Grading Discussion: Surface Noise (Discogs)

Discussion in 'Marketplace Discussions' started by Amanda Swager, Nov 26, 2020.

  1. Amanda Swager

    Amanda Swager Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Happy Holidays everyone!

    I am a collector of original (very few modern albums) vinyl records from around the late 60's - early 90's, with a strong eye on record quality (VG+ at the lowest, mainly NM). I have been listen through and audibly grading all my records (somewhere in the 500 range) through my two main turntables:

    Rega P8 with Hana SL cart, Rega MC Preamp, Schiit stuff (Magni, Sys)
    Rega P2 with Ortofon Black, Rega MM Preamp, More Schiit stuff (recording turntable)
    Audiodesk Vinyl Cleaner (Pro X)

    As I grade records (to determine if I want a better copy, selling the lower graded copies) I have been running into a couple different situations:

    1. Record is visually NM, plays with no (rare), or small amounts of surface noise
    2. Record is visually VG/VG+ (sleeve wear, minor marks), and plays with small to moderate amount of surface noise (does not overpower music)
    3. Record is visually NM, plays fine (good audio quality, little to no pops/distortion) but contains a lot a surface noise (overpowering the music at times)
    4. Record is visually NM, but is full of distortion, as in... 1 minute into listening... this record is trashed (but looks NM)
    5. The record was sold as NM or VG+ but is so trashed that it goes right back or in the trash with Neg Feedback for the seller (if they do not take the return)

    When ordering on Discogs I know many sellers do not play grade their records, but as a seller myself I am in a conundrum on 3 - 4... 1 and 2 are easy, NM to VG+. For 3 - 5 how do I grade them? Obviously I need to leave comments on the records.

    For 3, a current comment: Record visually looks NM - VG+, but plays with a lot of surface noise that can be heard over the music on Side 1, Side 2 plays NM/VG+.

    What is the record grade? VG, G+, etc?

    For 4, a current comment: Record visually looks NM/VG+, but has distortion in spots on side 1 (during the first 3 songs).

    What is the record grade? G+/G/F?

    For 5, my current policy is - less than 20.00 dollars probably trash or donate (with a note in feedback, request partial refund), over 20.00, return to seller.

    It is an interesting dilemma on grading... we all know how much of a crapshoot Discogs can be on grading...
  2. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic

    I find grading to be very superficial. What I like in a seller are clear descriptions. If you offer details on what exactly is wrong that should be more valuable than a simple grading.

    For those records that you are unsure on what to grade, maybe dont and leave it up to an auction instead. If the bidders know exactly whats wrong, say some groove wear on the last track but the rest is NM, then they will decide for themselves what its worth, might be higher than what you would set the price as on Discogs, and they shouldnt complain.

    What do you mean about distortion though? Some music just has baked in distortions to it. Do you mean groove wear?

    Also, your equipment is quite good. But be aware that some records play better on worse gear, or vice versa. I have certain records that play one grade higher on my ML stylus because it reaches deeper, avoids wear and noise at the top.
  3. Vinyldude63

    Vinyldude63 Well-Known Member

    Smithtown, NY
    I agree with previous post that a good description is more valuable than a simple VG or NM. I never purchase from Discogs if there is not a description or if the seller refuses to send photos on request.
    Aftermath and Leonthepro like this.
  4. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic

    Photos are nice and they even allow sound samples on Discogs now too.
    A lot of work, but I as someone who sells from my personal collection could gladly record a small segment of an inner track to show how little wear my copy has for example.
    That can get those big pocket NM collectors real giddy.
  5. ROFLnaked

    ROFLnaked Forum Resident

    I get that photos are a hassle for the seller, and thus the "generic photo" platform on Discogs makes it decidedly user-friendly.

    Yesterday I sent a polite question to a seller asking him to confirm the specific cover he's offering, along with a photo if at all possible. He responded to say that he has 1,000s of records and he only answers detailed description questions accompanied with "paid orders." For me, that was definitely a first.

    Needless to say, this one won't be a paid order; at least not by me.
  6. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    I buy mostly older records. For anything of value (and really just about anything since it is money, time, cost of shipping, etc.), I'll try to engage the seller in a dialog about condition. Typically, the higher the value of a particular copy, the more I feel entitled to ask for a play grading (except if the seller has bad gear or none- and there is no polite way to ask about the calibre of gear the seller has other than to note that I will be playing back on a very high calibre turntable/system and am looking for a clean player with no issues). The dialog itself and how the seller comports themselves is often telling too and gives me more information. Sometimes, the seller offers information about provenance of the copy, which if true, is helpful also.

    I usually suggest that it is better to sort this out now, in advance, than to deal with complications in the transaction and ask the seller if they are comfortable with a NM- or M- grading? (Even that is no assurance but my goal is to minimize the number of bad buys/returns, etc. and I pretty much confine myself to records that are highly graded in the listing). However, even play grading is subjective to some degree, and there are untrustworthy people out there, some of whom are simply ignorant, but in the majority of cases I'll get a response that satisfies me sufficiently to know whether to proceed w/ the transaction.

