Buy a record cleaner and you will be shocked at what a high % of used vinyl will sound just great. I have the bottom of the line VPI and it works great. Obviously damaged vinyl and stuff that is just plain worn out won't go but most people play a very small % of the records they collect so most used records are in decent shape. Ebay and Audiogon sellers are a good place to find decent deals if you can't find anything locally. Clean your collection on a good cleaner and you won't believe the difference.
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Buy a record cleaner and you will be shocked at what a high % of used vinyl will sound just great.Absolutely required - especially for used vinyl. Some clean them manually - which didn't work for me as I lacked the patience.
When buying used vinyl I do a visual inspection. I personally care less about the jacket than I do the vinyl itself - though I would obviously prefer a record with both in great condition. After cleaning I always put the LP in a new sleeve, and dispose the old (unless it has info printed on it).
I went for about 15 years without playing my personal vinyl collection that I acquired in the '70's - early '80's, and after my kids were raised resurrected my TT and began buying more records. At first I was really disappointed in the sound of my personal collection. I assumed it was all worn out. After buying a VPI 16.5 I learned a good cleaning made them like new. I have bought some fairly gnarly looking $.50 LPs at thrift shops and after cleaning they sound as good as a lot of new vinyl I buy.
I agree with Bdgregory that the look (and the smell) of the cover is irrelevant to the quality of the sound to be heard from the record. Even if the record is dirty (dust, finger prints, etc.) it is not tragic (it should be washed thoroughly). Essential for the quality of the sound reproduction from vinyl record is, that the disc is without (deeper/auditory) scratches, that it is flat, not "exentric" and that the grooves are not deformed/damaged by the previous playing (with a deformed/worn needle, improper setting or playing unclean record). The latter is hardly to detect without playing the record on the turntable.
Cleaning is mandatory. I use a Nitty Gritty f1.5 and it does the job. I make my own cleaning solution so I'm not concerned about cost of fluids. We have a Half Price Book Store which carries a good supply of vinyl and tons of CD's. The best part is the money back guarantee (7 days) or store credit (30 days) after purchase. I have spent as little as .25 and as much as $15 for albums that sound great and are not available anymore. Check the yellow pages for stores you may not know about in your area. Long live vinyl.
You need to be able to clean the records thoroughly and properly, either with machine or by hand. Either can work well. There is a thread here on A'gon somewhere about manual record cleaning techniques if interested.
The key for me buying used records, assuming cover is in acceptable condition, is being able to determine whether an old direty, gnarly looking record just needs a good cleaning or whether there is groove damage or surface defects like scratches that will detract from teh material and not go away with cleaning. I will say I have a pretty good eye for this from experience and seldom make mistakes buying records that are not listenable, but it is an art based on science that you can only achieve from experience.
The trick is to observe how light reflects off the records surface. The difference between groove wear or scratches and dirty records with grooves in good physical condition that a good cleaning can recover can be detected with teh naked eye with reasonable certainty based on how the light reflects from teh surface of the record.
Severely warped records are also worth staying away from. The amount of warp in a record can be estimated by looking at the record from the side from multiple angles and looking for obvious deviations from a flat plane.
Yes, and it is worth keeping some decent lined paper replacement record inner sleeves around and use these with the used records as needed for protection if current inner sleeves are dirty or severely worn or torn. You can by these for reasonable price of vendors on amazon and ebay.
Excellent advice from Mapman. Try to find the best available lighting in the shop when checking the records.
For cleaning, I don't like vacuum cleaning machines. They are too noisy. Here's my review of the Gem Dandy, which I still stand by (I think the Spin Clean has taken over as the cheap record cleaner, though I haven't tried it.)
If you haven't seen this thing, it's basically some PVC, nuts, washers, and a pressure hose that allows you to use a jet of water to clean Lps without getting the label wet.
So far it seems to be doing a good job quieting down vinyl and playback is smoother. I haven't had the courage to use the Groove Lube stuff they supply.
