Watch Out for These Faults When Buying New Vinyl Records

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry, Record Care12 Comments

There are many reasons to love vinyl records. After all, when at their best, they sound great, they look beautiful, and they truly add something extra to the whole listening experience. However, while the resurgence in consumer interest for vinyl records is undoubtedly something to celebrate, there is a growing concern within the vinyl community surrounding quality control. In a world where music is essentially free, and vinyl is sold as a premium product and experience, this is a worrying trend that needs addressing.

Here are some of the most common faults to watch out for:

Warped Records

If your record wasn’t stored correctly during production or at the retail store, your new vinyl might arrive warped. Very minor warping is unlikely to cause much of problem. However, in extreme cases, a warped record may skip or produce tracking errors. Some collectors will attempt to fix warped records using a variety of methods. One such approach is to place the warped vinyl between two pieces of glass and apply heat using an oven. Whether or not this works is debatable, as some folks will rightly point out the risk of damage to the playable grooves. Either way, if your new record arrives warped, you should send it back. Sadly, due to some retailers stacking new records in horizontal piles, warped discs are more common than you’d think.

Bubbles on the Record Surface

I see this problem far too often with new vinyl records. These are little bubbles or dimples on the record surface that are visible to the naked eye and usually result in a loud bassy thud as the stylus runs through them. These imperfections are undoubtedly a pressing error; I’ve heard all kinds of explanations as to what causes them, from air getting caught by the stamper to there being insufficient release agent used during pressing. Whatever the cause, you should seek a refund or replacement if you notice these on any new record purchases.

Off-Center Pressing

A record pressed off-center – meaning the spindle hole is not central to the grooves stamped on the vinyl – is perhaps the worst culprit of them all. This glaring pressing error will result in small speed discrepancies as the disc spin causing audible wow and flutter pitch drift. You’ll hear it loud and clear on longer, more drawn out notes or chords.

Sadly, if one record is off-center, the whole batch is normally off, meaning that any replacement record will almost certainly have the exact same problem. The only way to fix the problem is to crudely widen the spindle hole with a knife, and then manually center the record each time you play it. A record clamp will help you secure the disc in place. To say this is less than ideal would be an understatement. In my experience, it’s usually best to return the record unless you’re particularly determined to make it work.

(The video below is an extreme example, but demonstrates the problem very clearly).

Excessive Surface Noise

Surface noise on brand new wax is another common complaint. In many circumstances, you should be able to fix this one yourself by wet cleaning the vinyl, either by hand or using a record cleaning machine. In fact, as a matter of good practice, I wet clean all my new vinyl before the first play. In many cases, new records come contaminated straight from the factory and usually benefit from a light clean. If wet cleaning doesn’t clear things up, you could have a bad pressing. Arguably, you can put some surface noise down as just the nature of the beast, but heavy surface noise on a new record is clearly unacceptable. How much is too much? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Parallel to this issue, there is much debate about the color of vinyl records and how this affects the sound quality. In my humble opinion, there is little difference in quality between black, white, clear, red, or any other color of vinyl for that matter. And while the jury may still be out on that one, most seem to agree picture discs typically sound worse than standard black or colored vinyl. These full color printed discs make great collector’s items, but unfortunately suffer from additional surface noise caused by the full-sized label applied on top of the standard vinyl disc.

The Bottom Line: Supply & Demand

Demand for new vinyl records outstripping supply is a common theme when the topic of quality control rears its ugly head. And while some pressing plants are clearly better than others, there is a general feeling that many well-meaning pressing plants are running flat-out to meet demand.

New record plants have opened in recent years, but there is still a feeling among vinyl fans that quality control remains a big problem. We must get the number of bad pressings down if we’re to continue seeing year-on-year vinyl sales growth, and this can only come from further investment in the manufacturing process, and with it, more competition. Until that happens, the best thing you can do as a vinyl consumer is vote with your feet. Don’t put up with poor quality; send a clear message to the industry at large and return a record if it’s faulty.

