Most record collectors, like any other buyers of phonograph records, are primarily interested in commercial releases; that is, copies of records that were manufactured with the intention that they be sold at retail to the public. These are the kinds of records that are likely to comprise the bulk of anyone’s record collections
Serious collectors are usually interested in owning just about anything and everything produced by artists that they admire, and unusual items such as acetate pressings (also known as “acetates” or “lacquers”) or test pressings. These are records or components of record production that were manufactured not for sale, but to evaluate the process of making the commercial record itself.
As both acetates and test pressings are fairly rare, they tend to command a lot of interest in the collector market. While such pressings by any artist are rare, there is generally a lot of interest in acetates and test pressings by artists who are themselves popular with collectors, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and so on.
In this article, we’ll discuss the nature of acetates and test pressings, how they are made, why they are made, and what makes them of interest to collectors.
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Free U.S. shipping! A still sealed, Clarity vinyl 2 LP single-sided test pressing of the Classic Records 200 gram issue of Also Sprach Zarathustra, performed by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
While acetate pressings are usually referred to by record sellers and collectors as “acetates,” the term used to describe them within the industry is “lacquers.” That term makes more sense, as there isn’t any acetate used in the production of these records. For purposes of this article, however, we’ll call them “acetates,” as that’s the popular term used in the record collecting world.
Acetates represent the first step in the physical manufacture of a record, be it a single or an album. While acetates are technically “records” in the sense that they can be played on a turntable or phonograph, they are not pressed out of plastic using mechanical stampers, as are commercial records.
Instead, acetates are individually created using a cutting lathe, which is a device that loosely resembles a turntable. Acetates are lacquer-coated aluminum discs that are entirely smooth when first manufactured. They are “cut” by placing them on a cutting lathe that has a signal fed to the cutting head from either a live audio source or a performance recorded on magnetic tape. As the music plays, the cutting head cuts a groove in the soft lacquer surface.
The lacquer-coated disc rotates while the music plays, and the recording engineer controls the lathe, which must be periodically adjusted to compensate for changes in volume during the performance and to allow for gaps in between tracks.
In the early days of recording, music was played live in the studio and recorded directly to acetate discs. Since the 1940s, most performances are recorded first to magnetic tape and then transferred to acetates at the convenience of the record company.
Once the cutting process is complete, the disc is playable on any turntable to evaluate the performance, if necessary. Due to the softness of the lacquer coating, acetates are not particularly durable and will wear out and become noisy with repeated play. Acetates that are used for evaluation purposes are not generally used for production. Other discs will be cut for that purpose and then will be nickel-plated as part of the process to produce the stampers that will be used to make test pressings and later, records for sale to the public.
Uses for Acetates
Acetates are made for two purposes – to evaluate a recording and its suitability for pressing records and to use in the production of the finished product itself. For production, an acetate is first nickel plated and the plating is removed to create a negative image known as a father.
This process can be repeated by plating the father to produce a positive image known as a mother. The mother can be duplicated to create stampers. Typically, a father can be used to create about ten mothers and each mother can create ten stampers. A stamper can be used to press anywhere from 300-1000 finished records.
If all of the mothers and stampers are exhausted due to high production, another acetate must be cut and the process repeated.
Acetates are considerably heavier than records of a comparable size and usually weigh two to three times as much. While most acetates do have a label, these are generally generic labels with blank lines intended to be filled in by hand. Information found on the labels of acetate pressings usually consist of the name of the artist, the title(s) of the song(s) and perhaps the date the disc was cut and the timing of the song(s) on the disc.
Lacquer-coated blanks used to cut acetates used to have more than one hole near the center. One was the usual centering hole for the cutting lathe and/or turntable spindle; the other was a drive hole that fit a pin on the lathe to ensure that the disc wouldn’t slip on the lathe. More modern cutting lathes use a vacuum pump to hold the disc in place, making the drive hole unnecessary.
On rare occasions, there is a third purpose for acetates – sometimes, when a record company is in a hurry to get their album or single to radio stations, they will send acetates directly to radio. These are usually supplemented with regular vinyl pressings as soon as it can be arranged, as acetates are entirely unsuited to repeated play, as might be warranted by having them played on the radio.
Collector Interest in Acetates
What is the appeal of lacquers and acetates to collectors? There are a few reasons that collectors might be interested in owning acetates by the artists whom they collect:
They’re rare. Obviously, as acetates must be cut on a lathe, one at a time, they are going to be extremely limited in production. In general, there are probably fewer than a half dozen acetates cut of any single or album title. Most will be used for record production, and the process of plating them to produce a father destroys them.
A few others will be used for evaluation or promotional purposes, though it’s relatively rare for acetates to find their way out of the hands of record company personnel and into the public market. Their rarity alone makes them desirable. A popular album may sell in the millions, but only a couple of people are likely to ever have the opportunity to own an acetate copy of that album.
Good sound – Acetates sound terrific. While acetates are not suitable for repeated play on a turntable, they are playable and they usually sound better than the finished records sold at retail. Acetates are cut directly from the tape, where records are made from stampers that are made using multiple plating processes. Each step on the process to create a stamper creates a slight loss in quality, so acetates that haven’t been worn out from too much play will almost always sound better than finished records.
Unique content – Sometimes, artists have acetates prepared of songs just to hear how they sound as a record, though they may not have any intention of releasing them commercially. These may be working versions of songs that are later changed before release or songs that aren’t intended to be released at all.
On other occasions, acetates may be cut of “working” versions of albums, where the order of the songs may not be final. In other cases, one or more songs may appear on an acetate made early in the production process of an album but the final version of that album may not include them, making the acetate a rare collectible. We recently saw an acetate of the 1977 album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl that was a working version of the album that contained two songs that were not on the finished LP. Those two songs have never been commercially released, making that particular acetate a desirable Beatles rarity.
About two years ago, someone found a box containing nearly 150 Bob Dylan acetates in a building in New York. Many of these acetates contained unreleased songs and/or different versions of songs from the versions that have been commercially released. Several of these discs have been sold publicly at prices in the several-thousand-dollar range.
A few bootleg albums have been released in acetate form over the years, simply as a gimmick. The only titles we have seen like this originated in Japan, usually in limited editions of no more than twenty five copies. As producing discs one at at time is both expensive and labor intensive, product of bootleg acetates as a commercial product is not a very common practice.
Prices for acetates can vary widely, depending on the artist and the content. Obviously, the more collectible the artist, the greater the interest from the collecting community. While all acetates are rare, collectors will be more interested in (and pay higher prices for) examples that feature unreleased material or versions of songs that are not otherwise available.
An acetate of an album by an artist that isn’t particularly collectible might sell for $10 or even less. On the other hand, an acetate containing unreleased material by a well-known artist might sell for thousands of dollars. About ten years ago, an acetate containing rough versions of the material that became the first album by the Velvet Underground sold for more than $25,000. That material has since been released commercially.
An acetate of Elvis Presley’s first recording sold for $300,000 in 2015 to musician Jack White of White Stripes fame.
Unfortunately, in the collecting world, nearly anything of value has been counterfeited, and that includes test pressings and acetates. They’re rare, they’re in demand, and they can sell for a lot of money, and that has led unscrupulous individuals to create acetates that appear to be original, record company-produced products but are actually homemade items that have no inherent value.
While counterfeit acetates exist for a number of artists, the most common artist represented by these discs is the Beatles. Many of these fake discs have labels that say either “EMIDISC” or have a representation of the Beatles’ own Apple label.
Since legitimate Beatles acetates turn up infrequently, few potential buyers have enough experience to be able to determine if an item offered for sale is a legitimate item or a counterfeit.
Many of these counterfeits have been artificially aged to give them a look of authenticity, and a number of them have sold for three and four figure prices at auction. The best advice we can offer to potential buyer is to know your seller and to get a guarantee when you make your purchase.
Along with acetates, collector also have a lot of interest in records known as test pressings. It’s not a clever name; a test pressing is exactly what the name suggests – a record manufactured for the express purpose of evaluating the finished product.
Test pressings might be manufactured for the purpose of listening to material that is being considered for commercial release or they might be made as a test of production stampers for a finished commercial record.
Unlike acetates, test pressings are vinyl records pressed from stampers and are physically virtually identical to commercially available records. The only difference is that test pressings usually have custom labels similar to those found on acetates. These labels might have the words “test pressing” pre-printed on them and may include blank lines that can be filled in by hand to indicate the name of the artist, the title of the album, the catalog number and perhaps the date of manufacture.
Like acetates, test pressings are occasionally sent out to radio stations for promotional use if the production discs aren’t yet ready, but most of the time, they’re simply used to evaluate the finished product. This would include making sure that the record contains the correct and intended versions of the songs on it, that the sound quality is acceptable and that the playing order is correct.
Test pressings are usually found without printed covers. They are usually packaged in plain white covers. Often they will be accompanied by a “label copy sheet,” which is a sheet of paper that contains the information that would ordinarily be printed on the label of a finished album – the album title and catalog number, the name of the artist, song titles and running times, the name of the record company and publishing information for the songs themselves.
Collector Interest in Test Pressings
Collectors like test pressings for many of the same reasons that they like acetates. While they are made further along in the manufacturing process than acetates, test pressings are usually the first discs made from production stampers, so they will likely sound better than commercially available, or “stock” copies of the records sold in stores.
Scarcity – Test pressings, like acetates, are also relatively rare. While acetates may be unique or limited to just a couple of discs, test pressings are usually manufactured in larger, though still limited, quantities. Unless test pressings are made to be issued as promotional copies, they are generally limited to no more than twenty copies, though the number of discs manufactured can vary widely.
Alternate or unreleased material – Like acetates, test pressings sometimes contain either unreleased material or songs that are different in some way from the commercially available versions of that particular album. The 1972 Beach Boys album Holland was originally intended to include a song called “We Got Love,” but the record company was unhappy with the song selection. The group recorded a song called “Sail On, Sailor” that was used in the place of “We Got Love” on the commercial release. A few test pressings of the earlier version exist and are of great interest to Beach Boys collectors.
A few test pressings of Bob Dylan’s 1975 LP Blood on the Tracks exist with different songs from the released version. The album was close to its release date when Dylan decided to rerecord a large portion of the album. Reportedly, only five copies of the test pressing of the original recording are known to exist. One of them recently sold for $12,000.
Test pressings of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album Born to Run were sent to radio stations in a printed gatefold cover that was blank on the inside and which featured the name of the artist and the title of the album in a font that looked like handwriting, rather than the block print used on the final version. Several hundred of these “script cover” test pressings were sent out to radio stations and are quite sought after today, usually selling for upwards of $1500 when they’re offered for sale.
The first live album by Genesis, 1974’s Genesis Live, was briefly intended to be a two record set but was ultimately released as a single album. A few test pressings of the two record set were made in the Netherlands. This set includes material that has otherwise never been released, and the few copies that have turned up over the years have sold for as much as $4000 at auction.
The audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs released eight titles in the early 1980s as Ultra High Quality Recordings, or UHQR, as they are known. These titles were made using a then-uncommon heavy-weight 200 gram vinyl pressed with a special “flat” profile that the company did not use for their regular pressings. All eight titles were limited to 5000 copies for commercial sale. The company also made test pressings of a handful of titles that they were considering releasing in the UHQR format, but which they ultimately decided not to release.
These titles included all thirteen of the UK Beatles albums, along with A Trick of the Tail by Genesis, Rickie Lee Jones’s first album, and The Grand Illusion by Styx, among others. These rarely-seen test pressings usually sell for upwards of $1000 each on the rare occasions when they are offered for sale.
Unreleased albums – Occasionally, artists will complete an album with the intention of commercial release, only to have the release canceled for any one of a number of reasons. These unreleased albums usually exist in the form of test pressings, and sometimes they turn up for sale.
One good example would be Läther, by Frank Zappa. The album, intended as a four-record set, was recorded in 1977. Zappa’s record company rejected the finished album, though test pressings exist. The album was finally released officially in 1996.
Another unreleased Zappa album, Crush All Boxes, was intended for release in 1980, but was scrapped in favor of releasing You Are What You Is instead. At least one test pressing is known to exist of that title.
Counterfeit Test Pressings
While counterfeit acetates are fairly common, counterfeit test pressings are not. We have seen a few examples over the years, including the original version of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. The most common counterfeit test pressings would be for titles that were otherwise unreleased. Buyers should exercise due diligence when considering a purchase, but as a rule, counterfeit test pressings are relatively uncommon.
The nice thing about test pressings is that they are physically no different from a commercially available album, which means that they can be played as often as any other record. Most collectors don’t buy them to play them, however; instead they tend to buy them as a collectible item in addition to the regular version of the album.
Acetates and Test Pressings Conclusion
While acetates and test pressings could hardly be regarded as something that every collector might find essential, they are unusual and interesting items to add to one’s collection. They’re relatively rare, they usually offer superior sound, and they occasionally offer access to material that otherwise might not be commercially available.
Offered for sale is an original stereo acetate for the 1963 LP The Intimate Miss Christy by June Christy.
About this copy: This copy of The Intimate Miss Christy is an original 1963 stereo acetate (dated 6-20-63 on the label.) It comes with a plain brown paper sleeve with track listings and timing notations, along with a reference sheet.
The disc is VG++ visually, with some scuffs but no significant marks, though it does play with some noise, as is common with acetates.
Tracks are the same as on the released version of the album:
Spring is Here
Fly Me to the Moon
I Fall in Love Too Easily
Time After Time
The More I See You
It Never Entered My Mind
Suddenly It’s Spring
I Get Along Without You Very Well
A beautiful copy of a jazz rarity.
Background: Acetates are the first part of the record production process and are cut individually using a lathe. After cutting an acetate, they are usually plated with metal to make stampers. Early in the production process, they are also used for evaluation purposes by record company personnel. They can be played just like records, though they do not wear well with repeated play.
Acetates rarely come up for sale, as they are often discarded after use.