Their cleaning fluid is definitely alcohol based.
The most inconvenient thing about it will probably be having to remove the faucet aerator for every record cleaning session.
The most convenient thing about it is the much lower noise level. It sounds like you think a pressure washer might sound. But you certainly won't need earplugs like I do when I use my Nitty Gritty, and if you have housemates I think they'll appreciate the much lower noise level. Probably useable when the wife and kids have gone to bed.
Now the question of value. At $149, I think this is purposely priced just a little below the Kab RCM. The Gem Dandy is made of all standard PVC parts and metal nuts and bolts, and looks like any reasonably handy person with the right tools could put one together in an afternoon. It certainly doesn't look worth $149 in parts and labor (the cleaning fluid and the groove lube kit is included, though). And I think they could have at least included a starter pack of drying cloths.
However, given that I'm unreasonably unhandy, that Merrill have put together most everything you need, and that it seems to work well without making me go deaf, I think it will easily pay for itself. It makes cleaning records almost pleasant.
And maybe Mapleshade will come out with a knockoff at half the price.
Record cleaning machine is a must.
This may sound stupid but ask a the seller if they had a tape deck too. I bought many records from guys who had a tape deck and dubbed the record to tape and rarely played the LP. Most of the records were in almost perfect shape.
Like Mapman said, check the reflection of the grooves in bright light. The ones that have a dark luster are in pretty good condition, while the ones that are worn out will have a greyish look.
Damaged or water wrinkled covers are an indicator the vinyl itself can also be damaged.
First rule of thumb for me when buying used vinyl in a store, is to find a place where there is preferably sunlight, or natural light. I then pullout my LPs of interest in this spot and start one by one critically observing the entire surfaces starting with the outer rim for excessive finger prints and sleeve wear (paper sleeves can really embed paper particles in the grooves here if stored tightly over time with friction applied; sliding a record in an out of a tight storage space). The outer covers will usually exhibit "ring wear" in this case. Then working my way to the dead wax.
I've learned to identify what an "acceptable" scuff looks like (one that makes little to no noise) and what one that will cause distortion looks like (I've scuffed LPs myself at various degrees of intensity to discover the effects it has on play back).
I will not buy an LP that is scratched period. No matter how badly I want it or how long I've waited to find it. This is a tough rule to follow, but one I am firm about after being burned 99% of the time.
I look for luster (the rainbow in the vinyl - natural sunlight helps here). A dull grey LP is less than optimal but if it has no scuffs/scratches (or exceptable scuffs, I'll buy it as most old used vinyl falls in this category.) Even dull grey vinyl can get it's groove (luster) back after a good washing with a good RCM.
I typically wont buy a pre-cleaned LP (these will show luster most times) because I'm particular about the fluids I use and can not vouch for the previous owners choice (did they use an alcohol base clearer (don't like them) and/or methods. Also, knowing the effort to properly clean 1 record, I find it impossible to believe someone selling pre-washed LPs takes the time and effort to properly clean them with good fluids. Look for fluids in the grooves (looks milky white) quick hand washed records are easily identifiable because they exhibit a noticeable "whipping" surface film on the vinyl.
Good luck! Buying and finding used vinyl treasures is a favorite activity of mine in this hobby.
"Buying and finding used vinyl treasures is a favorite activity of mine in this hobby"
Ditto. I listen mostly to music server these days but am always on the lookout for underappreciated nice vinyl treasures in good condition on the cheap!
I love picking up some obscure old muzak title from the golden age of vinyl in near mint condition for $1.00 at the Goodwill store just to hear what that particular recording from years ago sounds like.
It almost always sounds 1000% better and generally most involving on the rig I have today (which I could never afford in my youth) than on any I owned back when vinyl and more limited funds for me was still the norm.
There is a lot of great advice on this thread:
I completely agree with Audiofeil's advice on visual ratings. Even with great sellers, you can get the occasional dud that looks great.
