quiet consistently though.  If you are going to spend over $50 for a record, it had better be rare or it needs to sound good--great would be better.

The 180 grams or 200 gram records are also a maybe as to the sound quality and are they worth the extra money.  All this is probably not what you wanted to hear.

Bob


listening to #235 MoFi of Hiatt - Bring the Family last eve...worth the premium I paid on discogs for an unopened copy...time is money and sometimes money is time travel....yowsa...heard stuff I didnt know was there....big A smile...

of course, not all MoFi hit that mark

I do heavily rely on about ten people on this board - posters on this thread and bdp24 of course...and a few others, and Discogs...and I am a bin scrounger...have some $1 David Lindley and JJ Cale that must be blackhole swallowed a white hot supernova stampers...

God, those are fun to find..

and YES get a decent record cleaning machine and stylus cleaner !!!!!

have fun

enjoy the music, and NEW music...
"The 180 grams or 200 gram records are also a maybe as to the sound quality and are they worth the extra money. All this is probably not what you wanted to hear."

I always thought my limp noodle, Bowie RCA Dynaflex albums sound great!

As mentioned by others, sound quality can be all over the place, even with period presses. I believe it may only guarantee getting closer  to the source.

"Greatest Hits" albums also are disappointing.


If you want to get involved, we have ongoing/active music threads that should be of interest to you.
Older analog recorded records are more consistent in sound quality and the original presses or close to 1st press are usually pretty good.  For example I have Black Sabbath Master of Reality on Green Label Warner Brothers 1st press and a palm tree later pressing and I like the palm tree press better but thy are both all analog, no digital in the chain.
Sometimes it is not really better/worse but different. As an example,  original US 360 sound and Japanese first release Bitches Brew by Miles. I like them both and listen to them both. Japanese vinyl is of higher quality, the records sound quieter and more balanced than the US pressing. But Miles's trumpet sounds a little closer to real on the US one. They are both original pressings in my mind. I tried a few re-issues including mo-fi and they all sounded worse. Didn't try Mosaic box release, though. Wish You Were Here sounds better on first release Japanese vinyl than on German, didn't try original UK, original US was worse than German.

Hi

I apologize in advance for my long-winded post, but I am passionate about vinyl.

I have been collecting and playing vinyl for 40 years. I am also an entry-level audiophile with greater aspirations than my current budget, but I have had some very good sounding systems.

To put my vinyl experience in context I will offer this: I have run an online vinyl site buying and selling quality vinyl records for 22 years. I always carefully clean and play-grade my vinyl before selling. I also make note of things that are important to collectors and audiophiles like the deadwax, or matrix, information and jacket notes. Better Records is a frequent customer of mine, although I do not know if any of my records end up as “White Hot Stampers”. I can say the following with confidence. First, although I have not bought any records from BR, from what I have read, most customers are very satisfied. Tom does a good job of comparing copies and looking for copies with the best sonics- and they do exist, but they are not all that elusive. I don’t think it’s that difficult to find copies with outstanding sonics.

But my caveat is that if you are hunting for quality sonics, the matrix is only the start. I support this by saying that I play and list, maybe, 50-100 records a week. I also love hunting for records. While the information in the matrix is important, it is not always the best indicator of good sonics. Of course, the condition is key. But there are potential condition problems that cannot be seen by just inspecting and visually grading a record alone, I believe that the error with ebay is that most sellers will not take the time to play a record while they are listing it. The lack of a sonic evaluation and the subjectivity of grading standards is what has led to a lot of bad juju with eBay.

Play-grading thousands of records has sensitized me to groove wear. In spite of what some sellers claim, you cannot see groove wear, unless you have at least a 1000x scope. Yes, you can see things like “Cue Burn”. But groove wear can be caused by several factors and it cannot be found unless you play a record with a good system, have good listening skills and play your records with a stylus that gets down to where groove wear exists or does not. I have had many records that looked great but sounded horrible because the groove topography was just worn out.

Another factor that contributes to good sonics is the pressing order. I am not talking about pressing release or first pressing as many sellers describe it. I am talking about whether the record was pressed when the stamper was fresh, or near the end of its useful life. There is no way to know this, and only playing a record, and having some listening experience with multiple copies of the same, can you have some base of comparison. That said, I put a lot of importance on “promo” copies. Not the gold-stamped one’s from the 80’s and 90’s, but the real white label, radio station, promo copies. These are usually sonic treasures because they were almost assuredly pressed early when the stampers are fresh.

