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August 5, 2014

Steff’s Guide to Collecting Vinyl Records

Brutal Tunes, Krieg It Yourself, Metalheads 101

Morzhol / Vortex of End split 10", from Forgotten Wisdom Productions.

For years I have promised myself I wouldn’t start, because I knew as soon as my first real vinyl was in my hands I’d be hooked. Then my mum bought me a Ride the Lightning picture disc for my 21st, and I was just counting down the days till I finished university and could justify the expense of starting my own vinyl collection.

We by no means have anything like the amazing collections you see metalheads posting on forums, but my husband and I have a little case of vinyl records we’ve put together. We intend to start shopping for more records the next time we’re in Europe (hello 2016!) so I’ve been doing the research on what to look for and how to get started being a series vinyl collector.

Like everything else on my blog, this article is metal-centric, but the info will be useful to any would-be vinyl collector, whatever your preferred genres.

What is Vinyl?

Vinyl records are a way of storing analog sound. Put simply (or not so simply), analog is a continuous signal – the varying part of which is a representation of varying time. The groove in a vinyl record is like a 3D drawing of the sound wave of a song, which your turntable decodes into the sound you hear through the speakers.

Until CDs came into popular use in the late 1980s, vinyl was the way music lovers bought and listened to records in their homes. In recent years vinyl has been undergoing a revival, although it’s always been pretty popular in the metal scene, with many underground bands releasing new albums on vinyl as well as digitally.

Why is Vinyl Awesome?

vinyl-shopping-buzzfeed

Generally, there are two reasons why people want to collect vinyl, and they’re pretty related.

As an audiophile, as most metalheads are, vinyl provides a unique and beautiful listening experience. Analog recordings have a flavour all of their own, and being able to listen to your favourite songs the way they would’ve sounded the day the album was released is a real thrill. Also, vinyls have a real tactile, aesthetic quality; they can never be digitised, and the weight of them in your hands is reassuring. The artwork is large, so you can see lots of details, and there’s a kind of ritual quality to pulling out a record for it’s sleeve and putting it on. Also, vinyl is nostalgic and sentimental, and appeals to our love of all thing old and awesome.

Some people say vinyl “just sounds better.” But numerous scientific studies have shown this isn’t actually true. The naked ear can’t pick up the difference between analog and digital – essentially, they are the same thing when played through a quality speaker. Digital recording is actually more accurate way of recording music than vinyl, and that “warmth” people often attribute to the vinyl sound is actually part of the media’s limitations, particularly at the low end. However, that doesn’t change the fact that vinyl sounds amazing, and the cracks and pops you get add a bit of flavor and personality to the listening experience. I’m still a huge vinyl fan.

Different Types of Vinyl

Morzhol / Vortex of End split 10", from Forgotten Wisdom Productions.

Morzhol / Vortex of End split 10″, from Forgotten Wisdom Productions.

Vinyl comes in three different sizes – 12 inch, 10 inch and 7 inch. The size is usually chosen based on how much music is contained on the record – there’s an upper limit to how much sound can be recorded on a record before the quality degrates, so size is an important decision for vinyl producers – hence why full CDs are often double vinyl albums.

RPM is the revolutions per minute (the amount of times the record spins in a minute). Vinyl records are recorded at three speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM and 78 RPM (rare). Look for the RPM on the record before playing, as you may need to adjust your player if you don’t want to hear the chipmunks singing “Reign in Blood.” Most 12-inch is on 33 1/3 RPM, but 7-inch is usually 45 RPM.

The combination of size, RPM, and other factors (mainly the number of audio channels provided – mono, stereo, quad) gives rise to the terms LP (long-play, around 22 minutes per side), SP (singles) and EP (extended play – usually 7s with about 10-15 minutes per side, so that people who only had 45 players could enjoy some of the songs from an album), which we still use today to describe different album lengths.

Nowadays, many albums are released on coloured vinyl. This is a favorite among metal bands for limited edition releases, with some seriously cool picture discs and splatter effects seen on recent releases. Very serious vinyl collectors prefer the black records because the carbon black makes the record last longer, but most metalheads prefer pictures of skulls and shit, hence the popularity of colored records.

Understanding Pressings

Gehenna's "Malice" on colored vinyl. From Robotic Empire

Gehenna’s “Malice” on colored vinyl. From Robotic Empire

Pressings are the different batches of records produced in the same run. Popular vinyl records have been released again and again over the years, and each new release run (pressing) has specific characteristics. Think of it like wine – you don’t just want that specific champagne, you want the 1921 vintage, not the 1923. It’s the same with vinyl. Usually, the earlier, the rarer and therefore better, but this is not always the case. And, of course, the earlier pressings can be very expensive (in the thousands for more popular bands), so getting a later pressing, which sounds just as good, will serve you well.