If you are trying to buy more collectible, i.e. expensive records, find a few sellers you trust and establish a good relationship with them. When you get the occasional dud, a good seller will graciously allow a return.
Box sets, especially classical sets, are often rarely played and usually offer great value.
Certain record labels offer consistently great sonics, others not so great. It pays to do a little research before bidding.
Know whether or not you are getting a first pressing (which typically sound better and are more valuable). It pays to recognize the labels, producers, etc.
A good record cleaner is a must.
Good luck. Finding great old records is the one of the most enjoyable parts of the hobby.
We have regular record shows at cities throughout southwestern ontario pretty much evry few weeks all year round. One vendor, whose stuff generally looks really pretty good tend to drop his prices to a buck for anything around 2 in the afternoon to reduce his load goin home. It never fails, about half the stuff I pick up there (its a real shame because I have had some really good finds)tends to have a huge amount of surface noise. I clean them with my vpi before playing. I'm guessing that he cleans them with something too harsh. There is nothing untoward about the appearance. I have had some really great finds at flea markets, thrift shops and record shows. It's all part of the fun of this hobby. I think I have added nearly 2000 used lps to my collection over the past few years. Used good jazz is harder to find but some of the newer Bluenote rereleases are great.
Avoid the super shiny LPs. Someone just sprayed them with some Tire shine or other crap. They are super shiny, so You can get to know the look. Once you see one, you'll know what I mean. Even really crappy worn out records superficially look good when 'shined up'.
I've run across "shiny" LPs quite a bit in my travels - they look so "unnatural" I avoid at every turn. Even after multiple washings a record will never shine like this not to mention sound any good.
"Prices on 'gon for vinyl is ridiculous"
Gotta agree the 'gon is not the place to shop for vinyl. The love of vinyl here elevates prices beyond what you would find most anywhere else in the real world in many cases.
The pricing here is skewed by the hunger for sound quality. Sound quality (as opposed to record condition which is different) has little bearing on record prices in the real world.
Whoops, I should have said "vinyl" not "records". Bad marketing on my part....
Having been buying and selling lps for four decades some simple rules apply:
1). Find a bricks and mortar record store that doesn't stock junk (i.e. dusty & warped copies of all of Elton John's recorded output) and whose employees do not resemble to sociopaths from "High Fidelty". If they grade records well and price accordingly and they discuss music intelligently, stick with 'em.
2). Ebay is an absolutely wonderful resource (as is A'gon)ONCE you have established sellers of repute. If you are buying unseen you might inquire if the seller uses a dedicated lp mailer and bubble wrap rather than pieces of the box his pizza was delivered in.
3). It's been noted previously, a record vacuum - even the Record Doctor's basic model - is essential.
4). Protect yor investments w/quality inner and outer record sleeves.
Best wishes. The music and record buying is where the enjoyment resides in this hobby.
This thread should become a sticky - there are a lot of good tricks and tips that have been mentioned so far. My 2 cents worth is:
1- Universally, the worst LPs as a class are rock & roll; especially "classic rock". It's so bad that I won't even bother to inspect a used Beatles or Stones LP unless I know or trust the seller.
2- Conversely, the best class is almost always classical and opera. As someone mentioned, box sets are almost always a good bet. Pay attention to your label and who actually made the LPs, though.
3- I won't buy any LP that smells of mold or mildew. This tens to be a big prolem with garage sale LPs, in my experience. I know that I can clean them up, but I'm not going to take the time and I just do not want them in the house.
4- I won't buy scratched albums, period. It's just not worth it. Inspect all sides of all LPs in a multi-album or box set, but 99% of the time Side 1 is in the worst condition.
5- Learn to recognize the differences between scratches and scuffs on the LP surface that are not audible.
6- While I prefer pristine album covers (who doesn't?), most aren't. Some labels used poor construction and/or bad glue, especially some import labels. If the LP is in good shape it's still worth buying, assuming that it is not water damaged. See note 3.
