How to examine vinyl

Last Updated: April 25, 2023

The Vinyl Inspector: what to look for examining a vinyl record. 

We all hope that the old vinyl records we buy will be perfect, but the reality is that, with the passage of fifty years, in the hands of many owners, vinyl has sometimes been handled carelessly, played on a particular piece of equipment that raised significantly the risk of damage: the ’60s portable record player.

Dealers reckon as much as 80% of records sold in the Fifties and Sixties have been filtered out of the market as unsaleable today. Of the remaining 20%, many are still less than perfect, and the perfect left long ago for collectors in Japan

Records sold on-line are graded often only visually, and grading interpretation can differ widely.  Some sellers optimistically over-grade, others cautiously under-grade.  When an Ebay seller says they do not accept returns, a record “not as described” entitles you to return, irrespective of their no-return policy. That is why some favour “VG+” rating, more wriggle room than “Ex”.

New/mint is not a guarantee of perfection. Pressing vinyl is something of a lost art: new reissues can have surface noise, defects in modern manufacture too, warped and dished (not flat)., many come out of the plant with grooves full of dust and paper-fibres, some with an accidental impact scuff.  “Mint” and sealed records can be less-than perfect.

Vintage records can look in excellent condition but be noisy due to use of impure vinyl – added recycled vinyl or bulked up with extender, a practice with some plants cutting cheaper pressing deals. Superficial hairlines – paper-scuffing, and records not returned to sleeve – are very common.  Many records from the 70s and 80s are bedevilled by random clicks, the cause of which is not superficially visible – individual specks of debris lodged in the grooves of which maybe 90% can be removed by an intensive cleaning routine.

Records in “mint” condition sell at a large premium. You will need to make a judgement about vinyl defects, and your personal price-to-condition tolerance. 

Personal tolerance…

Some people find groove-wear unbearable; others find it barely noticeable. Scratches with duration of more than three or four revs I consider unlistenable, others seem more tolerant: “it’s vinyl!”. Some DJs even simulate scratches to make a retro mix sound more “authentic”. Crackle can be tolerable if the music is loud and on top. Some records are so rare a copy in perfect condition does not exist. Some records – especially early heavy vinyl (180-240gm), can have a virtual skating rink of surface imperfections and still sound great, as the groove wall runs deeper than the scratched surface.

These tips what to look for, to help you make your own judgement, and improve your success rate as a buyer or seller of vintage vinyl.

How to examine vinyl

View records critically under bright hard light which casts shadows – direct sunlight or led spotlight – tilting to catch reflections which reveal defects in the vinyl surface. Dim room-light can give a false impression of quality: soft, diffused light masks problems, as every Hollywood film star knows. The most revealing light is small directional LED. In a shop, ask if you can take the record to the window.

Examine the record methodically and slowly on both sides looking for breaks in light reflection to highlight scratches and other faults. Some records can be superficially perfect, but a fault can be very small, isolated in a tiny area of just a couple of grooves.

Anything that looks like surface damage, trace gently with fingertip to determine whether it can be felt. If it can be felt, it will most likely sound.

Pay special attention to:

  • The start of the first track on each side, where the first needle drop occurs and where damage is most likely to occur, clicks, pops, greasy fingerprints which attract dust and grit. The first four or five revolutions may be worse than the rest of the record.
  • The presence of fine “hairlines”. These fine scuffs are very common and are caused by records not being returned to their protective sleeves after play, rubbing against other materials. On a heavy pressing (180gm+) these will probably not sound, but on a thin record with a shallow groove cut, occasionally they do. I have seen modern DJ-owned records that have been ruined by disrespectful spinning handling.
  • The area immediately around the spindle hole, look for spindle marks, a tracery of fine marks left by mounting the record on the spindle, that bruised the paper label. This indicates how frequently the record has been played. Many marks indicate a well-loved record with greater risk of damage from frequent playing. It happily may confirm this record was hardly ever played.
  • Any needle scratches which can be seen and felt, which are probably the main reason for rejecting a record.

Radiogram and record player arms in the 1950’s tracked at 8 gm up to 20 gm (compared to the modern 2 gm or less) and scratched vinyl deep if the tonearm was jogged. Portable record players were particularly problematic, being inherently unstable. Scratches should be felt with fingertip and/or fingernail. If you can feel it, you will most certainly hear it. If you can’t feel it, it will most likely either be inaudible, or at worst cause a soft repeating pop.The growth of hobby- hifi in the late Sixties and Seventies, with light weight tonearms, considerably reduced risk of scratching, but the damage may already have been done by previous owners.


Look for Skate marks across the grooves of the record caused by it sliding onto the spindle due to careless handling. Quite common, look bad, but most older record player spindles had a smooth rounded top which bruised the surface of the groove but had little effect on the music engraved on the wall of the groove


Scratches in the direction of the groove rather than across it.

