Vinyl Record Grading: How It Works

Published Categorized as Vinyl 101

What is vinyl record grading? And how exactly does it work? Well, this is precisely what we seek to answer for you today, so come on in from the cold!

Vinyl record grading

Mint Condition (M)

Grading vinyl records that are deemed to be in mint condition will be those considered perfect and unmarred, more or less coming in a condition that is brand new. The disc itself will be untouched by surface marks, groove wear, ring wear, surface noise, or anything that might otherwise affect the overall sound quality.

Likewise, this quality will also be reflected in the record’s sleeve, which will be entirely unaffected by any light marks or anything that would otherwise eschew the appearance of it being brand new. Many mint-condition records, in fact, still come in their original plastic wrapping.

It is, however, not too difficult to rewrap a record in cellophane wrap in this way, so any record collector looking to purchase a record in this way ought to be seriously careful where exactly they tread, lest they end up with a record that bastardizes the whole vinyl grading system under the guise of a sealed album.

Near Mint Condition (NM)

In being so closely associated with a mint condition record, an NM record is going to be only slightly out of the reach of being a mint condition record. Where the former will almost certainly never have been opened or played before, the latter will tend to have been opened and either never played or only played a few times.

A near-mint condition record will thus be almost entirely perfect, bearing next to no marks on the record itself or the sleeve within which it is contained, unlike some more used records and vinyl albums.

Record collectors are likely to come across a near mint value record far more frequently than its other namesake, as sellers are reluctant to call designate something as mint in condition, preferring instead to simply call it ‘brand new,’ or something similar. Near-mint NM is something to aspire to.

Excellent Condition (E)

Following on sequentially, there is a very slight lessening of quality between a near-mint record and an excellent condition record. One of the key indicators between the two is the presence of stress marks on the latter, which bear the resemblance of a few light scuffs born as a result of removal and insertion into the record sleeve, something that is further exacerbated with repeated use and listening.

The gradations in quality between a near-mint record and an excellent record will be rather subjective, though in the case of the latter, there is at least a bit more of a tolerance for very minor signs of wear and light visible scratches on the album cover and elsewhere that are barely noticeable.

A record of this grading will still only have been played a few more times than a near-mint record in the grand scheme of things.

Very Good Plus Condition (VG+)

Decreasing in overall quality ever so slightly as we move on sequentially, we reach the VG+ category of record. A record exhibited and sold at this level of the grading might indeed be marred by light scratches, light ring wear, or more. However, no matter what, the marks, scratches, etc, should not hinder the quality of playback.

And the same goes for the sleeve, too, for this is truly something that is supposed to be enjoyed in its own right. No matter the guide to vinyl record sizes, the album art is still going to be printed on a large enough form for the resident record collector to sit back and admire it with knowingness.

Therefore, if a record has been kept in a strong light for a considerable amount of time (enough that the sleeve is sun-bleached and the like), then its currency is no good here.

Very Good Condition (VG)

Though there is little, as ever, that separates this category of grading from the previous, that which does is of the utmost significance.

While there is no allowance in the prior category for the various marks and scratches to hinder the sound quality, with a VG record, there is at least some, meaning that small detriments to the overall quality of audio playback are more or less to be expected.

This allowance does not delve much further than slight clicks and pops, erstwhile signs that a record was much loved, both in the care that was attended to it and the eventual hairline marks and scratches that were an inevitable result of its frequent spinning.

There is, however, no place for significant surface noise and the like, nor anything else that is going to put a constant strain on the quality of the audio playback. As seen, VG records are perfectly powerful and a great condition to pick up rare records in, usually only exhibiting some minor wear.

Good Condition (G)

A G-rated record will be one that exhibits the many telltale signs of a life spent gladly beneath the needle. There will be a significant and frequently noticeable deterioration in the overall listening experience, to the chagrin of some and the aggravation of others.

Likewise, the sleeve itself will be subject to a whole host of distortions and detriments, including marks, bends, scuffing, folding, spine splits, and even discoloration as a result of overexposure to UV rays, having not learned the art of storing records. Buy yourself a record crate and get stuck in.

At this point in the grading system, we have already reached a touching stone that many buyers simply refuse to touch unless entirely desperate or unless provided with no other choice. Thus, it is recommended only to sell at this level and certainly only to do so if desperate oneself or if the record is a rare one that is likely to fetch a considerable sum.

So, to grade vinyl records is to attempt to sidestep such disappointment in the future, especially in an online record store like Discogs. Such a record store will always use a metric like this for precisely this reason.

Fair Condition (F)

On a record of this variety, there will be a considerable degree of damage, both visually and in terms of audio playback, with significant ring wear left, right, and center. Light scratches deep into the makeup of the record, minor writing on the record’s jacket, major noise issues, etc.

The sleeve itself will tend to be gravely affected by distortions, sun-bleached as in previous categories, though this time at a level taken to extremes. It is not altogether uncommon for a record in this category to even be without a sleeve entirely, coming instead in an inner jacket bound within a cellophane wrapping of sorts.

These once were wonderful records pressed brand new, and sadly they have either been much loved over the years to the point where the listening experience they contain has been seriously compromised or have been mistreated and abused to a similar degree.

The central difference between these two courses is that in the former, the record will likely have lived a longer and happier life in the hands of an owner who loved and cared for them. In the latter, not so much.

Poor Condition (P)

A record of poor condition will be scarcely even able to play properly and consistently owing to the defects present on the surface. You certainly would not be finding a record like this in a retail store unless it has been recycled into something else, of course.

As with a record in fair condition, it is not uncommon for a record in poor condition to be without a record sleeve altogether. Certainly, if it does come with one, it will be in a compromised and ill condition, with seams and splits that mean it can barely stay in one piece, along with the various other aspects of distortion that characterized the previous few pegs of the vinyl grading system.

Sometimes, there will even be chunks missing, cut-out markings from years gone by, or else the various extra pieces of the package will be marred or missing.

Bad Condition (B)

And finally, at the very end of the veritable spectrum of viny record grades, we have a record that is deemed to be in bad condition. You are rarely, if ever, going to find a record in such a condition as this, but I suppose it is worth knowing what to look for, even if it is only for my peace of mind in rounding off this list.

A record listed in such a category will be borderline unplayable by the very definition of being labeled bad, no matter how many actual records that can be spun perfectly you might deem ‘unplayable’.

Likewise, a bad record is more likely to be scant off the sleeve than not, which may even be one of the reasons it is no longer playable, having garnered so many scratches, bumps, and warts along the way without shelter.

Final Tones – So, What Is Vinyl Record Grading?

So, there you have it! Hopefully, this article on vinyl record grading system has been of some use to you!

Can you get vinyl records graded?

Indeed you can, though you can just as easily do it yourself as long as you follow the specific guidance above.

What does VG ++ mean for vinyl?

Vinyl in this category might exhibit some marks and signs of wear, but this should never be at the expense of playback. The same goes for the sleeve too, where no marks should affect the experience of looking at it.

Is there a company that grades vinyl records?

Sure, there are several, but you can very easily do it yourself by following the metric guidance about it online.

What does G+ mean for vinyl?

A record in this category will exhibit some signs of wear and tear that come with being well-loved. These signs may also get in the way of the listening experience a little.

By Robert Halvari

My name is Robert Halvari - audio engineer and a total audiophile. I love vinyl because it has that natural character which brings music to life. I've been using and testing vinyl record players for around 15 years and I'm sharing my love and knowledge of vinyl by publishing all I know at Notes On Vinyl

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