With the above in mind, I will offer that first pressings and ED1 (original releases), in spite of what most sellers want you to believe, and causal collectors believe to be true, they are not always the best sounding pressings. Neither are thicker records (160 grams and above). Some of the ultra-skinny RCA Dynaflex records do sound great. Some records with later stamper designations, and (re) cut releases also sound better than earlier audio masters and stampings.

With the above in mind, there are some rules of thumb I work with when hunting for records with better sonics:

I look for the recording engineer, mastering engineer and/or audio mastering studio in the deadwax. You can find lots of discussion in the Steve Hoffman Music Forums on this. Certainly, jazz fans will recognize gems that have Rudy Van Gelder (“RVG”) in the deadwax. Records that have Robert “Bob” Ludwig “R.L.” scribed in the deadwax are good indicators of sonic quality. Rock records mastered by George Peckham (“Pecko”), George Piros (“GP”) and Allen Zentz are also good indicators. Records with the Mastering Studio such as; “STERLING” and “MASTERDISK” scribed in the deadwax are also good indicators. Pressing plants also show up in the deadwax. If you know how to decode that information. There is a belief that certain plants made better copies. I cannot prove, or disprove this….yet.

I have also found that records indicating a direct metal mastering (“DMM”), direct to disc (D2D), half-speed, and some 45 rpm EP releases to have superior sonics compared to regular pressings.

Running noise is a big problem for me, especially the older RCA records. I have listened to hundreds of otherwise clean (NM), but noisy, early stereo, and early Living Stereo copies. I have also opened and listened to many RCA sealed records from the late 1950’s through the mid 1960’s. I am convinced, after opening and playing these sealed records, that the plasticizer that RCA used in their vinyl compound did not age well and became brittle over time contributing to a heightened noise floor. I compare these early RCA pressings to the same age DGG, and some later DG classical record pressings and the DGG/DG records usually play black quiet.I am very hesitant to buy the high-priced, early, Living Stereo copies.

Finally, obsession counts. Most audiophiles know this. Carefully clean your records (another rabbit hole). Keep your cartridge and tonearm tweaked. Keep your stylus immaculately clean (after every record) to get the best sound that survives in the grooves.


 I found original pressings usually best and low stampers.CBS half speeds are almost always better though than originals.I stopped buying reissues years ago just not happening.Yes record wear is a huge difference on the same pressings,dramatic on some and unseen.RCA living stereo's are the most difficult records to clean.It took my years to figure how to get rid of their noise,it takes time and many cleanings and playings but worth it.I have many reissued copies which are laughably inferior to my original 1S's and CD reissues.Just look at ebay prices of NM original presses in 60's rock and RCA's they have gone way up recently.The reason? Better sound most of the time.Just my experience having played vinyl over 50 years.
I like my formula best...….. which is this...…..

I buy and listen for myself.
@voiceofvinyl. Awesome post !!!!!
please PM your business name to me
i use discogs

@playpen: "RCA living stereo’s are the most difficult records to clean. It took my years to figure how to get rid of their noise,it takes time and many cleanings and playings but worth it"

Yes and...I have spent years experimenting with cleaning methods and chemistry. The current manual approach I use is as good as, if not better, than most machines including ultrasonic units. I have done the comparisons.

Deep cleaning RCA’s does help some but there is a perceptible noise floor on most I have listened to, even sealed records (I have grudgingly opened). There have been some exceptions of course, but I attribute those that play very quietly to ideal storage conditions. For most RCA’s, under average conditions, they don’t age as well as equally old records from other premium labels from DECCA and Deutsche Grammophon Gesellshaft.

Maybe we should compare notes sometime on cleaning records?. 
This is hijacking the thread, sorry....

I will assume RCA was aware of the noise floor in their late 50's and 60's pressings because they tried to fix the problem with their Dynaflex pressings in 1969. 

A quote from a site: "Opinions from record collectors and audiophiles are divided as to Dynaflex's sound quality. Some felt that the sound quality actually improved, due to better processes for removing impurities in the vinyl compounds" 

Whether you like the thinner (floppier) pressings and ignoring whether it was a smoke screen to sell less expensive (to make) LP's, RCA claimed a new "miracle surface" that played quieter. Actually, the problem was either impurities in the vinyl (not virgin vinyl) or the plasticizers that were not doing their job. 
 