On June Christy’s excellent run of albums for Capitol Records the vocalist was most often backed by Pete Rugolo’s complex orchestral charts or by small, freewheeling jazz groups led by her husband, Bob Cooper. So The Intimate Miss Christy is a special treat for her fans as it finds the cool blonde singer backed only by Al Viola’s guitar and Don Bagley’s bass (though a flutist sits in on a few tracks). This guitar/bass-only approach was first popularized by Julie London and went on to be utilized by many other singers during this era. The backing not only suits the laid-back, cool jazz approach of June Christy perfectly, but it also means that the singer is never forced to strain too hard, as she sometimes did when working with the experimentally inclined Pete Rugolo. And while the vocalist usually put a dark emotional spin on her ballad readings, this album is definitely aimed more toward romantic entanglements than romantic regrets. The Intimate Miss Christy may be a fireside makeout album, but it’s one that merits repeated listens even when the embers die out.
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Offered for sale is an original stereo acetate for the 1961 LP Great Instrumental Hits Styled By Jonah Jones by Jonah Jones. This acetate has tracks in a different playing order than the finished LP.
About this copy: This copy of Great Instrumental Hits Styled By Jonah Jones is an original 1961 stereo acetate (dated 1-19-61 on the label.) It comes with a plain brown paper sleeve.
The disc is VG+ visually, with some scuffs and a couple of small marks, though it does play with some noise, as is common with acetates. The disc also has a “haze” on the playing surface, likely from a chemical reaction with the paper sleeve in which it was found.
NOTE: The playing order on this acetate isdifferent from the released version, as the first track on the acetate is “Third Man Theme,” but that track appears at the end of side one on the released version of the album. In all likelihood, the 12 songs on the acetate are the same songs as those on the released LP, but simply in a different order.
A beautiful copy of a jazz rarity.
Background: Acetates are the first part of the record production process and are cut individually using a lathe. After cutting an acetate, they are usually plated with metal to make stampers. Early in the production process, they are also used for evaluation purposes by record company personnel. They can be played just like records, though they do not wear well with repeated play.
Jonah Jones was a jazz trumpeter who created concise versions of jazz and swing and jazz standards that appealed to a mass audience. Great Instrumental Hits Styled By Jonah Jones was his 12th album for Capitol and his 13th album overall. This album, as the title implies, is an album of covers of tunes made famous by other artists.
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Offered for sale is a genuine stereo Capitol Records acetate for a 1978 reissue of the 1972 album Prologue by Renaissance.
It should be noted that there are many fake acetates for sale on eBay; this one was obtained from someone who received it directly from a Capitol record company employee and is guaranteed to be genuine.
About this copy: The disc is in VG++ condition, with just a few slight scuffs from having been removed from a paper sleeve at some point. It doesn’t look as if it’s been played more than once or twice.. The surfaces are bright and have no significant marks. The catalog number SMAS-11116, the date 8-23-78 and the timing are typed in on each side. This disk is in exceptional condition, especially for an acetate, as they are often found in poor condition. This one is gorgeous.
This disk was issued without a finished cover, as it was intended for in-house use only. The cover is a plain white cover with the name of the artist and the title of the album handwritten on it. There is a small amount of residue on the cover where a price tag has been removed.
If you’re a fan of Renaissance and you’re looking for something extraordinary, this is a great chance to add something unusual to your collection. It’s likely the only Renaissance album acetate that you’re ever going to see for sale.
Background: After two relatively unsuccessful albums on Island as an offshoot of the Yardbirds, Renaissance underwent a dramatic change, adding singer Annie Haslam, who had a multi-octave range and operatic training. This version of the band became quite successful during the latter part of the 1970s. Their first album featuring the new lineup was Prologue, released in 1972.
After the success of Novella in 1977, Capitol reissued the album in 1978. The disk offered for sale here is a prerelease acetate of the album, cut on a lathe for in-house use.
Acetates are laquer-covered metal disks that must be cut individually using a lathe; they are the first part of the record manufacturing process. Ordinarily, acetates cut for production use are plated with metal, and stampers are made from them. Occasionally, acetates are cut for evaluation purposes. While they may be played like an ordinary record, their soft surfaces do not hold up well to repeated play.
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This may very well have been pianist Earl Hines’s final recording although he lived until 1983. The concept of this solo LP is quite logical and it is interesting to hear this veteran of the 1920s playing such tunes as “Birdland,” “Misty” and “The Preacher.” But some of these songs are not “hits” he missed such as “Humoresque,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and “Sophisticated Lady”; in fact he recorded those songs previously. Despite him hedging his bets, this is a fine set with Earl Hines showing that he was always in his prime, even 55 years after his recording debut.
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What are my records worth? That’s a common question these days as record albums are making a comeback among both casual music fans and hard core collectors. People are aware that some records are valuable, but most people don’t know exactly which records people are looking for or why they’re looking for them.
Establishing vinyl records value is an inexact science, and there are a number of factors that go into determining whether a given record is something that will bring a lot of money from a collector or something that would best be used as a place mat.
In this post, we’ll go over a number of factors that may determine the value of a particular record. Keep in mind that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, and it’s quite rare for a record to be valuable based on one factor alone. It’s usually a combination of things that add to a vinyl record’s value, and other factors can sometimes turn a valuable record into one that isn’t worth all that much seemingly overnight.
The list of qualities that can affect a vinyl record’s value is constantly changing, and the list shown below should not be considered to be definitive. As this post on vinyl records value is going to be fairly lengthy, we’ll divide it into sections.
Vinyl Records Value Categories
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Many of the people we’ve spoken to about records over the years have the impression that “old records” must be worth more than new ones. While the age can have an effect on a vinyl record’s value, it’s one of the less important factors. Releases from early in the career of a famous artist may have more value than those from later in their careers, particularly if they didn’t become famous right away. A good example of this would be the recordings of Elvis Presley. While his first five records for the Memphis-based Sun label sold reasonably well for their day, their sales figures were minuscule compared to those of his later releases on RCA, making the Sun versions fairly valuable.
On the other hand, records by artists that are not of interest to collectors will have little value, regardless of age. There are many records in the easy listening genre from the 1950s, such as those by Ray Conniff or Percy Faith, that are now some 60 years old, but they still sell for only a couple of dollars in most used records stores, provided they bother to offer them for sale at all.
“Old records” may have some value, but as a rule, it’s not because they’re old. It’s because of something else.
Who is the Artist?
This should be obvious, but the artist in question will be a big factor in determining the value of a record. While tens of thousands of artists have released records since the invention of the medium, not all of them interest the public in equal measure.
Some artists are simply more popular as well as more collectible than others. Artists in the rock, blues, jazz, classical and soul categories tend to be more collectible than those in the easy listening, country, spoken word or comedy categories.
Some artists tend to have a longtime following, while others are popular only while they are actively recording. With the former, such as Elvis Presley, Pink Floyd, blues singer Robert Johnson, or the Beatles, many of their records remain both valuable and highly collectible long after they stopped recording or even after their deaths.
Other artists may have had records with high values only during the time they were recording, with prices in the collector market dropping considerably after they finished their careers or when they passed away.
In the late 1970s, for example, Todd Rundgren and the Cars were highly collectible, but these days, there’s little interest in their recordings. On the other hand, records by the Beatles are selling for the highest prices ever and prices remain steady more than 50 years after they released their last album.
Exceptions to that exist; that can come in the form of artists who were never particularly popular, but who were influential in the industry. That’s true of artists such as Robert Johnson, the Velvet Underground, or the Stooges. None of these artists were very successful and their records sold poorly when new. All three were enormous influences on other musicians, however, and as a result, their records sell for surprisingly high prices today.
Still, as a rule, popular artists will have records with higher values than obscure ones.
This factor is pretty straightforward when it comes to vinyl records value; records that sold well and are quite common are going to be less valuable than records that sold poorly or are hard to find. A lot of albums sold in the 1970s and early 1980s sold millions of copies when new, and as such, it isn’t difficult to find copies in nice, playable condition.
That being the case, such records aren’t likely to sell for very much money in the collectors market.
On the other hand, even records that sold well when new can become scarce in time, especially when one takes the condition of the record into account. Albums by Elvis Presley and the Beatles sold millions of copies when they were first released, but finding nice original copies of those records now can be difficult, as many have been thrown away or damaged through heavy play or abuse.
People have tended to take better care of their records in recent decades, so it’s a lot easier to find a nice copy of a 1980s album by Bruce Springsteen than it is to find a near mint 1960s album by the Rolling Stones, for example.
“Common” is also relative; records that sold well in the 1950s and 1960s still sold in substantially smaller quantities than those sold in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1950s, it was rare for even a popular album to sell much more than a million copies. By the 1980s, albums selling more than 5 million copies were relatively common.
What the “common vs. scarce” factor means is that the most valuable record by a particular artist may not be their best-known title, but rather one that was disregarded by the public and/or critics when originally released, making it relatively scarce today. A good example of this would be Music from the Elder by Kiss, released in 1981. Released after a string of best-selling albums, Music from the Elder had a different sound from their previous releases and offered no hit songs and no songs that regularly received airplay. As a result, the album sold poorly and soon went out of print.
The group went back to making records that were similar to their earlier releases and sales of subsequent albums were brisk, making the now hard-to-find Music From the Elder a collector’s item.
One factor that’s of vital importance in determining a vinyl record’s value is condition, which we’ll discuss at length later. Because the condition of a record is held to be important by collectors, the ideal example of a record to own, in the eyes of many collectors, would be one that has never been played at all. Because of this, collectors will often pay a huge premium for sealed, unopened examples of records they are seeking.
When record albums were first offered in the late 1940s, they were sold without any external wrapping on the cover. Customers in record stores could remove the records from the cover and many stores would even allow them to play the records to help them make a buying decision. This led to problems with both theft and damage, and by the early 1960s, a number of large retailers started sealing their albums in plastic bags. Eventually, this practice was picked up by the major record companies, who began protecting their covers with shrink wrap.
In general, a copy of an album that is still in original, unopened shrink wrap will sell for a lot more money than one that is in opened condition, even if the opened copy has not been played.
The difference in price can range from modest to quite significant, depending on the artist and title. A sealed copy of a relatively recent release may carry a small premium over an opened copy, but older and/or more desirable titles may exhibit a substantially larger premium. Sealed copies of older albums by the Beatles might sell for as much as ten times the price of an opened example, for instance.
This is a case where age can affect vinyl records value, as the older an album is, the harder it is to find a copy that has never been opened or played.
One factor that can influence vinyl records value is having the autograph of the artist on it. While autographed albums and single aren’t particularly common (while forgeries of them are), they usually do command a premium over regular copies of the record that are not signed.
Autographed records that are personalized, such as “To Jane, best wishes…” tend to sell for less money than those that simply have the artist’s signature on it. When it comes to musical groups and autographs, albums that are autographed by the entire group will sell for substantially higher prices than those with the signatures of some, but not all, members.
Autographed records with provenance, such as a photograph of the artist signing the record, tend to bring the highest prices of all.
Commercial vs. Promotional Issues
One factor that can affect vinyl records value is if the record in question is a promotional issue, as opposed to a commercial, or “stock,” copy of the record. Promotional, or “promo,” copies of a record are often identified in some way, and they often have a special label that indicates that the particular records was made for promotional, or radio station, use. While the labels on most records are colored, many promotional issues have white labels, which has led to the term “white label promo” being used among collectors.
Promotional copies of records are usually pressed before retail, or “stock” copies to ensure that they reach radio stations prior to the commercial release of the record. They are also pressed in relatively small quantities compared to stock copies of the same records. While an album may sell in the millions, there may be only a few hundred promotional copies made of that same record, making them collector’s items.
Sometimes, promotional copies of a particular record may be different from the stock counterpart. The promotional copies of the Beatles’ single “Penny Lane” had a different ending than the version of the song on the stock copies of the single, making these rare copies quite valuable in comparison to the million-selling stock counterpart.
On other occasions, a record may be issued only as a promotional item. Such albums may be live recordings, made for radio broadcast, or perhaps compilation albums, again intended to stimulate airplay. These “promo-only” releases are usually sought after by collectors, though the interest in them will be directly related to the interest in the artist. A promo-only Rolling Stones record, for example, will attract far more interest from collectors than one by Andy Williams.
As a rule, a promotional copy of any record will command higher prices in the collector’s market than the stock counterpart, though there are occasional situations where the opposite is true. Some records have sold so poorly in stores that the promotional copies are actually more common than the stock counterparts. A good example of this is the Beatles’ first single, “My Bonnie,” which was credited to Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. Promotional copies with a pink label, while relatively rare, are probably ten times more common than the stock copies with black labels, of which fewer than 20 copies are known to exist.
This issue of scarcity comes into play when one looks at whether a particular record was released by a small, regional label or a large national one. Larger labels have national distribution and multiple pressing plants, and popular records might be pressed in the millions. Smaller labels might press only a few hundred or several thousand copies of a particular record.
There are examples of records being initially released on small labels and then later released on larger labels when the small record company negotiated a distribution deal with the larger label in order to sell more records. An example of this would be the 1963 surf album Pipeline by the Chantays, which was originally released on the California-based Downey label. When the song became a hit, Downey struck a deal with the nationally distributed Dot records to have them release the album instead. Today, copies of the album on the Downey label are far harder to find than their Dot counterparts, and sell for higher prices.
Sometimes an artist will release records on a small label and then move to a larger one. In these cases, their earlier releases tend to be more collectible than their later ones. The country group Alabama released a couple of albums on the small LSI label under the name “Wild Country” before changing their name and moving to the large RCA label. As the records by the group issued by RCA sold quite well, they tend to sell for modest prices. The two albums on LSI, on the other hand, are quite rare and sell for several hundred dollars or more when they’re offered for sale.
Another example, also in the country genre, is the first album by Jim Reeves. His first album, Jim Reeves Sings, was issued in 1956 on the small Abbott label. When that album began to sell well, Reeves moved to major label RCA. While his RCA albums sell for modest prices, his lone album on Abbot has sold for as much as $1000.
A significant factor in determining a vinyl record’s value is the label on the record itself. A given album or single might have been released with several different labels on the disc itself, even among releases by the same record company.
Record companies often change the appearance of the labels used on their records. While it has happened less often in recent decades, changes in label art an appearance were quite common among the major labels during the 1960s and 1970s.
Records by the Beatles, for instance, were released by Capitol Records on a black label with a rainbow colored perimeter, a green label, a red label, a custom Apple label, an orange label, a purple label, and a new version of the original black label, all over a period of about 20 years.