4090 "tramline"

A “tramline” – a scratch that runs in the direction of the groove

Tramlines are the hardest fault to spot and the most damaging, as they will often cause the stylus to follow the direction of the scratch not the groove, cause a jump or needle stick and permanent repeating groove, requiring manual intervention. I’ve had only a couple of these, but one was on a $200 record. I photo-magnified it above, and you can see the point of stylus impact where the stylus will skip grooves. Play grading is the only way to really check a record for this, but few sellers are willing to sit through 40 minutes to check every record. It is cheaper to let the buyer check and offer a refund if it occurs.

Buyers Caution: “Marks” or “Scratches”?

Having fallen victim to the ambiguous “marks” description (a long audible scratch of about twenty to thirty revs) I recommend challenging any use of the term “a few marks”. A “surface mark” may look bad but should not sound or affect play: superficial spindle scuffs, non-injurious falls are common sources of marks and generally harmless.

A needle “scratch” however is a specific type of mark which can be felt with the fingertip or fingernail, will be heard with a prominent click on each rev. A scratched record should not be offered without an unambiguous warning. “Has a couple of marks” is not an honest description. Duration of scratch may be across the full 20 minutes or just a couple of revs. Always ask. Brief scratches in a busy recording won’t matter much, but through a poignant Bill Evans Trio piece can destroy the aesthetic experience of the Village Vanguard performance.

Warped disc due to improper flat rather than vertical storage, often in proximity to a source of heat. Some tonearms will still track the groove faithfully despite being lifted up and down, others will fly off and skip on the fall.

Polythene transfer. Patterned moire-reflections on the vinyl surface most noticeable on the vinyl runout area. Caused by polythene-lined inner sleeves popular in the ’60s which, over many years contact in storage without play, bonded polythene to the vinyl. It is impervious to record cleaning, it is very nasty, and can transfer plastic contaminant permanently onto your precious stylus-tip, due to heat generated at the point of stylus/vinyl contact, impairing its tracking ability. Any record with visible polythene transfer should be rejected. It is not worth the potential damage. Any record sleeved in a polythene-lined inner – ditch the sleeve immediately.

Small bumps in the vinyl surface usually described as “pressing faults”. Common in some American pressings, usually the result of imperfectly dry labels during pressing. Any moisture present in the paper converts to steam which impedes perfect vinyl fill.  Mostly these blemishes don’t affect play, though they can look alarming but rarely can cause a needle skip.

Recycled vinyl! 

Pure virgin vinyl has often been touted as “perfection”, however in the endless pursuit of reducing the cost of manufacture, some manufacturers began to add previously used vinyl to pure vinylite compound. Many plants recovered “flashing” – the surplus vinyl squeezed out of the edge of stampers after pressing. The more controversial practice was reusing unsold and used records as a source. In the UK, unsold and surplus stock LPs and singles were pulped, only after center labels were punched out. In the US, rogue suppliers of recycled vinyl took no such precautionary measures. Fragments of paper and other contaminants are visibly suspended in the vinyl mix of some record labels pressings.

Once you know what to look for, like the Prestige New Jazz album below (a particular offender), you will recognize it.

Recycled Vinyl Macro NJLP8254 Dickerson This Is Walt - 1929pxs LJC The hiss is generated by the stylus striking the detritus and reading it as sound. The hiss continues between tracks, since it is a property of the pressed vinyl itself. It can vary from just a slight background hiss to one which is highly intrusive. The modern vinyl cartridge stylus is designed to detect groove movement as small as one-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. You will be listening to the recycled vinyl forever.

The presence of recycled vinyl can be detected by careful inspection of the run-out groove area, in strong hard light. With regular vinyl, this area is a smooth glossy reflective surface. If recycled vinyl is present, this area will have a slightly milky quality, thousands of tiny specks of paper fibres will break up the otherwise flat reflective nature of the surface. 

From experience, some record dealers will feign ignorance – say they are not aware of the problem or claim it is just the normal sound of vinyl. It is not.

Public or College Library, stamp on the label or cover indicating property of a meaning many different listeners and record players – increased risk of play with needle in poor condition. Impecunious students rarely replaced their stylus.

Radio station copy – Audition and Promo copy can be good news, but some radio station DJs under broadcast pressure had no time to return records to sleeves and it may have received rough handling.

Modern DJ copy – tendency to throw discs one on top of the other after play, no time to return them to their sleeve, causing directional fine hairline scuffing, can look like a skating rink.

Defects found mainly only by playing:

Groove wear caused by ancient heavy tracking arms and/or worn stylus, especially towards the centre of the record. Can be difficult if not impossible to detect visually but cause the deterioration and distortion in sound. Some collectors are more averse to groove wear than scratches

Imperfectly centered spindle hole, causing Wow and flutter. Drives some people crazy, others, not so much. I don’t think this can be detected by visual examination.

Buyers Caution! Records graded by only visual inspection

“I am selling this car but I haven’t time to check if it drives OK. I have just looked at and it looks OK.

