Do First Pressings Sound Better?

Do First Pressings Sound Better?

I get a lot of questions about first pressings of records. Specifically, “Are the first versions of an album more valuable?” And, “Do first pressings sound better?”

The answer to the first question is yes. First pressings of a vinyl record are generally more desirable. They’re seen as more “authentic,” and so vinyl lovers will generally pay more for that first edition. If there’s anything unique about that album — a special cover, a sticker, a band poster or an insert — it’s going to be in that first pressing. Record companies are cheap, so on subsequent pressings, those goodies are not always going to be included. So yes, first pressings generally command a better price. You can check out our video on valuing your records for a more in-depth discussion of how to determine which pressing you have.

What About the Sound?

The second questThe Who Live at Leedsion is: Do first pressings sound better? Is the audio quality better? The answer to that question is a big … it depends. Big picture, a first pressing is not automatically a guarantee of audio quality. Why? Because a lot of things have to happen for a record to sound great. A great-sounding record has a full dynamic range (you can hear everything from the lowest lows to the highest highs). There is also good frequency separation (not a muddy, jumbled mass of sound). For example, the vocals aren’t buried behind the drums. And finally, there are no extraneous sounds. No hisses and pops or audio nasties baked into the mix. One of my favorite albums, The Who Live At Leeds, is as legendary for its raw power as it is for its raw sound. The band used a sub-par mobile recording unit for the shows, and the result was crackles and pops throughout the original tapes. This resulted in the now-famous “Crackling Noises Ok – Do Not Correct” note on the record label (see image). Later remasterings of this classic 1970 release removed the offending noises. Yet, to me, Live At Leeds is the hands-down best live record of all time … because it sounds live (crackles and all)!

A Master Class in Mastering

So, what makes a particular pressing sound good? Well, the biggest variable in how good a record sounds is how it was mastered. The recording master is the metal plate that stamps out all those globs of hot vinyl into a record. Actually, before it’s a metal master, it’s a lacquer disc (see “The Plating Process” infographic at the end of this article). Metal master of a vinyl record album Basically, a mastering engineer uses a special lathe — a cutting head— to transform all those sound waves into grooves on a master disc. It’s a super-critical step in making a great-sounding record — so important that mastering engineers get their name on the album, right alongside the band and the producer. The mastering process is ultimately where an album’s overall dynamic and spectral balance is sculpted and polished. Mastering engineers also address more straightforward issues, like removing tongue clicks and vocal hiss. “Sibilance” is what they call it (the worst offenders are S, T and Z sounds). So, a good mastering engineer is blessed with both technical expertise and superb ears.

A Good Source Master Makes a Great Record, Every Time

Big picture, good mastering maximizes what an analog LP does best — create warm, natural and realistic sounding music. Some mastering engineers make a name for themselves by producing such excellent sounding records that aficionados will actually seek out their pressings. If you want to find out who mastered a particular record, just check the code in the runout, or “dead wax,” area of the vinyl.

Vinyl record runout code A lot of time, the mastering engineer will actually hand etch their name or initials, or put some kind of message in there. Big names in mastering include Kevin Gray (KG), Lee Hulko (LH), Rudy Van Gelder (RVG), Bernie Grundman (BG) and George Peckham (Pecko Duck). Copies of Led Zeppelin’s second album with Robert Ludwig’s initials (RL) are especially prized because his original “hot mix” of Zeppelin II is considered the definitive pressing. Legend has it, he cut the album with so much bass that the needle jumped out of the groove on cheap turntables. People returned their records, thinking they were defective, and Atlantic Records brought in another mastering engineer to tame down the mix.

So, Where Does It Goes Wrong?

Ultimately, there are a ton of things that can impact the audio quality of a record. The stamper that stamps out all those discs is under ridiculous pressure. It might pick up scratches and flaws as the run progresses and press them into the record. There could be issues with the lacquer master — even the quality of the pellets that are melted down to form the glob of hot vinyl. All those things can make one pressing sound markedly different than another.First pressing of a vinyl record As those records are re-issued, different pressings start floating around. A really popular record like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or The Eagles’ Hotel California or a Beatle’s record may be repressed a dozen times. Those pressings might sound dramatically better or dramatically worse than the first pressing — or there may be no discernible difference.