Wasn’t it "Dynagroove"- Dynaflex was just thinner, right? Hans Fantel was famously touting Dynagroove back in the day.
I don’t mind thinner records.
A copy of this came in yesterday, on this thinnest vinyl I think I’ve ever encountered. Staggering, sonically and sublime musically. Not easy to find. 
https://flic.kr/p/23WrviD
@voiceofvinyl,

I can appreciate your expertise as a veteran record dealer, but are you seriously suggesting that DGG is to be compared to Decca? It's a generally acknowledged fact that the vast majority of DGG records sound mediocre and dynamically flat compared to any vintage RCA and Mercury, let alone Decca.

I don't know where your quote is coming from, but as fas as I know there isn't much debate amongst audiophiles that RCA's Dynaflex - like their equally desastrous Dynagroove mastering procedure - was one of the biggest backward steps in the history of the gramophone. The suggestion that Dynaflex was an attempt to fix noisy vinyl is one of the strangest things I've ever read on this topic.

Besides I don't understand where you get the idea that early RCA Living Stereo pressings are noisier than others from that era. In my experience the Indianapolis pressings (easily recognized by the 'I' in the dead wax) are mostly dead quiet, just like the early Mercury Living Presence records that were also manufactured there.

The Indy pressings are generally considered the benchmark of quality for classical stereo records in the late 50's and early 60's, along with Decca's New Malden pressings. This is why original pressings on both these labels are coveted by audiophile collectors, who generally ignore DGG and Dynaflex era RCA's.



@edgwear,

I was only saying that most of the early DGG and some later DG pressings play black quiet.

As far as the sonics, yes, I find that the some of the early DGG red stereo pressings have a very natural tonality, good soundstage and great transients- as good as the best DECCA ffss blue backs and Speaker Corner issues I have listened to. My Asian audiophile buyers seem to feel that way as well. That said, not all DECCA labels are high-quality, you know that.

I don’t like the RCA Dynagroove pressings myself. The later Dynaflex (floppies) are too thin for me as they seem to allow rumble to interfere with the reproduction. But the sonics on some are excellent.

The quote I shared was from an RCA history site I archived. If it is accurate, then I can only assume that RCA engineers were aware of a running noise problem.

My experience with early RCA Living Stereo records is different than yours. I do hear audible running noise on most. Even the sealed Indianapolis copies my curiosity has compelled me to open and sample. I can’t argue it- it’s just there on most I play. In general, I find early German pressings and later Japanese pressings to play black quiet. The vinyl on mint copies of these also looks different to my eyes- they look like a sheet of black glass. The early RCA vinyl looks brittle and is prone to be slightly cloudy looking.

My listening experience may differ from a lot of collectors and audiophiles. I only offer it. 
@voiceofvinyl,

I must be one lucky fellow then. You made me go and play a number of my early LSC's and the background is just silent. For the record, I have cleaned all my classical records in three steps: Vinylzyme Gold, Quality Service cleaning fluid (a Dutch product) and purified water for rinsing on a VPI 16.5. A tedious and time consuming process, but I've learned that this first step with the enzyme mixture is crucial in removing organic contamination that builds up over the years on those old records, especially if stored in damp surroundings. Perhaps this first step has been particularly beneficial to those RCA's.

I'm sure you know that during the 70's the pressing, mastering and (perhaps) recording technology improved considerably with labels like Decca and HMV. To some extend this also applies to DGG, especially some of the 70's recordings made in Boston with Ozawa come close to the Decca benchmark. As much as we all love the late 50's early 60's performances by Ansermet, Cluytens, Klemperer et al, but the technology of the day was limited.

In contrast RCA engineering and sonics took a big step back with Dynagroove and Dynaflex. The same trend can be observed with Mercury and Columbia. Might it be true that US record labels reacted differently to mass market forces than did their European counterparts? I dunno, but this Atlantic divide is curious to say the least.

BTW I'm just a collector and with classical records I've reached saturation point many years ago, so there's no agenda here.