Sellers often claim they haven’t the time to play grade and issue a disclaimer that the grading is based on visual inspection only. OK, my Paypal transfer: you can look at it, but you can’t spend it until I have played the record. I understand the reason for the disclaimer for relatively inexpensive records, but it should not be accompanied by a “no returns” policy. Basically, the seller is leaving the play testing to you. Fair enough, if it doesn’t pass, I return it.

Good signs

Test pressing, audition copy, dj copy, or radio station library copy, often stamped on the label or rear of the jacket. Likely to have been played only a small number of times, on professional equipment, by people experienced in handling records, and correctly stored. No guarantee later owners didn’t abuse it, but these desirable copies circulated often only in the collector community, who respected their records.

“Sealed” is no guarantee of virgin-status

lucy_boothThe ultimate tease, or mystery gamble. It suggests no-one in fifty years has played it. Hmmm. Record stores often had equipment to re-cellophane record covers. To be fair, I have recently seen some 60s sealed shrink records purchased in the US from Discogs sellers, and I can attest that not one had ever been played, judged by the complete absence of spindle marks. They were indeed mint. However there had been considerable argument over a Columbia label unseen inside the cover. Was it a six-eye, a two-eye, or a common “Columbia-all-round red? Price difference may be six-fold, Seller couldn’t say without opening it, which immediately diminished its value. Eventually he relented, and it was the common modern reissue label. Expensive way to find out.

The solution is: “in shrink, opened only to confirm label, guaranteed unplayed“.

Recently I saw someone selling a “Test Pressing – Sealed“. The other “come-on” you see is “storage find“, implying un-played for many decades. Good one, eh? In my opinion, collectors with a fetish for still-sealed records should seek professional help. It’s vinyl, a few minor imperfections are “normal”, but collector hope for perfection springs eternal.

Don’t be put off vinyl as a result!

Vinyl remains the best music information storage medium today:  infinitely resolvable analogue. Vintage vinyl from around 1956 to 1985 has the best possible musical reproduction quality (apart from a few vinyl specialists remastering from original tapes) . Analogue end to end, recorded with valve microphones, on magnetic tape, mastered on an analogue lathe, nothing digital in the pathway, and played back through valve-based equipment, it easily outshines digital sources. It has the breath of life.

Vinyl not only avoids digital degradation, it circumvents the most harmful aspect of modern musical delivery, the dilemma of “infinite choice”. Put a hand-held device in most people’s hands, (including me!) and they cannot stop themselves pushing buttons, in the search for something better to listen to than their previous choice. Infinite choice is a seductive illusion. Vinyl supports the discipline of active listening, sole focus of attention for 20 minutes, in communion with the musicians. 

Happy listening!


54 thoughts on “How to examine vinyl

    • Steve – email me photos, most important – labels close up – and legible back cover small print usually at the bottom of the cover. Send as jpg file attachments to my email address given under “Contact LJC” in the blog banner.


    • Thanks for getting back to me. I’m not very good with digital devices, but I’ll try to get some photos to you. Meanwhile, you can find some photos/details on discogs. The release page info is all from my copy. “Journey into Black Music 1930-1970”. It’s a 3 LP box set.



  1. Hello, I’m from US and I really enjoyed reading your article, thank you. I’ve gotten lots of records and reel tapes from estate sales and working for a moving company. I’m a family man just trying to make some money from everything. I’m not sure if you can help me with this or not. I found a 3 lp box set that I can’t find anywhere online. I really would like to know if it’s rare/valuable, or just a private pressing no one has/wants. If you can help me, I’ll give you more details. If not, please just let me know. Thank you very much!


  2. Hi! Thank you for your informative article. On some of my vinyls, especially older ones, I can see patterns like on splatter vinyl records, on the vinyl surface under direct sunlight. I was wondering if they were also what you meant by the above-mentioned “patterned moire-reflections” caused by polythene transfer.


        • Thanks Vincent, I now understand what you mean by “spatter”. It is nothing to do with polythene transfer for sure.

          I have seen this slightly milky radial coloration of vinyl many times. The classic “RCA Victor vinyl formulation” consisted of clear vinyl chloride/acetate copolymer chips (97%), mixed with carbon black (1.5%) and lead stearate (mould release – 1.5%). Around the mid-Sixties, it became practice to bulk up the expensive vinyl with cheaper copolymer extender, no idea in what proportions.

          If the vinyl compound was not perfectly evenly mixed, it would press out slightly streaky in shade (which is deliberately how colored spatter records are made, adding colored pigment into the vinyl biscuit before pressing) I think that is what you are witnessing on your vinyl. It is not detrimental to the moulding properties of the vinyl, other than if the culprit is vinyl extender, which is said to introduce a degree of surface noise.


          • Many thanks for your detailed explanation. Very glad to know that those streaky patterns are not caused by polythene transfer and detrimental.