    Occasionally, a seller will say upon checking the record, they realize they overgraded. I'm not looking for discounts, so I'll pass on those.
    If I put the seller to the task of this, I'm not usually in a position to play hard ball on price. But, what I will do for a particularly valuable copy is to suggest express shipping per whatever method they have an account with, as part of an all in price that reflects a slight reduction in price, usually commensurate with the cost of the more expensive shipping. That has been successful most of the time. Sometimes, the records are actually underpriced, and I need to verify that the poster does indeed have what they purport to offer.
    A bad seller will not last long on Discogs, and I've had very few bad experiences as a result of asking these questions. I do try to consolidate and simplify the questions (especially if language is an issue) so a long diatribe like this is not something I would send to a prospective seller.
    I've also had sellers that were extremely conservative- I bought two different copies of the same pressing at the same time from two different vendors several years ago- same matrices, etc. The one the seller said was a solid VG+ and that I would be pleased with was actually cleaner than the M- 'never been played' copy that I paid an equal amount for-- "go figure," as they say in New Jersey.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2020
    Leonthepro and Hardcore like this.
  7. Pythonman

    Pythonman Forum Resident

    Make sure you put that Rega on a good isolation base and then, isolate that base if you haven’t done so. I had my old Planar 2 nearly dead silent in the groove only after I’d figured out that a solid top shelf of a rack wasn’t nearly good enough. Not by a long shot.

    Before that I heard a constant rush of vinyl grove sounds between songs or anywhere else where there should have been no sound at all on a record. The Regas themselves are quiet in the extreme.
  8. Vinyldude63

    Vinyldude63 Well-Known Member

    Smithtown, NY
    I don't know how a seller from Europe expects me to buy a $100 Record without at least a few photos.
  9. Warand Pain

    Warand Pain Well-Known Member

    "Comments: Vinyl would be NM if not for a few very light surface scuffs..."
    ... ? light ... scuffs... Near ... Mint..?
  10. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic

  11. drmoss_ca

    drmoss_ca Vinyl Cleaning Fiend

    Today I received a copy of Bread, Love and Dreams' first album. It's rather rare, but musically far more interesting than their (commercially) more successful second and third albums. It was rated VG for the disk, and VG+ for the sleeve. The disk has visible scratches on both sides, and sounds dreadful after cleaning on a Loricraft and then a Degritter. The sleeve looks like it was lying in a hayfield and went through the mower and then the baler. Scratched, scraped and falling apart.
    Certainly I have been ungraceful enough to add negative feedback. If we don't do that out of some sense of delicacy, sellers will abuse the ratings system again and again.
    lazydawg58 likes this.
  12. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Go Padres!!

    San Diego
    Visually nice looking LP's can have tons of groove damage. And some less than perfect looking LP's play great. Really depends on if there was a bad stylus damaging them previously. Hard to tell much visually in reality. I've never left negative feedback on Discogs because the seller has always responded to any problems. I guess I've been lucky. There was one situation where a seller never shipped my LP. He left confusing messages and refunded my money shortly after I asked when I would get it. I gave him a neutral.
    lazydawg58 likes this.
  13. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    Chris- not to fault you, but due to grading "inflation" I rarely buy anything below M- these days and even then, if it is an expensive record, will communicate with the seller first to get some assurance that the grade is accurate. It's a jungle out there.
    EdogawaRampo likes this.
  14. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Go Padres!!

    San Diego
    Did you message the seller first? I once got a perfect looking, completely groove damaged LP. Visually, I could see why he gave it a VG+. I let him know and he had a sealed copy which he promptly sent me no extra charge! Left him a great review in the end.
  15. Doghouse Riley

    Doghouse Riley Forum Resident

    North West England
    The grading system is a nonsense. The perceived quality is decided by the vendor.
    In my experience, on average "2 can mean 5"
    A few months ago, I bought a 45 of B.B King's The Thrill is Gone, on eBay for £10.99. I won't normally pay that much as it was only for one of my two jukeboxes, but there was little other choice.

    The quality was nowhere near as described, so I settled for a £7 refund.
    I've found Ebay vendors with 100% feed-back, usually quite accommodating
  16. Frank Bisby

    Frank Bisby Forum Resident

    You really can’t sell an album with anything other than a visual grade. What something sounds like can be subjective and entirely different from one system to another. A micro line stylus compared to a conical or a Shibata can pick up surface noise very differently. The more you describe an album the more a person can claim “not as described”.