Contact Mike Fremmer he knows this stuff every well.
Voiceofvinyl,agree with just about everything you say.The red shaded dog RCA living stereo's are the most frustrating to clean,it would be interesting to compare our cleaning results out on the track.Most of mine play quiet only after extensive 4 to 5 cleanings.They need to be reversed dredged cleaned.Some of mine were fairly quiet and got horrible after cleaning,this crud would clog the stylus with terrible noise.I had to work on one 5 times to get it manually cleaned and replayed but it turned into a different recording,much better depth and soundstage.I love my final product and compared to DGG and any reissues they are unlistenable.I find most of the Dynagrooves certainly not up to the black label earlier ones.Surprisingly one Camden does sound remarkably good out of my bunch.It amazes me just how much better almost any stereo RCA LP sounds with extensive multiple cleanings compared to what I thought they were only after one I did years ago.They went from ho hum to a new plain of performance,incredible for 60 year old vinyl.Great to read your extensive posts.
Post removed 

Cleaning is very, very important. I have had similar experiences with older records and have a dedicated turntable just to dredge out the stuff in the grooves that was loosened, but not removed, with cleaning. Sometimes I have to clean my stylus 2-3 times while playing after cleaning. The work invested makes it worth it for some treasured LP's.

I am by no means an expert on recording and mastering and the changes in the industry from the late 50's through the 1970's. Some of my audiophile friends here in Connecticut seem to be. They say that a lot of the recordings made in the late 50's/early 60's are spectacular precisely because their was less technology involved. The miking was simple (not a "forest of mics"), recordings were two-track and on tube-driven equipment. The dynamics of the original were preserved because there was little, or no, compression used, especially with the DECCA and other UK labels. Steve Hoffman claims there is a “breathe of life” in these simpler, early pressings. My listening to these seems to confirm this. Some early DECCA stereo pressings are startling in their realism.

On the DGG red stereo "Alle H" pressings from the late 50's and early 60's and their sonics, I will just maintain that my experience differs from others. I have found some to be world-class...... and black quiet. Some of the DG pressings are excellent as you noted.

The general opinion I have read is that Dynagroove (tech) destroyed the sonics for those with high-end systems, but improved the sonics for those with low-end or mid-fi systems. I am always running into advice that says if you're playing a Dynagroove record with an elliptical stylus (which came into popular use shortly after the introduction of Dynagroove) that you should switch out the cartridge and use one with a conical stylus with a .7 mil spherical tip to get a better audio experience from them.


I will add that cleaning older records is very difficult because of several factors, including the fact that, according to a paper I read published by SHURE, the stylus running at 33-1/3 rpm’s contacts two microscopically small points on the groove walls. The pressure on these points of contact is approx. 26 tons per square inch. The implications of this are obvious for stylus wear. However, I believe (no proof yet) this same pressure, and the heat of friction on the groove walls, also momentarily softens the vinyl and causes debris to stick to the groove walls. Normal cleaning methods have a tough time removing that debris.

Also, this same article talks about the effect on the stylus causing wear "flats" that act like chisels that fracture the vinyl wall. The wave crests created by this condition also contributes to a worsening of the reproduction, but my opinion is that the tiny shattered vinyl bits get stuck in the bottom of the grooves where they are very difficult to remove with micro-fiber pads. Perhaps this is why playing a record shortly after cleaning dredges out the stubborn stuff. I used a very fine-tipped, and inexpensive, conical stylus for my "play-cleaning".

The paper was originally published in 1954 when cartridges ran at higher weights and styli were not as good as we now enjoy but, many older records could be very hard to clean because of the playing that they saw early in their life.

Too much information perhaps, but I find this stuff very interesting....
@edgewear, 

I applaud your cleaning procedures. I have never tried Vinylzyme. Residual organic (mold) could be the source of the running noise I am hearing on older RCA records. I have been trying to mechanically agitate all the crud out with various materials and procedures. I have kept everything manual but have tried ultrasonic machines and I don't think they are worth the money for the result- even though the science is very compelling. I have avoided using targeted chemistry as an aid because I wanted to keep the cleaning fluid I use very simple: Dawn and distilled water. No alcohol. No wetting agents. Maybe its time to experiment. Thanks.  

@playpen, 
I like your tenacity. I think the reason the cleaned records may have sounded horrible after cleaning was that the embedded debris had its bond broken by the detergents and maybe the change in the electrical charge- enough to be dredged out by your stylus. I have found the same to be true which is why I mentioned earlier that I actually use a turntable to "play-clean" as part of my method. 

My apologees to the OP for hijacking this thread.  
I have found in discussions that there is a need for clarifying terms.

I use "original pressings" to describe ED1 or original releases.

I use "first stampers" to describe the first stamper sets in a run. Later releases and recuts can also have first stampers. Also, I think first pressings of Columbia and RCA releases don’t always use "1A" in the deadwax.

