Grading the Condition of Records

At Sound Exchange we use visual grading (as opposed to play grading) for our records. We do not grade jackets, only the vinyl itself. On our tags for bagged records (typically those $5.99 and above), you will see a grading listed as one of the following:

  • Sealed: Never been opened; still enclosed in its original shrink wrap.
  • M-: Mint Minus is the highest rating we give a used record. Also referred to as near-mint, it looks nearly new.
  • VG++: Very Good Plus Plus means there may be one or two minor, inaudible marks or minor paper scuffing, but it is in excellent shape.
  • VG+: Very Good Plus indicates there are some scratches or minor groove wear, but nothing that should be audible. This will play great.
  • VG: A record rated Very Good has a significant number of inaudible scratches, or one or more scratches that you will be able to hear during play (pops or clicks), or more significant groove wear, or some pressing imperfections like bubbling. Still, nothing that should cause a skip. This is the first grading on the scale that allows for a scratch that can be felt/heard with the tip of your fingernail.
  • VG-: Very Good Minus indicates a significant number of scratches that will be audible. Still, nothing that should cause a skip. You’ll only find rarer records with this rating; normally, records in this condition would be in the budget bin or not sold at all.
  • : You won’t usually find records rated down the scale at “Good” in our stores. If you do see records rated Good at Sound Exchange, it generally tells you that a. it’s a very rare record, or b. the cover is rare, and we want to offer that for sale even if the accompanying record doesn’t meet our quality standards. An example would be the lenticular cover from first pressings of the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request.

We consider both the quantity and quality of marks when grading a record. A record with a single mark that can be felt with the tip of your fingernail will almost always be graded lower than a record with three similarly sized marks that can not be felt. But defects are cumulative, so a record with eight marks that can’t be felt will be graded lower than the record with two similarly sized marks that can’t be felt. No two records have exactly the same marks or wear; there is always some subjectivity involved in grading. Two VG records can look very different from one another. Therefore, grading should get you into a range of condition, but you should inspect each record to make your own conclusion.

Note that grading standards do not change based on the age of the record. In other words, there’s no such thing as “VG+ for its age.” The same criteria used in grading a record pressed in 1965 exist for one pressed in 2015.

A record doesn’t always play like you think it will, based on how the vinyl appears visually. You’ll find that records pressed in the 1950s-60s, for example, often sound much better than they look. And of course, performance is also dependent on external factors such as the quality of your turntable and proper weighting of your tonearm.

While there are certainly standards for each grade, two people might look at a record and assign it different grades. We currently have three vinyl graders at Sound Exchange. We do our best to “calibrate” with each other so that our customers can rely on what a particular grade means across the three stores.

Customers are welcome to take any bagged record to a clerk at the counter to inspect the vinyl for themselves before purchasing. We especially encourage this with new customers so they get comfortable with our grading system.

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The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience

  • History

    Intro To The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience

    Welcome to the Sound Exchange reference guide about vinyl records. On these pages we will explore any and all topics that are relevant to the enjoyment of vinyl records. Read more...

    The Emergence of Long Play (1948)

    The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience began with the emergence of the 10” and 12”, 33 1/3 rpm, Long Play, Micro-Groove, Vinyl Record in 1948, and its smaller sibling, the 7” 45 rpm record. Read more..

    Modern Long Play Records

    The modern long play, micro-groove record brought to the market had a tremendous impact on artistic creativity. Read more..

    The Modern Vinyl Record (1960s)

    It has a relatively long playing time and does so while reproducing sound in what is called high fidelity. Read more..

    The Classic Vinyl Listening Experience Timeline

    Let’s put all of this information in the form of a timeline. Read more..
  • Analog Vs. Digital

    Which is better, CDs or Vinyl Records?

    This question can be reduced to studying their differences. Read more..

    How Sound is Created and Heard

    This discussion begins with the creation of sound itself. Everything in nature that creates a sound creates an analog sound, which also happens to be the only kind of sound that we can hear. Read more..

