New Vinyl Quality Control – I’m Running Out of Patience

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry50 Comments

Considering vinyl records are pitched as a premium or luxury product, the quality control of some new vinyl releases leaves much to be desired…

Pressing faults and the quality of new vinyl is a topic we’ve covered before. Sadly, there are several common faults to watch out for, which can be a cause for headache for many record enthusiasts. 

To a certain degree, it’s the nature of the beast (within reason). But in my experience, the rate of faulty or poor quality pressings is far higher than it should be. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve encountered problems and had to return or replace a new record. 

Here are some recent examples:

Tenth-anniversary re-issue of John Frusciante’s The Empyrean. It took me three attempts to get a copy that didn’t either have huge distortion on track four or have a deep scratch on the surface due to a rouge piece of vinyl making it into the record sleeve after trimming. 

Alt-J – Relaxer. Little bubbles on the record surface that cause a clip or pop as the stylus runs through them.

Record Store Day 2020 release of Tyrannosaurus Rex Unicorn – the yellow vinyl has color contamination, meaning the surface isn’t entirely solid yellow. See close up pictures below. This is my most recent disappointment and is ultimately the straw that broke the camels back, leading to this article (or rant, depending on how you look at it). 

Back to Black copy of Nirvana Nevermind. Pressed off-center…

Counting Crows – August and Everything After. Again, there is a tiny bubble on the record surface that causes a pop as the stylus runs through. After buying a few copies, I ended up settling for one of them where the bubble was located between two tracks. Better to have the bubble in the silence rather than disturbing the music. 

Norah Jones – Come Away with Me. There is significant sibilance on this record, particularly on Norah’s vocal. My suspicion here is the mastering wasn’t explicitly handled for vinyl, and the original digital master doesn’t translate well to wax. 

Threatening the Vinyl Revival

I appreciate there will always be the odd problem that slips through the net, and I also understand the huge strain placed on record plants to keep up with demand. Sales figures for new vinyl continue to rise, putting the limited amount of pressing plants under increased pressure. My fear is, if the subject of quality control isn’t addressed, it could threaten the resurgence in vinyl. Consumers will quickly lose patience if they feel they’re paying a premium for subpar quality. For example, I paid upwards of $40 for my recent copy of Unicorn (described above). And while there was nothing wrong with the actual pressing, color defects on a limited edition pressing simply isn’t good enough. 

Thankfully, most retailers are understanding and will always accept a return or replacement for faulty records, but the process and time involved certainly takes the edge off the whole experience of buying a desirable product.

I’m not the only person to raise concerns over quality control, of course. For example, many YouTubers have expressed concerns and frustrations, including Frank Landry from Channel 33RMP, who claims there are “Still MAJOR quality control issues with new vinyl records” after receiving a heavily scratched copy of Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man.

Additionally, Brian from For the Record expressed in one video why he doesn’t buy that much new vinyl any more after battling with ongoing quality issues. “I have found that quality control for new vinyl pressings has been put on the backburner in lieu of getting them out as fast as humanly possible.” 

He goes on claim that “one in maybe five or six new records I buy have nothing wrong with them, the other records have something wrong with them!” The most common issues he cites are bubbles on the record surface and off-center pressings – both of which I can vouch for as being a huge headache when buying new vinyl. Four out of five records is a bold claim, and it’s important to note that the video is almost two years old now. However, the fact remains, there are clearly some consistency and quality control issues at play. 

Signs of Promise

It’s not all bad news. There is a strong determination across the industry to improve and uphold standards to secure a bright future for vinyl records as demand continues to grow. In a recent interview with mastering engineer Barry Grint, he revealed a promising development supporting quality control. “The RIAA have a working group looking to put together a standards document covering all aspects of record manufacture in terms of quality of pressing, printing, and becoming more environmentally friendly,” he explains. “However, the manufacture of records is a very organic process, and all factories cycle through peaks and troughs of quality. That doesn’t mean that suddenly the quality is disastrous, but that they work within a tolerance.”

Additionally, the recent formation of the Vinyl Alliance—a members-based organization working to “strengthen the position of vinyl records in a digital world”—is a positive development. The more the industry groups together under a shared mission, the greater our ability to address quality control problems. 

Supporting the growth of record plant numbers and addressing broader supply chain issues will go a long way towards improving quality, as competition always raises quality standards. Here’s hoping the trend for new record plants continues, as consumers will soon vote with their feet if the quality continues to miss the mark.