As I said earlier, for me, pressing order has the biggest effect on the sonics, besides condition, and there’s no way to know the pressing order except if you look for white label promos with the right matrix numbers. In general. WL promos are worth the hunt because the sonics seem to be better.
I agree with the consensus. Clean, clean, clean.

I use an ultrasonic lab grade machine, running at 80KHz, in a 45C chemistry of lab grade detergent, followed by heroic rinsing in distilled water.

Yes, it's expensive, but the results can be quite spectacular - I would say at least as much as doubling the price of a major component. Added to that, the grunge that is removed (which includes diamond dust) is no longer grinding and reshaping your stylus, so in case of an expensive retip, the US setup is virtually free.
Those tube based recordings from the golden age of stereo are incredibly lifelike, no argument there. Less (technology) was more. But the mastering equipment had a limited frequency range, so records made in those days could not approach the sonic quality of the master tape. This gap narrowed considerably in 1968, when Neumann introduced a new disc cutting lathe (the SX-68) able to reproduce up to 20kHz. Unfortunately recording technology also changed drastically with the introduction of solid state multitracking (and multimiking). More (technology) became less.

According to your information RCA’s Dynagroove system was tailored to low end systems with spherical tips, just when elliptical tips were becoming more mainstream (the 60’s was a spherical world). This does indeed suggest they bended over to their marketing division. Dynaflex was the thin icing on the cake.

As for those supposedly noisy early LSC’s, I decided to do a little experiment. I remembered I have two pressings of one of their sonic spectaculars: the complete Albeniz Iberia from 1961, conducted by Jean Morel. I have both the LSC 6094 shaded dog (Indy pressing with 1S,1S,1S,3S lacquers) and the SB-2131/32 (3D,2D,2D,3D lacquers) mastered and pressed by UK Decca, who had a licensing agreement with RCA. Both copies are near mint condition, they both went through the same cleaning procedure and were both played with a Transfiguration Proteus MC cartridge. The experiment showed that both pressings have completely silent backgrounds. Sonically they were very close as well, but I’d give the edge to the LSC. It has slightly more dynamic range and is definitely more controlled in the loudest tutti passages.

What would be responsible for the difference: better tape source, better mastering or perhaps better vinyl?


In my experience all records sound a little better with each subsequent cleaning, even after three or four times. I use Okki Nokki machine and Audio Intelligent fluids, pre-cleaner plus three step solutions. 
@edgewear,

Nice experiment. To be very candid, I am at the edge of my competency now. Of the three choices. I have heard that back in those days, 2nd gen copies, used for mastering, would be flown to other pressing sites so that rules out tape source? I would guess that better mastering, which includes both the equipment and the person behind the console and running the lathe. As far as I can tell from cruising Steve Hoffman's forums, he talks about a "breathe of life" (tonality) in the early shaded dog Living Stereos. I can't seem to find, in these same forums, a strong reason for that difference. 

As good as the sonics are, I still struggle to get one's that run quietly. I guess it's just the lot I run into, rather than the quality of the vinyl or the poor aging of the vinyl. 

I still struggle to understand why recently opened, 60-year-old copies that show no signs of moisture damage, mold, or excessive heat would play with a low-level running noise. It's not my system. I play other LP's all the time that run CD quiet.

Maybe I need to find a stylus that rides higher in the groove....
Interestingly, to me anyway, I read somewhere that some labels including RCA are no longer flying or shipping original master tapes overseas- they are just too valuable. So either the lacquers have to be cut stateside or they are sending digital masters. The latter is what I heard was being done. That might also explain any difference people are hearing in newer audiophile (re) releases?
@voiceofvinyl,

I certainly don't have all the facts, but apparently the industry practice was either to send lacquers to foreign markets (used on location to press the discs) or to send second generation copies of the master tape and have the mastering done over there (usually under some licensing agreement). Even in those days it seems that record companies were reluctant to ship around their original master tapes. This might explain why original pressings made in the home country of the record company usually sound best. And also why in the above comparison of the Albeniz the US pressed LSC sounds slightly better than the UK pressed SB. 

But to complicate matters the agreement between RCA and Decca also involved recording. Many of RCA's recordings made in Europe (mostly with London orchestras or the VPO in Vienna) were made by Decca recording engineers like Kenneth Wilkinson. Obviously Decca did the mastering and pressing of the UK issues of these recordings, but did they also use the master tapes (which they made themselves)? I have no idea.

