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This question asks what is virgin vinyl: What Exactly Is *Virgin* Vinyl?

Many of the answers, and general opinion on the internet, point out that virgin vinyl will produce a better sounding record than recycled.

"Better" is obviously subjective, but is there an actual difference in the sound between a vinyl record and a recycled record (all other things being equal)?

If so, I can't find any technical explanation as to why. Is there one? Or is it more of an old audiophile's tale and more of an assumption than truth?

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I was the person who answered the other “Virgin Vinyl” question so I will bring a flavour of that answer to this question.

There is quite a good page on Wikipedia about “Gramophone Records” in which the claim that virgin vinyl produces better sound quality is restated – but not substantiated.

I am far from being an audiophile but my experience is that recycled vinyl does produce a lower quality sound. I have a theory as to why this is but I must stress that I have no evidence to back it up.

First, I want to dispute the idea that “better” is subjective, the audiophile community like to pretend that’s the case but really, you CAN measure these things objectively if you want to. That’s how hi-fi manufacturers work every day. But that’s an aside…

“Vinyl” is actually shorthand for Polyvinyl Chloride – PVC – the same material that has a thousand and one uses in everyday objects. You’ll notice that the proper name for most “plastics” has a “poly” in it somewhere, e.g.: PVA-Polyvinyl Acetate, Polyethylene. That’s because these materials are Polymers, long chains of small molecules that are bonded together with strong atomic bonds (chemists are probably laughing at my terminology now, but I think I’m along the right lines).

However, you may have noticed that plastics can actually lose their strength over time – often as a result of sunlight. The light can break some of these bonds apart, deteriorating the polymer into its component parts and removing the strength with it.

So, PVC (vinyl) is used in records because the material needs to be strong. The point pressure of a stylus on a groove is incredibly high, it may only be tracking with a matter of grams, but the force is pressing onto an area of about 1/10th (probably somewhat smaller) of a square millimetre. This is why records can wear out; the friction literally scrapes the vinyl away from the walls of the groove. With every little bit removed, the musical information stored on the vinyl decreases. We hear this as noise and distortion.

This is where I start speculating. As I stated in my answer to the other question, I believe the vinyl is degraded in some way when it is recycled. My theory is that when it is heated to melting point, that heat will cause some proportion of the bonds in the vinyl to break. This leads to shorter polymer chains and a weaker material. As the stylus passes over the groove it will scrape away more of the groove wall with each pass, rendering the sound quality lower and lower with each play.

If I’m right, this happens to some extent even with “virgin” vinyl – but if the vinyl is recycled then another batch of the molecules will be affected – and, even worse, the previously affected molecules may be shortened even further.

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    I like the theory. I think we need a chemist in here to explain what happens when PVC is recycled. I found yet another unsubstantiated tidbit that PVC can typically be recycled up to 7 times: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_chloride#Sustainability Does that say something? I don't know. – DA. May 22 '15 at 17:01
  • I'm the first to admit my knowledge of chemistry is very flaky. The Wikipedia page on PVC includes this tidbit: "PVC starts to decompose when the temperature reaches 140 °C, with melting temperature starting around 160 °C" which, arguably supports my theory. I suppose the "recyclable 7 times" thing is true - so long as you just want to make a shampoo bottle - if you need it to have the accuracy of a hi-fi recording, the tolerances are a little less forgiving! – Lefty May 22 '15 at 20:43
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Yes. Virgin vinyl is better. Recycled vinyl was often made from records they didn't even bother taking the labels off of. You could SEE little pieces of label embedded in the vinyl. It absolutely made a difference to the sound and added a lot of hissing and clicks that are absent from virgin vinyl.

And I'll add, the more records were recycled, the more paper was introduced. Some records skipped and got stuck on the very first playing. 45's were the worst of it. This also made the vinyl brittle.

  • Hi. Your opinion is interesting, and it would be better to add some sources... – Bebs Jun 30 '17 at 4:53

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