My neighbor Rob is a vinyl guy. He’s always been a music guy, but over the past few years, the vinyl resurgence has really energized his love of physical media, and he’s enthusiastic and happy to chat about the format—both about LPs and the means by which to store, clean, and play them.
I’ve cascaded my Spin-Clean record washing system over to Rob, and he’s having great fun cleaning all his old LPs. A while back, he asked my opinion about inner sleeves, and I directed him toward my favorites, the Mobile Fidelity rice paper sleeves I’ve used for years.
We hadn’t really talked about outer sleeves because, well, the default polyethylene 50-for-ten-bucks solution was all I’d ever considered, and there’s nothing noteworthy about those. But the world keeps turning, and crafty entrepreneurs find niches that nobody’s really considered before. And, every once in a while, someone builds a better mousetrap.
So, I ran into Rob on the street one Friday—a whole bunch of my neighbors like to meet after work on Fridays for beer o’clock—and he mentioned that he’s discovered a new, better, cool solution for outer sleeves. His description sounded somewhat interesting, but really, how excited could I get over record sleeves? Rob saw my eyes start to glaze over as he was detailing the concept, so he promised to walk a couple of samples over to me so I could see for myself what was getting him so enthused. The next day Rob dropped off a couple of sleeves from Vinyl Storage Solutions, which is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, right here in Canada. It didn’t take long for me to see what was getting Rob so worked up.
Most new records are shrink-wrapped these days, and when you get a new record home, you likely throw out the shrink wrap and slip the record into a polyethylene outer sleeve. If you’re like me, you probably don’t even see the outer sleeves that cover your records. When I say that, I mean that you likely ignore the cloudy, scuffed-up plastic, and you don’t worry too much about the poor fit—if you get a bad batch they’re too tight, which sucks. Or, if they’re the right size, which generally means they’re a bit too big, you probably ignore how the sleeve bunches up when you try to slide the record onto the shelf. In essence, outer sleeves are a pain in the ass that I’ve accepted as part of life with records because that’s just the way it is.
As I handled the VSS sleeve that Rob handed me, I got the smoldering sensation that I was experiencing a paradigm shift in my relationship to physical LP media. First off, this sleeve was clear. Totally clear. In an instant, it made my old polyethylene sleeves feel like something that had been extracted from a landfill. Which is sort of appropriate, as garbage bags are also made from polyethylene. While I was down with the idea of a truly clear sleeve, I noted that one end of the VSS sleeve had a piece of removable tape and a flap with which to seal the end. This didn’t really sit that well with me, as I don’t like having to open and close a flap when I want to decant a record from its sleeve, especially when there’s some sort of adhesive involved. Rob then suggested I watch the YouTube video on the VSS website to see how these things worked.
It turns out that this sleeve is equipped with two pockets—one at each end on opposite sides. This means—and here is the true genius—you seal in the jacket with the flap and tape strip system, and the actual record itself slides into the back, into its own dedicated pocket that isn’t sealed.
There are several paradigm shifts involved in this dual-pocket approach. The first and most important to me is that, since the sleeve and jacket now make up a sealed unit, the sleeve doesn’t shift as you slide the record onto the record rack. Further to this end, the VSS material is much more slippery than my old sleeves, so it slides in much easier, especially when it’s fed in between two other VSS sleeves.
After playing around with the two samples that Rob provided me, I did some snooping around on the vinylstoragesolutions.ca website. Now thoroughly intrigued, I set up a call with Mike Sarazin, the owner of Vinyl Storage Solutions. It turns out that Mike has a background in the plastics industry, which helped him to develop these sleeves from a vinyl enthusiast’s viewpoint. Sarazin went through many iterations with various types of plastic, before finally settling on 4-mil CPP (cast polypropylene) film, made from virgin plastic, not recycled. I think he heard my intake of breath at the virgin plastic part, and he was quick to point out that they are recyclable, so that eased my conscience a bit.
Sarazin is particularly proud of the fact that the sleeves are manufactured here in Canada, from materials sourced in both Canada and the US. He’s a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and is quick to point out that he strongly believes in purchasing domestically made products; he also has links on his website to other vendors who are veterans. Further, the VSS website features a donations link for the Invictus Games—a sporting competition for wounded veterans—and Sarazin matches all donations, dollar for dollar.
