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Many newcomers to the strange world of high fidelity express bewilderment at the number of variations a particular record pressing can possess. Some releases on vinyl (and CD) have upwards of 100 different pressings. How do you know which one is the right one for you? If you’re not aware of it already, let me introduce you to the online, peer-driven and managed music database Discogs ( https://www.discogs.com/ ), short for Discographies. The site includes detailed information on all genres in all formats, and not only for commercial releases, but for bootlegs, private pressings (or off-label), and promotional releases as well. Think of it as your one-stop-shop for finding out pretty much anything you wanted to know about a recording.
The site was started in November 2000 by Kevin Lewandowski, a DJ, programmer and music fan who originally intended Discogs to be a all-encompassing database for electronic music. By 2003 demand for other genres from users was growing and the site had its core code completely rewritten that year. In 2004 the site started to include hip hop, rock and jazz and its ranks had swelled to include 15,788 contributors and 260,789 releases. In 2005 the site launched the Discogs Marketplace which enabled members to buy and sell recordings from one another through it. As of May 2022 Discogs had database entries from more than 628,000 contributors regarding 15.1 million releases, in all genres, worldwide.
So, you have an immense database of information on music recordings and a portal to buy those recordings through. How do you figure out what you want? Remember, despite its bad reputation, the Internet is still our friend, especially when it comes to finding out what the record-collecting community deems to be the best pressings of a particular album – be it LP, CD, cassette or reel-to-reel tape. A quick Google search of an album title along with key words like “best pressing,” “best sounding” or “best version” will usually return dozens of hits from hi-fi, audiophile or music review sites and forums. So once you’re armed with a general consensus of what particular pressings (or CDs) are considered the grails, you can whittle it down to what your budget will allow, because even if the original Blue Note mono pressing of Ike Quebec’s 1962 Heavy Soul is considered the best pressing of the 25 analog and digital versions available, the $500 USD cost for one in VG+ (Very Good Plus) condition may not be out of range for your ears, but it may be for your wallet.
One of the many cool things about Discogs and Discogs Marketplace is the strict vinyl condition grading system in use by buyers and sellers known as the Goldmine Standard ( https://www.goldminemag.com/collector-resources/record-grading-101 ). This standard sets out criteria from Mint to Poor with six levels in between, so you can be sure you know exactly what condition of LP, CD, cassette or tape you’re purchasing. It also applies to sleeves. Want to know what weight of vinyl the original 1959 mono pressing of At The Crossroads with Sonny Criss (Peacock’s Progressive Jazz – PLP-91) tipped the scales at? Discogs has it. Want to know who the remix engineers were on the 1974 Blue Note LP ( BN-LA142-G) Blacks And Blues by Bobbi Humphrey? Discogs has it. Want to buy an original 2xLP unipak Japanese pressing of The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street (P-5051-2S) with obi, insert and inner sleeves? Discogs has it.
The only downside to Discogs is its ubiquity in the record market now, and not just for online sales, bricks and mortar shops use it to determine pricing on practically all their used stock. Gone are the days of ever scoring a holy grail album like a coveted turquoise version of the Led Zeppelin/ST LP for $25. Many will recall the debut LP having a cover showing the Hindenburg disaster with “Led Zeppelin” in orange lettering at the top left corner… but the third initial pressing (Atlantic – 588171) accidentally used turquoise for the lettering – something an absentminded record shop employee could easily miss. Not any more. This turquoise version is currently going for a cool $2,500 USD if your budget allows.