  3. Very informative article, thank you!

    Well there really is no “should” or “shouldn’t” about it regarding test playing, is there? I mean, a seller can simply test or not test and as long as that is stated in their listing, then the buyer can choose to buy or not buy, right? I definitely cannot go through all the vinyl that I have to test it, but what I do is take many photos of everything I can on the vinyl plus I offer free returns. I’m a new seller on eBay and what I do find kind of silly is all of the completely useless photographs of the vinyl that people have on their listings. Once in awhile you find some decent ones, but just a photograph of a pure black disc does nothing for us folks lol!


  4. Pingback: 4 Ways To Tell If A Vinyl Record Has Been Played (And 4 Tips For Inspecting) –

  5. Hi, Thanks for your article, I enjoyed reading it. I wonder if you could clarify what wow or flutter are? Is this the pulse sound you can sometimes find on even new records which occurs on the intro before the music begins and also sometimes after the music finishes? I’m thinking of selling some of my vinyl and find, as you say, that most faults are found at the beginning of a record at the run in or intro which might be quieter than the rest of the music, and therefore more prominent/irritating. Cheers Steve


    • Warbling sound and distortion. Wow, low frequency speed fluctuation, flutter, high frequency speed fluctuation. Usually they are properties of mechanical playback devices – turntable and casette, possibly CD, which do not maintain an absolutely constant speed of rotation, so the pitch changes as rotation slows down and speeds up. They can ocur due to vinyl where the record is warped, or has an imperfectly centred spindle hole.

      The more objectionable problem in vinyl is groove-wear, which causes distortion particularly as the tonearm approaches the centre, more rotations per minute, Not visually detected, only on playback.


  6. Hi! What does it mean if the label have scratched the ‘roll’ number into the edge of the vinyl? I have a rare record here with a message written and the roll number from the label.
    The record is in mint condition!


    • A picture would be helpful. “Roll number” is not a regular term used with vinyl records. Matrix code? What sort of message? What do you want to know about the record? Who isthe artist, title, and record label?


  7. That last paragraph!
    I’ll never forget getting my first iPod. I immediately developed a case of iPod ADD.
    I’ve literally had to retrain myself on how to experience listening to records front to back as the presentation was intended.


  8. Thanks for an interesting article. Does recycled vinyl, as indicated by the milky appearance described, always result in noisy playback? I’m considering a blue label/white b pressing that may be in this category, not as a collector, just for the music, though I don’t want an unacceptable level of noise.


    • I have about a half dozen records cut with recycled vinyl, bought before I understood the problem. The hiss varies in each case from a gentle backround hiss, to some alarmingly intrusive. There is no consistency, as I have heard two copies of the same album, one pressed with recycled vinyl, hissy, the other nothing, normal. Obviously only some batches of vinyl at that plant at that time were adulterated. Personally I can’t bear the hiss.


  9. Thank you so much for the article on how to examine vinyl and proper terminology. It was a great help!

    I am from the U.S. and have been reading as much as I can, but still have not found the info I am seeking from you. I am new at selling records on eBay that were found in a deceased owner’s storage room who used to own a radio station. In learning the correct terminology for many of the flaws I have come across, two flaws I’m unsure how to describe in 3 African tribal records I am wanting to list. Under regular light they look NM, but add strong light (using my cell phone flashlight) they show 2 different markings I’m sure has better ways to describe than how I’m going to describe here:

    one looks like human stretch marks or scars (or a miniature doll’s bicycle tracks going across much of the vinyl). The other looks like flecks or dots ( size of a ball point pen) covering several areas and are a shade lighter than the vinyl. Can you please offer some guidance for a more professional way to describe these to my potential buyers?


  10. I don’t think sellers should be faulted for not play testing vinyl – Its an imperfect world that often demands compromise in order to be fair to all parties. What seller is going to spend 1 hour listening to a record to then sell for $10? Its not a reasonable request for you to expect the him to work for slave wages. In a used record store, you inspect the vinyl and take your chances. That seems to be the reasonably accepted standard. If the store is reputable, you can return it if it sounds bad – but on your dime… your gas, your time. So equivalency seems to dictate that an online buyer should also be able to return vinyl – also on his dime… i.e. pay the return shipping costs. This is assuming the visual report was accurate.


    • For a $10 record, I don’t think we disagree, however I buy records typically $100 to $200, sometimes more.

      If the record is visually excellent then there is little purpose in play testing. However if it is compromised, scuffs and scratches which have a likelihood of sounding and even potentially a skip or needle stick, I think play-testing is part of proper description.

      It can take 40 minutes to play an LP all the way through, though in most cases it takes only a few minutes to check potential faults. Knowing it crackles during play is an important factor to a buyer in deciding how much to bid, and you can’t tell by looking at it. I am still thinking of $200 + record auctions.

      The few times I have had to return a record, irrespective of postage cost, it has taken me more than the forty minutes to expedite its return, and that is not even a slave wage. I think having the buyer do the playtesting is a waste of everyone’s time, so I respectfully disagree.