  • I’m glad it’s not just me, Marc. Having only got back into vinyl fairly recently, I’ve been pretty dismayed at some of the quality control issues. Sadly, I’ve also experienced bad packaging that causes damage as soon as you take the record out.

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Thanks Adam. It’s frustrating to say the least. I’d like to see more records include an anti-static sleeve as standard. Like you say, it’s very easy to damage a record pulling it out the first time.

  • Avatar Steve Edwards says:

    I’m a little surprised the examples don’t contain more information; i.e. label, issue date, weight of pressing, etc. There has been several complaints on the Norah Jones title. I don’t remember the specifics of that release, but I have a copy from Analogue Productions and it is flawless in pressing and sound. As a rule of thumb, I stay away from colored pressings.

  • Avatar Wayne Croxford says:

    I buy a lot of vinyl, usually now, from Amazon. Returning faulty copies to them is hassle free because they ask no questions and they also arrange collection.
    I would love to support my local record store but the problems with returning poor pressings puts me off. The staff too don’t seem to understand the issues, believing that pops and cracks are just part of the vinyl experience.
    I must say though that many of the problems with new pressings can be solved by a good clean. I use a Moth.

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Thanks Wayne. Yes, I agree – you can’t argue with Amazon’s hassle-free returns, as much as I love to support a local store. Some are better than others at accepting returns – shame.

  • Avatar Jim Taylor says:

    Seems records could have their surfaces laser scanned for surface imperfections and most of the above issues addressed via AI rather than human QC. Rejects get rejected and perhaps they’ll tighten things up as the pile of unsaleables grows.

  • Avatar Jared says:

    I agree with the premise of this article. The problems are simply too many. I’d also add that sleeve damage is also a real problem, crumpled inner sleeves particularly. I resent having to prove there is something wrong with the product, especially from a source where I have frequently bought from. I’ve committed to avoiding amazon but I have to admit their returns policy is excellent.

  • Avatar Lenny says:

    Nice article.

    I have also noticed issues with some vinyls I have recently purchased.

    Some have had the before mentioned bubbles as u mentioned. At first I thought they were specs of dust.

    But the real killer was a new release of “The Who’s” classic “Who’s Next”. On the last track side 2, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” I noticed a good bit of distortion from the middle to the end of the track, especially at the end. It was concentrated on my left channel. After consulting with a pro, I changed speakers from right to left channels. The distortion persisted. Different speakers, a thorough cleaning, nothing worked.

    Finally, I purchased a used old version in near mint condition. No distortion.

    I never thought of taking the new purchase back. I gave it to my grandson. I warned him about the distortion. One reason I didn’t return the new version was time. A good bit of time had passed before I noticed the distortion. I didn’t play that 2nd side that often.

    So, it’s indeed a problem. I had subsequently been told that there have been trouble in the pressing of new albums. Strange. I have to buy an old version to eliminate distortion.

  • Avatar peter frost says:

    Sorry to sound like a depressed profound person but I’ve got to the point where I’ve actually stopped buying new viny because of the poor quality and mainly it’s just too expensive
    Also I don’t think any pressing plant can cut a decent vinyl unlike back in the day when I was growing up with buying records that hardly had any of the issues of today….in fact I played an original vinyl from 1969 and it still sounds good even though it was played on a dansette….new vinyl is crap and afraid I’m out

    • Avatar Lenny says:

      I have to agree. I seldom buy new releases. I buy used vinyls from various online groups. I also buy a few used from a local record shop. Prob is like mentioned before, it seems like the shops wanted too much for the used albums. Of course, it might be a reasonable price concerning their cost. But considering price alone I have to look at my online options.

  • Avatar Kevin Cossaboon says:

    Agree 100% Lenny Kravitz from Amazon, two record set, both were album 1, no album 2, I keep a drill bit by the turn table to cut a proper size hole in the new albums to fit on to my ProJect Turn Table…..

  • Avatar Endre Trepper says:

    I had high expectations when I bought new records. To be frank, I don’t really like as they sound. I wanted to test the new breeds to be sure, it is not my ears that is faulty. So I bought the brand new edition of the same Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley prints. Heaven, and hell the difference. My 45-50 year-old records sound much better. I think the new pressings are simply not worth the price.

  • Avatar Stuart says:

    I have been buying LP’s since 1964. In recent years I have been buying new issues and re-issues. Some are bad and some are superb.
    Over the years I have made a shortlist of labels to avoid and some that are perfect. A couple of nights ago I played new John Mayall “Nobody told me” My son in law did not know it was running in until the music started, it is dead quiet. Do your research on the label before you buy.
    I disagree with the comment in the article “It’s the nature of the beast” NO. It should not be. In this day and age (after 60-70 years) of LP production they should be perfect. Many I have bought are.

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the rate of failure is the ‘nature of the beast’ just that the occasional fault might be. The current rate of failure, in my experience, is unacceptable.

  • Avatar David Adamson says:

    To be fair I had issues on occasion back in the old days, however I would say a pristine new pressing is the exception not the norm. I prefer whenever possible to buy vintage.

  • Avatar Edward says:

    Just had this conversation with my girlfriend tonight… then came across this. There’s a subtle anxiety that now accompanies ordering new vinyl. Unless it’s an MFSL copy, I just worry until I play it from start to finish. On the other hand, I have had ZERO issues with all of the old, but sealed, records I’ve ordered since… well… ever. I’ve been collecting for decades; and I initially saw this resurgence as a godsend… enabling me to own some of my newer favorites on vinyl. However, it’s just not worth the headache to mess with new pressings. Maybe I’ll give it one more shot.

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      I get that same sense of nervousness when listening to a new record. It’s sad it has to be that way.

    • Avatar Andy Johnston says:

      I agree with your anxiety comment. I now buy only quality labels including MOFI, Analogue Productions, Analog Spark, Impex, Pure Pleasure, Speakers Corner and a few tiny labels…When I stick to these I have had zero anxiety and zero disappointment. Well worth the extra$$

  • Avatar Kevin says:

    I’m old school from the early 70’s and just got back into vinyl.
    I’ll be returning Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 for the 3rd time today.
    All have a dime size wavy area in the fourth track and the last was warped badly.
    It’s pretty bad that I can spin albums I’ve had from the 70’s that are in better shape than what I’m paying 4 times the amount I spent on junk.

  • Avatar Rob Morton says:

    This is my experience,too. I have many of my old vinyl from theo 60s and 70s, so with the resurgence of vinyl, I invested in a quality deck. I started rebuying some of my favourite albums which I’d become separated from along with the vinyl versions of more modern records. The older albums which I thought new, such as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Carole Kings Tapestry along with more seen pressings of Springsteen’s High Hopes were atrocious! Filth in the grooves, warps, crackles and more. All requiring returns. in fact, I picked up an old copy of Tapestry in a charity shop for £1 and after a little clean, it replaced my brand new copy in terms of quality! Albums purchased on ebay, from the 60,and 70s … FIFTY years old were actually better quality! I have now come to the conclusion that new albums reprinted from the 70s onwards, I will buy the cd. Anything pre-existing the 70s I’ll do my best to buy second hand and maybe but the newest vinyl and hope for the best. (The latest Bob Dylan was excellent!)

  • Avatar Jordan says:

    I have to get into a better habit of cleaning/playing new records as soon as possible after buying them. I tend to do mine in batches and it can be months between cleaning cycles. In the meantime the record is no longer available for replacement – like with RSD releases. A few years back I bought the Chuck Berry London Sessions RSD release. It got put away and forgotten about for a year. When I finally opened it the vinyl had some residue – almost like dried glue – smeared across the first inch or so of one side. I’ve tried multiple cleaning methods to no avail. No replacements to be had. I may resort to the wood glue treatment. I figure I have nothing to lose!!

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Yea, I try to clean all my new buys, but it’s time-consuming, and like you say, sometimes you buy a record and don’t get to it for a while. Shame to hear about that Chuck Berry release. I’m no fan of the wood glue method, but hey, as a last resort – maybe it’s worth a go.

  • Avatar Phill says:

    I must agree with this 110% as 30% of my recent “NEW” vinyl record purchases have been either warped or pressed off centre causing the dreaded “wow & flutter” effect which ruins all enjoyment of playback.
    Here’s hoping record plants QC really up their game as “new” vinyl records ain’t cheep!

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Exactly my point. For something so expensive, the rate of poor quality is far-too-high. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience.

