Record Score of the Day at The Princeton Record Exchange

The Princeton Record Exchange isn't what it used to be but it's still better than it once was. Of course "back in the day" the store was records and nothing but records. Then came CDs and DVDs and the emphasis shifted. After all, it's in a college town.

The store's owner Barry Weisfeld (an eerie coincidence!) never gave up on records but he did cut way back and for a while, even after vinyl sales revived, he didn't stock much in the way of new vinyl.

Today the new vinyl selection remains modest—nothing at all like what you find at Amoeba or other well-stocked record stores, but the used record turnover is pretty strong and on any given day you can walk away with some great stuff. Used records at PREX (Princeton Record Exchange acronym) are priced to sell.

Yesterday I was in Princeton along with John Atkinson and Stereophile music editor Robert Baird to hear the first public playback of a new surround sound version of Roger Waters' Amused to Death hosted by recording engineer/mixer James Guthrie who did the arduous assembly work and Analogue Productions' Chad Kassem. There were three days of Pink Floyd festivities but I could only attend Saturday's playback of Amused to Death, DSOTM and Wish You Were Here though I only stayed for Amused….. Playback was via five large ATC loudspeakers and a pair of very large subwoofers.

Sony will release the CD version and probably the mastered for iTunes edition while Analogue Productions will release the surround sound SACD.

But I digress! The original two track analog master tape will be used to produce the double LP stereo version to also be issued by Analogue Productions that was originally pressed during the "abused to death of vinyl" 1990s in a limited run of 1000 and currently sells on the Internet for upwards of $400. The record presents a bleak view of the world and of mankind—and this was before climate change science had come to its current conclusions. Had Waters that to work with it surely would have been every bleaker but it did soften me up for tonight's first chapter of "Years of Living Dangerously" on Showtime.

Anyway, the surround playback of the files mastered by Doug Sax was outstanding and Guthrie's discussion was informative and entertaining too. After the presentation it was on to the Princeton Record Exchange with my friend Michael who joined me and put up with my driving.

I picked up for $15 a minty gold label original of The Incredible String Band's Layers of the Onion only to find when I got home that I already had a copy (I hate when that happens), plus a few Greg Brown albums on Red House for $1.99 each and also for $1.99 Warren Zevon's Sentimental Hygiene one of his only albums I inexplicably did not have.

But the big score yesterday was a four LP Direct to Disk box set of Beethoven Piano Sonatas on Nimbus Records performed by Bernard Roberts. The records were mint the box perfect and given Nimbus's well deserved reputation for sonic recording excellence and pressing perfection this seemed like a steal for $11.99 but if the performances were blah who cares?

So I Googled the artist and it came back strong. He's a well-respected performer. So I bought the box and I'm glad I did. Sonically it is superb and the pressings are 100% dead quiet. Now I just need to find Volume Two!

While we're on the subject of used record shopping, be sure when you go to bring a flashlight. Used record store lighting often is designed to hide surface flaws. Records that look "perfect" in the store often prove to be awful when seen in the right light. A flashlight will let you see. A flashlight will also let you see spindle marks by the center hole. if the label is loaded with them the records been oft played and probably somewhat worn, depending upon the turntable, which of course you cannot know. The heavier the rock music the greater the odds are it was played on a crappy turntable.

And don't let a shiny record surface fool you! Used record dealers sometimes apply lighter fluid to a record, which produces an attractive sheen that can obscure scratches and other defects.

As I'm writing this an email arrived from a reader with a link to a story about 'record skimming'. This was new to me, but apparently it's common in South America where scratched records are polished to make them look better. Records are buffed and polished, sometimes using heat (!!!!!) to remove the top layer of scuffs and scratches. It also screws up the sound of course but the goal is to get you to bite based on looks. This makes spindle mark observation and detection that much more important. I don't think you can buff the paper label!

thirtycenturyman's picture

Yesterday, I found a copy of Telarc's 1812 at a local Salvation Army.  I remember my dad playing this one on his system so I'm looking forward to those cannons.  My neighbors will be thrilled!