      • I do agree this is true in the case of an expensive record. In the $10 case, I would go back to the standard of service expected of a record store – and that I can think of no reason that an Ebay seller should be held to a different standard than a record store – of course I am referring to the return shipping question. One would not ask the store for compensation beyond a refund of purchase price; no one would consider it reasonable – and so just saying what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.


    • Hello David,
      questions of you: you say, now almost inaudible vocals suggest that something has changed in your playing equipment, Have you upgraded your record playing equipment? are you using MM or MC cartridge/stylus, In older days, i would think that all your audio gear was analogue? is all the LP/45’s sounding the same way when vocals are involved? have you tried playing the latest type vinyl i.e 180/200 gm digital re-mastered type if not, do and compare and if you can better hear the vocals then the culprit is most likely to be equipment based. I use a Denon DD 35f turntable connected to my Yamaha 1060 surround sound 160w amp when i play my records it is through PURE mode to get the source sound from the vinyl and not using the digital wizardry but, i have no problems with vocals

      just food for thought questions


  11. Why is the vocal track on some of my old LPs now nearly inaudible? Ditto for horns as well on some LPs. Very frustrating! I’ve taken perfect care of these records.


    • The speakers could be wired out of phase, if so anything in the center will be cancelled leaving only sounds panned left & right. Double check to make sure the red (+) lead is going from the (+) on amp to the (+) on speaker and same for the black (-) leads on both speakers. if one speaker is wired correctly but the other is (+) to (-) then they will be out of phase.


      • That is a very good guess; but everything IS in-phase, as evidenced by many other recordings that don’t have this issue and the fact that this current rig has been in operation, untouched, for many years. So the real question, crazy as it sounds, is: do vinyl records somehow “go bad”?

        Thanks in advance for your response — I welcome any and all theories.


        • Hmmm, curious indeed. The short answer is no, they don’t go bad, and if damage does occur from a worn/maladjusted stylus it manifests is distortion, not muting of instruments.


          • I have the same problem with my deck[Thorens TD124] most albums play fine but some play with instruments very low in the mix. It is my deck as said records play fine on my other deck and I have checked the amp and speakers which are fine. ??? Seven steps to heaven has sax which is barely audible on 2 tracks and LA Women has missing guitar solos etc. Bizzare. Have wd40 the connectors for the stylus but I am stumped what to do next. Any ideas ?


            • If “most albums play fine”, are those albums mono albums? The way you describe it, there must be something wrong with the wiring, either inside the pickup or elsewhere. With mono records, you probably didn’t notice that one channel wasn’t playing properly. If you have a record with extreme channel separation (such as Seven Steps), the effect becomes evident. There is really no other explanation.


            • Double check to make sure the head shell leads are going to the correct pins on the cartridge:
              Right + RED
              Right – GREEN
              Left + WHITE
              Left – BLUE


      • out of phase should not effect the audio channel, out of phase changes the stereo image to off center and instruments may change position somewhat but vocals should still be there. To have a diminished sound or volume in vocals is more likely to be caused by other things


  12. I have a collection of original Blondie records that I purchased as a teen. I would buy 2 copies; one to play and one that was never opened. I’ve had them in storage for over 30 years. Since there is no proof that they are original shrink wrap, does this mean they are worth no more than an open record, because it has to be opened to see that it was never played?


    • Resealing LPs was common practice in some quarters, decades ago, but there is no doubt “sealed” adds to value on US Ebay auctions, may be 10 -20%. Whether that holds good for Blondie albums I couldn’t say. Her albums sold in 100,000’s and so are not rare.


    • not at all! mint is the grading given by sellers of vinyl records or CD discs. being to non played unopened vinyl record or CD you can expect to pay the top price. The comment made suggest that MINT is no guarantee that the inside record CD is not defective that is all. that same comment was followed in an answer to some other person that when paying 100/200$ for a mint record CD then you need to make arrangements with the seller as to what happens if the contents of the seal item is not good…. that is why where ever possible you have the seller play the item, his gear his set up


  13. Sadly, I can’t make anything work with my Landfill-Special Technics. I think it’s time to cut bait. I have an Audio Technica USB turntable I’ll be using until I can afford the upgrade…unfortunately this model uses an insane amount of tracking force (6 grams maybe? can’t remember…) with a cartridge that can not be separated from the tone arm and therefore can’t be upgraded. I won’t be playing any of my records more than once on this turntable, I have a feeling. Still, it’s nice to hear the music without sibilance or a wavering in speed/pitch…I played my most beat up Blue Note, A New Perspective, on the the ATUSBTT just a minute ago and it still sounded amazing – in some ways better than the Technics, in other ways, like it’s being played on a cheap turntable. For now I’ll hide away my prizes and let them see the light when I feel I’m in a better hi-fi situation. Thanks again for always answering my questions, as compromised as my hi-fi situation has been.


