Are you referring to new or used?
If new, I recommend trying to find reviews on the LP your wanting to buy by going to a site such as acousticsounds.com.
These are some of my resent labels that I have been very satisfied with--
-Clarity vinyl 45 reissues
-Anything from Candid (stacey kent dreamsville is like heaven!!)
-Stockfisch Records (german pressings) their Sara K Waterfalls is VERY IMPRESSIVE one of my favorites.
-Pure Pleasure Records
-Most Japanese pressings are very quiet..
I have found these record labels above to have superb pressing quality.
When buying a LP from Classic records, (im sure you have heard) it is really hit or miss. This is when I like to find reviews and for the most part they have been accurate.
As far as used vinyl, I just make sure it is in top condition and then I buy blind. There is alot of mint condition used vinyl out there. The hunt is fun.
Some labels are better than others (and it also depends on the years involved) but frankly it is a pretty much hit and miss affair.
Even with labels that have a good reputation, someone is going to get a record from the end of a stamper's production life or a record made with a blob of plastic that wasn't as pure as desired.
The big problem is that most people buy music because they like the artist or composition. If my favorite music happens to be on a crappy label, there is not a lot I can do about it.
The same thing is true of digital material. If my favorite music is compressed, over-processed and/or poorly mixed, it is a bit like a scrambled egg - it is pretty tough to unscramble.
At least with a new LP you can usually return a bad pressing for another try with a second copy.
For used lps, inspection by a trained eye is the best tool.
With experience, you can train your eyes to quickly inspect vinyl and determine the condition. Most vintage records that appear to be in good physical condition should be reasonably quiet and play properly, once properly cleaned.
Sometimes the trick is to be able able to distinguish a dirty record from one in good physical condition otherwise via visual inspection. It can be done reliably in most cases, but requires experience to train the eye on what to look for.
Also remember that the majority of lps exhibit some surface noise during playback and that this is normal. Its just part of the medium. lps can be near dead quiet under ideal conditions but seldom are in practice. If you want dead quiet background noise levels, that is a strength of digital, not vinyl.
For me, the greatest pleasure of vinyl these days is to pick up old lps that most no longer want for a pittance, clean them and then enjoy the quality sound often offered. With used lps, price is not an indicator of sound quality in many cases. You can pick up many fantastic sounding vintage titles from the golden age of vinyl for next to nothing at flea markets, yard sales, etc. these days.
I have a different viewpoint from Mapman about used vinyl. I am of the opinion that no amount of careful visual inspection can guarantee quiet vinyl. There are some LPs that look immaculate (i.e. no scratches, scuffs, dents or dings), but in fact have groove damage that makes them noisy.
The best way to buy used vinyl is to identify sellers from whom you've purchased vinyl who share your personal standards for grading LPs. Once you know that you and a seller have the same criteria, then you can be reasonably assured that when these sellers claim their vinyl is quiet, then it will be quiet.
So Mapman...what do you look for to detrmine good physical condition?...clearly any visual scratches are a no, no...but what else do you focus on to determine "good condition?"...thx
Another good site to search is Music Angle (Michael Fremer's web site) devoted to reviewing music. You can search a particular title and pull the review and there will be a rating on the music and the quality of the sound. The quality of sound incorporates both recording/mastering quality and the quality of the pressings.
Tvad's approach is a practical one. You are essentially relying on an expert to make the determination in advance for you on a title that you are interested in. That will work but will carry a cost premium of some sort which may or may not matter depending on the individual.
Groove damage is common and harder to spot reliably perhaps than other types of defects, like scratches, etc., but it can be done.
I typically buy a dozen or more used lps at a time when I find them, often for $1.00 or less. Its like picking out fruit at the market. If you are good at it, most of the time you can weed out the defective or damaged ones.
Many of these are titles I have never heard or heard of before that I am willing to try in the interest of new discoveries. Having been collecting for years, most titles that I really care about I probably already own. Inexpensive used lps are a very cost effective way to trow new waters musically, I find, especially if you are open minded to music recorded years ago, which is when vinyl was king.
I've probably acquired a couple hundred used lps over the last year this way and I would estimate less than 6 were unlistenable. 80% or more sounded very good or better (once cleaned).
Identifying good sounding lps is both an art and a science and can be very hit or miss though. But the audio rewards can be great, even if a few bad apples make it through inspection.
