Whether you’re buying a new vinyl record or second-hand ones from the flea markets, you have to spot good quality vinyl from a bad one.
The great thing about second-hand vinyl shops is that most of the custom vinyl records are in mint condition or have minimal damage.
If you want new ones though, especially for those new releases, then you can look for custom vinyl pressing news & articles on the internet. There are tons of releases nowadays so I’m sure you won’t quickly run out of copies.
To help you segregate good from bad quality vinyl records, whether new or used, here are 10 tips to keep in mind:
#1 Check out the record’s inner sleeve
A record’s inner sleeve can tell you many things already so this should be one of the things you pay attention to.
If the inner sleeves opening is the same as the jacket’s, then you must note that there is a high possibility of it being pulled in and out constantly.
If the mouth opens upward, then that would be better since it means that the record’s last owner was really taking care of it.
The inner sleeve’s seams can also tell us if the record was played a lot. If there is a seam rip on the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions of the inner sleeve then that means it has not been played much. And that’s a very good thing for you!
#2 Observe the inner sleeve when pulling out the record
The second tip is also the next step when you’re inspecting a second-hand record. After examining the inner sleeve, you of course have to pull the record out.
As you pull it out, pay attention to the inner sleeves. If you see it clinging to the record, then it means that the record was not constantly pulled out from it.
#3 Note the record’s overall look
Before you closely look at the record, note it’s first impression. Note how the record looked as a whole.
If the record looks lustrous then that would be great. But if the record looks flat and greyish. then it would be better to leave them where you found them, it’s a worn one.
#4 Check if the record has warps
Part of the first impressions, you should definitely check if there are warps on the vinyl record. There are obvious warps, but there are ones that are subtle.
To check, you have to position the record at eye level and look at it laterally along the record’s surface. If you see a wave, either upward or downward then that’s a warp right there. Some warps can be unwarped, but some are just too much that there’s no unwarping them.
#5 Inspect the record closely
After macro-inspecting the record, it’s time to micro-inspect. Look for dirt, hair, scratches, and small damages. Some may be visible at first look, but some aren’t. So I suggest you look very closely and scan surfaces repeatedly.
#5 Look for heat damages
Heat damages are much like warps, but these ones are on a smaller scale. They do not let the needle skip during playback, but they do create a “whooshing” sound. Bear in mind that heat damages may be accompanied by warping so examine them well.
#7 Examine the dirt on the record
Most dirt is visible at first glance and you can clean them without affecting its playback, so there’s no problem there. What would be problematic is that if the suspected dirt is not dirt at all but a scratch where grit has rubbed against.
To confirm it is indeed dirt, you can put a drop of water on your fingertip, rub it against the suspected dirt and clean it with the end of your shirt.
#8 Look out for scratches
Next on the list is to look out for scratches. Records are very prone to scratching and most records have them. But what you need to do is to determine if the scratch actually affects playback.
There are scratch looking things on the records surface that are not scratches at all, they may be hair or fur from people or pets. And if you’ve confirmed they are hair, don’t dust them off. You can leave them there and dust them off after paying the owner for a cheaper price.
There are also marks on the record that do not actually affect or only slightly affect the record’s sound when spinning on the turntable. Examples would be shallow scuffs that can be 1/16” to ½” and scratches that do not cross the banding between tracks.
The scratches that you have to be wary of, would be those that run diagonally, almost in parallel with the grooves. These will be the ones that cause the skipping needle. What’s worse is that they are harder to recognize since they are almost parallel with the grooves.
#9 Scan the edges of the record
You will of course need to scan the record’s edges. They’re the starting point of a side’s first track. It’s where the needle hits first, which means that there will be a lot of damage there if it has been played a lot. Remember to check the whole perimeter.
#10 Give the record a spin
Lastly, give it a spin. If you’re still wary of whether the record is good or not, then try listening to it. What better way to check, than to hear it for yourself.
Some good vinyl record thrift shops will have listening stations where turntables are available for you to use. But if you know that there is none, make sure to bring your own portable turntable.
And we have come to the end. I hope these tips helped you with your vinyl record shopping. If you’re still on your way, then good luck and enjoy being a vinyl record detective!