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Buying vinyl is very hit and miss and can be very frustrating. Like you said there are a lot of hipster labels that put out trash. I have found the company Acoustic Sounds to put out very consistent high quality vinyl. You just have to make sure that they are the one's pressing the vinyl and it is coming from the original master tapes. I always call over there and discuss it with someone before I buy. I know it's more time consuming this way but you have a better chance of getting the better quality vinyl this way.
Certain artists are known to care a great deal about the sound quality of their recordings. Ry Cooder, for example, works very hard at getting good tone out of his guitars and amps (and succeeding magnificently!), and did the first digital Pop album (Bop Till You Drop), but hated the sound of his guitar on that album. When he heard a Water Lily album, he was stunned, and has been on a few WL albums. Recorded sound quality is not reliably recording studio related, but more recording engineer related. One studio in which a fair number of good soundings albums have been recorded, however, is Ocean Way in Santa Monica, California.
Music Direct and Acoustic Sounds are direct competitors, each with a associated record company wholly owned by the company or its principal. Music Direct (principal-Jim Davis) owns Mobile Fidelity and its assets including mastering chain.
Chad Kassem owns Acoustic Sounds as well as Analogue Productions/Quality Record Pressing and is making an all out assault to be engaged in every aspect of record production from mastering to pressing the biscuits to printing the record jackets to selling the final product.
There are also Soundstagedirect, Elusive Disc and others. For getting my records delivered without bends, folds, dents, etc--Acoustic Sounds and Soundstagedirect are the best.
They all compete so when one has a holiday sale, the others often follow.
martinman---Hey, does "martin" refer to your acoustic guitar? I have a few friends with Martin's---great guitar!
Ocean Way is a recording STUDIO, not a label. Recordings made there appear on many different labels. I haven't looked, but Ocean Way most likely has a website, where there may be a client list. Mike Fremer often mentions the studio a recording was made at in his LP reviews---maybe a search on Analog Planet will provide you with a list of recordings done at Ocean Way. I know Ry Cooder has recorded there (as has Elvis Costello and many others), and liked the results.
SpeakersCorner, GrooveNote are a couple other companies I have gotten excellent records from. The whole recording chain though is as important. Pretty much anything Daniel Lanois as a producer(or musician(BlackDub)touched floated my boat, for example. Pallas is a great pressing plant and can be a good sign. The Zappa reissues cut at Pallas remastered from Original tape and mastered by Grundman pretty much blow my mind. MusicMatters is another label that seems worth checking out but no personal experience.
I placed an order with acousticsounds and just received it yesterday. I'll be checking it out this weekend. I'm sooo impressed with the catalog!
I'm pretty down on music direct. Last year I ordered some of the Pink Floyd reissues - wish you were here and dark side. Dark side arrived late (by like 3 weeks) and the package was damaged to the point that the vinyl was scratched. I had to call them and figure out where they sent it as the tracking info was stale. They gave me such a hard time on an exchange. Eventually, after talking to a manager, they offered an exchange, but wanted me to pay shipping back. Ridiculous. Since then, I will *never* order anything from them. Very poor customer service.
As much as I like the staff at Music Direct, I have never understood the company's stubborn refusal to properly pack vinyl for shipping. Acoustic Sounds creates that cardboard slope at each end of the vinyl cardboard package which absorb corner dents that ALWAYS happen in shipping, Soundstagedirect has internal cardboard bumpers that do so as well. I don't recall the last time I received a album jacket that was damaged anywhere based on the great packaging by both of the above.
Music Direct's packing, with its hard 90 degree corners near the corner of the album jacket practically exacerbate the corner crushes that occur in shipping and often crush at least one corner of the album or albums within. I realize it's not the end of the world but why should I bother with them when I can get a clean new album from another co. By the way, I have alerted MD to the problem a few times over the years but to no avail. So I rarely buy from them anymore. Am I alone?
gpgr4blu -- I will never order anything from Music Direct again. Based on my experience with their customer service. I ordered $50 worth of vinyl not a $5k amplifier. Ridiculous. You're exactly right about the packaging. In total, my package was bounced around for 3 weeks in the back of a USPS truck. It clearly wasn't prepared for the journey adequately.
I prefer to buy LPs in a store locally. But then I live in the desert, and for much of the year the temperature inside a delivery truck out here is insane. Luckily there are stores not too far away that actually stock and sell LPs. When I do have to go mail order, I call and have the package held at the local distribution center, and pick it up there.