I've probably acquired a couple hundred used lps over the last year this way and I would estimate less than 6 were unlistenable. 80% or more sounded very good or better.
Mapman (System | Reviews | Threads | Answers)
The other part of this equation, and one that has been discussed at length in other threads, is the definition of what is listenable (or good , or quiet, or...insert term here). What we have learned through the discussions is that the term *listenable* varies greatly from individual to individual. Hence, the value in finding sellers that share your definitions.
"So Mapman...what do you look for to determine good physical condition?."
Good question. I'll try to relate:
1) obvious scratches or other physical defects like warping or off center cutting (not so much dirt on the surface, which can be removed via cleaning in most cases). Sometimes, what looks like a scratch is only a linear dirt pattern or other surface deposit, which is less audible and can be removed via cleaning if needed. You have to inspect closely in order to determine if it is a scratch that has physically impacted the grooves or not, or to what extent.
2) visible groove modulation/quality (this can be hard to determine reliably with the naked eye, but generally grooves cut with more visible modulation will deliver better dynamics). I will sometimes buy a low cost record in good shape otherwise just for this even if the artist or material is unknown or not relevant to me at the time.
3) sheen/surface texture (specular reflection). Many better sounding records that are not worn tend to reflect light more specularly (like a mirror) than those that are worn, which reflect light more diffusely. If you can detect minute rainbow color patterns in the closer spaced grooves, then that is often an indicator of good groove quality and high frequency modulation that delivers crisp performance at higher frequencies.
And so the Telefunken (dull lifless looking even when new)? will be passed by? Telefunken and a few others just ALWAYS look dull. The dull finish in no way is a marker (by itself) of a bad record.
If the LP has dull bands.. where someone played the same cuts 1,000,000 times.. that is a different matter.
I think I know what your saying about the Telefunken label and there may be other "less shiny" makes.
Would you say that given a reference Telefunken in good shape for comparison, one in lesser condition still might still be determined based on how it reflects light in comparison to the reference?
BTW, there are certain labels, like Telefunken and many of the commonly mentioned usual suspects, that I associate with high quality recordings in general. In these cases, I will often relax my recording quality standards for visual inspection that I apply in general more in that there is likely greater potential benefit to start with.
Its not what you should look for, its what you should listen for.
i agree with bob. when buying used vinyl at stores in my area, i can listen to the record with head phones. then i can at least gauge whether there is surface noise.
Speaking of potential groove wear, this is often a result of how many times the LP was played. Look at the amount of wear and small indentations around the center hole, also sleeve and dust jacket condition.
"i agree with bob. when buying used vinyl at stores in my area, i can listen to the record with head phones. then i can at least gauge whether there is surface noise."
I concur. I bring decent Shure Earbuds with me, which helps
a little over the ones in the store. Of course, no way to avoid the old rickety TT, and outdated Ratshack phono amp.
Tanglewood, is your moniker influenced by the famous Amphitheatre in the Berkshires.
I have found that some of the new 180 gram repressings are a jump ball. I have had some that are very good and some not. Case in point I am on my third 180 gram cat stevens tea for the tillerman album and they all sound poor even relative to some of my albums that i had in college 40 years ago. Definitely hit and miss but worth the effort.
Buy classical in multi-volume boxed sets. Many never got played even once.
Roughly half of our 3,000 LP's are these, nearly all bought off ebay. At least two thirds were never played before we received them.
Supply is often good, demand often thin, so prices can be low.
As always, it helps if your timing is good and you understand what you're looking at. People pay hundreds of dollars for Pierre Fournier's stunning performances of the Bach cello suites. I spotted them buried amongst an 11 volume, 120 LP Bach collection on pristine Archiv Production vinyl. Bought the whole collection, never played, for $.50 per LP.
Of course it helps to like music that lacks mass market appeal, and to have alot of shelf space!
I concur with Dougdeacon. USed classical multi-volume boxed sets are usually golden and very cost effective. I snatch them up whenever I find them for pennies a disc.
visual condition is a crapshoot, but historically thats the way vinyl is graded. if the cover is even slightly worn , the value to a collector plummets as well. these basics were around long before younger audiophiles got dooped into thinking the vinyl thing was nirvana. is it fun?...yeah..is it consistant?...never....Anyone with a significant record collection knows that the heartaches co-exist with the happiness...thats never going to change......the day you drive it off the lot, or the day the needle hits the groove there is no 'mint'. keeping it near mint for decades is an art in of itself.
