play grading records

Play Grading Records: Success Through Listening


This blog is likely to be controversial with some people. It’s not my intention to do so. Grading vinyl records is a very difficult subject to master with guidelines that are open to interpretation. When I was selling, I toted that it was a subjective practice with objective expectations. 

Play grading is an essential tool in ensuring that your buyers will receive their record in the most accurate grade possible. Not only will it reduce costly complaints, returns & refunds, it will also help allow you to guarantee a higher price in cases where one may have visually under graded.

Certain types of damage like needle wear, heat and pressing defects can go undetected through visual grading. This can extend as far as even making a note of the overall recording quality, which has been brought up by many buyers as something they are often concerned with when purchasing records. Cleaning your record may actually improve the grade here as well.

Below are some samples I have recorded and graded. I used government issue public service announcement records to avoid any copyright issue that may stem. Unfortunately, spoken word records destined for radio use aren’t exactly the best pressings, so finding a really super clean record to use was quite a challenge. Here goes!

MINT: In order for a mint record to be considered mint by Goldmine standards, it can not ever be played, therefore, a mint record cannot be play graded.

NEAR MINT and VG+: A VG+ record should sound the same as a near mint record. There should be no surface noise whatsoever in either grade. The difference between Near Mint and VG+ is extremely minor cosmetic defects that do not affect play. A Near Mint or VG+ record should sound like this:

VG: A VG record should have minor surface noise that does not overpower the music and will mostly be noticable in soft passages or in the intro and outro of a disc. A VG record should sound like this:

GOOD: This is a record that will at best play through without skipping. It will be in rough condition and very noisy. A Good record should sound like this:

FAIR / POOR: Cracked, Warped or skips. If it skips, it’s this. Even if the rest of the record looks okay. This is the sound of my needle crying in pain:

Combined with keen visual grading, play-grading will help you excel and make a higher return on investment for your work. As grading is subject to interpretation, please feel free to share any opinions down below!

Re-using this shot from the old post. This particular batch also had items noted as being graded Mint Plus. Good times.

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  • Sep 3,2020 at 02:56

    What happens if a record and sleeve is mint or near mint apart from a stick in one place which could play through on some players.Harsh to grade as poor or fair and incorrect should be VG+I can give an example.The saints eternally yours.Every single pressing has a repeating groove on the last track side one know your product or no your product.This is due to a master tape /pressing fault.So in this instance every single record sold should be F or P.Many sellers never point this out either deliberately or through ignorance.So F or P would be incorrect.Also due to plastic shortage in early 70s many records were noisy when new so impossible to get a NM copy eg Island or Harvest.How are these graded ?

  • mjb
    Jun 25,2020 at 13:34

    I disagree with the interpretation that NM and VG+ only differ by cosmetic defects. They [i]primarily[/i] differ by cosmetic defects.

    The standard for VG+ actually reads “Defects should be more of a cosmetic nature, not affecting the actual playback as a whole.”

    [i]Should[/i] and [i]more of a[/i] and [i]as a whole[/i] are all very deliberate qualifiers. In other words, it should play [i]nearly[/i] as flawlessly as NM, but that [i]some[/i] minor imperfections may be heard, as long as they do not undermine the notion that the record was “handled by a previous owner who took good care of it”.

    This is more in line with how people actually grade. I mean, otherwise, dropping the value by 50% for some cosmetic marks is a bit steep. This is not coin collecting.

  • Jan 15,2020 at 03:02

    I agree with vinyshine 7. It’s almost impossible to not hear some kind of transition noise. Nothing in this world is perfect. It’s a subjective. I don’t have a gold ear. But, I do know what I like. I not looking for perfection. I just like to hear a record that plays well without a skip and lots of surface noise. So for your listening pleasure, turn down the lights. Have your favorite person with you, and a decent bottle of Thunderbird wine, and all will be fine, as you spin that disc.

  • Oct 6,2019 at 23:57

    I think no surface noise means no tics or crackle between tracks etc.. every record has some kind of vinyl rush (Sometimes Very Loud with recent pressings)but can be free of noise in every other aspect

  • Jul 30,2018 at 05:43

    Many thanks as all of these posts are great for a novice cataloger such as myself.