  • Avatar Matt says:

    Stick to buying from reputable brands who have their products pressed from reputable plants. Greatly reduces the odds of getting a crap product. Little bit of research on a release goes a long way. This has been the case since the 60s, for example the various pressing plants used by Atlantic and Columbia. Some were terrific, some absolute garbage. Same story, different decade. Nothing has changed.

  • Avatar CH says:

    If you’re wanting to be serious about enjoying the vinyl experience you really have to educate yourself about pressing plants, do the research and find out who pressed the vinyl. There are some really bad pressing companies out there to avoid nowadays: United, Rainbo, Nashville, Third Man, GZ, etc Take the new Bob Dylan LP Rough and Rowdy Ways. The US pressings are click/pop/tick/scrape NOISY, The colored pressings are same.. NOISY. The EU pressing from MPO is pressed great and sounds excellent. So in this instance you have to buy the import if you want to actually listen to the LP. Costs more $$.

    • Avatar Blake says:

      I agree. This is a very superficial article. I don’t think the Author really understands the topic enough to write an article on it…I bet that the proposed sibilance issue on “Come Away With Me” is due to incorrect cartridge alignment.

      • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

        You sir, are full of hate and cynicism. You know nothing about me, yet you feel the need to reply with such bile. Totally unnecessary – your attitude reflects the state of your life.

  • Avatar AndyB says:

    Really…

    These are your complaints?

    To address a few, yes… Air bubbles in the press process is unacceptable. So is improper storage/shipping that leads to warping (I’m looking at you Amazon.) Buy from audio specific houses, like Music Direct, MoFi, or the like if you want proper storage. And expect to pay more for it.

    Off center pressing has been an issue for decades. It’s why two of the three turntables in the home are Nakamichi Dragon CTs. I have over 3k LPs. I think a half dozen have a perfect center. You have, and always have had, few options. Even the RIAA standard allows for centering deficiency. Wow and Flutter in LPs has always been an issue, and mechanically, there are too many variables to fix it (including your equipment, sizing if your spindle, etc.) You can learn to hand center discs if it really bothers you, but your issue is actually part of the format. If you

    Colors streaks in colored vinyl? Huh. I guess. That seems nit-picky. It’s about the music, right? If you’re in the hobby for that, you’ll also know that black vinyl has the best press accuracy for sound reproduction, not colors (and I own plenty of color and picture discs, I just don’t check them for color issues.)

    Overall, maybe my floor is lower. After dealing with acetate pressings, collecting via paper lists sent from overseas in the 90s (with records coming shattered, or not at all, after you send a USPS MO), and buying out hundreds of garage sales to get dozens of usable records….

    Most of this just seems a little superfluous… I’m betting you haven’t been collecting that long (I’m 44, and have continued to grow my collection since I was 10-ish.)

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Respectfully, regarding the colored vinyl: I disagree – it shows a lack of quality control. If a product is advertised as a special colored version, then the least they can do is get that aspect of it right. New vinyl is expensive and the consumers deserve better.

      • Avatar AndyB says:

        Marc; it’s residue from a previous pressing.

        Be it remaining surfactant, a small amount of residual vinyl, a thermal hot-spot where the heater sits in the press itself… Unless you legitimately scrub the entire machine down between pressings, it’s impossible to get perfect, every time.

        It’s also one of the many reasons black was settled on as a standard color.

        New vinyl, inflation adjusted, isn’t that bad. In the early 90s, I was paying $15-20 for a CD. Inflation for that 30 year period is a touch over 100%. Most of the new LPs range from $30 to $40 on average for a single, 33 RPM disc. It’s linear. And decent equipment is far cheaper.

        You get into 45 RPM or collectors stuff, it gets pricier, but, It’s not bad. I paid more, years ago to import stuff (and just did on Discogs, tonight) when supply was only overseas.

        The proliferation of readily available music on vinyl is incredible.

        And QC is truly better than it ever was when it was mass produced. Stop by, look through some of my vintage stuff. If color spots drive you nuts, you’d never play mass produced junk from that era (which, inflation adjusted, was not cheaper…)

    • Avatar Melvin Womack says:

      Mofi is no different I’ve had to send back four copies of mofi’s vinyl due to thumping surface noise warped and even scratches, so you can stop it with your 3k each snobby.
      For a person who has spent 6k on turntables”you”out of all people shouldn’t be telling people how they should feel about imperfections that they’ve found in a product that they’ve purchased.