The VSS sleeves are archival quality, meaning they’re inert, acid free, and resistant to most chemicals. They are also extremely tough—I put both hands inside and tried to rip one apart, as there’s a seam at the top and bottom, and that looked like the weakest link. No go. I had to work really hard to even stretch them a bit.
VSS sells the sleeves in two different sizes—12″ and 13″, and the sizing is extremely precise—Sarazin says tolerances are within ±2mm. Given that they don’t stretch at all, it isn’t feasible to slide a MoFi or Tone Poet jacket into the 12″ sleeve. All of the standard LPs that I tried fit just fine in the 12″ sleeves, but true to Sarazin’s warning, my MoFi albums were just a hair too big. My initial order included mostly 12″ sleeves, but I also purchased some 13″ sleeves to cover my oversized albums. My initial impression was that the 13″ sleeves would have been fine at 12.75″, as there was just a bit of extra material at the top of the MoFi record once it was inserted. That said, the sleeves are rigid enough that they don’t sag, and the extra .25″ of material at the top isn’t in the slightest bit intrusive.
The 12″ sleeves fit just great on both single jackets and gatefolds, and the disc pocket in the back was able to contain two LPs without issue. But what if you actually want to open your gatefold LP and read the liner notes without taking the cover out of its sleeve? That’s totally do-able. Just use two sleeves—one on each side of the gatefold—and join them with the adhesive strips. Then you can still store the two LPs in the back. The sleeve material feels like it won’t have any issues with repeated opening and closing, and the result of this two-sleeve approach feels slick and close-fitting, and not at all makeshift.
About five years ago, I wrote about re-sleeving my entire record collection due to my wife’s dust and mold allergies. This was a serious chunk of work, and it’s not something I’m keen to repeat. I’ve given some thought to the Vinyl Storage Solutions sleeves and what they mean to me and my record collection. As of right now, I just don’t have the mustard to attack the entire project again. There’s too much else going on in my life. Believe me, I’d like to do this, as the benefit of—at minimum—improving the appearance of my record rack is seriously alluring. After re-sleeving about 50 records, I’ve got the process down. With the first few records, I found this process a bit tricky, though. It involves the following six-step process:
- Pull off the old sleeve.
- Decant the record from the jacket.
- Orient the new sleeve and the jacket.
- Slide the jacket into the sleeve.
- Pull off the adhesive strip and fold over the flap.
- Insert the record into the back pocket of the sleeve.
Once I’d done this half a dozen times, it was easy. But the first few times, I’d get things out of order. Now that I’m used to it, I reckon I could bang off the whole 3000 or so records in a single work day. So that’s feasible.
It was instructive for me to re-sleeve a portion of the LPs in one or two of my Ikea Kallax storage cubes. Seeing the re-sleeved portion next to records in the older, cloudy, diaper-like sleeves was a revelation. The VSS-sleeved section lined up perfectly, spines flush with the sleeves, which enables me to easily read them. It’s a much tidier solution. To say I’m pleased with the result is an understatement.
Cost-wise, the VSS sleeves aren’t exactly cheap. If you’re buying 25 at a time, they’re $25.49 CDN. There are discounts as you buy more, but for argument’s sake, let’s just say they work out to a buck (Canadian) a sleeve. That’s around $2500 to re-sleeve all my records. I know what you’re thinking—I’ve spent more for less, and I have power cords that cost easily three times that amount, so what am I waiting for? Well, motivation, for one thing. And an extra $2k to fall in my lap, for another. No, I think at this point in my life, I’m just going to order another hundred or so sleeves and resort to just re-sleeving favorites as I listen to them and new records as I buy them.
In one of our first email conversations, Sarazin complimented me on my tribute to Neil Peart and my review of Rush’s early discography. Sarazin is also a Rush fan, and he strongly suggested that I re-sleeve all the LPs I photographed for the article. So I did that. I think they look way better. What’s next? The Tragically Hip and Max Webster, I guess, since I’m a frostbitten Canadian boy.
I’ll be buying more of these over the next while—they’re a wonderful addition to My Vinyl Life.
. . . Jason Thorpe