Last month I received a press release from a new firm offering what appears to be a unique combination of professional grading and archiving services "that enhance your audiophile vinyl record collection." Based in Hagerstown, Maryland, according to their initial press release Audiophile Archive and Grading Services, "No longer will collectors be forced to rely on the seller to grade their vinyl records. Additionally, grading a vinyl record is no longer a two-dimensional process that restricts the buyer to only knowing the visual grade of the vinyl record and outer sleeve. AAGS is a vinyl record grading and archiving organization that not only deep cleans and grades vinyl records, but they provide restoration and hi-res audio backups with each album and certification that is like no other."
What this company offers could be a sort of middle-man service between buyers and sellers of higher-ticket priced LPs. And while they don't act as a financial middleman by holding the money until both sides are happy, they can serve as a mediator or disinterested third party to establish value during the grading process. In addition to the traditional Goldmine-standard excellent-to-poor rating system, AGGS uses their own proprietary scale, "AAGS inspects the outer sleeve, inner sleeve and disks visually. Additionally, we take into consideration whether or not the inner sleeve is original and appropriate for the iteration of your album. We also take into account the liner notes, posters, and lyric sheets to determine if they are present and define their condition. We go even farther and listen to the entire disk and establish an audible grade for the disk. By entering these factors into our proprietary AAGS scoring index, we assign the AAGS score for your album with a single number."
While this appears to be a more scientific methodology than a one-word rating, there is also a lot of room for interpretation here - does a perfect condition record without liner notes get a better rating than a near perfect one with notes? If they get the same numerical rating will they be of equal value to two different collectors?
And what does AAGS charge for their services? They have a sliding cost scale based on the value of the records being processed and services performed. For records valued up to $100 each, for $25 AAGS will do a "hands-free" ultrasonic cleaning, Multi-level grading on Goldmine standard, certified grading certificate, high-rez 192/24 digital copy made and delivered on a USB card, and archival inner and outer sleeved added. If your LP is worth between $100 and $300 the charges increase to $50 per LP, $300 to $500, $75 per LP, and for $100 per LP AAGS can reduce the turn-around time from ten days to only five. AAGS will do a deep cleaning only for $5 per LP and a sleeve vinyl record and digital restoration for $35 per LP.
Obviously, grading and cleaning records is a process that's been around awhile, probably since the first records were produced. There are many resources for both cleaning and grading LPs. During the course of writing this blog I did some searches and came up with a list of resources about grading and cleaning LPs that I've placed at the end of this article.
I'm sure that do-it-yourself types will have already concluded that AAGS offers little in the way of physical operations that they can't do by themselves. Grading, cleaning, and archiving are all well within the skill set and means of most audiophiles. What AAGS does offer that is unique is the ability to offer a third-party grading service that can be used to establish the condition and value of pricy collectable vinyl.
While I lack the necessary time-traveling apparatus to conclude whether AAGS venture into LP grading will prove to be successful or become some kind of industry standard (which would appear to be one of AAGS's goals). I wish them all the best, because as we all know, a clean, properly stored and respected LP is a happy LP...
And if you want to do some research toward your own grading and cleaning, here are some good starting points: