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Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades

A Quick Overview

  • Every record you see on the site has been put through our unique cleaning process.
  • Once cleaned, it is evaluated against other pressings and our Reference LPs in what we call a "shootout," with each side receiving a grade for its sound.
  • Each side's sound quality is rated independently on a Three Plus scale. Pluses are only awarded to the sides that clearly sound better than average.
  • The average pressing will not receive a Plus Rating for sound, and the same is true for most of the Heavy Vinyl and Audiophile Pressings we have auditioned.
  • If a record is labeled 'With Issues' this has nothing to do with the sonic grades. It's about the play condition of the record. It's either because the record has repeating marks of varying severity or the overall playgrade is M-- to EX++.

Our Hot Stamper Rating System

Triple Plus: Our Top Grade, awarded only to sides that sound just right in our experience. The ultimate in sound for that album, often Demo Disc Quality. These are very special records, the best we can find.

Double Plus to Triple Plus: An exceptional side that is just a small step below our best Triple Plus copies but clearly better than a Double Plus. You'll have an incredibly tough time finding a better sounding side.

Double Plus: A side that should be dramatically better than the average copy or any audiophile reissue. An extremely impressive side that will be very hard to beat.

Single Plus to Double Plus: A wonderful sounding side with many impressive qualities, notably better than a Single Plus copy. A big step up from the typical pressing.

Single Plus:  A side that is better than the average copy. It should beat most pressings and audiophile reissues in a head-to-head shootout.

Our Vinyl Playgrades System

Notes on the grades we use, with each vinyl playgrade correlated to the standard 1 to 10 scale, 10 being the quietest.


Mint Minus (M-)

9 - 10 on a scale of 1 to 10

An unusually quiet record. Rarely will a well-cared-for, properly pressed modern record (say from the '70s up to today) play this quiet after cleaning. Records from the '50s and '60s will almost never qualify for this grade, regardless of what kind of music they containl. Classical records, with so many quiet passages in the music, will rarely play Mint Minus.

On any given day less than twenty records on our site will be graded Mint Minus. To find them click here.


Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus (M- to M--)

8 - 9 on a scale of 1 to 10

Between Mint Minus and Mint Minus Minus. This is a very typical grade for a very clean record from the '70s or '80s. There will be some surface noise, likely in the quietest passages, but overall the surface noise should not be objectionable to most. Customers often remark how quiet our records are with this grade. We are very conservative graders.


Mint Minus Minus (M--)

Around a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10

Typical vinyl for ’50s & ’60s recordings and very common for classic rock records from the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and so on. Will probably have constant light surface noise behind the music but it should not be of a terribly objectionable nature. Might have a click or pop here and there but nothing that repeats for very long. We make every effort to comment upon marks that make more than three ticks or pops. For many vintage records, even after a good cleaning this is as quiet as they will play.


Mint Minus Minus to Excellent Plus Plus (M-- to EX++)

5 - 6 on a scale of 1 to 10

This is the the noisiest grade you will find on our site. It used to be less common but these days with certain titles getting harder and harder to find with quiet vinyl, we have started to list more records with this grade. Especially in the case of excellent, hard-to-find records such as Zep 2. You can expect persistent surface noise throughout any record with this grade.


Excellent Plus Plus (EX++)

This grade is rarely if ever used, if for no other reason than the fact that most audiophiles will not put up with vinyl that plays this poorly. M-- to EX++ records are a bit quieter and may be listed in the case of excellent, hard-to-find recordings.

It's rare for us to have a record returned for sound or condition, most customers consider us very conservative in our sonic grades and vinyl playgrades. This is because we play a ton of records every day and make every effort to grade accurately. Your satisfaction is always guaranteed on all counts.


Check our our 30 Day Money Back Guarantee, good for every Hot Stamper on the site.