As a rule, collectors tend to favor original pressings, so for a given title, the most desirable label variation would be whichever one was in use on the day the record was originally released for sale to the public. There are exceptions to this, however. The red Capitol label mentioned above was commonly used in the early 1970s for a number of titles, but was never intended to be used for records by the Beatles. A few copies of the band’s Revolver and Yesterday and Today albums were accidentally issued with that label, and despite not being “original” issues, they do sell for quite a lot of money on the collector’s market.
Sometimes, minor differences on labels can make a difference, as well. The first copies of Meet the Beatles to be sold in America were rushed to the stores without including publishing information for the songs on the record. While later copies had either “BMI” or “ASCAP” after each song title, the very first issues of the album sold in stores lacked this text. While this might seem to be a minor matter, the difference in value between a copy that lacks the text and one that has it can be more than $1000, depending on condition.
As many albums by popular artists have remained in print for many years, or even decades, the label on the record in question is often a significant factor in determining that vinyl record’s value.
Mono vs. Stereo vs. Quadraphonic
A significant factor that can affect a vinyl record’s value is the format. Until 1957, records were sold only in mono. Between 1957 and 1968, records were usually sold in both mono and stereo, and between about 1972 and 1976, a few records were available in 4 channel quadraphonic sound. During the time when records were sold in more than one format simultaneously, one of the formats was usually pressed in smaller quantities than the other. Mono records were more common than their stereo counterparts in the early 1960s, for instance, but were the harder variation to find by 1968. Quadraphonic pressings were always intended for a niche market, and never sold in large quantities, except in the few cases where all copies of a particular title were encoded in quadraphonic sound.
While the value of a mono record in relation to its stereo counterpart will depend on when the record was released, quadraphonic copies are almost always worth more money than the same album in stereo.
While most records are pressed from black vinyl, sometimes other colors are used. On rare occasions, a special process is used to create a picture disc, which has a photograph or other graphics actually embedded in the record’s playing surface. With few exceptions, colored vinyl and picture disc pressings are limited editions, and are usually far harder to find than their black vinyl counterparts.
Both colored vinyl pressings and picture discs have been issued as commercial releases and as promo-only releases. In the early 1960s, Columbia Records would occasionally press promotional copies of both singles and albums on colored vinyl (we’ve seen red, yellow, blue, green, and purple) in order to grab the attention of radio programmers.
In the late 1970s, picture discs were often pressed as promotional items and became quite popular among collectors. Most of these were pressed in quantities of only a few hundred copies.
More often, colored vinyl and picture disc records are issued as limited edition pressings, created to spur interest among buyers. Most of these titles are also available on regular (and more common) black vinyl.
As with everything else on this list, there are occasional exceptions to the rule. Elvis Presley’s last album to be issued while he was alive was Moody Blue, which was pressed on blue vinyl when originally released. A couple of months later, RCA Records began to press the album on regular black vinyl as a cost-cutting move, which would have made the blue pressings rare and desirable. Shortly after this decision was made, Elvis passed away, and the label made the decision to return to blue vinyl for that album, and all pressings for the next ten years or so were issued blue vinyl. In the case of Moody Blue, it’s the black vinyl pressings that are actually the rare ones.
We’ve written articles about colored vinyl and picture discs, and you can read it here:
While vinyl record albums usually include printed covers, most 45 RPM singles do not, as they were generally issued in plain paper sleeves. It was not uncommon, however, for singles to be issued in special printed sleeves bearing the title of the song, the name of the artist and perhaps a graphic or photograph. These are known as picture sleeves, and most of the time, these picture sleeves were available only with the original issues of the records. While not intended as limited edition items per se, picture sleeves were designed to spur sales and were often discontinued once sales of the record began to pick up.
For various reasons, some picture sleeves are harder to find than others, and there are a number of records, some by famous artists, where certain picture sleeves are rare to the point where only a few copies are known to exist. Some picture sleeves, such as “Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones, which was withdrawn prior to release, can sell for more than $10,000.
Others are rare, but not to that degree. The picture sleeve for the Beatles’ single “Can’t Buy Me Love” were commercially available, but were only printed by one of Capitol Records’ pressing plants, making it available only for a short time and only in the eastern United States. It’s one of the rarest commercially available Beatles picture sleeves, and mint copies have sold for more than $1000.
This is one of the factors that pretty much has no exceptions; a record with a picture sleeve is always more valuable than the same record without one.
Acetates and Test Pressings
While the majority of records are standard issues that were manufactured with the intention that they be sold in stores, some are pre-production versions that were made for in-house use at the record companies prior to making the stock pressings.
Acetates, or lacquers, as they are more properly known, are records that are individually cut on a lathe by a recording engineer. The recordings are cut on metal plates that are coated with soft lacquer. Acetates are the first step in the process of making a record, as they can be plated with metal and used to make stampers for production of the copies sold in stores.
They can also be played on a turntable and are often used to evaluate the sound of a song or an album prior to putting it into formal production. While acetates can be played as one would play any regular record, they don’t wear particularly well and will become quite noisy after only a few plays.
On rare occasions, acetates have been sent to radio stations as promotional items when regular pressings were not yet available.
As acetates are cut one at a time, they are understandably rare, and command a high value in the market place as they are both rare and unusual.
Test pressings are a bit more common than acetates, and are made to test stampers prior to mass produced production runs. They are usually the first pressings made from a set of stampers, and can be distinguished by their labels, which will differ from those used on stock pressings. Test pressings may have blank white labels or they may have special labels that indicate that they are test pressings. These custom labels usually have blank lines printed on them so that the people working with them can write the title and artist on the labels by hand.
As with acetates, test pressings are usually used for evaluation purposes by record company personnel, though they are occasionally sent out as promotional items. As they are rather unusual and limited in production to just a handful of copies, test pressings are highly regarded and sought out by collectors. Sometimes, test pressings may contain different versions of one or more songs from the commercially released albums. This can also add to their value.
Test pressings of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album Born to Run were sent to radio stations in a cover that had the album title in a different font from commercial releases. These so-called “Script Cover” pressings of the album have sold for more than $1000.
Records pressed in foreign countries are often of interest to record collectors. While most collectors are interested in records from the country where they live, a lot of them are interested in owning anything unusual by the artists that interest them.
Most record albums are designed by record companies in either the United States or Great Britain, and most releases from either country are nearly identical. Other countries, however, have been known to create dramatically different versions of records from the U.S. or UK counterparts.
Sometimes, foreign pressings may have different titles, or different covers from the more common versions from the U.S. or UK. On other occasions, record companies in other countries may choose to press albums on colored vinyl.
Many albums from Japan from the late 1950s through the early 1970s were pressed on dark red vinyl. Japanese pressings were also issued with a paper sash, or “obi,” that wrapped around the cover and provided information for the buyer in Japanese.
These pressings are highly regarded by collectors for both their unusual appearance and their sound quality.
If an artist is not from the United States, collectors will often seek out records from the artist’s country of origin. While many American Beatles records are worth a lot of money, so are those from Great Britain, as the band released records there prior to releasing them in the U.S.
Prices for foreign (non-U.S.) records can vary widely, depending on age, condition, and all of the other factors mentioned in this article. In general, collectors in the United States will always be interested, to some degree, in any foreign record by artists whose records they collect.
While scarcity can be a major factor in a vinyl record’s value, intentional scarcity can affect it even more. While limited edition pressings of albums are a relatively new thing, they are now quite common, with record companies intentionally limiting releases to a few hundred or a few thousand copies.
In past decades, when records were the predominant format for selling music, record companies were content to sell as many copies as possible of a given title. In recent years, records have become more of a niche item, and record companies are somewhat hesitant to spend the money to master, press, and distribute them. By producing only a limited number of a given title, and by making it publicly known that production will be limited to xxx number of copies, the record companies have a greater likelihood of having a particular title sell out quickly, rather than sitting on a shelf for a period of months or years.
Sometimes, these limited editions are individually numbered, while most are not. Sometimes, a limited number of copies of a given album will be pressed on colored vinyl, with a larger number pressed on black vinyl. In some cases, such as with the soundtrack album to the 2010 film Inception, all copies are colored vinyl and they are numbered as well.
Limited edition pressings by most any artist will have some value above the original selling price, as record companies are unlikely to issue limited edition pressings if there is no established market for them.
The exception to this would be records from companies that do not ordinarily release records, such as the Franklin Mint. Over the years, the Franklin Mint has released a number of recordings as limited edition sets, usually spanning many volumes. Most of these recordings were also pressed on colored vinyl and the sets were marketed in mass media to consumers who were not record collectors. These recordings have little value unless they are offered in complete sets, some of which came with as many as 100 records.
Occasionally, record companies release an album or single, only to change their mind and withdraw it from general release. This can happen for a number of reasons, ranging from a corporate decision that may or may not have anything to do with the record itself, a decision by the artist to change the product after release, or even an announcement by prominent retailers that they will refuse to sell the record as released.
Regardless of the reason for withdrawing the record from circulation, such releases will naturally be scarce, hard to find, and in demand among collectors. More often than not, withdrawn releases will also command substantial prices on the collector market.
Listed below are a few examples of record albums which were withdrawn from the market shortly before or shortly after being released to stores.
Angel – Bad Publicity – The 1979 album Bad Publicity had a cover that depicted the band having a raucus party in a hotel room. After only a handful of copies had been issued as promotional items, the album was withdrawn, retitled to Sinful, and released with completely different artwork showing the band in white suits against a white background.
Prince – The Black Album – In 1987, Prince intended to release an untitled album that had an all-black cover on which neither a title nor the name of the artist appeared. The so-called “Black Album” was withdrawn prior to release by Prince himself, for reasons that remain unclear to this day. A few copies have leaked out over the years, and they have sold for as much as $25,000.
The Beatles – When retailers complained about the original cover art for the Beatles’ 1966 album Yesterday and Today, which showed the band sitting on a bench with broken dolls and raw meat, Capitol Records ordered all copies returned from stores and radio stations. The cover was replaced by a picture of the band sitting around a steamer trunk.
This so-called “Butcher Cover” is perhaps the best known record in all of record collecting, and copies have sold for thousands of dollars.
Whenever there’s a commodity that is worth money to people, there are unscrupulous people who try to take advantage of them by forging that commodity. Paintings have been forged, currency has been counterfeited, and unfortunately, so have many rare records.
While there are many factors that go into determining vinyl records value, perhaps none is more important than the need for the record to be an original pressing and not a counterfeit pressing created at a later date to resemble the original issue.
Counterfeit records first appeared on the market in the late 1960s or early 1970s and while the early attempts were rather obvious and fairly crude, technology has improved in recent years, making many counterfeit records difficult for the layman to identify. The practice isn’t limited to rare or valuable titles, either, as a number of mass-produced titles were counterfeited in the late 1970s. These titles were sold by chain record stores alongside the legitimate record company issues.
If a record routinely sells for a lot of money, there is a good chance that the title in question has been counterfeited. Many albums by the Beatles, along with other popular artists such as the Yardbirds, Elvis Presley, and Pink Floyd, have been counterfeited. In a few cases, such as the Beatles album Introducing the Beatles, counterfeit copies may actually outnumber the real ones.
It goes without saying that a counterfeit copy of a rare record will have limited value when compared with an original pressing.
One factor that can significantly affect a vinyl record’s value is the availability of reissues. In the 1950s through the mid-1970s, record companies kept close tabs on whether an album was selling well or poorly. Poor selling albums were usually removed from the catalog and existing copies were sold at a discount. Starting in the 1980s, record companies took a different approach, and reduced the prices of slow-selling records, keeping them in print but offering them for sale at a lower price point.
Collectors often become interested in records that have gone out of print, and the prices for these no longer available titles can get quite high, depending on the artist and title. In these cases, collectors are usually paying high prices simply to hear the music. Record companies do pay attention to such market trends, and today, it’s quite common to see newly-pressed reissues of albums for sale that haven’t been available on the market in decades.
In the case of some albums, which may have only been originally for sale from small record companies, these reissues might actually sell more copies than the original album. When an album is reissued, the original vinyl record’s value usually falls in the marketplace. While some collectors remain interested in owning an early or an original pressing of a recently reissued album, there are others who are only interested in hearing the music, and will be happy to own a reissued version of the album instead.
Reissues can often affect a vinyl record’s value dramatically, and sometimes, the price of original pressings can drop as much as 90% when a formerly rare album again becomes available as a newly-released record.
Condition of the Record
While all of the factors listed above are important when it comes to evaluating a vinyl record’s value, perhaps none is as important as the condition of the record. Most mass produced records sold over the past 60 years or so have been poorly cared for by their owners. They may have been played on low-quality equipment, stored outside of their covers, and handled by their playing surfaces, rather than their edges.
Record changers, which were phonographs that were capable of playing up to a dozen records in sequence, were popular in the 1960s and 1970s and were particularly prone to adding scratches and abrasions to a record’s playing surface. Many covers were poorly stored, leading to ring wear or splits in the covers. Furthermore, owners often wrote their names or other information on the record’s cover or label.
Collectors are interested in buying records in the best possible condition, and ideally, they’d like to own copies of all of their records in the same condition in which they were originally sold – mint and unplayed, with pristine covers.
Finding a copy of any record that is more than 20 years old in such condition is quite difficult, and the value of a record can vary widely depending on its condition. In the case of many records from the late 1950s and early 1960s, finding worn and nearly-unplayable copies of a particular record might be relatively easy, while finding one in mint condition may be nearly impossible.
In the case of such records, a mint copy might sell for 50 times as much money as a worn-out copy of the same record.
When it comes to a vinyl record’s value, condition is paramount, and worn copies of a record usually sell for modest amounts of money except in the cases of items that are rare to the point of being unique.
In the case of records that are common to moderately rare, anything copy that isn’t in something close to new condition may have little to no value at all.
While some collectors are willing to accept “filler” copies of a rare record in poor to average condition until they find a better copy, most buyers prefer to buy only once, and will hold out for the best possible copy they can find.
What does all of this mean? It means that if you’re someone who has a box of “old records” and you want to know about those vinyl records’ value, you’ll likely discover that they’re common titles in average to poor condition and they’re likely not worth very much money.
