Offering a high-end design, MA Recordings inner sleeves are made in Japan and feature some intriguing technology. Paul Rigby stands, vinyl at the ready
I recently took time to focus on the vinyl inner sleeve, dipping a toe into the accessory’s history, looking at good and bad examples, offering a few hints and tips and more. Here, I wanted to take a closer look at a relatively new inner sleeve – well relatively new to me, I’m sure it’s old news to some of you out there.
I was recently supplied with a bunch of inner sleeves from a US outfit called MA Recordings via the UK HiFi outfit, Russ Andrews who are selling these inner sleeves on their website, I’ll put a link below if you want to buy a bunch of sleeves from them. Up until that point, I had never heard of the things.
…RECORD LABEL TOO
I had never heard of the company, MA Recordings either. When I received the inner sleeves, I assumed MA was a budding HiFi accessories company but no, far from it. MA Recordings is a record label that produces music recordings for sale on vinyl, CD and hires downloads featuring chamber music, baroque, classical, jazz, world and more and all super high quality to boot.
Intrigued, I got in touch with MA Recordings main man, a Californian-based studio engineer named Todd Garfinkle, who has worked with contacts in Japan to produce his own bespoke inner sleeve design.
He and I did a lengthy interview on his new inner sleeves which I have posted on my Patreon page, if you’re interested in reading that.
In the UK, these MA Recordings inner sleeves can be yours for £40 for a pack of 50 from Russ Andrews. You can buy them much cheaper in the US where they retail for $33.33 for a pack of 50.
Now, I am sure you’ll agree, at least in relative terms, that’s a pretty high-end price for a pack of inners.
In the UK, I can buy a 50 pack of budget inner sleeves with a soft poly lining for less than half of that price and MoFi-branded inner sleeves for around £27 for 50.
And because MoFi sleeves have always been seen as the high-end inner sleeve of choice, I going to be comparing those sleeves with the MA Recordings inners I have here for review.
So I wondered why these inners were priced higher and if that relatively high price could be justified.
BORN IN JAPAN
Now even though the sleeves are sold by California-based MA Recordings, this record label was born in Japan. The US company still retains strong links with that country. So strong that these inner sleeves are actually made in Japan. Not China which is where MoFi sleeves are made, Japan. That one fact, in itself, will added something to the price of these sleeves, so bear that in mind.
Unlike the MoFi sleeves, the MA sleeves are single layer, relatively strong and made from an intriguing material. There is no plastic involved with this design. No poly lining. None of that. Actually, when it comes down to it, there’s no paper, either. What you have here is a synthetic material that feels like fabric. It’s actually the same material that is used in Japanese Shoji Window treatments!
Actually, let me back track on that and give you more detail. The sleeve material is made from a combination of two, very soft, synthetic microfibres which are randomly “woven” so that the material is permeable – and I’ll get back to that feature in a moment. They are also not abrasive in any way. These sleeves are quite soft to the touch. They will protect your vinyl but they will also cause no additional harm to the outer sleeve they sit within. And that side is often ignored, the potential long-term abrasion between the inner sleeve and outer sleeve. Which may be a factor, especially for rare record packages.
At first glance, these inner sleeves look incredibly basic. Very ordinary indeed. They have none of that MoFi visual pizazz. No multi-layer this or “rice paper” that or fancy logos or graphics scattered here or there.
What you get is almost a reflection of Japanese culture. This sleeve is rather reserved in its design and styling, simple and straightforward in usage terms. Yet it is tough and feels long lasting. It’s no surprise that you can rip the sleeve along its seams but the actual material in and of itself is pretty hardy. I tried to rip the sleeve but it refused to budge. I tried to stretch and deform it. Yes, that resulted in several stretch marks but the basic form stayed true. In relative terms, when compared to other inners, these sleeves are tough cookies.
One large difference between the MA sleeves and all other competitors is that the MA sleeves do not trap moisture, the material releases moisture from the vinyl to the outside world. Which is why the Japanese love the material in Shoji windows. So if you live in a damp environment or you don’t thoroughly dry your vinyl after cleaning, then that means the threat of mould build up or other residues is reduced by using these inners.
Now I’ve read Internet reports of some users experiencing problems with MoFi and MoFi style inners. Some users have been complaining of different forms of residue being left on the surface after using MoFi sleeves.
I wonder – and it’s just my guess – if these issues might partly be down to user error during cleaning? It’s just a guess and I may obviously be wrong but I wonder if these users have not dried their cleaned records thoroughly. Which has meant that trapped moisture has attempted to evaporate from the record after cleaning but the plastic lining has prevented that that then the moisture has deposited itself back on the record as visible residue?
That might be the issue there and hey, these things happen. If you use a manual cleaner like a Disco Antistatic or a RCM then it’s possible to misjudge drying times. Especially if you’re in a hurry. So yes, it happens. Well the MA sleeves will prevent that, because it allows that moisture to escape.
I have even heard talk where MoFi sleeves have actually bonded to the record surface. Again, that may very well be due to evaporating liquid (which is full of chemicals let’s not forget) trying to escape, failing to do just that then sticking to the outer polymer layer. Again, that’s just my wild guess.
Sleeve bonding should never occur with the MA sleeves because there will be no trapped moisture to affect bonding in the first place.
The MA sleeves also appear to keep static low because there is very little friction applied to the vinyl when in use and its often friction created by constant movement of the record moving in and out of the inner sleeve that produces static in the first place. Not in every case of course but the friction between the inner sleeve and the record itself can be a large contributing factor.
In practical storage terms, can the corners of these sleeves crumple in outer sleeves? Of course they can. Some outer sleeves only offer a tight space inside. These MA sleeves do put up a fight though. They do try to keep their shape during general use and in a generally roomy outer sleeve.
Compared to MoFi sleeves? I found the MA sleeves easier to use. Quicker to use, you might say.
Why do I say that? This was an issue brought up by a chap named Rob, a Patreon supporter. MoFi Sleeves have no indented lip at the entrance of the sleeve. What I mean is, at the entrance of the inner sleeve, both sides of the sleeve sit at the same height. The MA sleeve features a stepped feature where one side of the entrance sits higher than the other. So if you’re holding a record in one hand and the sleeve in the other then the record itself can open the sleeve entrance, making entry easier. Now sure, many other cheaper inners don’t have a stepped entry point but then you’re paying less aren’t you? If you do pay out for expensive inners then little features like this are appreciated.
These sleeves are easy to use and they keep their form, they are relatively strong, I love the permeable nature of the material. They are physically thin too so should fit into any outer. Yet they themselves are roomy so will not put undue pressure on your records.
I’ve been using third-party inner sleeves since I was 13 years of age and over time, because I’m a hifi journalist and I have access to the things, I must have used every variation of inner sleeve out there and I have to say, these MA sleeves are the best inner sleeves I have ever used. I never thought I would get excited by an inner sleeve but hey, there’s a first time for everything isn’t there and now I’m positively chipper, peppy and – hey, let’s go for it – zappy now that I’ve found these MA Recordings sleeves.
To my mind the MA Recordings inner sleeves move the whole notion of the inner sleeve into a new bracket. They are, in their own quiet way, revolutionary. Which is why I’ve giving them 10/10 and a super rare Golden Groovy. Congratulations to MA Recordings. Congratulations to Todd Garfinkle.
MA RECORDINGS INNER SLEEVES
Price: £40 for a pack of 50
GOOD: simple design, easy to use, permeable, strong, non abrasive