  • […] thrift stores, vintage clothing, and furniture stores, along with second-hand record shops. But watch out for these faults when you’re buying new vinyl […]

  • Alex Richard Milne says:

    I recently opened a sealed vinyl with a white/black cloudy effect, and there was basically what seemed like loads of little bits of Sand all over the surface (or small bits of Silica) which obviously scratched it to buggery. What happened there?!

  • Vince Moran-McHugh says:

    From my own experience there seems to be a high percentage of warped records from the ones I have bought from new. Only once was this bad enough to return (although I never quite got around to it…).
    My real bugbears with buying new vinyl are, 1 – The spindle hole not being properly cut out. The record goes on to the deck ok but then you end up nearly pulling the record player apart to get it off. Liberal use of a round file solves this.
    2 – Why don’t all records now come with an anti-static sleeve rather than just a cardboard/paper sleeve? I will give new records a light clean to clear them off and then put them in an anti-static sleeve as a first step but we shouldn’t have to do that. New LPs are very expensive (sometimes wildly overpriced in my view) so having a decent plastic-lined sleeve shouldn’t be too much to ask.
    Rant over!

    • Donald Oswald says:

      Totally agree with you, Vince. I recently bought Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks on vinyl, and while playing it I tried to lift the stylus off the vinyl with the cueing arm but it was still playing! I thought my Denon turntable was faulty but soon realised the disc was warped like a dish and the tracks near the centre were higher than the outer tracks. I’ve presently got it in a sleeve, sitting under 4 heavy Prof. Brian Cox books to try and flatten it. Also, bought some Panmer anti-static inner sleeves which are great. Should come as standard, as you say.

  • […] this point, I begin to explain some of the quality issues many of our reader’s experience, be it poor sound, off-center pressings, or bubbles on the record surface, for example. What […]

  • Lenny Madia says:

    I recently purchased a new vinyl, “Who’s Next”. Side one sounds fine, but with side two there is an obvious problem with the balance. The left channel is much louder and more disturbing the sound is distorted at high frequencies. Power cords and loud cymbal crashes break up.

    I have switched speakers, and the problem persisted. I played different albums of similar sounding music without issue. I believe I verified the problem is with the vinyl.

    This article was not the first time I heard of this problem, but it cast more light in the issue.


    • Bill says:

      My rerelease copy of Who’s next leaves much to be desired sonically just plain dull to my ears I think I’m going to hunt down an original issue in real nice condition on Discogs

  • Michael Thomas says:

    My biggest disappointment was the purchase of the first release OneRepublic Native. I’m glad I paid the average $18. 2x I had to send it back because of surface noise (loud crackling). 3rd attempt they just credit the lp and said keep it. Tried cleaning the surface, but you can visibly see something going on with the vinyl.

  • […] 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 […]

  • Jennifer Roy says:

    So far, the only issue I’ve had with any of my newer issue vinyl was on my copy of DMB Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Both discs are very warped. It hasn’t affected the sound but it’s definitely frustrating since I bought it brand new.

  • Matt says:

    I estimate the % of new vinyl I buy that is defective in one way or another to be close to 30%. It’s very bad. I recently ought 3 copies apiece of Damn the Torpedoes, Pet Sounds, and Still Crazy After All These Years From different retailers. Each had the exact same defects causing them to skip in the exact same places. Obviously quality control is awful for the major labels–I don’t know who they use, but it’s noticeably worse than for smaller and specialty-type companies. I have yet to encounter this problem with jazz LPs: just “pop” music” for whatever reason. Also seems like imports from places like Germany have been much better as well. It’s bad enough that now when I put a new pop record on the turntable, I cross my fingers hoping I’ll be lucky enough to have an acceptable copy.

  • Bill Withers says:

    I pressed records for a short time. We had a couple of transplants come in from QRP. They told me they had a big problem with warped records. I should have heeded their warning. When I bought the Hendrix Band Of Gypsys box set, 5 of the 8 LPs were warped.