Dig Deep for the Best Sound

So, how do you find out about different pressings? The easiest place to find this kind of information is on a website like Discogs. Just decipher the code in the runout (the center of the record) and start digging. Audiophile forums, stereo magazines and fan forums like Reddit are another place to go. And if you’re buying an album online, there will often be some discussion of audio quality in the reviews and comments section. Warning: It can get kinda geeky to follow an endless debate about the virtues of one pressing over another.

So again, a first pressing is no guarantee of audio quality. It might be an amazing sounding record — and probably will be. But then again, the next pressing might be the better pressing. You just have to do your research.

The Deaf Man always loves talking records and stereo gear, so drop us a question or comment, and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for great some great video content.

Until next time, keep ’em spinning!

The plating process for a vinyl record

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Bust the Dust: Learn the Best Way to Clean Vinyl Records

Bust the Dust: Learn the Best Way to Clean Vinyl Records

Hey! It’s the Deaf Man, here to talk with you about how to clean vinyl records.

record cleaningI know, I know. Everybody thinks they have the best way for cleaning dirty records. I always say if you want to start a fight at a record show, ask a couple of hardcore vinyl guys for some record cleaning tips. A riot will break out. Because everybody’s got an opinion. Everybody thinks their method works best. They’ve got the best record cleaning kit and they will absolutely bore you to tears explaining their incredibly detailed, anal-retentive process for cleaning records.

So, we’re not gonna go there. Instead, I’m going to share with you some record cleaning tips I’ve learned. I clean a ton of records every day — stuff that I’m listing on DeafManVinyl.com as well as records from my own collection that I’m getting ready to play. In particular, I want to share with you two absolutely critical steps I’ve learned for cleaning vinyl records — and keeping them clean. We’re also going to take a look at what’s in the best record cleaning kit.

But First …

Before we start any discussion on the best way to clean vinyl records, we’re gonna start with how NOT to clean your records. So, before we go any further, put away the alcohol, the Windex, the fancy record-cleaning solution … whatever anyone has ever told you to clean a record with. If you don’t “bust the dust” — if you don’t get all the dust out of those grooves first  —  you’re just going to be making mud when you add any type of liquid to the record surface. When it dries, that mud turns into stylus-killing concrete. So, my number-one record cleaning tip for you is NEVER start wet, ALWAYS start dry. Carry on.

Meet the Enemy

To understand how to clean vinyl records, you have to start by understanding the enemy. The enemy is dust. And the enemy is everywhere. Bits of paper fiber from the record sleeve. Stray bits of vinyl from the pressing process. Cat hair, carpet fibers, Roomba exhaust. Any of that stuff that comes between your needle and the groove is going to give you the Rice Crispies — that dirty vinyl snap, crackle and pop.

And if you’re not careful how you go about cleaning your dirty records, you’re going to be fighting a losing battle. Because the other enemy is static electricity.

Static electricity makes it hard to clean your vinyl recordsRemember that demonstration your fifth grade science teacher did where you rubbed a balloon on your clothes a few times and then stuck it to the wall?  Or, made your hair fly? That’s static electricity in action. A powerful force. Well, the same thing happens when you pull a vinyl record out of the jacket. The friction caused by simply removing the record sets all those protons and electrons into a frenzy. Same thing happens when you run a record cleaning brush around the disc a couple of times. It creates a static charge.

The heavier the vinyl, the more statically charged it becomes. And guess what? Vinyl is getting heavier. These days, heavyweight 180-gram vinyl is the new norm. So, the best way to clean a vinyl record is to start by acknowledging that your record is an electrostatically charged, particle-sucking dust magnet. You’re trying get the dust off a highly charged vinyl record that wants to suck up every dust particle in its vicinity. So, you need a method of cleaning dirty records that defeats those two enemies — dust and static

Yes, there are tricks you can use to neutralize the static charge. You can use an ionizer like a ZeroStat gun, but those run into some money. Things like a cork mat on your turntable help. You can even add a humidifier to a room to knock down some of the static. But that’s all kind of complicated. And most of us don’t like complicated.