On the other hand, if you have a rare record that is also in exceptionally nice condition, you’ll likely be able to sell it for a premium price.
Finding Recent Prices
Starting in the late 1970s, the easiest way to find out about vinyl records value was to consult a price guide. Over the past 40 years, a number of books have been published every other year or so that list the value of certain types of records. There are price guides for rock albums, jazz albums, classical albums, 45 RPM singles, country records, and soundtrack and original cast recordings. There are also specialty price guides for records from Japan, records by the Beatles and records by Elvis Presley.
While these guides have served collectors and sellers fairly well, the books are bulky, somewhat expensive, and have a tendency to become outdated rather quickly. That’s not to say that they aren’t useful; on the contrary, they serve as valuable references. Furthermore, even the outdated price guides can offer insight as to how a vinyl record’s value has increased over time. It’s amusing to look at price guides from the late 1970s to see how albums that might sell for $1000 today were once listed as having a value of $35 or so.
Record price guides are still published today and they’re still useful tools. On the other hand, there are also some online tools that can provide some more accurate and up to date information regarding vinyl records value. Several sites, for example, monitor the sales of records on the eBay auction site and archive them, making it possible for you to see what a particular records might have sold for yesterday, or last month, or even five years ago.
As there are millions of records for sale on eBay, including multiple copies of most records at one time, the marketplace is somewhat of a buyer’s market, which means that the prices of most records sold on the site are somewhat lower than they might be in a record store or in a private transaction between two collectors.
Still, the millions of record sales on the site each year do provide some good insight into overall vinyl records value, and can also show trends over the past decade or so. This makes it easy to see if a particular record is increasing in value over time or going down as interest sometimes wanes.
While there are a number of different sites that track and archive record sales on eBay our favorite is:
Popsike.com – This site is free to use for a limited, but unspecified, number of searches. After a certain number of searches, you’ll be asked to register, which is free. If you exceed a further (unspecified) limit, you’ll be asked to subscribe. Currently, the cost of subscribing to Popsike is about $35 per year, though most users will never use the service enough to reach the threshold that requires paying a subscription fee.
Popsike’s home page has a few lists of popular searches, as well as lists of recent sales in certain popular categories, such as blues, Beatles, classic rock, jazz, and classical. You can search by artist or title and you can sort results by price or date of sale. Popsike has listings for record sales on eBay going back to 2003, though they note that their database is neither definitive nor exhaustive.
Vinyl Records Value Conclusion
We hear from people all the time – “I have some records. What are they worth?” With most commodities, the answer is a fairly simple one. If you have an ounce of gold, it’s worth a certain amount of money. The same applies to a barrel of oil.
That’s not the case with records, however. Vinyl records value is determined by a number of factors, including condition, scarcity, the name of the artist, and a host of other things, both obvious and obscure.
Because the value of a particular record is tied to so many factors, it’s difficult to give a general answer as to its value without knowing all of the particulars about that particular pressing.
The quickest way to find out is to check with Popsike or Collector’s Frenzy for a quick glance at recent sales. Keep in mind that these prices reflect retail sales, and not the amount of money that you’d receive if you’re selling to a store or a reseller. Keep in mind that the highest prices are paid for copies in near mint condition, which may or may not apply to the records you currently have in your possession.
Record collecting is a fascinating hobby, however, and the many factors that can go into determining vinyl records value are among the things that keep the hobby interesting to collectors.
If you’re a record collector, and you’re new to the hobby, you may encounter a number of terms in your searches for vinyl with which you’re unfamiliar.
To help, we’ve compiled this vinyl record collecting glossary of terms that you may find it helpful to know:
10” – Ten inch record. This size was used for both 78 RPM singles, made from the 1910s through the late 1950s, as well as long-play albums during the first years of album production (roughly 1948-1955.)
12” – Twelve inch record. While this sizes is most commonly used for modern record albums (post-1955), this size record is also used occasionally for singles and extended-play (EP) recordings.
16 2/3 RPM – A playback speed for certain record albums, most commonly used for talking books for the blind. The slow playback speed allows for extra-long playing time, though the sound quality suffers as a result. Most of the people who own record players that are capable of playing 16 2/3 RPM records have never actually seen one.
180 gram – Weight of some modern era (post-1990) record pressings, usually those titles pressed as “audiophile” records. Most 12″ records pressed in earlier eras weighed between 125-150 grams. The heavier weight of these modern pressings is thought to provide better sound and less likelihood of warping.
200 gram – Weight of some modern (post-1990) record pressings, used by some manufacturers of “audiophile” records. 200 gram records are not seen as often as 180 gram pressings, and there’s considerable debate in the audio community regarding the benefits of the additional 10% in weight, including the question of whether the added weight provides any benefits at all.
33 1/3 RPM – The speed used for nearly all long-play (LP) record albums from 1948 to the present day. This speed allows for longer playback time than the earlier 78 RPM pressing, and records at this speed usually offer up to 20 minutes of program material per side (though we’ve seen a few that played as long as 35 minutes, with reduced volume and sound quality.)
45 RPM – The speed used since 1949 for most 7″ records, and occasionally for 12″ singles. Since the mid-1990s, a few record labels have reissued older recordings that were originally pressed at 33 1/3 RPM at the 45 RPM speed for improved sound quality, though this requires more discs. A single disc album at 33 1/3 will usually take up two discs when pressed at 45 RPM.
78 RPM – Speed used from the 1910s through the late 1950s for 10″ singles. This format was rendered obsolete circa 1960 by the 45 RPM, 7″ single. Occasionally 78 RPM speeds have been used for certain promotional singles, usually as a marketing gimmick. Records pressed at this speed have had no commercial application for the past half century.
7” – Size of singles (usually one song per side) since 1949. These records normally play at 45 RPM, though a few have been released over the years that played at 33 1/3 RPM.
Acetate – Also known as a lacquer, an acetate is the first step in the record manufacturing process. An acetate is a lacquer-covered metal plate upon which the music is encoded via a lathe. You can read more about acetate records here.
Album – Originally a collection of 78 RPM, 10″ singles, collected in a binder. When the long-play album, containing a number of songs on a single disc, replaced 78 RPM albums in the early 1950s, the name remained.
Today, an “album” usually refers to a collection of songs recorded together and released as a single entity, usually one one disc, but sometimes released as multiple-disc sets.
Long-play albums were originally 10 inches in size, but modern albums are 12 inches in size.
Audiophile Record – Records pressed specifically to attract the attention of buyers who want (and are willing to pay for) albums with higher sound quality than regular mass-produced pressings.
Most audiophile records are pressed on more expensive vinyl that has less surface noise, and are mastered using tapes that are as close as possible to the original master tape. These pressings are usually on heavier (180-200 gram) vinyl and are sometimes cut at 45 RPM, rather than the standard 33 1/3.
Many audiophile records are intentionally released as limited edition pressings and sell for a premium price when new.
Binaural Record – Short-lived early attempt to press records in stereo. These records required a special tonearm with two cartridges. Due to the awkwardness of the playback process and the expense of buying a special turntable or tonearm, these records were not successful.
Bootleg Record – An album of previously unreleased material, pressed and released to the market without the knowledge or permission of the artist involved or their record company. Most bootleg records consist of previously unreleased studio recordings or live performances by popular artists.
Bossa Nova – A form of music that originated in Brazil in the late 1950s, and popular through about 1967 or so. The music incorporated elements of samba and jazz and introduced the world to artists such as Sergio Mendes and Joao Gilberto. Many popular American artists (Frank Sinatra, Eydie Gorme, Stan Getz, and others) had success recording Bossa Nova.
Cheesecake – Term usually used to describe album covers that prominently feature attractive women, often in risque poses or in minimal attire. Most often found on albums from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Colored Vinyl – Term used to describe any record pressed from a color of vinyl other than black. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, some record companies routinely pressed records on colors other than black as a matter of course. Over time, colored vinyl records became limited to either promotional use or as limited edition releases.
Counterfeit – A reproduction of a record, created by unscrupulous individuals with the intention of fooling the buyers into believing they are buying the genuine item. Most often found today with exceptionally rare titles, though in the 1970s, counterfeit copies of new releases were often mass produced and frequently found their way into major record stores.
Cover – The paper, cardboard, posterboard, or (rarely) plastic outer covering provided by the record company to hold a single or album. Covers usually have printed titles and often have a photo of the artist, as well as a listing of the contents of the record inside.
Cover Mouth – The portion of the cover that opens to allow for insertion and removal of the record. For albums, this is usually the right side of the cover as you look at the front. For 7″ singles, the opening is usually at the top.
CSG Process (also known as Haeco-CSG) – Short-lived process used from roughly 1968-1970 to compensate for vocals with too much volume when stereo records were played back on mono record players. CSG-encoded records were pressed during the time when monaural records were being phased out of the market.
This encoding solved the problem it was trying to fix while introducing others and was not popular with record buyers. Over time, record companies stopped using CSG encoding as the percentage of record buyers with stereo turntables increased to the point where it became unnecessary.
Cut Corner – A record album with a cover that has part of one of the corners cut off. This was done to indicate that the album had been discontinued (remaindered) and sold at a discount and that it was ineligible for a refund. While many rare records are often found with cut corners, as many of them sold poorly when new, collectors usually prefer to buy copies that do not have a cut corner.
Cutout – Known in the book industry as a “remainder,” a cutout is a record that has been deleted from a record company’s catalog and is being sold at a discount to get rid of inventory the record company no longer wants.
Cutout albums are usually defaced in one of three ways – a drill or punch hole through the cover, removing a corner from the cover, or cutting a notch in the cover with a saw. These mark the records as being ineligible for a refund and while the covers are defaced, the records inside them are usually fully intact.
Dead Wax – The area immediately outside the label of a record that contains the runout groove and matrix numbers, but no recorded music. The dead wax area of a record is usually 1/4″-1″ wide.
Deep Groove – A ring found in the label area of some pressings from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s. This ring was an indentation, usually about 3″ in diameter, that was caused by certain types of pressing equipment. As record companies phased out that equipment by the mid-1960s, pressings with a deep groove may be indicative of original pressings, rather than later reissues.
Direct Metal Mastering (also known as DMM) – A process used in the manufacture of record albums where the music is cut to a solid metal plate, rather than a softer lacquer. There are advantages and disadvantages to this process, though many listeners prefer the sound of DMM pressings to the lacquer alternative. This process was often used in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and many records mastered using this process prominently have the letters “DMM” somewhere on the cover.
Direct to Disc – A process where the recorded material is performed live and recorded directly to acetate or lacquer, without first being recorded to magnetic tape. While the process produces better sound quality, direct to disc recording requires that an entire album side be recorded live in one take with no breaks. Direct to disc records are also, by necessity, limited edition pressings, as only a few lacquers can be cut at one time.
Double Album – An album containing two records, rather than the customary one.
Drill Hole – A hole drilled through the corner of an album (or less frequently, through the label) by a record company to indicate that the album has been discontinued and may not be returned for a refund. Most records with drill holes were sold at deeply discounted prices.
Duophonic – A proprietary system used by Capitol Records in the early 1960s to simulate stereo on material originally recorded in mono. Duophonic usually added a bit of a delay between the two channels and added reverberation to give a stereo effect to mono recordings.
Duophonic was created when record companies discovered that some buyers would only purchase stereo records, and it was an attempt to sell mono material to those buyers.
Dynaflex – A short lived manufacturing process used by RCA Records from 1969 to some time in the mid 1970s. To save money, RCA developed a process to press records using less vinyl than they’d been previously using. The result was a record that was exceptionally thin, more flexible than other records, and much more prone to warpage, though less prone to damage in shipping. RCA promoted Dynaflex pressings as an improvement on their record covers and inner sleeves. Buyers disagreed.
Dynagroove – A process developed by RCA Records in 1963 to improve the sound of their records on low-end playback equipment. This process increased bass in quite passages while attempting to reduce high frequency distortion. Unfortunately, this only worked on phonographs with inexpensive conical needles and not more expensive elliptical ones. Owners of more expensive turntables thought the “new” process sounded much worse than the old one.
Audiophiles were unhappy with the process and the resulting sound, and RCA discontinued it about 1970 or so.
Exotica – A type of music introduced in the mid-1950s, usually attributed to Martin Denny. Exotica attempted to introduce music from Asia, the Orient, and Africa to Western listeners, and the music from this short-lived fad often included tribal chants, gongs, and the sound of birds or insects to augment the music.
The popularity of music in the Exotica genre led to lots of backyard parties with people drinking Mai Tais while standing amidst Tiki torches. By the early 1960s, people had moved on from listening to Exotica when they discovered Bossa Nova.
Extended Play – Also known as an “EP”, this term is usually used to describe a 7″ single that plays more than one song per side. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, record albums were quite expensive, and priced at the equivalent of about $50 today.
Record companies occasionally took a 12 song album and sold it as three 7″ records that had four songs each, with pricing that allowed buyers to buy one disc alone or all of them.
Extended play singles were sometimes released as standalone releases of one disc with three or four songs. While the format was quite popular in Britain, it never really caught on in the United States.
In the modern (post-1965) era, an extended play record usually describes a 12 inch record with more than two songs but fewer songs than one might find on an album.
Foxing – The appearance of brown spots on picture sleeves or album covers as they age. Foxing can occur on all kinds of paper, but it’s most visible on white paper. For unknown reasons, foxing is quite common on album covers from Japan, and probably seven out of ten Japanese albums have some evidence of it.
Garage Rock – Raw, unpolished rock and roll from the mid-1960s, inspired by relatively inexperienced musicians who often rehearsed and sometimes recorded in their home garage. Examples include the Castaways, the Sonics, and the Standells.
Gatefold Cover – A record cover that is intended to fold open like a book. Often the inside of a gatefold cover will include lyrics, liner notes, or additional photos of the artist.
Gold Record Award – A framed, gold-plated record, usually with an accompanying plaque, created to commemorate sales of $1 million (later 500,000 copies sold.) In the United States, “official” gold record awards have an RIAA logo, indicating that that organization has certified the sales of that particular record.
These awards are usually given by a record company to the artist, the producer, and other people who were instrumental in helping the album achieve that particular sales milestone.
