How To Determine The Condition Of A Vinyl Record

Determining the condition of a vinyl record can seem like a complicated undertaking. On one hand, you could just eye it out and give it a grade, but you’re not doing yourself or potential buyers any favors. Just ask our community support team how many complaints they receive daily from buyers who feel jaded about the condition of the vinyl record they received. Save yourself the headache by doing it right the first time.

The condition of a vinyl record is one of the primary variables for the value of the record. This can be problematic, as determining the condition is undeniably the most subjective part of the value equation. Finding the release variant can be time-consuming, but there is rarely any guessing involved. Discogs makes it a breeze to find vinyl record values using sales history, so there’s little guesswork needed there. But the condition is unique to each and every record. We’re writing this guide to help you determine the condition of the vinyl record in your hand, for guides to other formats check out the comprehensive help document for grading items.

Discogs uses the Goldmine Standard, a universally-accepted guideline for representing the condition of physical music. According to the Goldmine Standard, each vinyl and sleeve should be given a grade, that ranges from pristine Mint down to badly-damaged Poor/Fair. To determine the condition a vinyl record, you must grade it visually and, in most cases, play grade the record to give it one of eight ratings.

Read the basic overviews of how to visually inspect and play grade a record, then check the condition level summaries below to accurately determine the condition of a vinyl record.

Visual Inspection

Grading a vinyl record is inherently subjective, but knowing what to look for will help you accurately determine what condition a record is in. To visually grade a record, inspect the sleeve and any inserts (lyric sheets, posters, etc.) for ring wear, discoloration, sticker residue and seam splits. You will also need to inspect the vinyl surface for scratches and other imperfections. Visually inspecting a record is best done under a bright light positioned close to the vinyl surface.

Play Grade a Record

To play grade, you need to put the needle down and give it a spin. Do you hear clicks, pops, or skipping? Read ahead to see what that means for the condition of the vinyl record.

Vinyl Record Condition Summaries

Inspect the vinyl and sleeve and compare it to the notes for each step in the Goldmine Standard to determine the condition of a record.

Mint (M)

The sleeve and cover are absolutely perfect in every way. To qualify as Mint, the record must never have been played and is possibly still sealed. Mint should be used sparingly as a grade, if at all. Note that a record can be sealed and not Mint. There could be sleeve discoloration, ring wear, or a vinyl warp from if guidelines on how to store vinyl were not followed. Being graded as Mint means the record was not playtested.

Near Mint (NM or M-)

A nearly perfect record. A Near Mint record has more than likely never been played, and the vinyl will play perfectly, with no imperfections during playback. Many dealers won’t give a grade higher than this implying (perhaps correctly) that no record is ever truly perfect. The record should show no obvious signs of wear. A 45 RPM or EP sleeve should have no more than the most minor defects, such as any sign of slight handling. An LP cover should have no creases, folds, seam splits, cut-out holes, or other noticeable similar defects. The same should be true of any other inserts, such as posters, lyric sleeves, etc.

Very Good Plus (VG+)

A Very Good Plus record will show some signs that it was played and handled by a previous owner who took good care of it. Any defects are of a cosmetic nature, not affecting the actual playback. In theory, a VG+ record should sound the same as a Near Mint (NM) one. Vinyl surfaces may show some signs of wear and may have slight scuffs or very light scratches that don’t affect listening. Slight warps that do not affect the sound are okay.

The label may have some ring wear or discoloration, but it should be barely noticeable. Spindle marks may be present. Picture sleeves and inner sleeves will have some wear, slightly turned-up corners, or a small seam split. An LP cover may have sparse signs of wear and may be marred by a cut-out hole, indentation, or cut corner. In general, it plays perfectly, and if not for some minor aesthetic wear it would be Near Mint.

Very Good (VG)

Many of the defects found in a Very Good Plus record will be more pronounced in a Very Good item. Surface noise will be evident upon playing, especially in soft passages and during a song’s intro and fade, but will not overpower the music otherwise. Groove wear will start to be noticeable, as with light scratches (deep enough to feel with a fingernail) that will affect the sound. Labels may be marred by writing, or have tape or stickers (or their residue) attached. The same will be true of picture sleeves or LP covers. However, it will not have all of these problems at the same time.

Good, Good Plus (G, G+)

A record in Good or Good Plus condition can be played through without skipping, but it will have significant surface noise, scratches, and visible groove wear. A cover or sleeve will have seam splits, especially at the bottom or on the spine. Tape, writing, ring wear, or other defects will be present. While the record will be playable without skipping, noticeable surface noise and “ticks” will almost certainly accompany the playback.

Poor, Fair (P, F)

The record is cracked, badly warped, and won’t play through without skipping or repeating. The picture sleeve could be water damaged, split on more than one seam and heavily marred by wear or writing. The LP cover barely keeps the LP inside it. Inner sleeves are fully split, crinkled, and written upon. Poor or Fair records are generally worth very little, at most 5% of the Near Mint price.

Useful Terminology

Generic Sleeve

A type of sleeve that is not specific to the record. A generic sleeve is either a plain sleeve or a company sleeve with standard company artwork. A sleeve that is graded as “generic” needs no further grading, as a generic sleeve generally adds little value to the item and can be easily replaced.