Another One Bites the Dust

I’m not going to say this is absolutely the best way to clean a vinyl record … but it’s absolutely the best way I’ve found. And it starts with making a simple change to the way you hold your records when you’re cleaning them. How to clean a vinyl record step 1

Here’s the deal: Most of us clean a record by holding it in our hand and running a record cleaning brush over it (or worse, blowing on it … hello spit!). With the brush, we go around the record a couple of times and then sweep the dust off over the edge and out into space.

Here’s the maddening part: If you’re holding the record in your hand and sweeping dust over the edge, it immediately gets caught in the static vortex and jumps to the opposite side of the record. Trust me on this. You will be playing a very frustrating version of whack a mole as you flip from one side to the next and see the same pile that you’ve just swept off the other side.

Or, maybe you’re one of those people who likes to brush your vinyl down as it’s spinning on the turntable … that statically charged turntable. When you do that, all the dust is swept onto the turntable surface, ready to jump onto the next unsuspecting, statically charged vinyl record that comes its way.

With all that static electricity holding everything tight, you have to apply some pressure with your record cleaning kit to get down into the grooves and get all that dust out of there. And you just can’t put enough pressure on a record when it’s balanced on your hand or sitting on your turntable.

Get on Your Back and Ride

So for those two reasons — the static whack-a-mole and the need to get deep into those grooves — the best way to clean a vinyl record is to start with it flat on its back on a statically neutral surface. The best way to clean a vinyl record is to lay it flat

So, clean off a space and lay down a piece of clean, lint-free material. You can use a placemat or a microfiber towel. For a long time, I used a very nice linen napkin that I lifted off a cruise ship during a family vacation (apologies, Norwegian Joy). Or you could use one of the record cleaning mats we have in the store. These have a rubber backing to isolate the static charge and come in some cool patterns (The Who, AC/DC, KISS and the Grateful Dead).

Whatever you use, make sure it’s big enough to fit the record. Laying your record flat like this is going to control where that dust goes when you start cleaning dirty records. It’s also going to give you a stable base where you can apply the right amount of pressure to really clean those grooves.

What’s In Your Record Cleaning Kit?

I always start with a good-quality record cleaning brush. A carbon-fiber brush will help knock down the static. We carry Vinyl Styl products, and I really like their stuff. We never sell anything we don’t use ourselves, and I have road-tested their record cleaning kits quite a bit. Using a carbon fiber brush to brush the dust off a dirty vinyl record

With your record lying flat, you’ll want to get the bristles down in the grooves, where they’ll dislodge the dust. So, several times around the disc, getting your carbon fiber brush down into the grooves. You’re not trying to completely clean the record. This is simply to loosen everything up and get it to the surface.

Then, when it’s time to sweep those particles off into space, you can hang the record ever so slightly off the edge of your surface and schweeep! When you are cleaning dirty records this way, there’s no exposed surface for all that dust to jump onto the other side like there would be if you were holding it in your hand. Then flip the record over and do it again, remembering to shake out your mat. It sounds ridiculously simple, but laying it flat like that is one of the best record cleaning tips I’ve found.

Using a record cleaning brush to remove dust from a vinyl LPThe Brush Off

Now, it’s time for your record cleaning brush. This is going to collect all that dust that you brought to the surface with your carbon fiber brush. To keep things moving, I use two different brushes. A flat one and a rounded on. The idea is the same. But unlike with your first step with the carbon fiber brush, the record cleaning brush is going to actually carry the dust away.

Start with the flat brush, which will do a great job of digging down into the grooves. But it can only carry off so much dust. It will leave the rest in a nice line for you. You can brush some of that off with your carbon fiber brush. But what you really need to do is come back with a rounded brush.