    There are a lot of buyers out there who are just looking to test drive expensive albums they can’t afford. If you try and sell your play grade or describe what you think a pressing sounds like, you have exposed yourself to liability. People do tend to disagree and argue about what things sound like. People like to complain about sellers but try selling and you will quickly find buys can be just as frustrating.
    jackieboy and astro70 like this.
  17. EdogawaRampo

    EdogawaRampo Senior Member

    That's been my policy for many years now. The sad fact is that a VG+ grade ("VG" standing for "very good") very rarely means "very good" anymore. Ditto "excellent." If I see "VG" in a listing my first thought is "trashed" and "excellent" makes me e-mail for more details.
    Bill Hart and patient_ot like this.
  18. The Pinhead


    Don't buy used records. Some may play ok, but most won't.
  19. lazydawg58

    lazydawg58 Know enough to know how much I don't know

    Lillington NC
    I'd just say nothing opened is M, once opened the best it can be is NM. When visually and audibly grading either give a grade for each or just list the lower of the two. Nothing with any audible defects is NM. In a world where everyone follows the rules, if you hear a pop, tick, or single instance of surface noise then the best it can be in VG. But in the real world we know that few people grade that way. So if you hear a pop, tick, or some very short minor surface noise it's VG+. If there are more than a a couple/three of those it's VG. Almost all used records are really VG. But no one wants to admit it. :magoo:
  20. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    Perhaps in the general marketplace, that's true, but I don't buy such records.
    10/1 used/new- mostly from the early '70s- not a high point for US vinyl. A lot are unplayed, some still in shrink, some still sealed (although re-shrink is not a new trick).
    A lot of times, I'm cleaning off what looks like liner shed from old paper liners.
    Some do need to be flattened though and I have a machine for that.
    I'd say the chances of finding unmolested specimens relates to obscurity- I'm not buying just because it is obscure, but a lot of them are.
    As one story mentioned earlier, I bought a reissue of an obscure Italian prog album from the early '70s. The vendor decided to "trick" me by sending a still in shrink OG Italian pressing--it has price stickers over the yellowed shrink (none of that was native to Italy). My guess, the record just got kicked around as dead inventory for decades- nobody ever really opened it. That's unusual though.
    The process I described above helps me weed out the badly graded stuff. At at a certain price point for some of these small/private label obscurities, the sellers know not to waste time and money. I've had a few boners, but very few.
    lazydawg58 likes this.
  21. lazydawg58

    lazydawg58 Know enough to know how much I don't know

    Lillington NC
    Yes, I'm referring to the general marketplace. When I say "most" I'd put it at about 70-80% of the used records in circulation ( those going from original or 2nd owner to flipper and/or shop to buyer). Of course occasionally we'll come across a collection from someone that has taken excellent care of their records, either finding it at an estate sale, having someone sell or give it to you or selling to a shop or flipper that in turn sells some of them to you. Now I'll acknowledge that there are plenty of albums out there that get graded VG+ and even NM, it's just that those records are more often than not, such because of "over grading". But "Buyer fatigue" has led to accepting that VG+ are going to have some ticks, pops or surface noise.
  22. Cronverc

    Cronverc Forum Resident

    Just my opinion – I learned to accept the fact that LP is not a perfect medium. And I'm OK with that, probably because I'm more collector than “audiophile”. So honest VG+(EX) is fine with me, 40-50 years old records are not supposed to be “mint”, they are what they are, just “pieces of history” if You will. Sometimes, if a record is really rare, even VG is acceptable. Two things however are unacceptable – skips and groove damage. If a record has any of that, it's not a record anymore, it's trash.

    Anyway, IMO if one is looking for perfect “silent” medium, he better stay away from vintage, especially collectible records and stick to digital.
    jackieboy, mstoelk and lazydawg58 like this.
  23. lazydawg58

    lazydawg58 Know enough to know how much I don't know

    Lillington NC
    Hard to argue with any of what you wrote. Now if people would just grade realistically and buyers would accept that they aren't buying a perfect medium. :tiphat:
  24. drmoss_ca

    drmoss_ca Vinyl Cleaning Fiend

    The seller I mentioned above told me I was "just complaining" and "not looking for a solution."
    The only solution that works for me is some honesty in grading. Does this look like VG+ ("minor wear") to anyone?

  25. astro70

    astro70 Forum Resident

    Southern Illinois
    I often am in the dilemma where I have what looks to be a solid VG+ or even close to NM record that will have occasional distortion due to groove wear. I have a whole crate of such records where I want to sell them but just can't settle on a grade. Most are somewhat rare or desirable to begin with, but when you add in the groove wear, it gets complicated. Some of these records have even been listened to by others who claim to not hear it. So then, I wonder if I shouldn't just grade them as G+ for instance or VG-, and if it plays back better for someone, good for them. But it's not entirely accurate grading them G+ when most sellers would take a look at them visually and call them VG+. Not to mention, the market for G+ vinyl, even on rare stuff isn't exactly appealing as a seller. And I don't exactly want to take pennies for it since again, it's not junk, I just don't tolerate wear. If I get something with groove wear, unless it's something extremely rare or I'll never find another copy, it goes straight into the trade pile. But then I don't want to trade it into the local record store or sell it to some poor soul because I don't want to rip people off, just want a fair deal.

    The problem here is nobody's VG+ is the same. For some it means a record they played one time and it has a sleeve scuff that is inaudible. For others it can mean unplayable, groove worn garbage covered in dirt, with absolutely no way to accurately grade before a cleaning.
    lazydawg58 likes this.

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