Major Label Vinyl Disappointment – Dirty Mint LPs


The cynic in me blames Capitol Records for Side 1 of the Decemberists’ Crane Wife not sounding its best. I assume the major label cut costs on the vinyl manufacturing and all us crack pot record lovers have to suffer.

When I first pulled the record from its sleeve it caught the light in a way that revealed mold release residue spots like dusty finger prints all over the playing surface. When I spun the record on my Music Hall MMF-5 turntable, it had a definite warp. Dropping the needle confirmed the warps sonic signature: noise, pops and snaps with every 33 1/3 rotation.

Shu-shuk, shu-shuk, pop.

I’ve never heard Crane Wife before, not on CD, MP3 or internet radio. Beyond the rough surface noise the album presented a nice, clean soundstage with good separation between the many layered instruments. Colin McCoy’s voice, though, sounded hard, as in hitting the ceiling flat to the point of caustic distortion. Again, with no reference point, I don’t know if this is in the recording (done with the iZ Tech 24 track RADAR V, 24 bit/192 kHz at Chris Walla’s Hall of Justice), pressing or if I need to bust out the mirror, mini-torques, magnifying glass and bright lights and re-align my cartridge. I hate it when a new software title makes me doubt my hardware, I usually find the hardware was fine all along and the software is just buggy.

This noisy record has inspired me to investigate $40 DIY record cleaner machines again. I hope my local Goodwill has the right components to harvest: ice cream maker, air pump, vacuum cleaner with a 10 amp motor and a turntable platter. If I cannot find the right parts I can always spend $159 on a KAB EV-1 manual RCM.

Just as the turntable’s needle hit the run out groove, Beth arrived home from some quick Target shopping. “This new Decemberists album sounds terrible, so noisy,” I showed her the record and tried to get the right reflection angle so she could see the smudges. “Yeah, that’s bad,” Beth has an expert eye as she used to grade used vinyl for a living in the Nineties. As we were checking it out I also noticed how carelessly the label was affixed to the record and picked off some fine vinyl shavings from the record’s edge. “Plus, it’s warped.”

I slid the record back into its sleeve and returned it to my shelf. I was looking forward to listening to the whole album, but got discouraged in the first 15 minutes. I even pulled out all my acoustic treatments and carefully placed them around the room. Now I had to remove them back to the laundry room storage.

I probably won’t play the album again until I find or build a cleaning solution. This hobby is frustrating and rewarding.

3 thoughts on “Major Label Vinyl Disappointment – Dirty Mint LPs

  • April 20, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    Yeah, that sucks. But why don’t you just send/take the thing back where you got it? Most people I’ve run across who operate music shops are pretty cool, and would be understanding of such an issue + replace it.

    But yeah, I have some new LPs that have impossible crackling (Pixies’ Surfer Rosa). One has a skip in the same spot, and it’s brand new. A friend of mine bought the new Explosions In The Sky LP and had to send it back twice–it was messed up in the exact same spot on both copies he got.

  • April 21, 2007 at 7:24 am

    I buy all my new vinyl online from reputable dealers, or at least make sure that I can return the LP to my local shop if there’s a problem.

    I recently bought the new Norah Jones record, released by audiophile label Classic Records. The first copy I bought, the limited edition 150g red vinyl pressing, was extremely noisey. My RCM couldn’t do anything about it. The dealer, Elusive Disc, took the record back, but were out of all the red vinyl editions.

    They replaced it with the black vinyl 200g edition. This copy had distortion that I’ve never heard on a record before… it was so bad, I recorded it for posterity:

    I sent that one back too. Finally, I received a decent copy on the third try. It took a while, but in the end it was worth it.

  • April 24, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    KPZ — I bought it at Virgin Megastore, the only record store in lunch break walking distance. I don’t think I’ll return it, I want to fight this with a good record cleaning. The more I research cleaning, I find both new and old records need a good wet and vacuumed run through a cleaning machine. Now, I’m all excited to either DIY a RCM or buy the KAB EV-1, which it sounds like I will still need a pre vacuum rotating surface. I plan to use the MFSL Super Record Wash (aka RRL) and MFSL Brush and pads. Once I’m set up, the more dirty records the bigger the challenge for the RCM.

    Keith — It’s discouraging to hear that your RCM couldn’t help some pressings and also that “audiophile” grade pressings can vary so widely in quality.

    Inspired by your DIY RCM, I’ve been trying to figure how I can make my own version. The Goodwill by my house didn’t yield any ice cream maker motors or air pumps/vacuums. If I copy your design I’ll have to buy retail which is still cheap for the two major components: $25 each at Target. I’m also trying to figure out alternatives like an RC motor from a toy construction vehicle (not enough torque?), and a simple cork plant mat attached to a lazy susan undercarriage, with a spindle and door knob clamp.

    It’s hard to decide how far to go the DIY route as I already have so many half begun projects (like my headphone amp).

    Also all the cleaning in the world can’t help a warped record.

    Wish me luck.


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