  14. Thanks so much for your reply. I can’t achieve the proper weight with things as they are, so the extra weight is necessary. My plan is to try add coins to the actual weight itself first and dial back the actual weight, seeking to find the exact point where the distortion stops and therefore where the stylus begins to sit in the groove. I’m shocked that I’ve been playing records for a year and a half without enough tracking force…I’m not sure how I didn’t notice but now I would be nervous to keep things the way they are and play records with too little force. Time to start saving money for the new turntable…


    • Hi. is your current tonearm considered low, medium or high mass/ the cartridge you are using is best suited to what mass tonearm (cartridge manufacturers instructions) if you’re putting coins on your head shell to increase stylus tracking pressure, are you sure your VTA is correct, and that your cartridge is correctly mounted and aligned in the shell? (not trying to tell you how to suck eggs). eg, my own tonearm is 26.5 in length pivot point to stylus considered to be of a moderate mass the cartridge is shure M97xE. ( this cartridge has a drop down brush at the front attached to the stylus guard. when its down and in use, the stylus pressure is 1.78g when it is up and not being used, the pressure is 1.23g). My head shell is 14 gm weight (designed for the turntable tonearm) without cartridge, A headshell with a lesser weight would require me to make changes to my system each time i use a different cartridge; that is why I have more than one of the same weight headshell for other cartridges i use. my adjustments are normally just stylus pressure for the cartridge in use.


  15. UPDATE – I will be as brief as possible because there is a question/need for advice here. After buying and then listening to a lot of jazz records, I popped on Abbey Road the other day and noticed that most of the vocals distorted on the letter S – “Here Comes the Sun” was particularly ugly to listen to. I wrestled with whether the turntable, preamp, stereo, etc was the problem – MUCH LIKE I DID WITH MY ISSUES REGARDING BLUE NOTES AND HOW POWERFUL THEY CAN BE – and it was suggested to me that I try adding some tracking force. I couldn’t do that because of the limits of my counterweight/”stylus pressure knob” I mentioned in earlier comments. So I did something I shouldn’t have: I put a coin on the cartridge to add weight. Adding weight removed the problems and made the sound richer. I don’t particularly care about this copy of Abbey Road and got it for free, so I was happy to experiment with it.

    I then took out three 60s pressings of jazz records that I have that are lesser quality – adding this extra weight removed the problems I had had with the powerful top end, and even smoothed out some of the surface noise and made it sound a little more…I don’t know…incidental? rather than disruptive.

    HERE’S MY QUESTION – I really want to keep using this turntable in the meantime. Do you know of any safe way I can add weight to my tonearm without doing something damaging to my records? I’ve heard that too little tracking force is just as damaging, if not more damaging, than too much…but I also feel like coins on the cartridge are a big no-no. Once I find a “safer” way to add extra weight, I will try to track down a scale or some other way to measure the tracking force (OR…I’ll just play records I don’t care about until Xmas 😛 ) I appreciate any advice you can give. Thanks!


    • I consulted a friend with 30 years of hiFi knowledge more than me, and his comments are as follows:

      If increased tracking weight removes sibilance then it shows the cause of the problem is the stylus not seating properly in the groove. The usual causes of this problem, assuming the tracking weight was set within the cartridge parameters before the coin was added, are a grossly worn stylus or worn cartridge suspension. Coarse adjustment of tracking weight by adding a coin will temporarily overcome these problems, and is fine if you don’t have any concerns about damaging the cartridge or LP.

      Up to you but at some point the trade off is accelerated wear to valuable LPs and further damage to the cartridge, against the cost of replacement to the present cartridge and stylus.

      He suggests a tracking force gauge might be helpful.

      This will give you more information about the problem but wont of itself solve it.


    • 1, consider getting a heavier headshell. eg my own headshell is 14g without cartridge
      2 using the shell you have now, try placing under the cartridge mounts an extra weight, then realign your cartridge for correct tracking. Make/set your tonearm vertically higher in the turntable i.e.when your tonearm is balanced, measure the height from the record surface to the underside of the tonearm at the pivot end and then the height distance from the stylus point to the record surface. The raising of the tonearm height is to make proper clearance of the stylus from the record surface when in the raised position to compensate for the extra weight that is now between cartridge and the headshell, the cartridge would be lower set in the headshell and closer to the record surface when resting in the up position over the record surface, these adjustments become necessary when adding more weight to a headshell. the VTA should not be effected. The need to re balance the tonearm and, adjust to the correct stylus pressure to (that of the manufacturers optimum tracking for your cartridge) it should track well and properly and your sound should be good.


  16. I’ve spent the better part of the day doing research on my turntable – it’s not the Technics that most people know and love, that has a big chunky black dial on the back that you can zero out by “floating” the tone arm, and THEN add counter weight. This model’s tone arm height is “set at the factory” and then the weight on the end is actually a “stylus pressure adjustment knob.” It was probably meant to be use with whatever cartridge came with it, not the Stanton L7-whatever I have one there now. I mean not be getting the right tracking weight and maybe never will. Obviously I am not dealing with a fine piece of equipment here.