Hype Sticker – A paper or plastic sticker attached to the shrink wrap or cover of an album, usually with the intention of drawing attention to one or more songs on the album in order to increase sales. Sometimes a hype sticker will indicate that the particular record is pressed on colored vinyl, contains a poster, or is in some way special.
In-House Record Award – A gold or platinum record award that does not have an RIAA certification on it; usually created by record companies to award to their own personnel, rather than to be giving to the artist.
In the collector’s market, in-house awards usually sell for lower prices than RIAA-certified awards.
Inner Sleeve – A paper or plastic sleeve included with a record album that is intended to protect the disc from coming in direct contact with the cover, as the rough surface of the cover might damage the record.
While many inner sleeves are plain paper or plastic, sometimes inner sleeves contain lyrics or other information about that specific recording. On other occasions, record companies used inner sleeves to advertise other albums that might be of interest to the listener or to provide technical information about stereo recordings (1950s) or quadraphonic recordings (1970s.)
Insert – Any piece of paper included with an album other than a poster or inner sleeve. The most common use of inserts is to provide the listener with lyrics to that particular album.
Instrumental – A recording of music that contains no vocals. This applies to most jazz, classical, and surf music recordings.
Jukebox EP – A 7 inch extended-play record manufactured exclusively for use in jukeboxes. Jukebox EPs were primarily made in the 1960s and 1970s, and were usually pressed in stereo and often included a hard cover, similar to an album cover.
A typical jukebox EP would include three songs on each side and come with a small paper reproduction of the album cover and a half a dozen paper “title strips” to be inserted in the jukebox so that customers could select them for play.
Label – The round piece of paper in the center of a record that lists the name of the artist, the name of the album or song, the name of the record company, and other information that may be useful to the buyer or listener.
Lacquer – Another (and more correct) term for an acetate.
Live Album – Usually, an album that contains a recording of an artist performing in an “in concert” setting before a live audience. Occasionally, a recording of a band performing in a studio collectively as a band, rather than recording vocals and instruments individually.
Live albums are often released as either contractual obligations or to provide fans with something to buy during an unusually long delay between releases of studio albums by a particular artist.
Many modern live albums are not entirely live and may contain multiple overdubs added to the live recording in the studio at a later date. A few live albums released over the years weren’t live recordings at all, but were simply studio recordings with overdubbed audience sounds.
Living Stereo – Name used by RCA Records from 1958-1963 for their stereo recordings, which often had a rich, and unusually lifelike recording quality. Many albums from the Living Stereo period in both classical and popular genres are highly valued by collectors.
LP – Technically, a trademarked term by Columbia Records (correctly printed as “Lp”) in the late 1940s to denote their then-new long-playing record format, which could theoretically play up to 26 minutes per side at 33 1/3 RPM.
Popularly, the term is most often used as a slang reference to a record album. (“Have you heard the new Metallica LP?”)
Marbled Vinyl – A record pressed from multicolored vinyl with the vinyl distributed in such a way that the record resembles marble.
Matrix Number – A stamped or handwritten number in the dead wax area of a record. Matrix numbers tell pressing plant employees which record they are making. Matrix numbers may also include an indicator as to which of a series of sequential stampers was used to make a particular record.
Monaural – A method of recording in which all of the music is contained in a single audio channel, and which may be heard through a single speaker. Until 1957, all records were monaural. From 1957-1968, most albums were sold in both mono and stereo.
Multicolor Vinyl – A colored vinyl record that is comprised of two or more colors of vinyl on a single disc.
Obi – On Japanese albums (and some singles), a paper strip, usually about 2 inches wide, that wraps around the cover. The information printed on the obi is almost always in Japanese and includes information for the buyer that may not be printed on the cover.
Historically, many buyers discarded the obi shortly after purchase, as they are easily torn. In some cases, the presence (or absence) of an obi can dramatically affect the price of the record.
Original Cast Recording – A recording of the music, score, or songs from a play, performed by the cast of that play.
Picture Disc – A record pressed from two layers of clear vinyl with a paper image or photo sandwiched in between. Picture disc albums are usually limited edition or promotional items and are often packaged in covers with a die-cut window so that buyers can see the record itself.
The sound quality of picture discs is usually not as good as conventional pressings.
Picture Sleeve – A paper sleeve included with a record (usually a 7 inch single) that has a photo or image printed on it. Picture sleeves usually also list the artist and the name of the songs. Picture sleeves are usually limited in production and many are quite collectible.
Pirate Pressing – A record that contains material that has previously been released commercially but is pressed without authorization from the artist or the record company responsible for that material.
Often casually referred to as “bootlegs,” though that term actually refers to something else.
Platinum Record Award – Similar to a gold record award, a platinum record award is a framed, silver-plated record, usually with an accompanying plaque, created to commemorate sales of 1 million copies of a particular album. In the United States, “official” platinum record awards have an RIAA logo, indicating that that organization has certified the sales of that particular record.
Play Hole – The hole in the center of a record that allows the record to fit over a turntable spindle. The hole and spindle keep the record properly centered on the platter so that it will play correctly.
Poster – A photographic insert included with an album that usually folds out to a size that is larger than the album cover itself. Occasionally included as a bonus with some titles, posters can often become quite rare with time, as many buyers hung them on the wall after purchase and failed to put them back in the album cover when they took them off of the wall at a later time.
Progressive Rock – A style of music popular from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s that featured long solos, fantasy lyrics and inventive song structures. Bands such as King Crimson, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Gong are examples of progressive rock bands.
Promo-only – A record release that was created to be distributed to radio stations or other promotional outlets, but was not intended for commercial sale. Promo-only releases often consisted of previously unavailable live material or compilations of recordings by a given artist intended to promote airplay.
Sometimes, promo-only titles contained the same material as commercial releases, but may have been in a different format from the commercial title, such as being pressed as a picture disc or on colored vinyl.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, some albums that were commercially available only in stereo were released to radio stations in monaural as promo-only pressings.
Promotional Copy – A copy of a record that was pressed for distribution to radio stations or other promotional outlets, but were not pressed for retail sale. Most promotional copies of records have some print or indication on the label that they intended for promotional use, such as “Promotion Copy – Not for Sale” or some similar wording.
Promotional Stamp – A rubber stamped or machine stamped indicator on a record label or cover that indicates that the record is intended for promotional use only. Promotional stamps are usually used when record companies wish to use retail copies (“stock copies”) of records for promotional use.
Prototype – A record that was manufactured as an example of a potential release that was ultimately never released in that form. Prototype records are often pressed in very limited quantities and some are literally unique.
Examples of prototype records might be one-of-a-kind colored vinyl or picture disc pressings.
Provenance – The ability of a seller to demonstrate previous ownership or history of a particular record. Usually of interest to people buying unusual, one-of-a-kind items or items that are represented as being autographed by a particular artist.
Psych – Short for “psychedelic rock,” a short-lived style of rock music that was popular from roughly 1966 to 1970 that featured unusual chords, odd instrumentation, and frequently, long instrumental jams.
Psychedelic rock records were largely an underground phenomenon and many titles were privately pressed releases by artists that did not have national recognition. A number of psych records sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars today.
Examples of psych artists include the 13th Floor Elevators, Mystic Siva, and the C.A. Quintet.
Punch Hole – A hole punched by machine through the corner of an album cover. Unlike drill holes, which were rough holes made with an electric drill a punch hole is a clean hole made by a machine. Punch holes are generally larger than drill holes and were most often used by record companies to indicate that the record was intended for promotional use.
Capitol Records frequently used punch holes to designate their promotional copies. Capitol sometimes used single punch holes and sometimes a series of very small holes that spelled out either the word “free” or the word “promo” in the corner of the cover.
Quadraphonic – A short-lived audio format during the early to mid-1970s that presented music in four channel sound, as opposed to the two channels of stereo.
Quadraphonic music was available in 8-track tape, LP, and reel to reel tape formats and required a four-channel amplifier (or two stereo amplifiers), four speakers, and a turntable, reel to reel tape deck or 8-track player capable of playing back quadraphonic records or tapes.
There were at least three different quadraphonic formats for records, and all were incompatible with the others. Format wars and equipment costs prevented the quadraphonic format from becoming popular.
Collectors are interested in quad records and tapes as the mixes are often dramatically different from the stereo versions of the same albums. In the case of a few quadraphonic records, the recordings are completely different from the stereo versions.
R&B – Short for “rhythm and blues” a term used by record companies in the 1950s to describe music that was primarily marketed to African-Americans. In record collecting, R&B can describe anything from Ray Charles to Robert Johnson to Motown.
Radio Show – A program of live concert performances, audio documentaries, or programs of music and interviews with recording artists intended for radio broadcast only. Syndicated shows such as the King Biscuit Flour Hour, Metalshop, Innerview, and Off the Record are examples of syndicated radio shows.
The live shows are often sought out by collectors of a given artist, and those recordings have often been the source material for bootleg records.
Rechanneled Stereo – Also known as “fake stereo,” rechanneled stereo was an audio format developed by various record companies in the early 1960s to accommodate buyers who refused to purchase any records that weren’t available in stereo. See also: Duophonic
Rechanneled stereo records often created a stereo effect from monaural recordings by using frequency separation, audio delay, and added reverb to make monaural recordings sound “kind of like” stereo, usually with poor results.
Records released in rechanneled stereo usually indicated it on the cover, saying things like “Electronically reprocessed to simulate stereo.” Rechanneled stereo records nearly always sell for lower prices than their mono counterparts.
Record Grading – A description of a record in terms of its physical condition in order to accurately describe it to potential buyers.
Most record grading is done using the Goldmine system of Mint, Very Good, Good and Poor, with a + or – used to denote grades in between. Some sellers, particularly those based in the UK, use the Record Collector system which uses Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor.
Record grading is highly subjective, due to the many ways a record can be worn or damaged.
Reissue – A later, rather than original, pressing of a record. Record companies used to delete titles that were no longer selling well, but they would occasionally return a title to print if they felt it was warranted by potential sales.
Such a later pressing is known as a “reissue,” and they’re almost always less desirable to collectors than original pressings.
ROIR – A Record Of Indeterminate Origin. Another term for a bootleg recording.
Saw Mark – A cut in an album cover, usually near a corner, literally made through the use of a saw. Used to mark a record as discontinued and to indicate that it may no longer be returned for a refund.
Sealed – A record that is still encased in shrinkwrap or a factory applied bag. Record companies begn sealing records in the early 1960s in order to prevent vandalism in stores and to assure buyers that the record inside was new and pristine.
Sealed copies of out of print titles often command a premium price among collectors.
Seam Split – A tear along an edge of an album cover, usually caused by the record inside or by improperly inserting or removing the record from the cover.
Shaped Record – A record in any shape other than round. Most often found in picture discs. Shaped records start as round records but are cut using a die shortly after being pressed. Shaped records may be triangular, square, rectangular, hexagonal, octagonal or cut to a custom shape.
Single – A record containing one or two songs, usually sold on the basis of one song alone. Most often found in a 7 inch size playing at 45 RPM, singles have also been sold in 10 inch (78 RPM) and 12 inch (33 1/3 or 45 RPM) sizes.
Soundsheet – Also known as a flexi-disc, a flexible record pressed from ultra-thin plastic. Soundsheets have historically been inserted in magazines or newspapers.
Soundtrack – A recording of a score, music, songs, or dialogue from a motion picture.
Spindle Mark – A physical mark or impression on a record label caused by an inaccurate attempt to place the record on a phonograph or turntable. An abundance of spindle marks, even on a record with little apparent wear, may indicate that the record has been played excessively and may exhibit unwanted noise during playback.
Splatter Vinyl – A record pressed from multicolored vinyl where the vinyl is spread across the record in a scattered, random pattern, rather than swirled, such as with marbled vinyl.
Spoken Word – A recording of someone speaking or reciting printed material, as opposed to singing.
Stamper – The metal plate used to press a record from a “biscuit” of vinyl.
Stamper Number – A number, written or stamped into the dead wax area of some records that indicates which of a sequential series of stampers was used to press that particular record.
Many collectors prefer earlier stamper numbers, either because that record was made closer to the album’s original release date or because records pressed from lower-numbered stampers often sound better than records pressed from higher-numbered stampers.
Not all record companies used user-recognizable systems for denoting stamper numbers, though there are exceptions:
Stamper numbers are easily identified on records by RCA, where the matrix number ends with a dash, a number, and the letter “S.” Example: “-1S”
Stereo – A recording format where the recorded material is presented in two distinct channels of sound, one on the left and one on the right. The de facto audio standard for records since 1968.
Stock Copy – A copy of a record that was pressed for commercial sale to the public, as opposed to a promotional copy, which was pressed for use by radio stations.
Surf Music – A style of rock music made popular during the early to mid-1960s. Surf music was originally instrumental, and featured distorted guitars with lots of added reverberation. Dick Dale and bands such as the Surfaris and the Chantays specialized in this type of music.
Instrumental surf was later augmented by adding vocals, with the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean being good examples.
Test Pressing – A copy of a record manufactured expressly for evaluation purposes by record company personnel or the artists or producers involved in the recording of that record. Test pressings are often indicated with custom labels that say “test pressing” or blank labels with no information at all.
Test pressings are often identical in sound to later stock copies of that same record, though sometimes test pressing appear on the market that contain earlier versions of songs or songs that were eventually discarded before the album was released.
Timing Strip – A strip of paper, usually 2 to 4 inches in width and about 12 inches wide, that appears on the covers of promotional copies of many albums from the 1960s.
This strip usually listed all of the song titles on the album, publishing information, and the running times of the songs.
Sometimes a timing strip included a checkbox next to each song title that allowed a radio station’s program director or disk jockey to indicate which songs they preferred to use for airplay.
Title Sleeve – A paper sleeve for a 7 inch single that has the name of the artist and the title of the song(s) printed on it, but not a photograph.
Similar to a picture sleeve, but without the photo.
UHQR – Ultra High Quality Record, a proprietary type of record pressed by JVC in Japan in the early 1980s. The UHQR was distinguished by its then-heavy 200 gram weight and its unusual “flat” profile in that the record had uniform thickness across its entire surface, where most records were thicker in the middle than they were at the edges.
Only a handful of UHQR titles were ever pressed, and as far as we know, such titles were only released by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Reference Recordings, and Telarc. All are highly collectible.
