Vinyl Quality Info
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Vinyl isn't Perfect but Sounds The Best.
Records are not perfect clean sound quality like CDs due to varying weaknesses of manufacture. Collectors are generally aware of this and accept records as made.
Problems exist with vinyl records: UK records especially Reggae are dubbed badly from JA copies, an ELVIS SUN 45 may be MINT, but it will play HISSY with the normal stereo stylus (read below); the vocal may distort on over loud parts and even with the correct size stylus there will be surface noise as the stylus rides the groove bottom.
Some Decca-pressed records from 1963 & 1967 need playing with a Mono size stylus (read below), else they sound muffly & distorted, losing the crispness of the music. They are 'Stereo Incompatible', as your Stereo stylus is too small to play these rogue stereo-incompatible pressings! Clear examples of this fault are London 9730-James Brown; Decca 12631-The Attack & 12633-Paul & Barry Ryan. Using less revealing hifi & cheap speakers these things are much less obvious, the 'Dansette' sound quality hides much as does a cheap £8 stylus on a cheap modern plastic turntable, it's not hi-fi. No records were deliberately made hissy or muffly. A record is a mechanical & analog object from a past pre-digital era. It may be recorded too quietly and the background noise is higher than other records. It can still be MINT as it's how it was made and no better can exist. We've had some of these muffly sounding records since in 2018 & the truth is the Decca ones play better on an older Conical Stereo stylus, see our Hifi Blog about the 1970 Goldring G-850 that plays Vintage Vinyl very well, if still sounding a bit blurry but for what most played them on at the time, the sound would have just been considered how it was produced. Only years later does your Stereo Elliptical Stylus get into problems. The Elliptical Stylus wasn't around until about 1968. Similarly with a few 1965 Pye Ones, a B side of The Uglys "A Quiet Explosion" is even muffly with a stereo conical if only a custom larger stylus will play it right. The problem is either they used a worn cutting head that missed the tip so your stylus rides the groove bottom, or with the USA early 1950s ones, they used a 2 thou Transcription stylus in error.
Another issue is a standard cartridge like our Goldring Elektra at £50 can play some 45s better than our more expensive Roksan Corus Black with it's finer stylus profile! All styli are different profiles & some wear differently. A 45 can sound muffly or pick up vinyl pressing noise on one stylus & play fine on another! Read on about the Stylus Sizes issue. The problem on this is the lack of care taken at the mastering stage, they can use worn or incorrect size cutters that don't cut the V of the groove properly so these few 45s aren't Stereo Compatible as your 0.007" stylus point rides the groove bottom missing the detail of the grooves to the sides.
We involved the master himself, Wyndam Hodgson of "Expert Stylus Company" in our research in the late 1990s & he's the one to supply these custom stylus sizes. No website strangely, but contact... PO Box 3 Ashtead Surrey KT21 2QD England. Tel. : +(44)1372 276604
Hear how STYLUS SIZE affects the Sound Quality on some odd pressings.
This is an extreme example, most UK 45s from 1953 onwards play fine with a modern Stereo size stylus. There are some that don't however. Here we've done some samples of a 1953 DUKE 45 by EARL FOREST. First hear the 45 played with a typical stereo stylus 0.0007" radius. Then a 0.0011" standard mono stylus (as on older players), then a custom 0.0015", then a 0.0018" custom, then a 0.0028" 78rpm size stylus (for post 1940 78s).
Hear the differences & you'll be able to tell the best size for the record: 0.0007 is awful: hissy & muffly as it rides loosely in the groove bottom, not riding the groove walls & therefore missing the music information, 0.0011 is acceptable if still a bit too noisy, 0.0015 is better, 0.0018 is the best as it tightly fits the grooves and the sound suddenly becomes what it shoyuld be. But the 78 size 0.0028 rides the groove too high giving too much noise.