7- I agree with everyone who has stated that vacuum cleaning is a must. I do not like the Spin Clean for deep cleaning, it just doesn't get the job done for me. But I do think that it's handy as a pre-cleaning device to get the surface dirt off of the LPs before I take them to the VPI cleaner.
The suggestions regarding record cleaning are all absolutely correct. I have a Loricraft PRC3 which I upgraded to after many years of a home made machine. At 1500 you might say it is not cheap, but I think you should think about spending as much on your record cleaning solution as every other piece of the analog chain - cartridge, TT, arm. phon-preamp. It is at least, if not more important than all of these. There is nothing you can do to improve a dirty record no matter what you spend on other components.
As far as used record advice. I have collected about 2000 early jazz used records over the past 10 years. Most of them early Blue Notes, Prestige, Atlantic etc. You won't even find these if you restrict yourself to a local market. You have got to go to Ebay or the larger record fairs/retailers. Most of these records don't come cheap.
I have always been amazed at the durability of vinyl. Moldy, dusty dirty records can be cleaned up to sound wonderful. Scratched and abused records cannot. You have to learn the sellers reputation. Ebay is alot better now than in the early days. Most sellers offer no questions asked 7 day money back guaranty and I probably return 10% of the records I buy as less than satisfactory and have never had an issue. Happy hunting.
Thus far, most people have only commented on the actual condition of the album. There are many other aspects to consider about the album itself, including the recording.
1) Beware of mono recordings. Some people do like mono recordings, but personally, I do not. Before stereo existed, albums never had "mono" or "stereo" printed on them, because all that existed was mono. Others may be able to comment on when stereo albums began to appear, but typically, albums released in the 60s and 70s will say "stereo" if they are stereo. Stereo was a big deal at that time since it was new, so it's likely to be printed somewhere on the album or album cover.
2) If you are shopping for classical albums, pay attention to the label/recording company. I am still learning which labels are the best, but ones that I always prefer are Deutsche Grammophon, RCA Red Seal, Angel, and others. Once you learn all the good labels, you can then proceed with caution when purchasing albums made by off brands.
3) Original pressings may often times sound better than the new "audiophile" pressings. You can always use google to look up an album's "code", which will then tell you when the pressing was from. I think the original pressings sound better many times because the master tape used to create the pressing was brand new. I jumped on the audiophile re-release bandwagon a short while back, but quickly realized they don't always sound great. Some of the newer pressings are even made from digital masters, which to me completely defeats the purpose.
Jwglista's advice is good but I have to disagree with the statement "Beware of mono recordings". I like; make that love mono recordings. Vintage 1954-1969 mono recordings are among the best sounding LPs I own. To repeat; certain labels are well known for better sonics.
Many mono LPs were played (and damaged) with older stereo cartridges and much of the noise will go away if you use a dedicated mono cartridge. If your not hunting for certain records, i.e. original mono Blue Notes, the mono pressings are often cheaper and sound better. In my experience, early stereo recordings are of variable quality. You limit yourself from enjoying a number of great performances, especially if you are a jazz or classical afficianado.
I've tried to get into mono recordings, but I just can't. I'm sure there are many that sound great, but it just doesn't sound enjoyable to my ears. I didn't mean to start a stereo/mono argument, just wanted to point out that if you don't want mono, then you have to pay close attention to albums. To each his/her own.
I seek out and listen to mono recordings for the same reason I look for 78s - there is a large body of music available in these formats that you just won't find on stereo recordings. But unlike most 78s, mono LPs actually sound great. But in order to achieve the best you need to use a good (not necessarily expensive) mono cartridge. I won't go into a detailed explanation here - there are many, many previous posts that discuss this in detail.
There is a wealth of great info here. One thing I am a little surprised no one has mentioned is the fingernail test for scratches on used LP's. Gently run your fingernail across the scratch - if you can feel it, you will certainly hear it, and do not purchase the LP. If you can't feel it, this is not a guarantee that you won't hear it, but there is a good chance that you won't.
