Watch Out for These Faults When Buying New Vinyl Records

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry, Record Care25 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 usually little difference in quality between black, and other solid colored vinyl. Where there is likely to be an audible difference is with splattered effect or multi-colored records. 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.

Inconsistent Colored Records

Last on the list is colored vinyl inconsistency, where you might notice small blemishes or differences in color on a solid colored record as pictured below.

It might seem pernickety to some, but seeing as vinyl is pitched as a premium, luxury item, it is my belief that new records should be as close to perfect as possible. You, as the consumer, deserve better – quite frankly!

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.

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  • […] 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.

    Thanks.

    • 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.

  • GeeLee says:

    I am a meticulous record collector. Only new and mostly greatest hit LPs. After 35 years I only have 160 albums. I add 5 to 7 albums a year since on average. Only pet peeve is poor muffled recordings. My favourites are Madonna LPs. Clean, sparkling with solid precise bass notes.t

  • Floyd says:

    Mark, a recent purchase of a new sealed pressing of Antonio Carlos Jobim Stone Flower had part of the vinyl edges shredding. Luckily the Retailer sent me a replacement at no cost. I have a picture to show you but I guess this forum does not allow my to attach a photo.
    Floyd

  • GeePee says:

    Four out of five of the last new vinyl records I ordered from a very well known on line shop had issues, warped, bubbles, scratches. it’s ridiculous, I take the record out of the cover inspect it and send it back. I agree, if they are going to be charging premium prices for the product it should be perfect, as it should be with anything. The excuse of the pressing plants are overwhelmed is no excuse, It’s called quality control, if you can’t produce a product up to standard maybe it’s time to get out of the business. And yes if something is defective send it back, settle. I really like the way vinyl sounds and enjoy it very much, but with all this frustration of sending things back and forth, poor QC, making me think it’s not worth it. I can see a time where people will buy far less or just stop buying vinyl altogether
    and stream and not have to deal with all these issues

  • Mike says:

    From what I understand returning records does not send much of a message to the pressing plants or labels. Generally the retailer sadly is the one taking the loss.

  • Russ H says:

    From your e-Mail newsletter that leads to this article “ we address the most common faults to look for when buying new records.”

    Given that every new record I have bought in the past 6 or 7 years has been either pre-ordered online or bought from a shop shrink-wrap sealed how do you suggest we look or listen for the faults you list above ?

  • Samuel Kline says:

    The worst example I have found was a copy of The Beatles Revolver album.
    Not only did the record have a center label as it should but it also had a portion of an additional label melted into the groove area.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to return the record so I gave it to a friend with the strictest warning to never play the song “I’m only sleeping”.

  • Anthony says:

    I only buy from ( local record store they let me look at the vinyl) on night on shipment ! I am very lucky ! I know the 2 managers ! Which has become less the last 5 years ! I only had 6 total ( 2 warped Promo Lindsey Buckingham Go Insane lil Tee Magic !) Of brand new ones one Brian Wilson had some grain on it ! I always clean my new old etc ! For best pressing ones gonna cost you is Analogue Productions /Acoustic Sounds ! They did and do best pressing ever 14 of Beach Boys Cat Stevens ! Kevin Gray ! Even Hoffman has been working on select vinyl projects ! I was fortunate for birthday gift to see 2+ Hour tour of whole plant in Saline Kansas ! Staff is great ! Part of that was copy of Beach Boys Sunflower LP ! Good article Mark !

  • frank says:

    I bought a record that the outer edge was cut rough and had peeling plastic! The record shop ordered a replacement record but commented that they’ve were getting a lot of records like that.

  • Tony says:

    I’ve recently purchased the UHQL Miles Davis Kind of Blue album. It has a couple of clicks on side 2. I’ve spoken to the retailer age he’s spoken to the company. I’m waiting to see the result. I also purchased the One Step BS&T album and had an issue with side 4. I wrote to MOFI and the sent a replacement disc. They also did the same with the Dire Straits album which is just a poor pressing. Easy to much bass on the 1st album..a bit better on the replacement. A lot of the new so called remastered albums are also average..Pink Floyd’s recent release of Momentary Lapse of Reason comes to mind. Very ordinary in comparison to the 2017 remaster.

  • john says:

    There are videos at you tube with instructions on how to remove ticks and pops from records.Instructions also for flattening warped records both cheap and expensive.This game is not for those with shallow pockets,just look at set up accessories at wally tools,usb microscope,wally tractor, antiskating device,setting azimuth with test record and volt meter. To set up for optimum performance we are talking at least $2000us in after market devices.Yeah I love the sound of records but it is basically a flawed product.How do we get pressing plants to get to the quality level of acoustic sounds is a challenge they all face

  • drummah16 says:

    Has anyone found that there are skips on Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti Super Deluxe “extra” vinyl record? I’ve had 2 copies and they both had the skips

  • harry grimes says:

    ok, this is killing me, and i’ve not seen a similar comment. the last 2 ATO Records lps i purchased had the same flaw right out of the sleeve: a scribbled scratch about 2 inches in from the edge, which produces a minute or so of audible pops. the first had this on one side, the next on both. then, today i received a 2-lp european pressing from Cardiacs’ label with the damage on side 2 in the same place! what industry tool/process is to blame?