One other thing. I will take a chance with an unknown seller on ebay for a hard to find lp I really want up to about $10 or so.
I would not drop more than that on most any lp unless it came certified from a reputable dealer.
Visual inspection works best for shopping a modern used lp bargain basement for cheap vinyl that has a high chance of sounding good. You can be assured to get a lot (I mean a LOT) of good new sound in your system this way (if you are willing to spend time cleaning lps properly as needed first) for the same price as many audiophiles spend on a single arbitrary cable upgrade.
Lots of great info. for me and others reading, thx.
Are recording companies like "Blind Pigs" "Chess" "Arhoolie" known for great recordings across the board reputation wise or is it still hit and miss.
Info. gathered it appears that one step prior to playing which ever I buy being new or used is to have a good record cleaner and make sure to clean first even if it looks good.
Effective cleaning before the LP's first play is indeed essential, both for best/quietest sound and for the longevity of the LP, whether new or used.
The stylus of a phono cartridge, depending on the model, may have a contact radius as small as 3-4 microns. As the groove spins along the stylus is deflected by obstacles too small to see without an electron microscope. The cartridge doesn't know whether any particular deflection was caused by a groove modulation ("music") or some speck of crud ("noise"), it generates a signal regardless. Quiet backgrounds require eliminating those specks of crud.
Non-solid contaminates like pressing mold release agents or lubricants like Gruv Glide also degrade the signal. They may make the background quieter by lubricating some of the microscopic specks, but it's a false quiet because that lubrication also prevents the stylus from seeing small groove modulations. Assuming a sufficiently resolving system, the sonic result is an attenuation of HF's (modulations of small wavelength) and low level details (modulations of small amplitude). Accurate reproduction of everything cut into the groove requires the removal of everything between stylus and vinyl before you play.
Regarding LP longevity, as Jaybo mentioned it takes an effort. Always remember that you're sliding a microscopic plastic groove beneath an extremely sharp diamond - under pressure. Any hard particulates will be scraped between plastic and diamond. Care to guess which surface loses? (Actually the answer is "both", but that's another topic.)
Play a dirty record even once and you've surely damaged it. The only question is, "How much damage and is my system good enough to detect it?"
The only thing I'd add to Doug's very nice description is that most people over 40 (a lot of people with large record collections these days) or so cannot hear the very high frequency on records anymore (above 12-14 khz or so I believe) in that we all lose that ability to some extent as our ears age. So the ear increasingly becomes a less reliable tool for determining the absolute quality of a record. if you do not believe me, play a test tone record or CD or do some other equivalent test of ability to hear different frequencies and see (hear) for yourself.
The good news is if you can't hear it, it may not matter if a record is in 100% perfect condition anymore. It will still likely sound very good!
I'm 55 and my ears still detect test tones to at least 15kHz. Paul's go significantly higher. Of course he hangs around by his toes and only flies out after dark.
Just how long do we have to wait before our records start sounding better, dammit?! LOL
I am 50 and have the same test record I had when I was 19 and it has only been played a few times since.
My system is totally different now than then, but way better in most every regard (I think).
At 19, I recall being able to hear everything up to the 20Khz test tone.
Last I tried about a year ago, I could only detect up to about 14khz or so as I recall. Absolutely nothing above that!
However, I am enjoying music on my system more than ever these days and I know my current system is leaps and bounds beyond what I had then.
So whether a blessing or a curse it is what it is?
There is an IMAX film on the human body that illustrates what happens to most all inside our ears over time in large screen high res format. Its analogous to what was described above regarding what the diamond stylus and dirt does to that plastic record. Is that ironic or what? Maybe there truly is a GOd that helps keep man's affairs, including vinyl listening parameters, in order!
In my experience, buying new LP's is an expensive risk. Sadly, the sound quality of at least 50% of new LP's I have purchased is simply awful. One example is Ray Brown's Soular Energy, on the Pure label with two "pretty" red LP's, is simply unlistenable with burned out highs. $50 wasted!!!
So my tip? Follow all the valuable advice already posted here and then hope for the best.
And, be sure to understand the return policy of your dealer.