I have found this fingernail test to be much more reliable than visual inspection. Many times I have cleaned an LP that looked fine visually and then turned out to have groove damage that was not visible, even looking at it after I knew the location of the damage.
Visual inspection will also almost never reveal whether or not an LP has a great deal of surface noise from the pressing. I can't tell you how many times I have been disappointed by the RCA "shaded dogs" in this particular respect. Sometimes an LP was just pressed badly, and no amount of cleaning will fix it.
Speaking of cleaning, I agree that a RCM is a must. I also highly recommend the AIVS fluids - I have had some very good results using their three-step process.
Ditto here on a RCM with the following caveat. I have a VPI 16.5 and use the AIVS stuff and a friend has a Loricraft. We did an experiment where I cleaned a batch of records from the late 50s to the early 60s on my VPI. I carted the records over to my friends house where we first listened to establish a baseline and then re-cleaned the records on his Loricraft. No contest, everything sounded much better than they did using just the VPI. To ensure that it wasnt multiple cleanings that was the cause of the improvement, I brought the records back home, re-listened again to re-establish the baseline and then re-cleaned on the VPI. I never got past the first disc as it regressed to the pre-Loricraft condition. My best guess is that the concentrated suction of the Loricraft removed more of the fluid out of the grooves. A Loricraft is on my wish list.
My best advice is to befriend collectors in your local area. I stumbled into several of these early on in my collecting life and the friendships that developed over the years have been extremely rewarding first on a personal basis and then also from a building a collection standpoint. From my experience, these guys love to play DJ and will endlessly spin records for you. These guys also tend to have large collections with duplicates that may send your way after the relationship is established. Also, these guys have years of experience and know the best sources for records.
The corollary to the above paragraph is to develop relationships/friendships with dealers. Your local collectors can help facilitate this. The benefits from this are many. Heres a couple of things that have happened to me. The larger of these dealers will only include an item on their list for set number of times before it goes in a discard file if it hasnt sold. How would you like to get a call from said dealer letting you know that the pile is getting large and he will sell you any disc in the pile for a buck? Yes, it does help being a good and consistent customer. Scenario number 2. Dealer gets a large batch (about 15k) of records in thats loaded with the type of stuff you like (being a good customer, he knows what you like). The problem is the stuff in the pile doesnt have enough value to make it worth while for the dealer to individually list so he plans to sell them in bulk to foreign buyers. You get a call that you came come and cull records out at 3 bucks a disc. Lots of fun and well worth the hours of driving required.
Thanks for the great tips, I have taken your advice and ordered the affordable VPI 16.5 RCM with sleeves and extras. I must say this thread was a pleasure to read as there is a lot of good ideas here. Especially nice to read because no one got off topic, no one hijacked the thread, and no petty pissing matches.
The Loricraft sounds nice, but out of my price range at this time.
This is indeed a wonderful thread! Adding my $0.02:
I often take a chance on less than pristine looking used vinyl if the price is right. I attend a local record show near my home every 3 months. I do most of my buying at this show. Last Sunday, I spent about $125, and came home with all kinds of great LPs, about 50 of them, plus a few CDs (guilty as charged, your honor). It's a big show with numerous vendors, so time is limited. I am there when it opens at 10 am, and usually when it closes at 4 pm.
When I see a record I want, but does not look too good, I will try to pay as little as possible for it. One vendor, when I told him I would buy about 10 LPs from him, but told him to put back a somewhat scratched one that I didn't want, just gave it to me. Heck, free is good.
As to cleaning, I can't speak about the Loricraft, which seems well reguarded here, but I have been using a KAB EV1 for several years. It costs about $160, and uses your own canister vacuum. It's like a manual version of a Nitty Gritty machine. See it at KABUSA.com. As the KAB web site says, you can spend more, and get more automated features and an internal vacuum, but your records will not get any cleaner.
Although I can appreciate the advantages of multi-step cleaning and other more labor-intensive methods, I am just too lazy to bother. When the vinyl underneath all the grime and dirt is good, it sounds wonderful on my rig.