Vinyl has lasting appeal because of its consistent qualities and visual aesthetics. It’s a canvas where musicians can deliver something incredible for your listening enjoyment with artwork that reinforces the message of the songs.
Part of that process includes printing art directly onto the vinyl disc. It’s a tradition that the Beatles made famous, but it was happening long before they came along.
Once you see the plethora of picture records available on the market today, from vintage oldies to modern albums from bands like Nine Inch Nails, you know that you’re entering a weird and beautiful world.
Do Picture Disc Vinyl Records Sound Worse?
Picture disc vinyl records sound worse because of the manufacturing processes used to create them. Instead of pressing the audio waves into pure vinyl, the item makes a “sandwich” that offers a full-color effect. The impact on the acoustic quality is especially noticeable in the initial and final tracks.
Anyone who collects records likely has a few picture disc vinyl records in their collection. If you don’t have one at home, you’ve probably seen one on display at a local store.
When you talk about picture discs, you’ll find that most people fit into two categories. This product is either widely loved or hated with a passion.
Both groups agree that picture vinyl doesn’t sound as good as a standard record. Some critics would describe the audio quality as “terrible,” although a blanket sentiment like that is a bit harsh.
Numerous aspects go into a sound recording, ranging from the mastering to the pressing to the final production step. Everything matters! If something goes wrong at any stage, the overall result will be lackluster at best.
The most accurate way to compare a picture disc vs. a standard vinyl record would be to say that the former isn’t as capable of sounding consistently good.
Why Do Picture Disc Vinyl Records Have Sound Quality Issues?
Instead of the sound getting pressed into pure vinyl, the imagery on the disc creates a secondary layer that requires processing. The record’s core is made of the same material, but the addition of an image creates a polyethylene foil layer to seal in the art.
Although the film acts as a translucent seal to protect the product’s appearance, having the music pressed into it causes extra surface noise. That means the overall audio quality is lower than what it would be without the art present.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid all picture discs if you collect vinyl records. Some of them have their place in music history!
Recent releases are also significantly better than the earlier records because technology improvements have stopped the added white noise over the years. Audio engineers have even created better mastering processes to counter the effects of the outer foil layer.
If you want to ensure your investment in a picture vinyl disc pays off, you’ll want to review who mastered the music.
When you collect vinyl, grabbing a picture disc of something you already own and love creates a display piece that could have value one day. A simple clear vinyl shelf wall mount will even help you show off the best collectibles without spending a fortune.
How to Maintain a Picture Vinyl Record
The best way to handle picture disc vinyl records is the same process you’d use when caring for a standard album.
How you hold the record is one of the most overlooked areas of its maintenance and lifestyle.
The first step to correctly handling a vinyl record is to put on a pair of archival gloves before grabbing anything. If your skin oils get on the outer art, the poly foil, or any exposed vinyl, it can degrade the product’s quality.
Once you’ve got your hands protected, you can follow these additional steps to have a successful experience.
- Carefully remove the inner sleeve from the jacket.
- Slide a hand inside the inner sleeve, placing the index, middle, and ring fingers on the center label of the record.
- Place your thumb on the outer edge of the album.
- Slowly slide the picture disc vinyl record out, avoiding any skin contact with its surface.
- When moving the record over to a turntable, hold the album along its sides to prevent any damage to the pressed surface.
- Set the record on the turntable without touching the pressed area. It helps to line up the center hole from above to ensure it gets placed on the felt correctly.
- Clean the vinyl with an anti-static brush to remove dirt and dust that could interfere with the stylus. After you’ve finished listening to the album, it helps to repeat the cleaning process.
- Place the record back in its protective sleeve by reversing the steps above. It can be tempting to drop the album in once you’ve got it halfway there, but that could damage the product, tear your gloves, or cause other problems.
- Place the inner sleeve inside the jacket by having the opening face toward the ceiling. You’ll need to work carefully to prevent having the album slide out of the jacket.
- If you have an outer sleeve for the jacket, place the record into it after you’ve secured the inner sleeve.
It isn’t possible to remove every element of risk from this equation. When you follow these steps to protect your records, you’ll discover that most of the common complaints you see people discussing online can be managed without much difficulty.
Best Turntable to Use for Vinyl Records
When you want to listen to your vinyl records, the best choice for the home is the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XB turntable. This USB-compatible unit uses a wireless direct-drive turntable to create an authentic experience.
This turntable uses a fully manual operation that includes the three standard RPM speeds to let you listen to almost anything. I personally appreciate the platter in the design because it comes with a speed indicator and a target light so that you can listen at any time, day or night.
I’m also a big fan of the balanced tonearm. It uses an S-shaped design that hydraulically dampens the movement to prevent accidental drops. The rest is also lockable to avoid those occasional bumps from turning into something worse.
A detachable RCA output cable comes in the box, along with an AC adapter and counterweight, to ensure an enjoyable experience.
This setup enables users to connect via USB to a computer to create digital copies of your collection through the software of your choice.
Best Speakers for Vinyl Records
When I want an audiophile-style listening experience with my picture disc vinyl records, I turn to my Edifier S350DB Bookshelf Speaker System. It comes with a subwoofer and aptX wireless sound to ensure the setup works in any room.
What stands out the most about these speakers are the titanium dome tweeters. You’ll get impressively clear highs with any song or composition. When it’s matched with the eight-inch sub, you get the depth you want without it being an overwhelming experience.
With this design, you can connect your turntable by RCA, optical, coaxial, AUX, or Bluetooth. On the side, a control panel gives you three knobs for adjusting the volume, treble, and bass. Those controls are available through the remote.
This Edifier system is also backed by a 24-month limited warranty.
Best Shelves for Vinyl Records
I’ve found that displaying my picture disc vinyl records is a bit challenging at home. Although having them on shelving units is fun, it’s not always a practical way to keep them safe. When guests are over, you never know what might happen.
At the same time, I don’t want to stick them on a bookshelf or in a trunk. They deserve to have some display options that keep them safe while letting me and everyone else enjoy the art.
For a single display option, I enjoy the MOCOHANA Vinyl Record Stand. It uses a minimalistic approach, allowing me to place my favorite album on a protected shelf without worrying about damage.
It’s made of solid wood to ensure a sturdy construction. Although it’s a bit smaller than you think it would be, it delivers a mid-century modern addition to any display.
As for the other items in my collection, I love the My Gift Turntable Stand. It uses two tiers to create a place for the turntable and another for keeping the records available with easy access. You receive 14 slots for organizing the ones you play all the time.
When you need to move the stand to a different location, the two handles at the top allow you to lift with ease. I don’t recommend leaving the turntable there because it can slide off.
A Final Thought on Picture Disc Vinyl Records
If you purchase a picture disc vinyl record thinking that it will sound like a CD or downloadable file, the results will not be to your liking. I’ve found that vinyl tends to have a warmer, albeit less defined, approach to music. That makes it feel like an authentic experience, even with a classic album.
That doesn’t mean the songs or audio quality is terrible. It just delivers a different “clarity” to the experience. You feel like you’re listening to a live performance through 1970s television.
When I’ve played picture discs on today’s best turntables, I’ve found that recent releases are equal to, if not better, some of the other releases. That’s because the mastering quality has to be better to meet today’s standards.
Most picture discs become display collectibles. If you want to show them off, the right shelf can make a big difference! When you prefer to listen to them, an investment in one of the best turntables is money that’s well spent.