It appears they used a Transcription size stylus in error
on these rogue 45s, the average size of a Transcription stylus is 0.002" radius (2 thou), though as you can see it 'plays' properly really depending on how it was made. Transcription stylus is used for a Transcription disc: a non-commercial private acetate or record for Radio or in-house use. Some are too noisy with the 0.018" as it rides too high into the top surface. The Transcription size stylus may vary in size from 0.002" to 0.003" the 78rpm type size. Annoying when a custom stylus will now cost well over £100. Also the stylus wears down faster than the regular quality ones you get with the stylus buying in a shop as better grade diamonds are used, based our our usage years ago. The best way to play any record is with an ELP Laser Turntable, as first seen on 'Tomorrow's World' when it was introduced in 1989. Price isn't easy thouh, a healthy £7000-10000 in 2010.
So beware amateurs & books that say it plays "better with a 78 stylus"
as they are wearing their records out! This is perhaps an extreme example, but one that shows stylus size matters. We have a range of styli sizes for putting 45s on CD for our use. These custom styli are not cheap, about £100 each a few years back from Expert Stylus Co in UK, no idea of current prices. Be aware as these wider styli wear, they become narrower & lose the hifi on the rogue pressings!
There is also the issue of phono equalisation
This we've found is a real pain even on 45s, for 78s it is even more complex as 78s started over 100 years ago before Electricity & are cut acoustically. You hear our MP3s, these are made using the phono EQ in the amplifier, the RIAA cutting the treble quite harshly but boosting the lower ranges to sound more natural, but on the typical hifi it is adequate & it matches CD & Youtube levels. But play it through real hifi & real large speakers it's another thing, but we won't go into that here...
Record EQ is rarely standard, despite the RIAA curve, you'll find records that are too dull sounding, too harsh sounding & too trebly sounding even into the 1980s. It's how the engineer (or his cat) set the levels or 'balanced' the recording. Some records were mastered way too loud killing any subtleties in the music, the db level barely changes on some UK Decca 60s tracks. As an idea how wrong it can be done, some UK President/Jay Boy records from 1973 sound really ghastly, the midrange is way too loud giving a 'cavey' sound. No doubt their monitor amp or speakers were damaged & they didn't know & just upped the EQ!
You can of course EQ any track to make sound more normal, we've done this on old 30s cartoons with dull, muffly sound to get them to sound listenable rather than unsatisfying. But you can only EQ up what is there, if it's very dull, cut too low & hissy you can only extract a limited range sound, but with skill & the tools you can get this sounding remarkably good. If you have no skill, only a music restoration program & tiny 6" speakers, it'll just sound overcooked like many CDs of old music not from mastertapes sound.
This is why the old records are still much wanted: the raw item that can always be gone back to, as with old Film & Music Tapes, until it deteriorates too far. Pity the Robert Johnson CDs still use the old basic 60s transfers, rather than getting the expensive & rare 78s & redoing them with today's techniques. Even the Elvis Sun tracks are still the 1956 transfers, but if you look at the waveforms on a computer of these tracks, they have been harshly butchered & EQd, rather than finding the masters or the 45s to use. Hear what "You're A Heartbreaker" sounds like direct from the Sun 45 with just a little declicking & mild noise reduction. Then play the usual thick & dull RCA transfer & a more modern CD version losing more of the "real sound". You are being sold a Dud by RCA!
Some vinyl facts we've discovered shuffling through old vinyl records...
• UK ISSUES are 99% on quality vinyl with little or no extra surface noise. Exceptions are c1964-66 Rio issues and some 1964-65 Island pressing, 4 prong centre ones, which were pressed on oddly cheap vinyl. Some mid-late 70s EMI pressings can have mild noise as pressed, shown by heavy streaky patterning in a certain light. Aside of lo-fi dubbed records & poor mastering where cutting amps were overloaded giving loud buzz/rip sounds on vocals etc UK issues are easy. Dubbed records? Many UK 45s were dubbed from US/JA copies, sometimes very well, Roy Orbison Oh Pretty Woman is dubbed but others are like Musical Sandpaper. Certain big early 60s hits, the worst one is Carole King's 'Rain' hit and Reggae ones dubbed from crackly or clicking records. A few of these dubbed copies skipped whilst the UK master tapes were being made even! Cajun Hart 'Got To Find A Way' & Prince Buster 'Soul Serenade' skip on the record being dubbed. A few hit records, ie Elvis American Trilogy & even a late 60s Supremes 45 that RC used to note, will always play "noisy" as they were dubbed from a less than perfect record. They can still be "Mint" if they look perfect, as this was how they were minted/made. Pop records were made as disposable product, not hi-tech product like CDs are now with over-restored unnaturally silent backgrounds at the expense of subtlety. You just have to accept this is how records are.
• USA ISSUES are not so easy. Early smaller labels, Sun Meteor Duke etc can play hissy unless you use a bigger size stylus than your 0.0007" Stereo one (they actually need custom ones, read more above). Vinyl quality in the 50s varies between OK to noisy even on Mint ones as they used cheap recycled vinyl leaving tiny bubbles in the vinyl giving noise & these get worse as played, esp MSICO stamped ones. Styrene copies if Mint are perfect sounding until played heavily on a Jukebox or a chipped stylus wears them. 1960s USA vinyl is better but still some will give surface noise ie Philles & other smaller indie labels. The big labels RCA DECCA COLUMBIA used best vinyl & even 1949 issues can sound great. 1970s USA vinyl to a lesser degree can have noisy pressings on small labels, but generally far better. USA issues due to cheap or thinner vinyl can be very slightly warped (less than 2mm off true). Knowledgable buyers realise this.
• JAMAICAN ISSUES. The early 1959-1965 vinyl is generally cheap & soft and even lightly used EX copies will have that surface noise, but unobtrusive. Some early 45s from 1961-63 have the Transcription stylus problem too like USA records. Some JA originals, such as Delroy Wilson "Riding For A Fall" and Chuck & Dobby "Running Around" are mastered with the wrong size styli, so the UK copies dubbed from the JA copy with a standard stylus naturally sound really awful, but having had the JA origs, with a bigger stylus (0.0015"-0.0018" size) they sound correct. Pre-release blanks were often on better vinyl than labelled copies. 1966-1990 vinyl is much better and approaches USA vinyl from this era. The 1970s-90s Studio 1 repressings often use the old corroded copper stampers giving much noise even unplayed as they never re-dressed the masters. 1960s Coloured transparent vinyl records used on early pressings for DJs play better as this is USA made kiddie 45s plastic imported from USA in the mid 60s. Even new 1980/90/2000s 45s look like early 70s ones as they still use old machinery, Jamaica despite it's very rich heritage of music is not a rich country.
1950s & 1960s records are easier to find Mint now
as Collectors have sold up & 40-50 years has got many collections sold. Late 70s/early 80s Picture sleeves are much harder to find Mint as these records are still kept by the original buyers, the casual buyer who sold up after they'd tired of the record didn't look after the fragile sleeves so many are only VG with gritty records. 25-30 years ago records from early 60s now common in NM or better you could only get VG if you were lucky. Time brings the records out, now a lot of older collectors are selling up. The low grade well used by casual record buyers likely got sold off a few years after they were a hit, second hand record shops in the late 60s-early 70s would be wonderful to time travel to! Remember, when that record was first heard, it was from a record, & it sold it (or not) to the public. Some may now be shown as pretty low quality on top hifi.
Any clinically over-remastered thick & dull sounding CD or MP3 removing any trace of hiss or surface noise is missing the soul & ambience of the music, which was mostly recorded live with vocalist & band playing together, not the many tracks mixed together & overdubs like today. Looking at the waveforms of CD tracks on audio programs shows the dull muffly sound is further pushed to 0db & beyond clipping on louder parts! CD master 'experts' are doing the music no favours. The master tapes they use will have deteriorated & be copies of copies losing more of the quality. It's like watching a Network DVD crisply transferred from the old film, compared to a lousy VHS copy or lesser quality DVD with faded colours & muddy sound. We've tried some MP3s & YouTube tracks & the quality unless buying from Napster is usually pretty crap & some use awful high compression rates killing the sound.