I use a vintage DiscWasher. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, this was the go-to brush if were serious about cleaning vinyl records. If you can find a vintage Discwasher on eBay, grab it! With a rounded record cleaning brush, you add a little wrist action and as you rotate it upward, you collect all the remaining dust. You twist as you go, so there’s always a clean brush surface picking up the dust.

Use a round record cleaning brush to get the dust outUnder Pressure

Remember what I said about pressure? Having everything flat as you’re cleaning records gives you the perfect angle to press down and really get to the dust. You might need to alternate between the carbon fiber brush and the record cleaning brush a couple of times if you’re bulldozering up a bunch of gunk as go around.

Just be sure clean the record cleaning brush before you go around again. I keep a toothbrush handy for that. Not a gnarly chewed up one, but a new one that I can use to brush out the pad a few times until it’s clean. A lot of record cleaning kits come with a small brush to do that, but I usually just toss them and use a toothbrush.Use a tooth brush to clean your record cleaning brush

Do that flat brush/round brush routine until you see no more dust. With a really dirty record, I might have to go through that cycle two or three times. Just keep at it until you’re not bringing up any more dust. In my opinion, that is simply the best way to clean a vinyl record.

Now, You’re Ready to Rock

Before you slap your clean record on the turntable, take a second to knock the dust off your turntable mat. I’ll take the mat up and shake it out every once in awhile and sometimes even give it a wash. But you can just as easily give it a quick brush. Just remember to do that regularly. Same thing with the surface of your turntable. If you’ve got a dust cover, great. But most of the vintage turntables I use don’t have the original cover, so I’ve got to be intentional about wiping the dust off.

At the same time, give your stylus a quick brush with a stylus brush. You should really be doing this every time you play a record. Just remember to brush from back to front. Your stylus is hanging off the cartridge on a thin strip of fiber or metal that is meant to flex up and down. It’s only supposed flex in one direction, and if you brush from front to back, you run the risk of bending the stylus out of whack. The Vinyl Styl stylus cleaning kits we carry come with some anti-static fluid you can use to get everything clean and dust-free. record cleaning bruch

So remember: If you want to know the best way to clean vinyl records, remember these three steps:

1) Start dry. Get the dust out before you use any type of record-cleaning solution.

2) Lay it flat. Lay your record flat on a clean surface so you can control the static electricity and at the same time be able to really get down in those grooves.

3) Brush it out. Use the 1-2-3 combination of carbon-fiber brush, a flat record cleaning brush and a rounded record cleaning brush to get the dust out.

And finally, when you’re done listening to that sweet, sweet clean record, don’t slip it back into a nasty old inner sleeve that’s loaded with dust. Treat your album to a fresh inner sleeve. You can get them literally for pennies. Or, you can step it up a notch and use an archival-quality sleeve with the anti-static coating. Get rid of the old record sleeves

Hopefully, you’ve learned some solid record cleaning tips and will be enjoying your records even moreYou’ll find all kinds of record cleaning kits, sleeves and even those spiffy rock ‘n’ roll cleaning mats on deafmanvinyl.com. Of course, you can always email me at deafmanvinyl@gmail.com if you want to talk records. Or if you have questions about cleaning and storing your vinyl, just leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, keep ’em spinning!

PS — This is the transcript that goes with this video.

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So, Why Start an Online Record Store in the Middle of a Pandemic?

So, Why Start an Online Record Store in the Middle of a Pandemic?

Well, why not? Turns out all this enforced seclusion is rocket fuel for dreamers and schemers. With a little time on my hands, a passion for all things vinyl quickly went from an eBay side hustle to something much bigger. Out of the COVID chaos, Deaf Man Vinyl was born on this day, May 25, 2020. No bricks, no mortar — just a fiercely independent online record store. No junk. Just a lovingly curated list of really great records. Important albums. Classics. Music that should be heard.

And yes, there is significance to a May 25th launch. A deep significance. My much-beloved father was born on May 25. Popee was always a believer. A cheerleader and encourager of all my entrepreneurial ventures. And I know he’d be grinning at this one.

