What do I look for in used records?

I've been absent from vinyl for years. Actually, unless I resort to my 25 year old Pioneer SX-850 and Technics SL-1400, I'm still absent. But after reading some of the posts here, I dropped in the local Goodwill to see what might be found, and picked up a 1955 copy of Brahms Violin Concerto - Heifetz/Reiner RCA Victor Red Seal LM-1903.

I'll admit, I don't really know what I'm getting with this. I'm not even sure this is stereo, since the label just states: A "New Orthophonic" High Fidelity Recording.

Is this good? There were several others that I could have also grabbed, but thought I'd ask here what to look for before proceeding. thanks
OK, I’ve finally purchased a phono stage and a new cartridge (along with too many more records to bore you by listing), and have moved the turntable to my main system.

It can be hit and miss on what kind of shape they’re in. Some are obviously scratched, some it’s hard to tell if it’s just dirt. I hope I’m not grinding the needle to an early grave.

Others sound remarkably well.

For example, I agree with the comments above regarding some of the old mono records; they can sound pretty good. I had naively expected the sound to be localized to the sides with each speaker, but was pleasantly surprised to find everything right in the middle. So you don’t have the instruments spread across the stage like with stereo, but there’s a fullness and warmth that’s very nice.

Eldartford mentions that mono and stereo records appear different. I think that I see what he’s talking about – the stereo tend to have a more fuzzy look to them it seems?

I’ve found an old Rimsky-Korsakoff set, RCA Victor DM-504, that has an even different look to it altogether, and each record weighs a lot more than anything else I’ve come across. It looks like maybe the grooves are deeper or perhaps more pronounced? I’m not sure what the significance of this is.

Also, most of these old ones don’t have a date anywhere on the jacket that I can find. How does one figure this out?
It's possible that the DM-504 set is a 78 RPM set. 78s are heavier and thicker. The groove size is also much, much larger than an LP. If the set is packed in a book like package, with paper sleeves attached to the binding, it's almost certainly a 78 set. (Although, I have seen one LP set from the very early fifties that is packed this way.) If this is a 78 set, be careful--the records were fragile, and should NOT be cleaned with an alcohol based cleaner. You might save such a set to play with--there are many people who still play 78s.

As for the stereo/mono question, it's actually easy to tell with many records recorded in the earlier days of stereo--the earliest stereo records would advertise the fact on the record label and the sleeve. But, some companies (like RCA) would have a fancy name for their mono records, and a promise that the record would sound good on your phonograph today, and even better on a stereo phonograph. These mono records might have been better than stereo--in fact, they often were (if nothing else, it took a while to work out the stereo bugs.) But, they are still mono records.

In time, if you have enough mono records, you might look into getting a setup where you can have a cartridge just for mono LPs. The sound is supposed to be much better--although it requires cartridge or stylus swapping, or else a second turntable.

Finally, the "microgroove" label is just talking about the long playing record technology. The LP groove is much smaller than a 78 RPM record, and the groove was called "microgroove."
It was later than '55, as it is also available in stereo, as LSC 1903. Here is a link to the version I picked up on ePray:


This rendition of the Brahms, now available on 200-gram vinyl, is higly regarded. (newer releases have a painting of brahms on the front)
JC2000 - Yes the Rimsky-Korsakoff 3 record set is in a box with paper sleeves, bound at the spine like a book. I had wondered if this might be 78 rpm, so I've been afraid to attempt to play it. The grooves are definitely larger and each record nearly weighs as much as a dinner plate.

I've picked up a dozen or so mono records (33's) so far, so thanks also for the suggestion to try a mono cartridge; I guess that’s another reason to have multiple headshells. I probably need to save my lunch money toward a better table also.

Steve6 – The Heifetz/Reiner I have has a painting of Brahms, rather than a photo of Heifetz.

So what's the trick to determining the age of this stuff?
OK, sorry to dredge up an old thread; but I have a few more questions in regards to labels.

What is the consensus on Nonesuch? Odyssey?

Do phrases like London's "ffrr - Full Frequency Range Recording" and Columbia's "360 Sound" mean anything or is that just marketing nonsense?

I have come across quite a few shaded dogs; but unlike Elizabeth's, mine are all mono. Did RCA switch to the unshaded dog shortly after the advent of stereo? (Not that I'm forgoing the mono ones - I recently snagged a shaded dog box set of all 9 Beethoven symphonies, LM-6901, in great shape).

Are British imports considered any better than US pressings?

What about Japanese? A more unusual find for me has been a Deutsche Grammophone manufactured by Nippon Grammophon which states "A reminder of your visit to the German pavilion at the Osaka World's Fair in the bicentenary year of Beethoven's birth, 1970". Wasn’t my visit, but I’ll still enjoy the record anyway.

Thanks for the help!