Vinyl – Within the record collecting community, “vinyl” has multiple meanings. It can refer to the physical material used to manufacture a record, but it can also refer to the record format generically, as in, “I’m not going to buy Abbey Road on compact disc; I prefer to buy it on vinyl.”
Wax – Slang for vinyl; usually used by older collectors. “Red wax” and “red vinyl”, for example, are synonymous.
White Label Promo – A promotional copy of a record distinguished by having a white label with promotional indications on it (“Promotion Copy – Not for Sale”) that is distinctly different from the stock copies of the same record, which were sold with colored labels.
Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and as a result, people are often searching for information about them online. One of the most popular searches, oddly enough, is for the phrase most valuable vinyl records.
People know that some records are more valuable than others, and that many records are quite expensive. As a lot of people are now giving thought to the boxes of records in their attic or basement that they haven’t touched in decades, it makes sense that they might have a curiosity as to whether they personally own any of the most valuable vinyl records.
The short answer is – they don’t, and neither do you. That’s not because you don’t have good taste in records or that you simply bought the wrong ones in the store all those years ago.
We’re talking about things like Elvis Presley’s cut-with-a-lathe acetate of “My Happiness”, or the one acetate of “That’ll Be the Day” by the pre-Beatles Quarrymen, or the intentionally pressed-in-a-quantity-of-one albums by the Wu Tang Clan (Once Upon a Time in Shaolin) or Jean-Michele Jarre (Music for Supermarkets).
Those records are indeed the most valuable vinyl records, but they’re all unique, aren’t likely to change hands anytime soon, won’t be affordable if they do, and aren’t records that anyone reading this article actually own.
We suspect that when people do a search for “most valuable vinyl records”, what they really want to know is “Do I personally own any of the world’s most valuable vinyl records?” We know that when we bought our first record price guides back in the late 1970s, the first thing we did was look up records we owned to see if we had anything that was worth a lot of money.
We didn’t, of course, and that’s because nearly all of the top 100 of the world’s most valuable vinyl records are individually cut acetates, test pressings, pre-production (not commercially released) items that were never formally released, or other items that likely would only have been available to record company employees or in some cases, only to the artists themselves. A few other items on the list are ultra-rare pre-World War II blues 78s and ultra-rare 45 RPM singles that were released on tiny regional record labels and were quickly forgotten.
That being the case, we put this article together to list some of the world’s most valuable vinyl records, but with a bit of a twist. This article will cover the rare and the valuable, but only record albums, and only albums that were actually commercially available. We’re leaving out the 45 and 78 RPM singles because on this site, we focus on albums, so we’ll restrict the list to that format only.
That is, these are albums that were, at least in theory, sold in stores and records to which the general public might have been able to purchase at one time or another.
We’ll list 10 of the world’s most valuable vinyl records, more or less in order of value. Keep in mind that these are prices for items that have been sold publicly. Obviously, private sales are just that, and we have no idea as to the sorts of deals that may have gone on between private collectors.
World’s Most Valuable Records – The Top 10
It likely won’t surprise most readers to see that a majority of the most valuable vinyl records are by the Beatles. They are perhaps the most heavily collected artist, and the single biggest-selling band of all time. With that kind of interest, it only stands to reason that a number of albums by the Beatles would appear on a list such as this one.
Beatles – Yesterday and Today sealed stereo “first state” Butcher cover (1966) – $125,000 – The infamous withdrawn pressings of the Beatles 1966 American LP Yesterday and Today are perhaps the most sought out album in history. The album was intended to be released with a photo that depicted the Beatles dressed in butcher smocks, posing with chunks of raw meat and parts of disassembled toy dolls. This cover became known as the “Butcher Cover.”
The response to review copies of the album was hostile, and stores were threatening not to stock the album when it was formally released to the public. Capitol Records changed their mind about the cover and printed new ones…which they then pasted over the photo with the dolls.
While the covers with the second cover pasted over the first one, known as “second state” Butcher covers, are collectible, the “first state” covers that never had the second cover pasted over it are among the rarest and most valuable of all records. Most of the review copies were sent back to the record company at their request, though it appears that a handful of copies were sold at retail in Southern California. Mono copies are considerably rarer than their stereo counterparts, and only a handful of copies survive today in pristine, still-sealed (unopened) condition.
There may be a few dozen sealed mono copies in existence, but there are likely fewer than 10 known sealed stereo copies, and one of them sold for $125,000 in 2016.
While a sealed stereo “first state” Butcher cover can sell for six figures, even a mint one can sell for considerable amounts of money, and copies have sold for more than $15,000
Mono sealed copies, mono or stereo opened copies, intact second state copies and peeled “third state” copies of this album sell for considerably less, sometimes for as little as $100, depending on condition.
Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with withdrawn tracks (1963) $35,000 – Bob Dylan’s first album, released in 1962, drew some critical notice but didn’t sell well enough to make the Billboard charts. His second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, on the other hand, drew attention and sold well enough to reach #22 on the American Billboard album chart.
The album consisted mostly of self-written material, including the now-classics “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
The album was issued in both mono and stereo, but at Dylan’s request, four songs were withdrawn from the album shortly before release and replaced with new ones.
The intended original album contained the songs:
“Rocks and Gravel”
“Let Me Die in My Footsteps”
“Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand”
“Talkin’ John Birch Blues”
These songs were replaced with:
“Girl From the North Country”
“Masters of War”
“Bob Dylan’s Dream”
“Talkin’ World War III Blues”
Even though the original version of the album was ready for release, new stampers were manufactured with the new songs, and the album shipped to stores on the scheduled day of release with the second set of songs.
It appears, however, that at some point during the early days of manufacturing the album, a few copies were accidentally pressed using the stampers for the original intended version of the album. On the mono copies, the labels listed the second set of songs, but actually played the withdrawn tracks. These can be identified by either playing the record or by examining the stamped numbers in the “dead wax” area near the label. The numbers on the rare version of the album end in -1, followed by a letter. Later pressings have “2” (or higher) as the final digit.
Only a dozen or so mono copies have been found so far, and only two copies have been found in stereo. The stereo pressings are easier to identify, as not only do the records play the original songs, but the labels also list the original songs.
Mono copies have sold for as much as $12,000, but one of the two known stereo copies sold a few years ago for $35,000. As these were pressed by mistake, these copies may very well have found their way into record stores back in 1963, and it’s possible that more copies are still out there.
The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage (1964) $30,000 – When the Beatles first started releasing records in Britain, their UK label, Parlophone, offered their contract to the label’s American counterpart, Capitol. Capitol declined the offer, as English acts hadn’t sold particularly well in the U.S. up to that point.
Tiny Vee Jay Records ended up with the contract. They released a few singles that went nowhere, and gave up. When Capitol announced their intentions to release the Meet the Beatles album in early 1964, Vee Jay realized that they had a bunch of Beatles material sitting in their vaults.
A lawsuit from Capitol prohibited Vee Jay from releasing any Beatles product after October, 1964, but between January and October of that year, they released Introducing the Beatles, Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Beatles (a reissue of that album with a different title), The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons (that album again, along with a Four Seasons LP) and Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield.
Frank Ifield was an English singer whose biggest hit was “I Remember You,” which reached #5 on the U.S. charts in 1962. The Jolly What! The Beatles and Frank Ifield LP was a collection of eight songs by Ifield, along with four tracks by the Beatles: “Please Please Me”, “From Me to You”, “Ask Me Why”, and “Thank You Girl”.
That album was released in February, 1964 with a cover depicting a drawing of an old man with a mustache wearing a Beatle wig. The album sold poorly, and in October of that year, looking for a last-minute boost in sales before their rights to sell Beatles records went away, Vee Jay made some changes to the album:
The title was changed, dropping the “Jolly What!”, but retaining the “On Stage,” suggesting that the album was a live recording, which it was not.
All four Beatles song titles (but none by Ifield) were listed on the cover
The cover was changed to one with a drawing of the four members of the Beatles
“The Beatles” was printed in a lighter, easier-to-read font than was “Frank Ifield”
The new cover was only available for a few weeks and while exact pressing figures are unknown, it’s likely, based on sales over the years, that only a few hundred mono copies were pressed, and likely fewer than 100 stereo copies were pressed.
The version of the album with the old man on the cover is rare, and copies sell in the $100-$400 range, depending on condition and whether they are mono or stereo.
Mono copies of the second cover are rare and sell in the $5000-$10,000 range. The stereo pressing is one of the most valuable vinyl records sold in the U.S. by the Beatles and a sealed copy was offered for sale a few years ago by a prominent Los Angeles record store for $30,000.
Those looking to cash in should be aware that both the mono and stereo copies of this album have been counterfeited, with most counterfeit copies lacking the printing of the album’s title on the spine of the cover.
The Beatles – The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) low-numbered copies (1968) $10,000+ – After the 1967 LP Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that had an unusually elaborate cover, the Beatles went minimalist on their 1968 follow-up. Titled simply The Beatles, the album had a cover that was all white, though the name of the band was embossed on the cover.
In addition, every copy of the album sold during its initial release was individually numbered. Multiple copies were made in both the U.S. (in stereo only) and in the UK (in mono and in stereo) bearing #1. These were given to members of the group and to high-ranking record company employees.
A few years ago, Ringo Starr sold his personal mono copy with #1 on it in an auction and it sold for $750,000!
All other copies were consecutively numbered (though various numbering systems were used) on both U.S. and UK pressings and copies numbered into the millions. One would think that since every copy bears a unique number that all copies should share equal value, but collectors are particularly interested in finding copies that have low numbers.
Pricing can vary dramatically for numbered copies of The Beatles depending on the number. A mint copy with a six or seven digit number might sell for $100 or so, but copies numbered under 100,000 draw higher prices, and the prices increase substantially for copies lower than 10,000, 1000, or 100. In 2008, a UK copy with #5 sold for £19,201 (about $27,000 U.S.) and we recently saw a U.S. copy with number 32 offered for sale for $10,000.
While copies numbered under 100 were likely all issued to record company employees, it’s possible that numbers above that were sold to the public and these could sell for anywhere from $1000-$10,000, depending on the number.
The Beatles was sold with numbered copies in a number of different countries besides the U.S. and the UK, and prices will vary widely depending on the country and the number. Still, there are a lot of low-numbered copies out there, and The Beatles is one of those rare cases where you might just have one of the world’s most valuable vinyl records sitting in your closet.
The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966) stereo pressing without the song “Sunday Morning” $22,000 – The 1966 debut by the Velvet Underground, the self-titled The Velvet Underground & Nico, sold poorly but remains one of the most influential albums of all time.
The album featured a banana on the cover in the form of a sticker and printed above it were the words “Peel slowly and see.” Many people did just that, and it’s hard to find an original copy of that album in either mono or stereo that still has a fully intact banana.
Copies of The Velvet Underground & Nico in mint condition with a complete banana have sold for upwards of $1000, but in 2017, a previously-unknown variation of the LP came up for sale. This version was missing the song “Sunday Morning,” which would ordinarily have been the first song on side one of the album.
The cover and label of this particular U.S. pressing did list that song title, but the record did not include the song on it. Apparently, the album was originally intended to be released without the song, but it was added at the last minute and new stampers were made. As with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, a few copies appear to have been pressed with the earlier stampers by mistake, creating an ultra-rarity.
The only copy known to date sold for $22,000 in 2017, which would certainly qualify it as one of the most valuable vinyl records and was a stereo copy. Most stereo copies of the album have the letters “REV” (for revision) etched in the dead wax area near the label on side one. Copies of this ultra-rare version can be identified by either playing the record, where “I’m Waiting for the Man” would be the first song, rather than “Sunday Morning.” Alternatively, the record can be identified by the lack of “REV” in the dead wax on side one.
The Beatles – Introducing the Beatles stereo with “ad back” cover (1964) $15,000 – Yes, another Beatles album, and another album from the misfit label Vee Jay. Vee Jay had acquired the rights to an album’s worth of Beatles songs (released as Please Please Me in the UK) in 1963, but due to the poor sales of several singles, the label, which was strapped for cash, decided not to release the album.
When Capitol released “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and announced the release of Meet the Beatles in January, 1964, Vee Jay remembered that they had the unreleased album in their vaults and quickly rushed to release it to the public.
The label titled the album Introducing the Beatles and quickly put together a front cover with a photo of the band, but they were in such a rush to get the album to stores that they didn’t bother to create a back cover for the album. First pressings of the album, issued in both mono and stereo, list no song titles anywhere on the cover. The back cover of the album shows pictures of 25 other Vee Jay albums, but has no information about either the group or the contents of the record.
About the same time, Vee Jay also released a few copies of the album that had blank white back covers. This may have been a production error. Within a couple of weeks, a “proper” album cover listing song titles was added to the album, and a couple of weeks later, that back cover was changed as two songs (“Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”) were dropped from the album and replaced with two others (“Please Please Me” and “Ask Me Why.”
The first version of Introducing the Beatles with the 25 cover photos on the back cover is known as the “ad back” cover and the version with no printing at all is known as the “blank back” cover.
The “ad back” version is the more valuable, as it’s both harder to find and is considered to be the original pressing of the album. Stereo copies have sold for as much as $15,000, putting them among the most valuable vinyl records, and mono copies have sold for about half that price. As Vee Jay pressed about 50 mono records for every one in stereo, the stereo version is a relative bargain.
“Blank back” copies sell for $3000-$5000, depending on whether they are mono or stereo, but finding a blank back copy without a lot of cover wear is quite difficult.
While Introducing the Beatles is the most heavily counterfeited album of all time, most of the counterfeit copies of this album are of later pressings. We are not aware of counterfeit copies of either the ad back or blank back versions of this album.
Be aware that due to the large number of counterfeits of this album, most people believe that Introducing the Beatles is actually a fairly common album. That’s not the case; it’s rather rare and exceptionally so in stereo.
The Beatles – Please Please Me UK stereo with black and gold label (1963) $21,000 – The Beatles first album, Please Please Me, was released in Britain nearly a year before its U.S. release as Introducing the Beatles. The album was initially released in March, 1963 in the UK on the Parlophone label, and first pressings were available only in mono.
