How much do you pay for inner sleeves for your records?

** Update, April 2017 ** I can no longer use the Home Brand freezer bags, as they are now made more precisely 300 mm, and are too tight for many older records. Now I’m using 310 x 310 mm 40 micron HDPE antistatic sleeves from Real Groovy. These will be more durable. Polyethylene is visually clean, heat / moisture / chemical resistant (all things that should never be anywhere near records!), and the heavier gauge (thickness and density) cushions against mechanical damage of the disc in storage and handling. NZ$0.37 each.

Inner Sleeves for records: effective in protecting, and frugal

With a large and continually growing record collection and my insatiable search for great music on vinyl, I have over four decades explored the mysteries of various storage options, but without understanding the science behind the materials and the claims. What I do know is that some products offered are incredibly profitable for the vendors, and I wondered if there was another way than expensive. So, I have followed the path of frugality as a virtue in living within my means, rather than succumbed to the brand trail on which my wallet rapidly empties. I have found such a fit-for-purpose solution that is also very inexpensive, surely the best way for most of us who don’t have endless wealth and a need to parade brands as a challenge to our friends. I listen to the music, not the equipment. Spending less on sleeves means spending more on records and the clever technology we can’t make ourselves.

For those who want the happy ending before the journey of enlightenment, I have found that a certain type of freezer bag that is readily available from my local supermarket is, in most cases, perfectly adequate for the job of enveloping a record, cheaply.

But, to protests of “specialist sleeve manufacturers have done the research to select the best way resulting in exotic technically-tested sleeves”, my response is, yes, maybe, and they want us to believe that only they have to expertise to solve this problem of clean safe storage of precious discs. They also want to make big profit margins on accessories. Consider the production cost of a 12” sleeve – it’s perhaps few cents, so what transforms that product into a premium brand? [I admit at this point that I have a doctorate in Management Sciences specialising in Marketing, and I taught and researched in university business and management schools for 22 years after more than 10 years in sales and marketing and related consulting].

What are the inner sleeve options? After properly cleaning a vinyl record, the next line of defense is placing them into a clean and sturdy inner sleeve that keeps dust away from the disc. These are available for 7, 10 and 12 inch vinyl records. Depending on your budget, there are several options from good to best:

The most basic inner sleeve is plain white paper with a label cutout. This is the bare minimum. The better quality ones use a heavier acid-free paper stock. This is better than no protection, but the paper can tear and does shed pulp over time. Sliding a record into and out of paper sleeves scratches them, and creates static and paper dust. Paper sleeves are not a good long term storage option for records.

The better quality option is the slightly opaque or matte looking thin polypropylene sleeves. The higher quality sleeves are 3 mm thick, making them durable and easier to insert records into because they hold their shape. To make it easier to insert the record back into the album jacket some of these poly inner sleeves have rounded corners. Others are square and sometimes require one to bend one bottom corner to make it easier to slide into the jacket. Vinyl record sleeves made out of polypropylene are a great all around choice for economical protection since both sides of the label can be seen clearly without the need for a cutout which allows ingress of dust etc. Good quality poly inner record sleeves are the best-value-for-money product and are highly recommended.

Better still is the paper with poly-lined sleeve. The paper on the outside gives the sleeve stiffness and shape which makes it easier to open and insert a record. The poly lined inner surface lets the record slide with minimal friction and static. The greater thickness makes it harder to put them into some tight record jackets.

Audiophile grade archival sleeves are the ultimate product. Mobile Fidelity makes the ultimate inner sleeves for vinyl records (the MoFo Original Master Sleeves). These are super-thin with a rice paper-like layer sandwiched between two sheets of slick high-density anti-static archival-grade polyethylene to reduce scratching and dust attraction. It’s silky smooth on the outside and inside so this means the record glides in effortlessly without binding, scratching or static buildup, and the sleeve itself slides into the cardboard outer jacket without snagging. Only one side of the the label is viewable so you can’t read the B-side of the label unless you slide the record out.

I’ve not seen a practical DIY sleeve, so manufactured products can’t be avoided, but there is a considerable range of costs among the various options. To illustrate the extent of my point, I looked to the obviously easiest source – a local record store (in Auckland). They are currently offering polythene-lined paper for 50c each, Nagaoka No. 2 plastic anti-static for 52c each, white paper for 50c each, and white card for 70c each. (Prices are NZ$, March 2016). In Hamilton, a city of almost 150,000 population, we now have only one store dedicated to selling records and their range is limited, and they don’t stock cleaning and storage products apart from antistatic cloths. I also, therefore, looked at a specialist mail-order seller – for example, easy to find is NeedleDoctor.com. They are currently offering rice paper for 60c, paper at 30c, and paper/poly for 66c, all plus mailing charges. How about an audiophile specialist? Anti-static Japanese fibre sleeves are on offer from http://www.audiophilereferencerecordings.com.au for $1.34 each plus mailing. MoFo Original Master sleeves are available from http://www.mofi.com for 60c plus mailing charge when bought in a pack of 50.

Recommendation

There are many outlets and a wide variety of product materials and quality, and thus prices. My advice is check out and make your own price comparisons.

Or, better still, go to the local supermarket and buy cheap freezer bags. In my case Countdown Homebrand freezer bags will fit on 12” records (45 x 30 cm). They are 100% high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and currently sell for NZ$1.49 for 40. That’s less than 4c each. They are strictly sized at 11.81”, so some oversize records are a tight fit and may tear the thin rather flimsy material, or just don’t fit into them. Some records have ragged edges and they also tear the fragile bags. Otherwise, they are a soft protection, and fold nicely over to prevent dust entry, and compactly slide into card sleeves.

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