Record Collector categories

Record Grading with Record Collector categories

Record Collector magazine offers the most widely used system of grading vinyl condition. Experienced sellers tend to grade conservatively, as this improves buyer satisfaction when the record is found better than expected. Seller who inflate grading are quickly shown up in their buyer feedback. However mistakes can happen, albeit unintentionally. At the end of the day, at least there is a recognised scale of grading, even if not everyone agrees about a particular case in point.


MINT: “The record itself is in brand new condition with no surface marks or deterioration in sound quality. The cover and any any extra items such as the lyric sheet, booklet or poster are in perfect condition. Records advertised as Sealed or Unplayed should be mint…”

(also Near Mint, Mint Minus) Holy Grail for collectors, price can be x3-4 average condition. Not unknown for trophy hunters to have one sealed copy and a second play copy. Trusting records to be mint because ”sealed” seems reckless but it does not stop the triumph of hope over experience. The mere presence of open shrink can add 10-15% to prices.

EXCELLENT: “The record shows some sign of having been played, but there is very little lessening in sound quality. The cover and packaging might have slight wear and/or creasing…”

(Also -E or E minus) The realistic collectors Holy Grail, often the highest grade used by sellers. Fussy collectors expect to pay the price – 1.5-2x more than VG+ condition.  I have heard of collectors however who mistake Excellent to mean Mint. It can be a risky claim, for which reason some sellers use VG+ as their highest grade.

VERY GOOD:                                                                                                             “The record has obviously been played many times, but displays no major deterioration in sound quality, despite noticeable surface marks and the occasional light scratch. Normal wear and tear on the cover or extra items, without any major defects, is acceptable.

Neil Umphred, who curated the early Goldmine price guides, used to define the VG (Very Good) grade as “Very God Awful!..”

(also VG+, VG++) “VG Plus” is probably the most common descriptor in use by sellers, as it represents a realistic claim of desirable condition without over-egging it, therefore discouraging buyers from requesting price adjustments under a ”not as described” claim. A grade most collectors will happily settle for provided the occasional defect does not cause needle sticks or jumps and is of short duration – 3-4 revs maximum, and occasional crackles but not continuous surface noise.

GOOD: “The record has been played so much that the sound quality has noticeably deteriorated, perhaps with some distortion and mild scratches. The cover and contents suffer from folding, scuffing of edges, spine splits, discoloration, etc…”

In plain English, “Good” means “Not Very Good”. Not acceptable quality unless you are unusually fault-tolerant. Be wary of sellers using “common parlance” as in ” it’s in good condition (considering its age)” not intended as grading.

FAIR: “The record is still just playable but has not been cared for properly and displays considerable surface noise; it may even jump. The cover and contents will be torn, stained and/or defaced…”

You still see records graded as “Fair” for sale, in case the collector has no intention of playing it. Tourists who don’t even own a record player will buy a “fair” Beatles or Rolling Stones record to take home as a memento of Swinging England. Anything that helps keep the vinyl industry afloat is welcome.

POOR: “The record will not play properly due to scratches, bad surface noise, etc. The cover and contents will be badly damaged or partly missing…”

Par for the course for records of the “Punk” genre, however of no place in a jazz collection. Suitable only as coasters. I know, I have one for precisely said purpose. AND its a Lexington.

BAD: “The record is unplayable or might even be broken, and is only of use as a collection filler…”

Self-explanatory. Some people feel challenged to test the expression “unbreakable in normal use”


3 thoughts on “Record Collector categories

  1. Hello again,

    I just had a thought or question about all the polling that was done to understand which pressings people preferred. However, I was at a loss to know where to put my idea. As I went randomly around the site, I read the beginning of this section about grading and was delighted to detect a hint of irony in the first section, where the author gives us an explanation of the grade: mint. Since I stopped here, I figured it is as good a place as any. So here it goes.

    How can we conduct any poll and expect the results to mean something, if we consider the variation of listener’s hifi systems or rigs as they’re sometimes called. For example, my rig might be so bad that I couldn’t be able to tell the difference between an authentic “Blue Note” and a “Scorpio.” Now to be fair, this is an extreme. But right now I’m temporarily using a cheap cartridge until I can buy another a Dynavector 20X2L. My current “AT” cartridge isn’t bad but it doesn’t come close to picking up the musical nuances that my Dynavector could. So, while admitting my total ignorance with most things, I fail to see the purpose of all the polls, unless it was designed to give people, like myself, the pleasure of voting and the “triumph of hope” that my vote may affect something in the jazz world.


    • (On polls: Which is “better“, Chocolate or Vanilla? I normally word polls in the manner “I prefer x”, which is subjective, neither right nor wrong. No-one can argue “Oh no you don’t prefer x” . The use of ” better” is a commonplace effort to elevate one’s preference to the status of “a fact”, something best avoided)

      Logically, you might expect a very revealing hi-fi rig to widen the perceived performance gap between say a weak digital transfer and a fine analogue pressing. The experience is, as ever, perplexing. I can only say in my recent experience, hi-fi improvements make everything sound better. They can lift the humble reissue above the bar, from unacceptable to acceptable listening, not what you might expect. If anything, a less revealing system is more harsh on poorer recordings.

      I don’t have any explanation for this, but in hi-fi matters, explanations don’t change the experience.

      What I have found most interesting is listening to familiar records on other people’s home systems. Three other hi-end systems I have listened to recently each have entirely different presentations, I would be at a loss to say if any were “better” but certainly different.

      One was more forgiving and tolerant of faults, whilst perhaps not really bringing out the best of the better stuff. Others were more analytical, if anything too much so, finding fault in the better stuff. No easy answers, but interesting. At the end of the day, it’s what you like best.


      • I appreciate your reply. It really puts things in a context that resolves most of my questions.

        In no way did I intend my comment as a criticism of your methods. I value this blog more than any other music related site on the internet.

        My thoughts came to me after a played a dreaded DMM pressing. To my surprise, it sounded good. Although a bit harsh, it had a very clear high end. Again, this may be the influence of my low end cartridge. But it caused a realization that most things just don’t fit neatly into categories. I think your theory about when a record was pressed in a particular run, is the best explanation of variances in sound quality.

        I also apologize for not putting your phrase in quotations. It was late and I was tired.

        Thank you again for this wonderful place. It must require a tremendous amount of work. Be sure it is appreciated by many people all over the world.


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