“Originals vs. Reissues” is a recurrent topic among vinyl junkies. A quality reissue can offer a great alternative to owning a scratchy original, or spending big money on something scarce. That said, many factors help determine whether you’ve purchased a good or bad pressing of a record. This article hopes to outline a few points which can help you along in your crate digging adventures.
ARE ORIGINAL PRESSINGS BETTER?
Short answer: Yes they are, with some notable exceptions. Records that predate the 1970’s are generally a safe bet. Vinyl was the only music format available, so record labels competed for consumer dollars. This ensured consistency in the quality of the lps and 45s made during this period. If it was pressed before the 70’s, the quality will not disappoint.
VERDICT: Buy. Original or reissue, pre-1970’s pressings almost never disappoint.
The 70’s still produced great records, but the global energy crisis impacted the way vinyl was manufactured. The music industry relied heavily on expensive petroleum for vinyl production. As a result, most labels cut costs by reducing the thickness and quality of their materials. Rather than using only “virgin” vinyl, they now began adding recycled scraps. The center labels were removed from old records and the vinyl was then melted down and reused. Bits of paper were sometimes embedded in and around the edges of these wobbly new platters. RCA Records branded these as Dynaflex, citing innovation in vinyl production. But it was mostly an attempt to put a positive spin on a flimsier product. While this has never stopped me from buying 70’s pressings, the sonic qualities of recycled wax is an oft-debated subject.
VERDICT: Buy if necessary, but expect thinner vinyl. If earlier pressings or good reissues exist, research the difference between pressings.
The introduction of cassette tapes and compact discs made music convenient and portable. Cds promised perfection in sound and were far more cost effective to produce. Walkmans and portable CD players drove demand, as did car stereos that played these formats. This spelled the beginning of the end of vinyl, as music’s most dominant format. The industry began to aggressively market these new formats, causing vinyl sales to plummet by the end of the decade.
80’s vinyl is plentiful, but still flimsy and rather bendy. The introduction of digital methods of recording and mastering also changed the way it sounded. Warm analog sound gave way to a more sterile, “perfect” aesthetic. As a result, many 80’s vinyl lps tried to closely replicate the digital output of cds. While digging, keep an eye out for words like “electronically enhanced” or “digitally remastered”. These terms mostly show up on 80’s vinyl pressings. When dealing with reissues from this period, they are generally seen as being inferior, as they do not stay true to the analog format. When shopping for vinyl, it’s advisable to seek out those pressings that remain as close to 100% analog as possible. Digitally remastered John Coltrane? No thanks.
VERDICT: Buyer beware. Besides being thin and flimsy, records from this era often introduced digital remastering to the process. Digital anything, for an analog format, is an oxymoron.
As the 90s rolled around, the vinyl lp seemed obsolete. Production equipment sat unused and experienced staff retired as demand evaporated. Over the next 20 years, digital files and streaming killed the cd as well. By stripping music down to its most basic element, art became intangible.
VERDICT: Vinyl was largely non-existent during the 90’s, so original pressings are most likely scarce and very sought after by collectors. Buying well-made reissues will almost certainly be cheaper.
Cue the vinyl comeback. Renewed desire for a more immersive, tangible experience has spurred vinyl sales to annual double digit growth. Current market demand for vinyl far outstrips the capacity to produce them. No new vinyl-making machinery has been built in almost 40 years. As it now stands, the entire industry is supplied by a small number of pressing plants. Badly outdated machines are operating way past capacity, by mostly inexperienced staff. For the consumer, this combo often results in poorly pressed records that can sound bad. It’s not uncommon to see new pressings come out warped, straight out of the shrinkwrap.
VERDICT: Buyer beware! Do your research, before spending money on new reissues. Some are well done, but there’s many that are poorly done excuses to cash in on the vinyl craze.
Were The Original Source Tapes Used?
Good record labels will always strive to use the best analog source available to them. Recent examples of quality reissues include the Rush, Can, and Blue Note catalogs. In each case, the original master tapes were used, with results that sound as good as ever.
If a company sources their vinyl pressings from a cd, the result will sound worse than a cd. That said, cheap reissues are often the only way to track down a copy of your favorite records. A recent series of Sun Ra reissues, pressed by Scorpio, were inexpensive and available at my local shop. I bought them because I knew I’d never track down originals, but they sound rather bad. Just because it’s on wax, it doesn’t always mean that it will sound better.
Who Pressed It?
A reissue label’s track record often speaks for itself. Before buying, it’s helpful to stay informed. Use the Vinyl Junkies forum and other online resources to see what others think. The collective knowledge of fellow vinyl lovers can help prevent disappointment. Thanks to Discogs, most vinyl reissues have a tangible, verifiable history. Before being stuck with a warped or bad sounding record, glance the internet.
Where Was The Reissue Pressed?
In the case of older (70’s/80’s) reissues, some countries did a better job than others. Countries notable for the quality of their vinyl include Japan, France, Germany, and Holland. Russian, Brazilian and Jamaican pressings, on the other hand, can be a crapshoot. Again, research is key.
Do you have any tips to share? Let us know by sharing your experience with us! Happy crate digging!