Why I Quit Buying New Vinyl

Why I Quit Buying New Vinyl

Written by Rudy Radelic

Vinyl is a medium which my opinion is torn on.

I like the sound, the experience, the large cover art, and the ability to read the liner notes without a magnifying glass. It’s also a medium I can watch as it plays – I first played records when I was three years old and spent hours watching the LPs spin on the platter. I also formed a visual identity with each record label from a young age.

Yet, vinyl isn’t perfect. Pops, clicks, warpage, groove burn (wear), off-center spindle holes, recycled vinyl, and a handful of other issues sometimes make the format less than ideal. Some records play perfectly, while others can vary from a few defects to largely unplayable.

CDs were exciting to collect in the early days when old favorites were reissued, and when new releases finally made their way to the format. I had many enjoyable years, traveling down to a favorite record store every Friday evening, as they played tracks from the newest releases over the systems in the stores.

CDs were not without flaws either, although they were fewer in number. CD rot, cracking hubs, scratches (the worst of those being label-side scratches that could render an entire disc unplayable), and dirt could cause playback issues. The sound of early CDs often left a lot to be desired due to engineers learning a new format, primitive digital equipment, and the fact that the labels would use any available master tape as opposed to digging for original, good-sounding tapes.

Buying music as downloads gets around the physical playback issues, but you lose the tactile experience of owning and collecting your music. On the plus side, downloads often offer higher resolution than CDs, so that is attractive to some of us. (Although the music industry really needs to get back to 24-bit/88.2 kHz or 24-bit/96 kHz as a standard for “high-res,” as opposed to 24-bit/44.1 kHz, which seems to be growing in popularity – corporate America’s way of cheapening the product, as usual.)

So. Did I have a sudden revelation? Do I now hate vinyl?

Not at all.

It’s the type of vinyl I buy that has changed. I primarily buy vinyl that has never been reissued digitally, or never reissued in its original form (such as an album that may have been revised, remixed, re-sequenced and so on in later releases).

I also limit my purchases, when possible, to sealed, new old stock (NOS) records. In my experience over the past 15 years or so, the quality of the used records I’ve encountered has dipped substantially, mostly in terms of groove burn. Buying locally, I’ve found that about six in ten LPs purchased ended up on my reject pile because they had excessive wear. They may have looked good with a visual inspection and played with minimal noise after a cleaning, but groove wear is something that can’t be seen, or cured by cleaning the record.

I also discover older records that I have never been able to find sealed, and make the best of it by trying to purchase vinyl that is (hopefully) graded properly, which itself is an uncertain process. I’ve done well with the quality of some used records, but purchasing others was a dismal failure. I have, however, had much better luck through Discogs sellers than I have through any local purchases I have made in a long time. It’s a far cry from the 1990s when the stores had more good-quality vinyl than I could ever afford, even at their lower prices at the time (when everyone was dumping vinyl to buy CDs).

So, what changed?

To be honest, I’ve never had as many issues with buying sealed records as I have with buying new vinyl manufactured today. From where I’m sitting, I can glance over at my record shelves and spot the records that gave me problems. As much as I would like to post a “hall of shame” list of specific titles or labels I’ve had issues with, I won’t. But, I will point out the issues that have made me largely swear off buying newly-pressed vinyl.

  • Off-center pressings. This one has bothered me the most, and has happened in far greater numbers than it should. I can count on one hand how many off-center pressings I’ve purchased in decades past, and that includes buying new old stock sealed records manufactured decades ago. An off-center record was very rare. With records pressed in the past 15 or so years, however, that number is shamefully high. It’s even worse when buying a multi-LP set and one of the two records is off-center, rendering the entire set unacceptable. Also, can anyone explain to me how one side of an LP can be off-center? Most of the newer vinyl with concentricity issues I’ve purchased are worse on one side than the other.
  • Noisy vinyl. Granted, vinyl in the late 1970s and early 1980s could sometimes be of dismal quality, thanks to pressing plants using recycled vinyl. But in today’s world, aren’t we all using virgin vinyl? Yet I’ve purchased many new records that are noisy, and a trip or two through the record-cleaning process doesn’t help. I’ve also found that records pressed from colored vinyl are inherently noisy, with very few exceptions (there are some).
  • Scratches and scuffs. I have encountered a couple of LPs where I have seen physical damage on the record, fresh out of the sealed jacket. One of these was a nicely-mastered 2-LP set where, after obtaining two copies, I still could not Frankenstein together a good set. This is completely unacceptable. Other records I’ve purchased have had a light tick through one or two tracks on a side and sure enough, there’s a faint scratch in the vinyl. This is especially maddening when I pay a premium for a 2-LP 45 RPM set, and find it flawed in such a manner.
  • For the most part, I’ve had almost no issues with warpage, unless the records have had shipping damage. Yet there are still some that have minor warpage (like a “bump”) that is unexplainable.
  • Digital masters. I have noticed in some cases that the vinyl equivalent of a digitally-recorded album can sound different, even better. (And I have a theory as to why that is, but don’t have the space to explain it here.) Yet so many of these reissues start with compromised masters. Recent recordings are often “brickwalled” for digital release, and that same mastering ends up on the vinyl. I have also had some vinyl reissues (from a major label) that sound lifeless – the dynamics don’t sound “brickwalled” but the sound is somehow dull and flat.
  • This is what ultimately made me stop buying most new vinyl. With recent price increases, and the product I receive being a gamble in terms of quality, it’s not worth the expense or inconvenience. $25 to $60 or more for a title I’m interested in is money I don’t care to spend anymore. The recent fad of “single-stage” or “one-step” vinyl pressings (where stampers are made directly from the lacquer) elevates that cost even further.
  • Limited quantities, creating deliberate rarity. This isn’t so much a physical aspect of vinyl, but the idea of manufacturing albums in quantities small enough to get the vinyl collectors worked up into a frenzy. For someone simply wanting a copy of a record they would like to play, it pushes the price and availability out of reach. Making matters worse are the flippers who buy these up on the day of their release or through preorders, with no intention of opening them but instead, selling for a massive profit to collectors who missed out.


I was once caught up in a phase of buying new vinyl with no real rhyme or reason. Yet while looking at my shelves here, there are many of these LPs I’ve played only once, though they have been sitting here for several years. In a few cases, I wanted a complete collection of reissues, even if I didn’t care for all of the titles in the series. In others, I’d read glowing reviews of the sound or music, but was disappointed once I played the album. (And in some of those cases, the reviewers always seemed to get pristine copies, or at least never mentioned if their copies had any flaws, whereas mine ended up having one or more issues.) Some of these record purchases were impulse buys, which we are all guilty of.

Do I still buy new vinyl? Yes, but infrequently now. It’s often to support an artist I like (buying direct from their own online store), and it will often be for a rare edition not available through retail. Titles with a superior mastering from original tapes also catch my eye, but today I ask myself if I really need a record before I buy it, and just about always answer “no.”

Honestly, with the long list of titles on my want list at Discogs, most of which I can buy sealed new old stock copies of, I can safely say that I have plenty of vinyl purchases to make in the future which are not new vinyl. More than I can afford, in fact!

The bottom line is, I would probably partake in more new vinyl purchases if the cost weren’t prohibitive to me, and the quality wasn’t a moving target. For the prices asked, I deserve and demand far better than what I’ve often ended up purchasing.


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Ashley Ibarra.

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