  • Dec 30,2015 at 06:42

    This grading system, does it allow for bad pressings in general? Meaning new releases like the United/Rainbo pressings for Daptone or Lost Highway. How on earth can you grade those accurately?
    I think the grading system is seriously flawed.

    This seller over on the Steve Hoffman forum is playgrading and actually grading per track:

    Visually Graded: Entry VG++ some light, largely cosmetic sleeve removal scuffing but overall very clean. High gloss. Poly sleeve kept.
    Jacket: Matte finish, lightweight UK style jacket is in nice shape, I’ll call it strongest VG+. With just a light 2 cm section on the top seam that flaked off- the seam is still intact, and not split. Very clean, no writing, stains or tears.

    Side One
    Over the Cliff: A few seconds of Entry VG++ then Strongest VG++, great acoustic jazz recording here, full bass from Jack
    Statues: Strongest VG+/Entry VG++ start with just a bit of intermittent very light SN as the horn players state the theme. Bowed bass section is very quiet and as such plays entry to Solid VG+, otherwise full sections entry to Solid VG++ killer.
    Sam’s Sack: Solid VG++ killer electric from John here, closer to his Jack Johnson style than his playing on Extrapolation. A few moments of Entry VG++ in Jack’s solo.
    Born to Be Blue: Killer ballad work. Entry to Solid VG++, beautiful tender playing from all parties.

    The level of detail is too much for most buyers I would think, and most buyers from him on that forum trust his ears and grading.

    And what about the setup you grade your records on?

  • Dec 4,2015 at 07:45

    Thank you all for commenting!

    To follow up on all this, it reiterates my main point: This is a subjective process with objective expectation.

    It’s my hope that by doing so I could bring awareness to that nobody is truly synchronized when it comes to grading and everyone’s scales are slightly different.

    Accurate grading is an artform all it’s own. As experience goes on, graders are more and more likely to make consistent grades, however nuances in opinion are still definitely prevalent.

  • Dec 3,2015 at 10:20

    First off, thanks for doing this. I think it would be great if there was a thread where people posted samples and readers graded them.

    I agree with several comments here.

    Most importantly, VG+ and NM are not the same. I have plenty of records that play silently or nearly so. That is NM. Records that are VG+ have less noise than your VG example. Or they may be NM almost everywhere, with a couple spots where tics are audible during the music. Part of the problem is that pressing plants like Rainbo, United, Bill Smith, and CZ regularly produced brand new LPs that play grade VG+ (or worse). It didn’t used to be so. Major label pressing plants in the 1980s routinely produced records that played perfectly. Japanese and German vinyl from the 1970s and 1980s is also often perfect if handled carefully. Now, only a few plants (QRP, Optimal, Pallas, Record Industry, RTI, MPO) are even capable of such and often don’t.

    The thread should also discuss the entire litany of audible flaws. These include:
    –mistracking distortion (fuzzy sibilants, bass distortion)
    –loud clicks, tics, pops
    –crackle (this is what’s in your VG example)
    –buzzes (from non-fill).

    We should also discuss standards for weighting one or a few loud clicks or pops vs. steady state crackle, when to downgrade for warps and off-center pressings, and so forth.

  • Dec 2,2015 at 03:17

    basczax well what if you are into “noise”…. :-P

  • Dec 1,2015 at 04:51

    I just want to add that everything in this grading scale is WRONG. VG+ records are NOT as you say. Poor/Fair does NOT mean “warped, cracked” etc.

  • Dec 1,2015 at 04:49

    This is an absurd grading scale. Even your listing template quotes something near Goldmine rating standards. Please consider having someone rewrite this who deals with vintage vinyl.

  • Nov 26,2015 at 14:33

    good points all, blumley and loukash :) Yeah I meant records with open jackets, of course…I myself possess a short stack of sealed old releases waiting to be unveiled during a particular celebration of unknown monumental significance lol…the “Federal” Reserve going out of business, or some other event of similar liberating magnitude…a very special occasion :)

  • Nov 26,2015 at 11:14

    > “yet, uh, last I checked, record surfaces are meant to be played and listened to, not stared at :)”

    I know quite a few record, er, [i]collectors[/i] who are only staring at their sealed shrinkwrapped covers. :P

  • Nov 26,2015 at 11:10

    “Good Plus” either sounds like VG but [i]looks[/i] like G, or vice versa.