A month later, stereo copies were released, and like the mono, the label used on the record was the then-current black Parlophone label with gold print. Shortly after the stereo release, Parolophone changed their label artwork to a black label with yellow and white print, and that label was used for all subsequent pressings of the album through 1969.
At the time, mono records typically outsold stereo pressings by a ratio of nearly 100:1, as most buyers did not own stereo phonographs. While mono pressings sold fairly well when the album was first released, stereo copies did not, and it is estimated that fewer than 1000 stereo copies were sold with the black and gold label before Parlophone changed label designs, making the first-issue stereo pressings quite rare, given that the album eventually sold millions of copies.
While original mono copies are rare, it’s the stereo pressings that qualify as being among the world’s most valuable vinyl records.
Finding an original stereo UK pressing of Please Please Me is quite difficult, but it’s even harder to find a copy in collectible condition, as most people who bought the album played it until it was worn out. Mono copies turn up for sale fairly frequently, but stereo copies are much harder to find and much more expensive.
In 2014, a stereo copy in exceptional condition sold on eBay for £14,994, or about $21,000 in 2018 dollars.
Stonewall – Stonewall (1976) $14,000 – You may not have ever heard of a band called Stonewall, and that’s not surprising. They released only one album, the self-titled Stonewall in 1976, and it’s not even fair to suggest that that album was even properly released.
Stonewall was issued by the small Tiger Lily record label, and Tiger Lily is known among record collectors as a “tax scam” label. Tiger Lily was apparently run by Morris Levy, who was also the president of Roulette Records. Under tax laws in effect in the 1970s, record labels could charge recording, pressing and distribution costs against profits.
Tiger Lily was apparently set up for the express purpose of not making money. The label solicited tapes from a variety of artists who thought they might get a record deal. Ordinarily, when record companies solicit tapes, they listen to them, find artists the like, sign them to a contract, and put them into a studio to record an album.
Tiger Lily Records apparently took a different approach. They asked for tapes, cut records from them and released the albums without any effort to promote them and often without even informing the artists and certainly without paying them their due royalties. Most of the titles were pressed in small runs of a few hundred copies, and then then were deleted from the catalog.
Most Tiger Lily albums purchased by the public were likely found in the discount bins.
In the meantime, Tiger Lily fabricated recording and distribution “costs” which they used to offset profits at the main label, Roulette.
The 60+ known albums released by Tiger Lily covered the full spectrum of music, from pop to country to hard rock. Everything released by the label is collectible to some degree, but some records are harder to find (and contain better music) than others.
Stonewall was an album by a hard rock group if the same name, and the album compares favorably to a number of better-known hard rock acts of the era, such as Grand Funk Railroad or Cream. Their lone album is also one of the hardest titles to find on the Tiger Lily label, and in 2014, a copy of the album was sold on eBay for $14,100.
We’ve never seen a copy and we don’t know anyone who has, but there have to be more copies out there than the handful that have turned up to date. While it’s likely that future copies that turn up will sell for less money than $14,000, the album still qualifies as one of the most valuable vinyl records sold to date.
It’s also a pretty good album, and it has since been legitimately reissued.
The Beatles – The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) UK export copies (1968) $10,000+ – Yes, the White Album appears on this list again. This time, it’s not the number on the cover that matters (though it might affect the price.) This particular version of the White Album is the version that Parlophone Records in Britain made especially for export.
In 1968, the Beatles created their own record label, Apple Records. All of their records from that point on, in both the UK and the rest of the world, were intended to be issued on that label and in most countries, the White Album appeared with green Apple labels. Due to some legal issues, the Apple trademark hadn’t yet been secured in a few countries when the White Album was released.
For service to those countries (in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa), Parlophone pressed a few copies of the White Album that had black and yellow Parlophone labels, rather than Apple labels. There were likely only a few thousand copies ever pressed like this, if that, and most of them have long since vanished.
A copy in pristine condition was sold in 2015 for just under £10,000, or about $14,000 in 2018 dollars. This record is an interesting listing among the most valuable vinyl records as it’s a UK pressing that one might find just about anywhere other than the UK, as the record was made only for export.
Beatles – Yesterday and Today red Capitol “target” label (1971) – Yes, another pressing of Yesterday and Today by the Beatles qualifies as one of the most valuable vinyl records, but this one is not a Butcher Cover.
After the Beatles created their own Apple Records label in 1968, all of their new albums in the U.S. and the UK were released on that label. In the U.S., even older titles were eventually reissued with Apple, rather than Capitol, labels, and this remained the case until the Apple label was dissolved in 1975.
In 1970 or 1971, due to an error at Capitol’s Winchester, Virginia pressing plant, a few copies of the 1966 LPs Revolver and Yesterday and Today were inadvertently pressed using the red “target” style Capitol label that was then in use for all non-Beatles albums issued by Capitol.
The Revolver pressings are fairly rare, and sell for $300-$500 when they turn up for sale, compared to $30 or so for the regular Apple pressings. The mispressing of Yesterday and Today, on the other hand, is exceedingly rare, and to date, only 2-3 copies have turned up for sale.
A copy with this label was sold in 2016 for $11,250. While only a few copies are known, it’s quite likely that others are out there. It should be noted that prior to moving the Beatles Capitol albums to the Apple label, all of them were briefly available on a green Capitol label that has similar artwork to the red label.
While red label pressings of Yesterday and Today would sell for thousands of dollars, the green label pressings command prices in the $100 range, as they are far more common.
Hank Mobley – Hank Mobley Blue Note 1568 (1957) – $10,000 – Hank Mobley was a tenor saxophone player who had a long career, the early part of which was spent with Blue Note Records of New York City. Many of Blue Note’s releases from the 1950s have long been sought out by collectors, and first pressings of a number of their titles from the 1950s routinely sell for more than $1000.
The most valuable of all of them is the self-titled Hank Mobley, released in 1956. Oddly enough, the album was Mobley’s sixth title for Blue Note, but for some reason, the first pressing of that album was quite small, with estimates that no more than 300-1000 copies were printed.
First pressings can be noted by a discrepancy in the record company’s address on the label; side one lists the city as “NYC,” while side two lists “New York 23.” For whatever reason, the album was not reissued after Blue Note was acquired by Liberty Records in the mid-1960s, making all copies of the album relatively rare compared to other Blue Note titles.
While Hank Mobley has long been a highly sought out album by fans of jazz and hard bop, in recent years, the price of the album has escalated dramatically. Copies often change hands for upwards of $5000, and in 2015, a buyer on eBay paid £7300 ($11,000 in 2018 dollars) for a pristine copy.
Copies with “NYC” on both sides also command high prices and sell for almost $5000 in mint condition.
Most Valuable Vinyl Records Conclusion
No list of the most valuable vinyl records can be either complete or definitive. Thousands of records are sold every day, and new high prices are established all the time. As we mentioned earlier, the true examples of the most valuable vinyl records are odd, one-of-a-kind items that likely come from the collection of either the artists themselves or high-ranking record company employees and are not the sorts of records that the layman is likely to encounter.
Others are obscure singles, either 45 or 78 RPM that were pressed by tiny regional labels or which were pressed by major record companies but withdrawn prior to release, with only a few copies “leaking out.”
In this listing of the most valuable vinyl records, we’ve tried to list albums only, as that’s what our site is about. We also tried to list only records that were sold commercially. Granted, they might have been available only in select regions or available only for a short period of time. In a couple of cases, they’re records that were released by accident using stampers that were mistakenly used at the pressing plant by employees that weren’t paying as much attention as they should have been.
Do you own one of these records? Frankly, it’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible. In our nearly 40 years of selling records, we’ve had exactly one of the records on this list – an “ad back” stereo copy of Introducing the Beatles.
Still, a big part of record collecting is the thrill of the chase and hunting down of rarities, and every one of the most valuable vinyl records listed here is something that someone, somewhere, might possibly encounter in going through a box of used records at a yard sale, a thrift store or even a record shop.
LIkely? No, but the unlikely happens every day. Good luck!
We were longtime fans and collectors of pop singer Lesley Gore, and our collection, amassed over more than 30 years, consists of hundreds of items. With her recent passing, we’ve decided that it’s time to part with a lot of it. We’ve been rather surprised to see just how much stuff we have, so it’s taking us a while to go through all of it to see what’s here.
Among the items in our collection are:
Lesley Gore albums – We have a number of rare and unusual Lesley Gore albums, including sealed original LPs, promotional LPs, radio shows, unusual foreign albums and even a few colored vinyl albums.
Lesley Gore singles – We have a complete collection of American Lesley Gore singles and picture sleeves, along with a number of interesting foreign releases with picture sleeves.
Lesley Gore acetates – Our collection includes a few pre-production Lesley Gore acetates, made to evaluate recordings prior to release.
Lesley Gore radio shows – Not recent “flashback” type programs, but vintage radio shows from the 1960s with then-current interviews and music.
Lesley Gore autographs – We have a few Lesley Gore autographs, as well, including photos, albums and compact discs.
We have way too many items to list them all at once, but we will eventually list the entire collection for sale on our site.
The term “audiophile” has a number of meanings; one definition we found was, “hi-fi enthusiast: somebody who has an enthusiasm for sound reproduction, especially high-fidelity music recordings.” That’s probably a good overall assessment; it’s someone who has an appreciate for how music sounds.
What are audiophile records? Presumably, “audiophile records” would refer to records that were created for the enjoyment of people who like well-recorded sound.
Or, in short, “records that sound good.” In that case, why aren’t all records audiophile records? After all, no one makes records to intentionally sound bad, do they?
No, companies don’t intentionally make records that sound bad, though many records don’t sound as good as they possibly could.
All record companies intend for their product to be enjoyable for the listener. That said, every record company and every artist has different objectives in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish, and who they’re trying to please when they release a record. Is the goal to make money?
To make sure the artist is pleased with the result? Or to give the listener the best possible experience? Sometimes, these objectives are at odds with one another, and the result is often a record that doesn’t sound as good as it could. While all records could be audiophile records, few of them actually are.
Ideally, all recordings would be made under ideal recording conditions, with the greatest care taken to ensure that the recording produced a realistic reproduction of the music played in the studio. The tapes would then be transferred to production stampers with the greatest of care, and the records would be pressed using quiet, high-quality vinyl and packaged in such a way as to protect the finished disc as much as possible.
In a mass-production record company environment, those results rarely occur, though they are becoming more common as the record companies realize that consumers are now more picky than ever before about how they spend their money.
While most record companies today strive to make a quality product, from recording to final pressing, that wasn’t always the case. In the era of stereo records, we had a period where many, if not most, records produced qualified as audiophile records, then a long period where virtually none of them did. Today, as we enjoy the return of vinyl records to the marketplace, fans of well-recorded music are again able to enjoy listening to audiophile records.
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In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a few record companies, such as Columbia and Atlantic, spent a lot of time trying to make sure that their recordings sounded great and that their finished product was of a high quality. Their albums were well-recorded, with a sense of space and depth that truly immersed the listener in the experience.
Both companies were early adopters in acquiring then-expensive stereo and/or multi-track tape recording equipment. In addition, their records were pressed from quality vinyl, with quiet surfaces that reproduced the music well without producing distracting noise or ticks or pops that often comes with records pressed from poor quality or recycled vinyl compounds.
In the late 1950s, those companies, along with RCA, discovered that those consumers who were early adopters in buying stereo playback equipment had larger than average amounts of disposable income and they set out to make a quality product to appeal to those buyers. That’s not surprising; the cost of a stereo record album in 1960 equates to more than $40 today. Buying a new record back then was not an impulse purchase.
RCA in particular was an innovator in stereo recording, particularly in their classical releases, which were recorded using a three track tape recorder to capture the left, right, and center of the orchestra. These techniques were later used for RCA’s popular recordings, as well, and their records, issued under the “Living Stereo” banner, captured a realism that is still revered by audiophiles today. Many RCA stereo albums from that era command prices in the hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars on the collector market.
This early “golden age” of stereo and high quality recordings didn’t last all that long; in fact, it was over in less than a decade. There were various reasons for changes in the industry, but the result was the mass production of records that, for the most part, didn’t sound that great when compared to what had been available just a few years before.
The price of stereo equipment began to drop as the 1960s wore on, and more people started buying stereo records. Their lower-priced equipment didn’t do as good a job of reproducing stereo sound, and RCA compensated for this beginning in 1963 when they introduced their “Dynagroove” process.
Dynagroove attempted to compensate for the deficiencies of consumer-grade equipment by artificially boosting bass frequencies and reducing the overall volume level of the music on the records.
While RCA claimed that the Dyangroove process added “a remarkable degree of musical realism,” the music community disagreed as did many stereo and hi-fi publications of the time.
Unfortunately, RCA continued using this process for all of their recordings for nearly a decade. By the time they stopped using it, they’d already adopted something far worse – Dynaflex, which we’ll cover shortly.
Another mid-1960s process that hurt the sound of records was the Haeco-CSG process, which attempted to correct a problem caused when consumers played stereo records on mono phonographs.
Between 1957, when stereo records were first introduced and sold alongside their mono counterparts, and 1968, when mono records were finally phased out, consumers had to choose either mono or stereo records when they made a purchase. Early mono phonographs could not play stereo records without damaging them, but by the late 1960s, manufacturers were using needles that were compatible with both formats.
The problem during playback was that a stereo record played on mono equipment would artificially boost the sound of any information that was present in both channels of the stereo disc. This resulted in recordings that didn’t sound right, as part of the music, usually the vocals, would play back at a higher sound level than intended.
The Haeco-CSG (“compatible stereo groove”) process attempted to correct this and allowed record companies to produce a record in one format only – stereo, which would play back at the same level regardless of the type of phonograph used to play it.
While this was great for record companies, as it allowed them to dramatically reduce manufacturing costs, it was terrible for consumers who appreciated high-quality sound, as the phase-cancellation process used by CSG resulted in “tinny” sounding records with relatively little bass.
Although the CSG process was used for only two or three years, it was often used at the master tape mixing stage, leaving master tapes of albums released during this time by several major record companies (the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic group among them) forever sounding artificially wrong.
While there are now processes available to remove the CSG artifacts from recordings from the 1968-1970 era when it was primarily used, most copies of albums released during that era suffer from poor sound quality due to its use.
