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Positive Feedback ISSUE 16
november/december 2004


Foolproof Ways to Buy Excellent LPs, Part Two
by Robert H. Levi


In Part One, I discussed and identified three foolproof ways to buy excellent LPs. They are:

  • Buy only sealed vintage LPs.

  • Buy new LPs from those sources still producing premier vinyl.

  • Buy new reissue LPs of vintage recordings.

  • Join an audio society (more on this after I vent a bit).

Is this so radical? My first article about these techniques for saving time, money, and your ears was met with a negative letter and two opposing articles. However, since over 125,000 readers peruse PFO per month, 124,997 readers agreed with me. This was heartening.

Sealed, sealed, sealed should be the mantra of the LP-hungry audiophile. Accept nothing less, unless of course you are searching for ultra-rarities. Then you are on your own. I call that LP archeology. Let me ask you this: Would you buy a used car without driving it first? That's the way we are expected to buy used LPs. At least a new car comes with a warranty, and a new record has a cellophane wrapper.

I just bought a new phono cartridge—a ZYX R100H. It's cleaner and clearer than any transducer I've had in my system. It minimizes surface noise by tracking better and by providing a blacker background. I bought Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 (Mercury SR 90192), used and unsealed, for $40. It sounds pretty good, with only light surface noise and little wear, with the exception of a major nerve-shattering pop on side one. It is sweeter and more musical than the reissue CD from the early 90s, but should be easily eclipsed by a SACD reissue or the Speaker's Corner reissue LP, whichever comes first. The ZYX makes this expensive used record sound pretty enjoyable, but used is used.

Don't let those jaded LP mavens tell you that original pressings are better. I have yet to hear a reissue LP that does not toast an original, and I've heard at least 70 per cent of them. The Classic Records, Speakers Corner, Acoustic Sounds, etc. reissues are better than the originals, with only rare exceptions. It's like catching lightning in a bottle. Sealed Londons and Deccas are about the best of the oldies, and may give the reissue discs a run for their money in signal-to-noise ratio, but at what price glory? Good luck finding them sealed, or even in excellent condition, at under $50 per copy. A $3 copy from a thrift store or swap meet is not likely to please, I assure you. It was played on a record changer, and a quarter was taped to the tonearm for better tracking. A pristine, guaranteed reissue at $30, often less, is a better buy, and sure to please sonically.

I do have a fourth technique for buying foolproof LPs—join an audio society! In addition to learning about the best reissue LP sources and getting discounts on new discs, you will meet audiophiles with great, well-cared-for record collections, from whom you may acquire or swap. It happens all the time. I've had two complete LP collections offered to me over the years at audio society meetings. Join your local audio society if you love to collect vinyl!

Used vinyl is a crapshoot, and I don't gamble. After you acquire all of the latest premier and reissue LPs, buy the thrift store stuff—not the reverse. The only way we can encourage new LP issues and reissues is to do it with our dollars. The guys who made the original LPs can't help you now! Robert H. Levi (President, Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society)