    “Fair” will still partially play. (Think a single skip in one track but otherwise near mint. ;)

    “Poor” is a thin, circular, more or less flat piece of polyvinylchloride material with a hole in the middle.

  • Nov 26,2015 at 10:52

    A couple of other things I don’t understand: There is no mention here of G+, is that distinct from Good? And if the grading of Fair and Poor are identical in every respect – audio and visual – why don’t we just use one term or at least have Fair/Poor as one option in the grading drop down rather than two separate options…

  • Nov 26,2015 at 08:26

    I’ve got plenty of records with zero surface noise, and I don’t find it to be an uncommon occurrence at all…in fact I put out a couple some years ago…RIP Europadisk (and I can’t recommend Don Grossinger enough!). Maybe it’s the quarter grand stylus? Actually sort of cheap when you consider what’s available to folks with serious cash to utilize on their equipment….

    And it’s the Goldmine grading system, so it doesn’t need to make sense lol ;) Certainly one of the biggest flaws with their ranking is that VG+ and NM are only distinguishable from one another visually, yet, uh, last I checked, record surfaces are meant to be played and listened to, not stared at :)

  • Nov 26,2015 at 07:43

    ^^ [i][url=]This tape has been graded visually.[/url][/i]

  • Nov 26,2015 at 05:02

    Thanks for the article Diognes!

    However, I have to say I have some concerns.

    Firstly: Playgrading of course allows a seller to provide greater detail about their items, and that’s great. However it’s inescapable fact that no seller of higher volume can or will ever be able to playgrade every item of stock. I think it’s important to acknowledge this so that it does not become a expectation among buyers. Personally I am happy to playgrade anything on request which I think is fair and doable at my level of seller.

    Secondly: I do not understand the notion that NM and VG+ should sound identical. If a VG+ record exhibits marks not present on a NM copy it’s surely inevitable that these should translate into noise of some kind, however minor – that’s sort of the physics of it, right? It makes no sense to me why we bother with the distinction at all.

    Lastly, I have a problem with the phrase: “There should be no surface noise whatsoever in either grade”. I have never played a record, even a brand new/sealed one, that didn’t have some level background noise/sound at some point, however insignificant. Again, I think this sets up an unrealistic expectation among collectors that such a thing can exist. If you want that, you need a CD.

    Anyway, I hope you will accept these comments in the spirit intended. I also have a request: Since goldmine doesn’t address the grading of cassettes in any way – and yet cassettes are sold here – would it be good to run an article about how to grade cassettes? I’d be more than happy to collaborate with you if you were interested!

  • Nov 25,2015 at 22:29

    Well done, first person to tackle this with actual audio samples that I’ve seen, right about where I’d rate them myself, funny now “Good=Bad” to most of us collectors out there (basically good enough until you can get a better copy, same with covers) I like throwing in the Record Collectors grade of “excellent” between near mint & VG+ (mainly for covers, I rarely play grade stuff but don’t get many complaints ever). A good Nitty Gritty record cleaner can massively upgrade a dirty record doing the cleaning process up to 2 times if needed.

  • Nov 25,2015 at 15:04

    Good examples …

    … but. ;)

    I agree regarding VG+, but that’s also the reason why I personally rarely use NM.
    A truly “near mint” record should sound even cleaner than that example, i.e. no distortion in the loud parts at all.

  • Nov 25,2015 at 12:58

    I kind of agree with basczax. I have one, maybe two records that play dead quiet with no surface noise at all (at least none that I could hear, anyway). I tend to consider a VG+ record as one that plays mostly quiet, with the odd bit of surface noise (maybe a very light pop or tick here and there in the quieter parts, and perhaps some very faint crackling, also in the quieter parts). If I can hear any of the above (or more) during a typical song on the record in question, I consider it a VG, and once it starts to distract, G+.

  • Nov 25,2015 at 10:49

    No record I have ever played (and I have played a lot over 50 years) has had no surface noise, the fact that a needle is physically touching a record will produce “noise”.

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