If you are in to collecting vintage vinyl, you will quickly become familiar with the different pressings of the albums you’re looking for. There are ways to tell if a record is older – usually, the cardboard will be thicker (unless it’s from the UK/Europe – their card is thin and glossy). You will see albums from the time the vinyl is released on the sleeve (this can be a real big clue). Vintage pressings pre mid/late 70s shouldn’t have barcodes. And, of course, if the record label has a website, that’s a bit clue that you’re looking at a later pressing.

Modern pressings can still be very rare and collectable. It’s common for metal bands to release limited edition pressings. Recently, Nuclear Blast made limited edition pressions of Slayer’s discography on clear vinyl – each pressing limited to 666 copies.

Shopping for Vinyl

Noseblod Records

Noseblod Records

Unless you happen to be like me and have married someone who grew up in the vinyl era, you might not have seen or heard a vinyl record for some time. The only way to get your hands on some vinyl is probably to buy it. So where do you go vinyl shopping? And when you do find a record you want to buy, how do you know if it’s any good?

Locating Vinyl

You can find vinyl in the following places:

  • Record stores, usually in larger cities.
  • Record clubs, and collectors meets, where collectors go to trade and sell collections.
  • Metal Festivals. At Wacken there is a huge tent filled with rare and underground vinyl stores.
  • Direct from bands: Many metal bands are releasing limited-edition vinyl for new albums. This is a great way to add some of your favourite new artists to your collection while supporting up-and-coming bands. For example, NZ sludgers Beastwars released their latest album Blood Becomes Fire on vinyl and limited-edition vinyl. You can grab a copy here.
  • Second-hand stores and garage sales: sometimes these will have small collections of vinyl for sale. It can be hard to find metal albums, but sometimes you can get lucky. They often won’t know the value of certain albums.
  • Online: Ebay, Amazon and InSound are great places to buy vinyl online. Most people will have an understanding of the true value of what they’re selling, so you probably won’t get “a bargain”. It’s fun receiving vinyl in the mail! (Make sure the seller packages correctly).

There are many stores across the world who specialise in metal vinyl. Many have physical stores but will also sell online. You can find a great list of metal record shops in any specific city on Metal Travel Guide. There are also groups like Black Metal Vinyl Collectors on Facebook you could join.

Inspecting the Condition of a Record

warped vinyl

Condition is the elephant in the room of any vinyl collection. A rare record in bad condition will fetch a much lower price (and considering rare records can fetch up to $10,000 if they’re in perfect condition, having a few zeroes knocked off the value of your record could make you cry). Condition is especially important if you play your vinyl, as a record in bad condition will undoubtedly have poorer sound.

What condition you’re willing to accept depends on the purpose of your collection. Some people like to own vinyl by certain bands for it’s rare quality or to fill a gap in a collection, and don’t care so much about the quality. Others will accept a less-than-perfect cover, as long as the record inside is mint. This can be a great way to obtain high-quality vinyl for a cheaper price.

When looking at second-hand vinyl, here are a few things to look out for:

  • Pick up the jacket and inspect it. Does the jacket have any visible mould? Does it smell mouldy? Too much good vinyl has been ruined by being stored in damp basements and cupboards.
  • Look for ring wear. This is where the sleeve has worn in a ring around the outside of the vinyl inside.
  • Are there other imperfections, such as water spots?
  • Is there anything written on the case? Often, the original owner writes their name on the case so they know which records are theirs when they lend them out to friends.
  • Take the record out and look for scratches that break the surface. With second-hand vinyl it’s inevitable to see some surface marks, but it’s the deeper ones that are going to destroy the sound.
  • Is the vinyl dirty? Cleaning vinyl isn’t easy (you need a VIP vacuum cleaner), so a dirty record – even without scratches – is going to have a lot of noise.
  • Is the record warped? This will have a massive impact on the sound, and if the warping is really bad, it may even be unplayable.

Of course, if you’re buying online you can’t inspect the album for yourself, so you have to rely on a grading system. Grading vinyl is a way of categorising damage. Most vinyl sellers follow the Goldmine standard, which categorises albums as Mint, Near Mint, Very Good Plus, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. Most vinyl collectors won’t look at anything less than a Very Good.

When Buying Vinyl Online

Kult's "Winds of War" 12 inch vinyl, from Slava Satan Records.

Kult’s “Winds of War” 12 inch vinyl, from Slava Satan Records.