    Based on what I learned, I’ll make sure that the arm is the right height and that “0” on the “stylus pressure adjustment” weight is truly 0. From there, I’ll be able to tell if I can make this work in the short term or not. Thanks again for lending an ear. Your advice has been spot on, regardless of your knowledge of this equipment.


  17. I’m not a compulsive tinkerer, and I am not the best person to give advice as I dont claim any particular know how and I don’t know your deck.

    The VTA is usually a helical screw action which enables the whole pivot point of the arm to be raised and lowered in order to get the arm parallel with the surface of the record. There will be a another small screw of some type which fixes the position you have settled on as most pleasing. The way I was shown it, start with an extreme position, then a quarter turn at a time checking the effect on sound, until you have found the sweet spot.

    As a general principle, something I have learned, get the most you can out of what you have got before looking for to upgrade to a higher piece of kit. Trial and error is free, and usually the most effective route to improvement.

    The other thing I have learned is that audio improvement is a rocky path. Correcting one problem can often lead to exposing another weakness. The bad news is that good kit reveals very accurately just how weak some pressings are. Its not all good.But it is necessary.


  18. Went and listened to some records that came in the mail, including the aforementioned Bud Powell – I’ll try to be more brief than my last post. Sounded great at times, others it sounded as if the record were pure but the equipment was holding it back. I also noticed a little bit of a “wobble” in the pitch from time to time – something I’d noticed before but had chalked up to an old stylus…but perhaps it has more to do with the motor and how consistently the thing runs – and…most telling, I’m guessing…if you watch the stylus…it really weaves back and forth quite a bit, even with the anti skate turned up. I think it’s safe to say that my stylus is not riding the center of the groove, which would cause all this inconsistency in the sound, right?

    As I said, at least I’m hunting down records I’d like to have that will better suit me when I have a better turntable. However, here’s a question: in the meantime, will playing these records a few times on my turntable whose arm currently weaves ultimately ruin my records? I am more likely to play 50 different records once than to play the same record 50 times, so I’m guessing that I can make it til December and still listen to my records in the meantime…however I would love an outside opinion.


    • Thanks for all that input. Congratulations (and comiserations) on your new-found passion for vinyl. There is nothing better, when it’s right.

      Your wobble sounds like a job for the Vinyl Doctor. All of the adjustments to turntable arm and cartridge alignment can make a noticable difference to the final sound, though this is mainly in the balance between bass and treble, especially the VTA – vertical tracking alignment adjusted at the base of the arm. There is always a sweet spot somewhere between too much and not enough, which you have to locate by trial and error. The most important component is a buddy – someone who will do the adjusting while you do the listening, and vice versa.

      I do not hold any special engineering qualification (you can tell, can’t you), but as far as I know, modern light weight tracking cartridges do not create any significant wear on the vinyl groove.”Mistracking” should not either. I think of it as driving a car on the road. – the wear created by each journey is infinitesmally small whether you drive well or badly. Happy to be corrected if anyone knows better.

      Is “Dump” a new high street audio chain? Sounds great value, but sooner or later you will need to invest in a better TT. I am sure there are plenty of upgraders who would welcome a few dollars for their old kit. Onward and upward, everything is capable of improvement.



      • My turntable seems to have two parts of the arm that I can adjust – the weight at the end of the tonearm, which is something I was familiar with before this whole issue can to my attention, and the black semi-circle that the arm travels along as it move toward the center of the record.

        1. Weight – I can only move between 1.0 and 1.5 of tracking force. It’s been all the way up to 1.5, which from what I understand isn’t super high, and the only other time I tried to turn it down, I felt the record sounded better at first but then the stylus left the grooves for a long vacation shortly afterward. Of course, this is when I needed my stylus replaced, so I should try this again, but wouldn’t less tracking force actually make my stylus do more swerving in the grooves?

        2. The little track, which I assume has something to do with the vertical tracking alignment – I can see how you could probably raise or lower this track – I assume I might want to lower it to increase my stylus’ ability to sit in the grooves without swerving – but I’m not exactly sure how to do it. However, as a school teacher whose last day of work this year is tomorrow, something tells me I’ll find a chance to tinker.

        If you have any more suggestions for me that don’t involve buying expensive gadgets for calibrating my turntable – I’m just looking to make it somewhat better before I upgrade – I would love to hear them. Otherwise I will end this saga of woe that I’ve been drawing out on your blog, with many thanks that at least I feel confident in knowing that I’m not finding every defective record in the world and putting them on my turntable back to back to back. Thanks for your time and detailed replies!


        • Oh, and, uh, decided to mess with the balance weight this morning before work and I guess my grounding wire was a little loose. Not sure how long it was loose, but it sure made that Bud Powell record sound better!


