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    Why I Quit Buying New Vinyl

    Issue 167

    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.

    9 comments on “Why I Quit Buying New Vinyl”

    1. 100% agree. I cannot tell you how many new records I had to send back. That’s why I still pefer used record stores where I can preview and inspect any disc I buy. The price of those “Ultra High” qualilty pressings is shameful for the quality some people end up with. Now, when I spend $30-50, I’m actually more nervous than excited about a new record, because I know I might be heading back to the post office later in the day. I have returned the SAME record twice for different problems.

      1. I agree, and there are some sellers who won’t even take returns on vinyl. That is one thing that soured me on Record Store Day releases as well–I picked up the 10-inch Sinatra Songs for Young Lovers and it had constant noise throughout. Dearborn Music? Nope, sorry…their policy, on a large sign right at checkout, was that all RSD sales are final! (To add insult to injury, I later found copies on Discogs for far less money. Needless to say, I haven’t set foot in their store since then.)

        In the 70s and 80s, if it was bad, back it went…and they handed me a fresh copy to try. And records weren’t stupid money back then.

    2. IMHO, I think that there is far too much space wasted on vinyl here in Copper in proportion to those of us who listen exclusively to digital-discs and streaming. I see the same thing in Stereophile. From the numerous articles and advertisements, one would think that vinyl has suddenly taken over the Hi-Fi market.
      I have never had to return a defective disc. Streaming provides all the music you could ever want. Why return to the dark ages !

    3. The reason I have stopped buying all vinyl is because digital has finally caught up and surpassed vinyl for sound quality. A world-class ($100K) digital system (e.g., Taiko Extreme + Nagra HD DAC X) will sound better than a similarly priced vinyl system… not to mention you can spend a lot more on a vinyl playback system.
      Look- there are many limitations with vinyl that cannot be fixed, regardless of price or device.

    4. The music is all important but the hobby aspect is also important or we wouldn’t be discussing all these nuances. I consider the space devoted to vinyl valuable; I am not a digital guy but do not consider that space as wasted.
      I listen to a lot of music from the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. I derive joy from learning about which pressing is best, who the mastering engineer was, knowing the original master tape was used in creating the record, etc. Even a casual listen to a Robert Ludwig pressing of Led Zeppelin II will likely prove this point.
      To each his own and I applaud Copper Magazine for providing a broad smattering of topics every month.
      Paul

    5. As a teen in The Sixties, when both talent in all fields advanced right along with mastering tools, I’ve now whittled down to a library of <1000 vinyls. Many of the remaining have never been commercially digitized, which I've selectively now done myself – noting lots had just one or two "keeper" cuts, most of which I've long ago unloaded. I still have many early Columbias & ECMs that play like new & whose later commercial digital releases are rather lifeless. Like many of us, I've returned uncountable records with horrible warps & pock marks. As stated above, the serious care with which many labels have recently remastered can be truly remarkable. You will find all over the 'Net that vinyl assessments are a very deep subject.

      About 15% of my vinyl library are concentric enough to listen to out of the wrapper. The tip I leave Copper vinyl junkies, and would-be junkies, is that over 50 years ago I slapped on a second platter mat that "just" clears my spindle height: it's second-nature to engage the fresh record on the spinning platter with a skillful tap along the revolving edge of the record 2 or 3 times until I can see the first band has stabilized. Then, only after a visual observation suggests the record isn't lying comfortably flat, I sometimes stop the rotation long enough to lower a damping weight.

    6. One consistently great exception for new vinyl is all Blue Note Tone Poet series LPs. I’ve found that if you love the music you will love the quality control and sound. That Rudy van Gelder knew a thing or two about making great sounding recordings of some of the most talented jazz greats.

    7. DEALERS ARE WELCOME…

      I have left about 1200 LPs, many sealed, originals, from HPs list. And some others. These were purchased in the eighties and early nineties, placed in storage containers, and even the played ones (a few times) do not have vinyl burn.

      Anyone wanting to make a trip to Eastern Long Island in the fall can buy the whole collection or pick and choose.

      I will give a 30% discount on these from the then-current published prices. In other words, I’ll beat all prices. Come with a van if you want to take the entire collection, pay cash only.

      [email protected]

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