  • Take careful note of the grade of the record (discussed in “Condition”, above.) Collectors generally don’t want anything below a VG grade. Ask the seller about the history and condition of the record if you want further clarification.
  • Check prices on comparable sites to make sure you’re not getting ripped off for a rare album.
  • Ask how the seller packages the records – you don’t want your precious vinyl damaged during shipping!
  • Always check the ratings and feedback for sellers. Are they reputable? Do they have complaints? At the end of the day, you buy at your own risk, so do due diligence, especially when buying more expensive records.

Storing Your Vinyl

giant-stack-of-records

Vinyl doesn’t like light, damp, or heat. Store your collection in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. It is best to store your vinyl standing up – when you stack them, you can easily warp the vinyl, leaving you with unplayable records.

Vinyl TIps

DJ Rob Metal's vinyl collection, courtesy of Cvlt Nation.

DJ Rob Metal’s vinyl collection, courtesy of Cvlt Nation.

  • If you’re buying vinyl to listen to (which not everyone does), then it’s best to make sure you can listen before you plonk down your hard-earned cash for a record. There are several things to look out for – a bad pressing can have a disastrous impact on the quality of music. The spindle hole might not be in the middle, resulting in a disc that wobbles (weaves) on the table and causes sound modulation). Records that haven’t been stored properly can be warped, and this will impact the music. Don’t buy it if you haven’t heard it first!
  • When listening to vinyl, the quality of your gear determines the quality of your sound, so invest in a decent turntable, amplifier, speakers and other pieces. I may do an article about gear in the future when I know a little more about it.
  • One thing I do is keep a “Vinyl Wishlist” for when I’m record shopping. If I hear of a new record I want to get my hands on, I add it to the list so I know I’m looking out for specific things. This can be really handy as your collection grows and you want to fill in obvious gaps.
  • If you love the “warmth” factor of old vinyl, steer clear of new reissues of older albums. Usually, the master from the original pressing isn’t available, so the record label just uses the most recent digital version, which means you’re basically getting the exact sound that’s on the CD with a grossly inflated pricetag and a cardboard sleeve. Research online and ask in metal forums if you’re not sure.
  • Vinyl degrades the more you play it, and the heavier the weight of the vinyl, the more wear-and-tear it can stand up to. The standard weight for vinyl is 120 grammes, but collectors love vinyl that is 150-180 grammes because it stands up better.
  • If you’re serious about vinyl, buy a record cleaning kit (like this one: RCA RD-1006 Discwasher Vinyl Record Care System) to keep your collection in top condition.
  • Make sure you add your collection to your home insurance. If you’ve got particularly rare records, they might need to be assessed separately.
  • Use Popsike.com to get an estimate of the value of vinyl releases, if you’re unsure about a price.
  • And, for a bit of fun, here’s a list from Buzzfeed of 27 Breathtaking Record Stores You Have to Shop In Before You Die.

Online Stores Stocking Metal Vinyl

if you’ve got a favourite, please add it in the comments and I’ll put it on the list.

NB: I haven’t shopped at all these places personally, so please do your due diligence before ordering from any of them.

Do you collect vinyl? What are your favorite albums in your collection? Do you have any tips, tricks or favorite record stores? Share with us in the comments.

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5 Comments on “Steff’s Guide to Collecting Vinyl Records

grulog
November 17, 2015 at 9:41 pm

century media has a decent selection of vinyl, and almost always has sales and new stuff coming out. I think earache has a pretty decent selection as well.

steff
November 25, 2015 at 5:44 pm

@grulog – YES. I have some beautiful stuff from both of them. I’ve recently been seeing a lot of gorgeous vinyl going up on the Cvlt Nation webstore, as well.

Paul
February 27, 2015 at 3:46 am

Fantastic article thanks. Maybe discogs should be added to your list of where to buy?

Lauren
August 16, 2014 at 6:17 am

My favourite metal record from my collection is ‘Restless and Wild’ by Accept; I would say it’s in a Near Mint or Very Good Plus condition. It was the first vinyl I bought. A close second is ‘Fire Within’ by Riot. My favourite non-metal record is ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ by Deep Purple, which is a Mint/Near Mint early pressing. Most of my vinyls were bought from a man called Brian, who sells vinyls and CDs at the Bay Harbour Market just down the road from me. Others (including the Deep Purple album) were bought from Mabu Vinyl, a great music shop in Gardens, Cape Town. I recently bought Rush’s ‘Rush Archives’ from a seller (whose name I forget) at a vintage market.

steff
August 18, 2014 at 2:05 am

@Lauren – oooh, I’ve got a copy of “Who Do You Think You Are”, too – it was my Dad’s old record, though, so it’s probably in Good condition. I love bands like Accept on vinyl, if for no other reason than the sleeves look amazing. My favorite vinyl is Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies” – with the original billion dollar bill still folded up inside :).

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