Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rose-Colored Vinyl

A sampling of the colored vinyl from our collection.  Who knew we had so much flair in our stash!?

Should we care if a record is any color other than black?  Are flashy colors a gimmick to trick us into buying new vinyl?  "Hey, the new Mark Lanagan record is out; I heard it is supposed to be pretty good!  Should I buys it?  Meh.  Wait, wait, is that what I think it is?  Tie-dyed turquoise vinyl?  I wants the precious.  I WANTS IT!"

Everyone knows records are black.  It is the ubiquitous color.  Yet, more and more new vinyl is colored, especially first pressings and special releases.  Take Record Store Day 2013 -- these VVers purchased a fair chunk of records and the vast majority are on color or translucent vinyl.  These records look fantastic, especially when spinning, but does this have any effect on the sound quality?

The VVers have done a tiny shred of research on the subject.  Here's what we got:

Black.  Did you know vinyl does not start off black?  We sure didn't!  Since the majority of records are on black vinyl it just stood to reason.  It also happens to be wrong.  So, what color are records when they are born?  Only Godzilla knows.  Our research points to a carbon-black agent which is added to the vinyl before pressing.  This process homogenizes not only the color of the vinyl, but also is used to strengthen it, reduce noise, and smooth out sound.  The VVers approve of black; it makes dust and gunk show up easily and encourages good record hygiene.  I smell nice.  

Clear.  Clear/translucent vinyl is purported to have respectable audio quality, some even go as far as saying it is the best.  No clear evidence as to why.  Is it because it is what people consider "virgin vinyl" since it has no color additives and is not made from recycled material?  Or is it because as it is translucent, there are less chances for impurities?  If that's the case why don't they press all high fidelity records on transparent vinyl?  In the early age of pressing vinyl, quality standards may have been pretty low.  Is it possible that over the years vinyl quality has evolved to the point that it no longer needs this "black agent" added to it to extend the life of the record?  Is clear vinyl the way of the future?  These questions, and others, may never be answered.

Colored (including tie-dyed, opaque, speckled).  No real definitiveness on colored vinyl.  It's fun to look at.  It's attractive.  People want it...Especially when tie-dyed...And tie-dyed spinning on your turntable...Spin art?!  But, most folks (purists maybe?) consider colored vinyl to be of a lesser quality.  It has been suggested that the materials added to get that sweet color might hurt record durability.  What do the VVers think?  No opinion; too hard to tell.  

Just when we thought we were done with the blog,
we stumble into Jerry's Records
in Pittsburgh: a true vinyl mecca. 
Picture Discs. The Black Sheep. Common consensus is that picture discs are awful.  Although fancy to look at, sound quality is apparently inferior.  Seems there are two worlds of picture discs: the type where the actual playable surface is a laminate; and the other being thin, clear vinyl with a sheet of paper with the image sandwiched in between.  Basically these are made for ogling and as collectibles, not for their amazing sound quality.  VVer #1 pulled out his 12" (well this sounds rude!) picture disc copy of Nirvana Lithium.  The sound was great and frankly it was really cool to watch a spinning skeleton on the turntable.  Consider VVer #1 a sucker.

These VVers may have potatoes in their ears, but so far sound quality of our non-black vinyl has been groovy.

Bottom line here is that most of what we've said up to this point is moot if you take into account all the other important steps along the way.  The end product is only as good as the quality control, the people, and decisions made to bring it to the final release.  The mastering of the album has an enormous bearing on the final product.  The materials used to press the vinyl could be of poor quality or not mixed correctly.  The record company could put out an inferior run on fancy looking vinyl just to score a few quick dollars.  Also the amount of records per pressing makes a big difference.  For example, if it's a "limited edition" run, the record press may not have the time (or budget) to work out all the kinks before going into production.  Are you scared yet?  All this before you ever even get a listen.  If something goes flooey along the way your record will sound cruddy no matter how pretty it looks.  

BUT, how much fun is it to open a new record and pull it out of its sleeve to find out it is on tie-dyed green vinyl!?!  SURPRISE!  There are few things that compare with that feeling.  As mentioned, most purchases from this year's Record Store Day were on colored or translucent vinyl.  The favorite of the bunch is the aqua-transparent 10" Because the Night by Garbage/Screaming Females.  

The cover art (by Screaming Females leader Marissa Paternoster) is a creepy/cool ink illustration, but the vinyl within was the real treat.  In the right light it glows like one of those discs from Tron!  The single itself sounds incredible as well.  This crushing version is flush with deep vocals, an intense meter, and lean production.  Paternoster provides solid co-vocals with Shirley Manson and absolutely shreds on two lengthy guitar solos.  Two B-side remixes of recent Garbage songs round out this limited release.

It's fair to mention that VVer #1 has had a sweet translucent-pink copy of Nirvana Bleach since the beginning (my first ever vinyl purchase!) and it never ceases to impress.  Does it sound great?  Absolutely.  Does the 180 gram black vinyl version released last year sound better?  It's a possibility.  Is it worth it to upgrade?  Hell no!  Everyone loves the sight of that pink record bursting out of its black and silver sleeve in all its mystical glory.  Will we ruin the resale value of it when it gets worn out?  Probably.

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