  • Avatar Andy Johnston says:

    The biggest thing most vinyl fans can do is AVOID anything pressed by GZ vinyl. Consult Discogs for information on specific pressings/releases and also look for the dreaded GZ etching in the deadwax. They have the largest pressing factory on the planet and the completely crappy level of quality of vinyl they manufacture is directly reflected by their quantity of output. I now go one step further and avoid artists with new or reissued records who also ALLOW their labels to knowingly rip-off and disappoint their fans in order to make for $$ when using GZ.

  • Avatar SweatyMike says:

    I’ve been spinning LPs since the 1950s thanks to my late Dad and I disagree with your premise that most new LPs are defective; they are certainly better than the 1970s pressings which in many cases are horribly noisy and that includes WLPs that I received when I worked in the music business. I clean every LP that hits my platter with my iSonic Ultrasonic cleaner and experience few badly pressed records and NONE that were pressed off-center, except for the AP test record that I use to set up azimuth using my Fozgometer. Sibilance is caused by many things including the singer as some singers have sibilant ‘S’s. Bright speakers are also a culprit, and of course poorly set-up carts and incorrect loading. Before you say I can’t hear what you’re talking about and that my system doesn’t reveal detail but my system is highly resolving and includes Audio Research REF 3 pre, Musical Fidelity NuVista Vinyl, a Zesto Audio Andros Allasso Step Up Transformer, a slew of expensive MC carts, Rogue Audio Medusa (w/Mullard 4003s) . . . and more and my home built speakers which blow away my Revel Ultima Studios, so yes I can hear everything that is on the record being played.

  • Avatar Dave says:

    Skip vinyl and buy the CD!

  • Avatar Dennis Ward says:

    Two months ago I received my pre-ordered copy of Rick Wakeman’s Red Planet (Red Vinyl) and the first track on each side of the double album is unplayable. I have sent multiple emails to the retailer & manufacturer. They do reply stating they will rectify the situation, but nothing had happened as yet.

  • Avatar Butterfly says:

    At the end of the day, even if the quality of vinyl record gets you mad – you can change the bad energy to creativity and make lamps or statues or paint on them ?

  • Avatar SD says:

    A blotchy yellow Unicorn RSD pressing is a concern, I agree with you on that!
    But c’mon dude, vinyl quality was much worse in the late ’70s early ’80s as record companies tried to make records cheaper and cheaper until the medium was nearly killed off in favor of CDs. In the modern era I try to buy quality product from quality companies and rarely have a problem. An article that features a video called “New Records Kinda Suck” is not doing our hobby any good. Are you trying to drive people away?

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      Good point about 70s and 80s vinyl. Agree with that. Don’t get me wrong, not trying to drive people away. But as stated in the article, I fear that the quality control issue may threaten the health of the format. By highlighting other people’s videos, I am merely trying to highlight that there clearly is an issue (otherwise those videos wouldn’t exist). The point of the article was to trigger a debate that I think we should have.

      If we can debate the topic, we can start to address the problems. As also mentioned in the article, there are some signs of promise those discussions are starting to take place – and that’s great.

      Those of us that are committed to the hobby will likely be much more likely to tolerate some problems than any newcomer to the hobby. So if the format wants to grow, it must uphold a certain level of quality.

  • Avatar Jesse says:

    This the inherit problem of “newbies” entering the vinyl market. They expect vinyl to be like CDs. I’m sorry but most vinyl has defects in them in some way or another. You should be buying vinyl records because you simply love them. It does not follow that they are automatically “superior” to other formats. I believe that it is the “superiority” argument that is at fault here. I love records for multiple reasons, but I have never even considered wondering if they are better than other formats. (Gross who wants to buy a CD?)

    • Marc Henshall Marc Henshall says:

      I think to jump in with the term “newbies” is very unfair. There are plenty of comments here from long-term collectors with similar frustrations. Nowhere in the article does it say anything about vinyl being superior.

      I agree, however, that the format will never be 100% perfect. At the end of the day, it’s a physical item. I think, if the RIAA does come up with a standards document (as mentioned in the article), that would help to distinguish what is within the acceptable tolerances of error, and what is sub-standard and damaging to consumer relations.

  • […] Whether it’s pressed off-center, or there are little bubbles on the record surface, masters that weren’t specifically engineered for vinyl, all sorts of quality issue can crop up in the unforgiving medium of vinyl. Here are some thoughts and approaches to new vinyl quality control over at Sound Matters: […]