On a side note, one of my favorite shops here in Chicago, Dave's Records, is all vinyl!  They seem to do pretty well as there's always a good crowd.  You can get a glimpse of it in this video.

Devil Doc's picture

Not too long ago on Congress St. in Portland, Me. It was dark. I couldn't believe it. Reminded me of a Head shop back in the day. I looked at my wife and said "Let's get out of hear. These folks are thieves." Just loud enoug for the clerk to hear, of course.

Dpoggenburg's picture

Great story. I travel a lot for business and years ago I would find myself in Philadelphia fairly regularly -- necessitating an end-of-day race over to Princeton for some record shopping before closing time.

Michael, your story also begs the question: how/where do you store your lps? Are they filed alphabetically, or do you use a Dewey Decimal-type system? And, have you ever thought of using a program to keep track of them all (I use CATraxx and an unrelated iphone database program)? With over 6,000 lps I got tired of buying duplicates a long time ago...

Thanks for all your efforts with this website!

Michael Fremer's picture

My records line the walls of my listening room. An acoustician said they produced ideal decay so they serve a dual function. The organization or lack thereof is bizarre. I can't begin to get into it in detail but essentially I have imported rock in one section alphabetically, and then domestic rock and then blues and R&B and then country and then the RCA "Living Stereo"s and Mercury "Living Presence" and London Bluebacks. There's a modern classical section with Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Stockhausen, etc. Then there's an "oldies" section and a soundtrack section, then folk, then Mobile Fidelity, DirectDisk, DCC, Classic Records, etc. Jazz, then........ and on and on. But unfortunately the "vinyl revival" and all of post 2000 records ended up in another section because the old system shelves were full and then I had to expand shelving into my office and into the utility room that's also lined with shelves of records.....and then there are some thousands in a friend's basement... etc. It's the Midas touch because I'll never listen to all of them and I keep buying more and getting sent more and on and on......

rosser's picture

If my wife could only see your house, she would stop complaining about "vinyl creep" as she calls it. My paltry 1000-2000 LPs show amazing restraint in comparison. 

My parents live in Princeton, so I get to PREX pretty regularly. Only downside is buying sealed vinyl and not being able to play it until I get back to DC. But the couple of times I've had to return albums they've been really good about letting me ship them back and refunding my money. 

On another note, I recently scored a mint Stockhausen album (and let's face it, they usually are mint) on the Time label. It was from the late 1950s and in stereo -- outstanding sound quality. But then I've long been a fan of Stockhausen, Terry Riley, Glass, etc. 

Thanks for the great report. 

sunderwood's picture

I don't have anywhere near as large a collection as you do. Mine still numbers in the hundreds. One day my wife asked me if I would ever have enough records. My response was that that day would never come. It doesn't matter how many I have. I still get that thrill out of going into a record store and finding that mint copy that I had decided some day back that I just had to have.

forshac's picture

>I'll never listen to all of them and I keep buying more

I feel you, bro.

>and getting sent more and on and on......

This I could use help with.

Devil Doc's picture

But no competent acoustician would say that without measuring first. The belief that records and books can provide adequate acoustic treatment is a myth. With your speakers, bass traps, at the very least, would improve even the sound of your system.

sunderwood's picture

It is frustrating to be shopping for used records in a store that isn't lighted well. You can miss a lot of damage that way. These stores usually don't get much of my business. I just don't have any interest in a record that has even one scratch. I have found that one of the best ways to inspect a record is to go to an open window, if there is one, and look at it under sunlight.

Kurt's picture

I also use the window technique. I get most of my LPs at the thrift store (99 cents each!). I select the ones I'm interested in first, then look through my stack by a window.

A smartphone is a great tool. You can look up reviews for a record you're considering as you did, or listen to a few tracks to see if you like it.

DLKG's picture


I went to the Princeton Record Exchange on Saturday and I eyed the Beethoven set up but didn't buy it because I was there just the week before.  My mission was to pick up the 11th installment of The Recollection GRM Lp's that have been slowly reissued over the past few years and get out of there unscathed money wise.  Last week was a killer haul!!  So I got the GRM, paid for it  and did my hour drive back to Collingswood NJ.

I do have to say that Princeton Record Exchange's Lp's are usually very clean and flawless.  I am so lucky to be so close to a real record store that carries everything from the everyday to the esoteric.  My specialty is 20th Century Classical orchesteral and academic electronic music.  And I am never disappointed after a trip to the Exchange.

Michael Fremer's picture

That is one of the great things about the vinyl revival: it covers the waterfront. So many specific interests all getting reissued. I was amazed to find at PREX original pressings on the Time label by John Cage and other avant garde composers. That label was mostly shlock yet for some reason they issued those...

Paul Boudreau's picture

That's truly grotesque.  As far as shiny surfaces go, any well-cleaned LP will look that way, won't it?  Any LP in untouched condition can be dusty, yielding a non-shiny surface.

Hey, how about a head flashlight like those miners once used?  Of course it would look weird but who cares?

Michael Fremer's picture

I have a pair of "glasses" with no lenses but tiny AAA powered flashlights attached to either side of the frames. I've used them in stores. Who cares is right! And I was using them in the 1990s when you were a "nut" just for buying or caring about records....

Paul Boudreau's picture

Better a nut than a "vinyl creep!" D'oh.

Roy Edelsack's picture

Take it from a veteran of the vinyl wars: go to the Triumph Brewing Co. after you visit PRX not before.

Stay thirsty my friends.

Victor's picture

Triumph and Prex...I call that the dualfecta. Bravo! Prex is the best!

Stu Morgenstern's picture having a week of specials prior to RSD. They mainly sell new vinyl to a younger crowd but they get in a steady stream of second hand stuff that is out of this world. This week much of it was selling for a dollar! A Hard Day's Night mono UA, Jazz Goes To College maroon label, 3 other Brubeck six eyes, Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde 2 eye. Everyone in at least very good condition. Bunch of other cool stuff. All for a buck each!

Michael Fremer's picture

You can't beat that!

ster4610's picture

Did you see the April 13th NY Times  Magazine Article "The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie", On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace?  Interesting. 

DLKG's picture

Yeh, Triumph is the way to go after record hunting.  Great beer so so food.

Russo7516's picture

Great store  just tight too tight to some digging in there . 

Jack Gilvey's picture

Although, if ever an album didn't really need a multi-channel version, it's this one. Hugely immersive over a good stereo setup. Looking forward to its release regardless. 

 Haven't been to PREX in a year or two. Parking is a PITA, and them little aisles weren't made for us...burly types. 

bdp24's picture

Speaking of them, a couple of years ago I was up in Portland Oregon, and while there went to see the record store I had shopped in when I lived there in the late 70's, Music Millenium. The instant I walked through the door it hit me.....the heavy, dank scent of Patchouli Oil. I don't think it's in vogue there, I think it had long ago seeped into the woodwork of the store (the store's interior has lots of raw wood walls, racks, etc.), where it will remain until they tear the place down (which, judging by the number of old homes and buildings in Portland, should be quite a while). I forgot all about the smell of the place when, on the upper level where the LP racks were, I saw a display of turntables for sale! Roy Hall will be happy to know that one of his was among the offerings, as was a Rega and some direct drive cheapie. When I was back in Portland last December I stopped in again at MM, and this time the LP section and turntable display had been moved downstairs, onto the main floor, pushing the entire Classical CD store (MM occupies two storefronts, each with it's own front door, the wall between the two stores having been torn down long ago) into the Pop store. There were more customers in the LP store than in the CD store! On top of that, my Niece, who had just turned 40, asked me to recommend a turntable. And on top of THAT, my sister asked me to get her a cartridge for her new Husband's Thorens (the Husband is new, not the Thorens), which she had me bring down from the attic. Oh, it's happening!