By the early 1970s, various record company mergers with other labels and acquisitions by companies with no prior interest in music (such as Kinney’s buyout of Warner Brothers in the late 1960s – Kinney’s primary business to that point was managing parking garages and janitorial services) led to an increased interest in the bottom line and an emphasis on producing greater profits over producing a good-sounding, quality product.
These mergers, combined with a global oil crisis and a relative shortage of vinyl, led to cutbacks in quality across the industry. Many records were lighter in weight and indifferently manufactured, resulting in records with lots of surface noise and a tendency to warp. Making matters worse was the tendency of the record companies to press their records from noisy, recycled vinyl. With new vinyl (and the oil needed to make it) being scarce, companies would grind down their unsold product and reuse it for new releases.
Perhaps the worst example of this were the records RCA pressed at this time. These were extraordinarily thin pressings were so thin that you could almost fold them in half.
RCA knew these records were of poor quality, but they attempted to sell this obvious step back in quality as a feature, which they even chose to name – Dynaflex. These records were quite flexible, and weighed about half as much as a regular LP.
Dynaflex records sounded terrible and were prone to warping, but RCA actually advertised these pressings as an improvement, going so far as to claim that they were less likely to warp than traditional pressings from heavier vinyl.
While Dynaflex records were less prone to actual breakage than their predecessors, they were more prone to warpage, leading to the derisive nickname, “Dynawarp.” If you were unfortunate enough to buy albums from RCA artists around 1970 or so, you had the double problem of purchasing records by likes of the Guess Who, Elvis Presley or Jose Feliciano that were plagued by the problems of both Dynagroove and Dynaflex. You spent the same money that you used to, but now you received a product with thin, compressed sound on a disc that was more likely then ever to warp.
Adjusted for inflation, records were far more affordable in the early 1970s than they had been a decade earlier. This led to increased sales. Record companies expanded and opened more pressing plants, but this led to yet another decrease in quality. Ideally, to get the best-sounding record, you want to use the two-track master tape to make it.
This isn’t possible, of course, as record companies don’t want to use their only two track master to produce millions of records. The tape would wear out if they did that. So they’d use copies of that tape instead. Sometimes, they’d use copies of copies, with each copy sounding worse than the tape from which it was made. The product was widely available at an affordable price, but the finished product sounded worse than ever.
As a side note, there was a small label in operation from the late 1940s through the 1970s that called itself “Audiophile Records.” This label specialized in jazz recordings, and took great care in making sure their records sounded as good as possible.
As far as we know, all of their releases were pressed on red vinyl, and many of their early titles were cut at 78 RPM, as the company felt that speed offered better fidelity. Despite the label’s attention to quality, they were never overly successful, with their records being seen as a niche market.
The 1960s and early 1970s were not a good time for audiophiles, as the mass-produced product of that decade largely resulted in poor quality pressings made from noisy vinyl. It didn’t matter if the albums were well-recorded or not, as they playback was likely to sound terrible regardless of what kind of equipment you were using to listen to it.
Audiophile Records by Design
In the early 1970s, a record mastering engineer named Doug Sax and a musician named Lincoln Mayorga discovered that many of their old 78 RPM singles sounded better than newer recordings. This led to the formation of one of the earliest companies to intentionally produce audiophile records – Sheffield Lab.
Sheffield specialized in “direct-to-disc” recordings, which sent the signals from the artists’ microphones directly to the cutting lathe, bypassing the tape deck (though a tape deck was used as a backup.) These recordings produced records of astonishing depth and clarity and the label’s occasional releases became quite popular in the hi-fi and audiophile community.
There are several problems with the direct-to-disc process, however. Because the music is recorded live to the acetate, an entire album side had to be played and recorded at once, with no opportunity to make corrections later or overdub instruments or additional voices at a later time.
What was played live was what went on the record. Another problem was that the lack of a master tape meant that when the stampers wore out, production of a particular title must come to a stop forever.
Since most artists were, by that time, accustomed to recording in a studio with 8, 16 or even 32 track tape recorders and were more comfortable with a recording process that allowed them to record, and overdub or make corrections at leisure, direct-to-disc recordings were somewhat of a niche product that worked best with small jazz groups, who were accustomed to performing live with limited overdubbing.
A few other labels attempted to produce records using similar direct-to-disc methods, including Century, Direct Disk Labs, Crystal Clear and M&K Realtime, but most of them were out of business by the early 1980s.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs Audiophile Records
In the late 1970s, a company called Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, founded by Brad Miller, decided that it was time to produce audiophile records, meaning records that manufactured to sound good as the music on them, and records intended for people who actually care how their music sounds.
Mobile Fidelity wasn’t new; the company had been founded around 1960 as an outlet for recordings of locomotives for train buffs. The company later expanded to include a few race car recordings, but through the 1960s, they were mostly a company that produced high-quality, but little-noticed, sound effects records.
In the mid-1970s, the owners of the label had noticed that the records issued by the major labels were of relatively poor quality and that they sounded a lot worse than what had been available ten or fifteen years earlier.
They came up with what was then a novel idea to produce higher-quality records than what was then available, allowing listeners to experience well-recorded albums, such as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon or John Klemmer’s Touch, as they were meant to be heard.
Miller’s plan was to approach the major labels and license recordings to some of their albums from major artists. They would negotiate, for example, with Capitol Records to release Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon themselves. They would insist on using only the master two-track tape, rather than a copy, or a copy of a copy.
The acetate from which the stampers were made was cut on the lathe using a process known as half speed mastering. Half speed mastering was a process where both the tape recorder playing back the album during mastering and the cutting lathe that cut the acetate from which stampers were made were both run at half of the normal speed, thus creating a more accurate groove in the record. This process, which required special equipment and a lot of extra time, was also thought to improve spatial imaging and bass response in the finished product.
The company also made the decision to use only new, high-quality, “virgin” vinyl, as opposed to the recycled vinyl that was then in use by nearly every major record company.
The vinyl that Mobile Fidelity used was a proprietary compound made by JVC in Japan called Supervinyl and had JVC manufacture the records in Japan. It was translucent, with a brownish-gray color when held to the light, had exceptional wear properties for repeated play, and had dead-quiet surfaces that allowed you to hear just the music, rather than a combination of music and record surface noise.
Mobile Fidelity sold their records for nearly double the price of that of the major record companies, but enjoyed considerable success in the days prior to the invention of the compact disc. Their records were available in specialty record shops and at hi-fi stores, which often used their albums as demonstration discs.
Mobile Fidelity also declared up front that all of their titles were to be limited editions, claiming that fewer than 200,000 copies of any of their titles would ever be pressed. While this appeared to be an appeal to scarcity to encourage sales, it actually had more to do with requirements from the record companies from whom they were licensing the recordings. Most, if not all, of their contracts had time limitations on them; Mobile Fidelity could only sell a particular title for a specified period of time before they were contractually required to discontinue their sales of that title.
By licensing titles that were already big sellers, such as the Pink Floyd LP, Supertramp’s Crime of the Century, and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, Mobile Fidelity became quite successful, though not all record companies were interested in licensing their product to the label, nor were they interested in having it demonstrated to the public that the records they were selling themselves didn’t sound very good.
In 1982, Mobile Fidelity went a step further in producing audiophile records by creating the Ultra High Quality Record, or UHQR. These records used heavier, 200 gram vinyl, than the regular 140 gram releases from the company. The records were truly flat, unlike regular records, which tended to be thicker in the middle than at the edge. The records were kept in the presses longer than their regular releases in order to produce a better-defined disc. Only eight of these UHQR releases were ever issued, and they were limited to 5000 copies per title and were sold at a then-outrageous retail price of $50.
Other Modern Audiophile Records Labels
With the success of Mobile Fidelity, other companies soon joined the trend of releasing mass-produced audiophile records. Some of the early competitors were California-based Nautilus and Nashville’s Direct Disk Labs.
Nautilus produced about 50 titles through the early 1980s, before going out of business due to financial issues with their owner. They did, however, produce noteworthy titles by The Allman Brothers Band, Elton John, and John Lennon, among others.
Direct Disk Labs had best been known for their direct-to-disc releases, but they ventured into the same territory as Mobile Fidelity and Nautilus by licensing titles by Derek & the Dominoes, Elton John and Peter Gabriel, among others.
They only issued a handful of titles, but were noteworthy in that they released titles by artists who recorded for Columbia Records, a label whose products Mobile Fidelity didn’t release. Those titles included albums by Neil Diamond, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Loggins & Messina.
As they were then the largest record company, Columbia Records didn’t see that it made sense to license their titles to other companies who would then try to sell them by suggesting that their products were better than what Columbia was producing, even though that was exactly the case.
So in 1981, Columbia Records decided to make their own audiophile records, releasing both half speed mastered pressings of titles recorded on analog tape and albums using the then-new digital recording process, though the digital titles were mostly classical. These pressings were made entirely in-house, and used a higher quality vinyl than what Columbia used for their regular pressings.
Columbia’s audiophile records consisted of an odd mix of older, classic titles combined with then-new releases.
While Columbia’s titles, which included albums by Bob Dylan, Boston, Pink Floyd, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Earth Wind & Fire and others were quite good, many buyers and audiophiles were annoyed by the combination of prices that were double those of Columbia’s regular pressings and by the fact Columbia was effectively choosing to improve a small selection of their products, when they had the ability to improve the quality of their entire product line.
Instead, the more expensive, higher quality audiophile records sat in the same bins as the noisy, indifferently manufactured regular pressings, with both produced by the same company.
In Canada, A&M records started their own line of half speed mastered audiophile records, and had them pressed by JVC in Japan using their proprietary “Super Vinyl.” Many of these titles, by artists such as Supertramp, Styx, the Carpenters, and The Police, were widely available for sale in the United States.
While these records looked a lot like those from Mobile Fidelity and used a similar half speed mastering process, the tapes used to make these audiophile records were at least one generation down in the duplication chain from those used to produce Mobile Fidelity records, resulting in a product with a quiet playing surface but sometimes spotty sound.
With the increased number of companies producing audiophile records, consumers were confused and frustrated by the experience of seeing the same titles sometimes offered in multiple versions at a wide variety of price ranges with little information offered as to what, exactly, they were buying. By the mid-1980s, a glut in the market and the introduction of the compact disc put all of these companies except Mobile Fidelity out of business.
Japanese Audiophile Records
While all of this was going on, a few people quietly noticed that records imported from Japan tended to always sound better than their American counterparts.
Part of that had to do with the fact that the Japanese record companies always used premium materials in their product manufacturing – the vinyl was of high quality, their cover printing was of high quality and they took great care in the mastering of their acetates and plating of their stampers.
The Japanese record companies even packaged their records using non-abrasive rice paper inner sleeves, instead of the heavy paper used by American record companies that often damaged the discs after repeated play.
In the early 1980s, tens of thousands of Japanese LPs were imported into the United States and sold as high quality “audiophile records.” Many of these titles were pressed in Japan by JVC, the same company that was pressing records for Mobile Fidelity, often using the same vinyl, though rarely the same master tapes.
The importation of Japanese audiophile records was halted in the mid-1980s when the American record companies realized that they were losing money on sales of imported records. Royalty payments to artists are negotiated on a country-by-country basis, with higher rates in the United States and Great Britain than in other countries, such as Japan.
If an American buyer purchased an imported Japanese album of a title that was also available as a domestic pressing, the royalty payment to the artist and likely the profit to the record company itself, would be less.
With the record companies putting an end to the importation of Japanese audiophile records, they then set out to try to get rid of the record altogether, instead promoting the digital compact disc, which had significantly higher profit margins. Unfortunately, audiophiles didn’t care for the sound of compact discs, and many simply stopped buying music altogether as records became scarce in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Audiophile Records Today
After forcing records from the market in the early 1990s, the record companies found themselves with little product to sell after consumers balked at paying high prices for compact discs and resorted instead to illegally downloading low-quality mp3 files from the Internet.
Realizing that they could still sell physical product if they made something that people felt was worth buying, the major record labels started selling a high-quality product that has long been popular with the public – records.
The public has responded, and today, every pressing plant in the world is running at full capacity.
Today, with the resurgence in sales of vinyl, lots of companies are again making audiophile records. After a brief period of bankruptcy, Mobile Fidelity is back in business, and Warner Brothers Records is selling albums on a Website with the title Because Sound Matters.
Often, these are limited edition pressings cut at 45 RPM (on twice as many discs) to produce even better sound quality than the standard 33 1/3 pressings. Mobile Fidelity is back in business again after a short period of bankruptcy, and other companies such as Classic Records and Acoustic Sounds have stepped in to add to the quality pressings available on the market. Newer labels include names such as Equinox, Analogue Productions and the Electric Recording Company.
The latter company produces painstakingly detailed reproductions of obscure classical titles that are limited to 300 copies only. The titles they choose to release may be obscure, but they’re albums that often sell for upwards of $1000 on the collector market.
Analogue Productions has been producing audiophile records in two versions – a regular pressing that plays at 33 1/3 RPM and a pressing that plays at 45 RPM. The 45 RPM pressings require that a single album be spread over two discs, but the higher speed allows for less distortion and better sound quality. The company is doing so well that they have built their own pressing plant.
Across the board, the overall quality of the records available today is the best it’s ever been. Record companies today are making a determined effort to make their product as good as possible, with careful attention paid to the quality of the mastering process, the quality of the vinyl used in pressing the records themselves and the tapes used in the mastering process.
While sales of vinyl records are the highest they’ve been in twenty five years, the sale of records is still a niche industry, as most consumers purchase digital downloads. As records represent a premium product that sells at a premium price, the companies making records today realize that quality matters more than ever, and if they don’t make a good product, consumers are going to take their business elsewhere.
The term “audiophile records” is really rather vague, and can encompass a wide variety of recordings, both those intended to be of high quality, such as those from Mobile Fidelity, as well as vintage titles that sounded great because that’s how the record companies at that time made all of their products. Nevertheless, if there’s a record out there that sounds great, with a wide soundstage and a sense of three dimensional depth to it, you can rest assured that people will be lining up to buy it.
Records today sound better than ever. If you like quiet vinyl and good representation of the recorded music on it, you may find audiophile records to be to your liking.