So I did another experiment: Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique by the VPO conducted by Pierre Monteux and recorded by Decca. In this case the UK pressed SB-2090 (1M,2L lacquers) sounds better than the US pressed LSC-2362 (2S,4S lacquers). This outcome suggests that Decca had access to the original tapes, but of course as legal owners so did RCA.

I admit to speculation here, but IF both companies used the original tapes for making these records, the Decca mastering engineers had the edge over their US collegues. But perhaps this is totally wrong. Perhaps a 1S/1S copy of the LSC sounds best of all, who knows?

So there's really only one way to find out: listen for yourself! That's just the advise you were waiting for, right? ;-).



Thanks for all the great replies.  Lots to consider.  Question for @inna, I have an Okki Nokki, where do you get your Audio Intelligent fluids, pre-cleaner plus three step solutions?  
Maybe this is a question for a new thread, but do you prefer older earlier pressings with the pops and clicks or the newer audiophile releases.  Case in point, as with my early discussion of Elton John recordings, today I was confronted with the choice of an Elektra version of Queen's A Night At The Opera or a new audiophile recording.  I chose the older recording and have been happy save for a few clicks and pops.  
Analog record playing is not an audio "level" as much as it is an audio "experience."  You know....the record case, sleeve, groove cleaner, turntable, tonearm, platter...etc. It is an outdated system that someone thought was retro cool and decided to confuse a lot of people with "retro-cool" hype.  It is still the same limited, flawed analog system it always was. 

But what it does provide is a really cool looking playback device - the turntable.  I get that....appearance is cool and part of the experience.  Audio hacks with time to kill have convinced their clueless buddies that this is the platform of the future.  Yes...it certainly sounds different from digital audio...but not better.  Sony and Phillips replaced the LP with a disc with far superior sonic capability.  Don't even try to argue that.  Scientists and audio engineers way smarter than you and I have trumped that notion.
Dynaquestst4 you are obviously a troll! I never post in these sites because of the ridiculous things people say! I had to this time. The same old response from someone who obviously has no clue about the sound of analog and how much better it is than digital. I went right into digital in the beginning of cd’s. I believed the same  quack statement that they’re so much better than analog. I listened to digital for twenty years until I made a comparison on the crappy Technics turntable, with an Audio Technica cartridge I had kept. Boy were my ears, yes ears were opened. All those years, there was something bothering me about the sound. It never quite sounded like I remembered albums sounding. I couldn’t figure out why my ears would hurt after a listening session until I made the comparison. I’m sorry but their is more information in the grooves of a record than any digital can accomplish. Especially if you clean, yes clean, your vinyl with an ultrasonic cleaner. Pops and clicks are almost nonexistent. More information is retrieved from the grooves. The better equipment you buy, especially the cartridge, has shown more and more revealing sounds that have always been on the tape, but earlier turntables and cartridges could not reproduce them. Even digital recordings, yes digital, sound better on vinyl then in its digital form ie: streaming, cd’s etc. Probably because it has been put into an analog waveform. Every person that has heard my system has switched to vinyl. Young and old friends. I wish people could just hear what really good analog sounds like. Digital cuts out a lot of the music information because of its waveform. It’s not nostalgia or the cool factor of the equipment. IT’S THE SOUND!!! If you like digital great. I like it for things that are not on vinyl. I just wish people would get over this debate. Digital does not sound better than analog. It is convenient. That is all. I’ve heard top notch digital and I still get listening fatigue. Digital has come a long way, but it has not surpassed analog. Sony knew in the beginning that digital did not sound better, but they wanted to give people convenience. If you did not live at that time, then you do not know what things sounded like. I lived through it. I drank the Kool-Aid in the beginning along with everybody else, except Michael Fremer. I wish I would have listened to him. It would have saved me a lot of money!

Dynaquest, I recorded all my vinyl to R2R tape; consequently, I no longer do all the cool stuff that you mentioned, I only enjoy a higher quality audio.

When CD's came out, everyone except audiophiles in HEA, thought the same as you; including me.

While it costs a few extra Pesos, Yen, Drachma, or whatever currency you have handy, Analog, meaning vinyl and high end rig will handily exceed CD. Scrape up some funds and join the party.
dynaquest writes "Scientists and audio engineers way smarter than you and I have trumped that notion."

Not scientists. Marketing types may say that, but it's not true. Some scientists can read a theorem and understand it.