Proper record care begins with those things which most touch the record. The turntable mat, the stylus, your fingers, and — more than anything — the inner sleeve. It’s surprising to me how few people consider the inner sleeve. Nothing touches your records more than the inner sleeve. A record may sit in a sleeve for years.
You need to make sure you’ve got a good one.
The only sleeves I trust are the rice-like sleeves made by Mobile Fidelity and the similar sleeves from QRP (Quality Record Pressing). The Mobile Fidelity ones are available here. I’m not certain if one brand is better than the other. I will say, however, that 99% of my records are in the sleeves by Mobile Fidelity.
Do sleeves really make a difference?
Yes. Undoubtedly. Consider:
- One of the more obvious improvements rice sleeves have over paper or cardboard counterparts is the records slide in and out of the sleeve much easier. This prevents surface scratches, scuffs, and oily fingerprints.
- Using an inner sleeve to store your record allows you to preserve the original sleeve in good condition. No seam splits.
- Static free. No more shocking treatment when you play your record.
- Safer for when you clean your records. If you place freshly cleaned records that still contain moisture in a paper sleeve, you are inviting mold and fungus to grow on your record. You’ve been warned.
- Finally, they don’t leave residue like paper and cardboard sleeves. Over time, I am convinced that the material in paper and cardboard sleeves deteriorate and leave some badness on the record that cause surface noise. I don’t have any scientific evidence of this. I only have my experience.
An example of a sleeve affecting the record is Alison Krauss’ Forget About It. I have three copies of this record. The first two sound like shit. They both look awesome. The visual graders I bought these from all swore NM. And by looking at the record there doesn’t appear any blemishes. I too would have visually graded the records NM. (The sellers should have used my grading system).
But when I listen to the records, they are rife with surface noise. It wasn’t until I purchased a sealed copy that I discovered what I think is the problem. The previous copies I bought were all housed in a nice stiff cardboard sleeve with full size pictures of Ms. Krauss.
The sealed copy allowed me to see the original packaging. The record was housed in a plain white sleeve. The hard cardboard thing is an insert that looks and acts like a sleeve. It’s easy to see why previous owners opted to place the record in this, rather than the separate plain sleeve.
Fortunately, the sealed copy sounds considerably better than the others. Of course the surface noise issue with the other two could be a problem in the pressing. It wouldn’t be the only Alison Krauss record that seems to suffer from poor manufacturing. But because I did manage to find a good copy (albeit sealed), I believe the source of the surface noise is the cardboard insert.
I’ve got copies of Iron Maiden’s Live After Death that sound better when they were stored inside the record cover without the sleeve, instead of those that were stored in the glossy paper sleeve.
I’ve had to peel rotted paper sleeve remnants from records. I’ve had to tear sleeves completely apart because they had fused to the record.
Sleeves directly affect the quality of the record. Admittedly, I have no scientific proof of all this. And of course you don’t have to believe me. It makes no difference to me. After all, they’re your records.
But don’t surprised if years later you listen to that NM record only to discover it’s full of surface noise.