When buying used records you usually have to guess at a record’s condition. When buying online, understanding the seller’s grading scale is essential. With so many people selling records across the numerous available platforms (Ebay, Amazon, Discogs, etc…), trying to determine how good a record sounds before buying it is nearly impossible. Unfortunately you’re at the whim of the seller, and you have to try to gauge how their grading matches with your expectations.
If you’re lucky, the seller will provide some rubric. Sometimes, especially on non-Ebay platforms, you only get a grade… with no explanation of the grade.
The only proper way to grade a record is to listen to it.
The primary purpose of a record is to allow listeners to enjoy the music it contains. If you can’t do that because the media is warped, skips, or has too much noise, then the record is useless.
Anyway, I realize 99% of the sellers don’t listen to the records they sell. And I also realize its impractical for retailers to listen to every record they sell… however, I would expect the retailer to accept refunds or exchanges in the case of bad used vinyl. This post is primarily addressing private sales. Most sellers rely on visual grading and use words like “shiny sheen” and “glossy.” Admittedly, there’s some truth to this… generally, the better a record looks the better it will sound.
But here’s the complete truth: this is not always the case. In fact, it’s the case maybe 80% of the time. I have looked at many records that appeared scuffed and somewhat scummy but sounded terrific. I’ve also put many “shiny” records on my turntable anticipating aural ecstasy, only to feel utterly disappointed because the music is masked behind a wall of surface noise.
I’ll take the chance on a $10.00 record. But do you want to buy a $50.00 record where the seller can’t be confident how it sounds? How about $100.00? I bought a Jason Isbell record from a seller in Japan for over $100.00. The seller had graded the record NM and truthfully, it looked NM. However, when I put it on the turntable, I could only get through two tracks. The album was drowning in surface noise. It drives me mad records are priced this high, but the seller can’t take 45 minutes to listen to it. How much does he really value the item? And let’s face it, listening to music doesn’t have to be an engrossing experience. Just put the record on the turntable and do whatever you normally do.
What’s that? You don’t have a turntable? Then you shouldn’t sell records. And you shouldn’t buy records from someone who doesn’t own a turntable.
You should also be wary of sellers who use too many grades. And this applies to both visual graders and listening graders. If there’s too many possible grades, then they’re just pulling the grades from their ass. What do I mean by too many grades? You’ve probably seen something like this:
Can you really tell me the difference between a NM- and VG++ record? And if you can, I doubt you would grade the same record the same way every time. There’s not enough objective distinction between the grades. There simply can’t be.
Keeping in mind the main purpose of a record is listening, grading should be easy. You just need to have clearly defined criteria for each grade.
And you need to listen to the record.
Now that you know how not to grade records, read about my grading scale.