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Vinyl records are making a comeback… but there can be problems. Some of them are obvious, dirty records or scratches in the vinyl can definitely degrade sound quality. However, there is another problem that comes to you directly from the manufacturer. That is records with non-fill areas.
What does it mean when a vinyl record is a non-fill record?
A vinyl non-fill record comes from a problem with the molten vinyl. If it doesn’t pour properly or it starts to harden too early, the machines can’t cut the groove properly. The results are poor sound quality and a “shooshing” noise. In fact, if the record is held in the right light, it’s even possible to see the non-fill area.
These areas are typically on the outer edge of the record. It tends to be a problem mainly with the one hundred eighty gram records currently being produced. In fact, at least one audiophile has pinpointed the manufacturer that makes these the most.
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What does a non-fill record look like?
One website called it a “string of pearls.” Normally a non-fill record will have a gently waving line across one section of the vinyl. The outside edge of this line is visibly different from the rest of the record. If it has grooves at all, they are not deep enough to provide good sound quality.
Why does it matter?
The grooves in the record are what hold the sound recording. Done properly, these grooves will recreate sound better than most digitally mastered recordings. They are analog in nature, as is the human ear. However, the needle picks up information from the entire groove… top, bottom and sides. If the groove isn’t deep enough, it can’t recreate all of the sounds that were recorded. This leads to poor sound quality.
How does it happen?
When vinyl recordings started making a comeback, a few things went wrong. This feature was a big problem for flat pressed vinyl records. However, it was mostly resolved. That doesn’t mean it was resolved by every manufacturer however as some still produce records with this problem.
On one of the records, it is obvious that there was a lack of caution used during both the manufacturing process and the handling after it was manufactured. The record came “pre-scratched,” showing that it was handled carelessly after it was pressed and before it was even shipped from the manufacturer.
What does it sound like?
To the untrained ear, it will sound dull and will probably have an audible shush sound. To a trained ear, the dynamics will squashed, flat will be added to the dull and the entire sound will be so bad they will not want to play the recording. In fact, many are understandably disgusted when they realize that their record has an issue.
Whose fault is it?
While assigning blame is often a bad idea, when it comes to something of this nature it is wise to know who is and is not responsible. The band, group or reader who made the record is not responsible. They put their heart into their work and would be truly appalled if the recording was bad when it was sold.
The person who makes the master is not at fault. It takes skill and care to make a master recording, even with the help of computers. In the old days the math was done by hand. However, if it were the fault of the master, the entire record would have problems, not just one relatively small section of it.
The blame lies solely with the manufacturer. Perhaps it was the first day on the job for someone and they messed up an entire run. Were that to be the case, quality control should find the problem and the records would not be put out for sale.
Perhaps it’s someone who no longer cares about the work. They just do it by rote… hence the careless scratches on the records with the non-fill section. Again, quality control should have found these defects long before the product hit the shelves for consumers to purchase but sometimes the quality control departments don’t thoroughly check every single item that is produced.
While some websites name the company most likely to sell records of this nature, it is unwise to do so without copious amounts of information to back up the claim. I haven’t done extensive testing of records from a certain manufacturer so I don’t want to say that that specific manufacturer has widespread issues but it is something that you should watch out for.
However, a warning is going to be issued. Before purchasing a new vinyl album, look to see what company pressed it and then look them up online. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to start and forums and online reviews can also be great places to look before purchasing.
How do I avoid getting a non-fill vinyl record?
When purchasing something online this would be difficult. However, in the record store it might still be possible. Pre-owned vinyl records aren’t usually rewrapped in plastic. All that you need to do is take out the record and look at it. If it has the tell-tale wavy line or is obviously thinner in one location, don’t buy it.
When purchasing a new recording, it is unlikely that the sales people will allow such an inspection. That doesn’t mean you are out of options. Ask about the return policy. If the store is a good one, they will allow returns or exchanges of defective products, which should include vinyl albums with this defect.
What do I do if I already have one and no one will take it back?
There comes a time when the consumer has to put his or her foot down. Report the seller and the manufacturer. If you bought it on Amazon, they have a department for that. Amazon doesn’t like it when a seller continually sells defective products.
The Better Business Bureau is another way to report products of this nature. The company mentioned above has already had at least one negative report. More reports will cause that company to look a little more closely at its quality control, which could help prevent the problem. Many companies are also much more likely to fix an issue when you make a stink about the issue online.
Don’t forget online reporting as well. Yelp.com is useful and there are many other sites as well. Businesses need the good will of consumers and will (eventually) fight to get it. Use these tools to everyone’s advantage.
Unfortunately non-fill records are a part of life when it comes to vinyl records but thankfully when you come across such records most stores will have great return policies that you can utilize to return and replace the defective record.
Defectivie records are incredibly annoying but they aren’t the end of the world. You can easily get the record replaced with one that functions properly and get back to listening to your new record!