  19. The only other turntable I have that I can compare with is a cheap Audio Technica USB turntable, which I’ve read has a crummy cartridge that you can’t swap out, as well as a gross amount of tracking force. It was my main turntable for about a year before I got the Technics and I’ve found that it almost seems to “force” my records to be quiet – so I don’t think it will help with this riddle.

    Recently I needed my stylus replaced on my Technics, and until I did that, I was thinking I would replace my turntable around Xmas time, because I was getting suspicious about the sound quality I was getting. But with the new stylus I went back to feeling like the Technics does okay and that maybe if I switched over to using a stereo receiver with a built in pre-amp, maybe some issues would clear up. Something tells me though, that it’s the turntable. It has mysterious origins, being from the dump and all…and while it seems to operate well, when I first got it, it was missing a stylus but had an Audio Technica cartridge. I brought it into a shop, had a stylus put on the cartridge, and the result was poor. New cartridge, everything sounds better…however my foray into these Blue Notes (thanks to your blog, by the way, though I’ve been a huge jazz fan since 16 years old) has had a lot of moments where I have questions over the condition of the record vs. what my equipment can handle.

    I “saw the light” about a month ago in an early 60s pressing of Miles Davis All-Stars w/ Milt Jackson on Prestige – I found a copy that had a defect in the first minute of each side, a nasty warp, but otherwise the rest of the vinyl is GORGEOUS. Miles Davis sounded like he was in the room. Jackie McLean didn’t make the sound clip, and neither did any of the notes that were really hammered on by the vibes. I am a musician myself, and a music teacher, and there was something insanely gratifying by how pure everything sounded, even on my system. That record definitely doesn’t sound as bright, though, as the Blue Notes I have, so I guess what you’re saying about RVG makes sense.

    I am embarrassed to admit, though I guess I already have, that I kind of settled for my first few Blue Notes. They are definitely in a VG type area. Any other deep groove jazz vinyl (most of which I got a hold of before I knew what DG was…) plays without my noticing these issues of distortion/clipping/whatever, but I am eager to try them now. I have a VG++ New York label DG pressing of Amazing Bud Powell vol. 1 waiting for me in the mail when I get home…I’ll take that for a spin and let you know what I notice (especially since you mentioned BP). At least this way I’ll know that I have a fine record I can save for when I have better equipment, AND at least I was able to return those lesser records to help with financial strain of my quickly burgeoning vinyl habit (staying on the bright side!)

    The only other piece of information I can provide is that I have a lot of new vinyl – pop/rock/indie albums that are coming out now – and a few recent Blue Note reissues on vinyl that are in pristine shape (just listened to Pete La Roca’s Basra the other day) and they sound great. Nothing whatsoever gets pushed. But the still sound different than a Blue Note…beat up or not…


  20. Hi Nuttmegger and welcome!

    I must say I haven’t found distortion in pre-Liberty Blue Notes an issue, though I have heard some people make the same comments, say, about Bud Powell or Freddie Redd piano on some recordings. They are very bright. We know RVG like to sail close to the wind on volume meters, where other engineers left lots of headroom to avoid overload. Also instruments like the trumpet are inately more variable in volume, according to how they are being played at any moment.

    I know from experience the turntable makes a bigger difference to the sound of your records than anything else. I have a friend with a Roksan rig, and the same record presents completely differently on his system than on mine. I understand Technics has a cult following, but do you experience the same issue with distortion on playing the same record on a different turntable?

    On my upgraded Avid, the force of a heavy-duty power supply and motor, combined with greater frame rigidity and stability, ensures the stylus is less often distracted from its task of tracking the music in the groove. A lot of issues seem to have have faded into the background. Maybe we tend to blame the record when it is the equipment that has the issue.

    Over to you.


  21. When I get iffy vinyl from a shop or from eBay, my issues often have less to do with surface noise or pops/tics, which I am able to ignore, and more to do with the sound getting distorted. The pre-Liberty Blue Notes that I have which are in VG type condition often have places where one of the players – usually a horn but sometimes piano – push there sound to point where there’s some distortion going on for just that instrument. I have had two records like this that I simply had to return to the seller and could not accept for any amount of money. However, I have other records that only do this once or twice per side. And I do have some 60s deep groove recordings that don’t have this issue.

    I don’t have nearly the nice turntable and setup that you do, but have you ever found this problem with vinyl that is a bit more beat up than you’d hope, but that the problem is not your usually pops and tics? (sometimes it sounds WORSE than it looks). I run an older Technics that I salvaged from a take it or leave it pile at the dump, which has a decent Stanton cartridge on it now, plus a somewhat cheap preamp and a “high end” shelf system (Panasonic, cost me over $300 at the time) but I only RECENTLY had this problem, when I tried to start finding pre-Liberty Blue Notes but found some that were a little beat up…that’s why I can’t figure out if its the records or the system (or both?)


    • I should mention that when I plug in headphones into the stereo ($25 Sony studio headphones) I get the same effect. So it’s either the record, turntable, preamp, or stereo – speakers should be okay.


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