Welcome to My 8-track Nightmare

My dad looms large in my musical upbringing, although I tell people that I grew up in a musical ghetto. Yes, there was always music in the house. My folks had the classic 1970s speakers-as-furniture thing going on, and Pops graciously let me run my 45s through them. But the soundtrack of my early life was decidedly uncool. Family road trips were an unending 8-track serenade from the Carpenters and Ferrante & Teicher (I think they came with the Buick).

George Carlin as the Hippy Dippy WeathermanThings were not much better at home, where the stack on the Gerard “record changer” was heavy on John Denver and Helen Reddy. The only bright spot was family night in the den, when Pops broke out the George Carlin albums. Before HBO stand-up specials, this was about the only way to get your comedy. I remember literally peeing my pjs at Al Sleet, the “Hippy Dippy Weatherman” — and sneaking in an after-hours listen to that most forbidden of all fruit, the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Thankfully, my free-thinking dad knew that dirty words didn’t have the power to “curve your spine, grow hair on your hands and maybe, even bring — God help us — peace without honor, and a bourbon.”

One of These Nights …

I still remember the day my dad brought home The EaglesOne of These Nights from the record store in the Wonderland Mall (this was way before online record stores). Whaaat!? Then a four-LP box set from Chicago, Live at Carnegie Hall. Holy sh*t! Of course, being Texas in the mid ’70s, some choice Willie Nelson made its way home (I still get Lone-Star nostalgic when I hear Red Headed Stranger or Shotgun Willie).

Slowly but surely, I began cobbling together some relief. A garage-sale 8-track here and there. Grand Funk’s American Band on 45 rpm. Then, my first-ever LP album — purchased with yard-mowing money earned the hard way in that blazing hot Texas sun. Aaaaah … Elton John’s 1973 2-disc masterpiece! Goodbye Yellow Brick Road spurred some serious 11-year-old pondering. What is it about Saturday night that makes it alright for fighting? And why, exactly, do all the young girls love Alice?

You Don’t Send Me Flowers

Still, I couldn’t fully escape the familial curse. My first concert was Neil Diamond with the folks. (In fairness, I’ve grown to love Neil Diamond and am still in awe to this day of his hitmaking ability). Yet, this was the same dad who schlepped his 14-year-old son and his two thugs-in-the-making buddies to the Municipal Auditorium to see Alice Cooper. The Welcome to My Nightmare tour was the stuff of parental nightmares — all guillotines and gore, pyrotechnics and pythons. All my dad knew is that it made me happy, and so away we went.Alice Cooper Welcome to My Nightmare Album Cover

This the same dad who sweated it out in the parking lot on a muggy South Florida night to pick up me and another thug-in-the-making from Aerosmith’s stop on the Draw the Lines Tour. The same dad who made a midnight run to the Detention Center after a fight at a Ted Nugent concert landed me in juvie. Sigh …

Der Funkengruvin No. 7

So that’s my Pops. Wish I could say his musical taste got better. But the most daring he got with live music was proudly taking my sister and me to a Sha Na Na show.

He never rocked hard. Instead, he developed a deep and abiding love of classical music. There weren’t any online record stores back then, so I remember panicked Father’s Day trips to a brick-and-mortar store, frantically pawing through the inscrutable Deutsche Grammophon releases, trying to figure out the difference between Concerto No. 5 and Symphony No. 7. For birthdays, I worked off some of my crushing debt to the Columbia House Record and Tape Club with a tasty “selection of the month” or two for dad (those Art Garfunkel and Leon Redbone albums had to go somewhere).

And dad always returned the favor. I begged him to get me the California Jam II album after I heard Frank Marino crushing it with Johnny B. Goode. And there it was under the Christmas tree, igniting my enduring love of the Blues.

That was my dad. The beloved man who filled the house with music. I wish with all of my heart he was here now. I’d be busting his chops once again over his questionable taste in music — and that truly horrific comb-over. But I know he would be as proud and as excited as I am to see our online record store Deaf Man Vinyl come to life.

I hope you, too, have someone who’s always in your corner. Someone who believes in you. Someone who fills your life with music.

Rock on, Popee.

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