    Analog to Digital Conversion

    The digital process begins at the point where the electrical impulses generated by the microphone are encoded onto a recording device. Read more..

    Playback Pros and Cons

    An analog recording doesn’t attempt to describe the sound as it simply records its input continuously, so it doesn’t have the sample size and sampling rate issues that digital has. Read more..

    What about CDs?

    First you must remember that the specification for CDs was developed way back in 1979. Read more..

    My Thoughts on Digital Vs. Analog Sound

    The vinyl record is my preferred media for active listening to recordings made in the 1950s and into the 1980s. Read more..
  • Stereo Recordings

    Stereo Recordings

    Any discussion about music and sound reproduction will eventually make reference to how it is presented to the listener. Read more..

    Stereophonic Recordings (1960s)

    Regarding stereo recordings, when stereo first came out it was a brand new world and exactly how to represent a recording in a stereo format was very subjective. Read more..

    Mono Vs. Stereo Recordings

    Beginning with the comparison of Mono and Stereo recordings, it was typical that both mono and stereo records were made from the late 1950s until around 1970 when they ceased production of mono records. Read more..

    Quadraphonic Recordings

    Finally let me touch upon quadraphonic recordings as they appeared on vinyl records. Read more..
  • Turntables

    The Record Player

    “For the record,” a record player is generally thought of as a turntable with a built-in amplifier and speaker(s). Portable units are typically record players. Read more..

    Anatomy of a Turntable

    The turntable has several basic components including the plinth (base), the revolving platter, the tone arm, the cartridge and stylus, and the mechanical and electronic components to make it all work. Read more..

    Reducing Unwanted Noise

    Isolating the noise generated from the turntable’s motor from the platter is essential. Read more..

    Choosing a Quality Turntable

    So how do you know how good a turntable really is regardless of cost? Read more..

    Turntable Belt Replacement

    Occasionally, belt drive turntables require turntable belt replacement.

    All about Phono Cartridges

    At the heart of any turntable system is the phono cartridge. Read more...
  • Other Stereo Equipment

    Classic Stereo Equipment

    Stereo equipment is one more significant variable that can greatly affect the Classic Vinyl Listening Experience. Read more..

    Phono Preamps: Amplification and Equalization

    When the discussion turns to the phono preamps (short for pre-amplifier) we are really getting down into minute details of the record groove in order to understand its role and its importance. Read more..

    Purchasing Quality Preamps

    Like all components of a stereo system there are significant variations in quality in the preamps, which has significant effects on the quality of the playback of your records. Read more..
  • Records

    On First Pressings

    Typically, a first pressing is defined as what the actual record album looked like when it first came off the manufacturing line. Read more..

    Grading the Condition of Records

    At Sound Exchange we use visual grading (as opposed to play grading) for our records. We do not grade jackets, only the vinyl itself. Read more..

    About 78 rpm records

    The 78 rpm record was the primary format for music sold during the period from the early 1900s into the 1950s. Read more..

  • Taking Care Of Your Records

    Record Storage

    Always store your records in a cool, dry, dark environment in an upright position (never flat) that is high off the ground, and that provides some airflow around them. Read more..

    Tips for Handling Records

    Always handle your records by the label and the outer edge and never ever touch the record grooves except when performing a deep cleaning. Read more..

    That’s Not a Scratch on Your Vinyl – It’s Dirt!

    Dirt and static electricity may cause good records to sound “scratchy”. A proper cleaning will remove dirt and static electricity from the vinyl. Read more..

    How Often Should Records Be Cleaned?

    Record cleaning, like most any other type of cleaning, is a matter of degree. Read more..

    Record Cleaning Solution

    Wet cleaning of vinyl records is the best way if not the only way to really get them clean and to get them free of static electricity. Read more..

    How to Clean a Record

    Use plenty of solution and really get the record wet while being very, very careful to keep the solution off of the record label, as it will cause the paper label to “rise” or stain the label, etc, and it will never look like new again. Read more..

    Salvaging Vinyl

    An old trick of “last resort” is to actually play a record while wet. Read more..