For us baby boomers, our love of music started with vinyl record albums. In spite of some subtle crackles and a few audio imperfections, this was the state-of-the-art audio of our time. The only real problem with them was that the slightest vibration could cause the needle to jump and scratch the record. Then there would always be that spot where the needle got stuck and you’d hear that same part of the song over and over again until you got up and moved it by hand. Very annoying during a make-out session.
In the 1960’s, they tried to replace records with audio cassettes, followed by its stupid younger brother, the 8-Track tape. It wasn’t until the ’90s when CDs became the predominant form of music distribution. For awhile, it looked like the record album had gone the way of the full-serve gas station, but in 2007 vinyl started making it’s long awaited comeback. Now, audiophiles and hipsters who are too young to even remember when records were popular have revived the vinyl culture. And old style record stores are re-emerging to the joy of those who remember them!
That’s because nothing beats the feel of listening to music pressed on wax. It’s not just the precision; there is an added feeling of warmth within the music when it’s experienced on vinyl. In the digital age, listening to music has become a sterile, joyless and limiting experience. When you buy vinyl, you own a tangible object that adds many small, exquisite features like the elaborate gatefold that you can mount on your wall as art and the hidden messages etched in the vinyl. These add to the enjoyment of the music in a way that even CDs never could.
But before you dust off your old records or listen to modern music through this classic medium, you might need a little refresher course in record player proficiency. So let’s go through some of the essential details that you need to know for enjoying vinyl records with today’s technology.
The first thing you should acquire is a good record player setup, comprising of a turntable, preamp, amplifier and speakers. For turntables, we highly recommend that you purchase one of the latest models rather than looking for an older model. New turntables not only give the most amazing sound but also allow you to transfer your vinyl tracks to digital formats like mp3 and flac, making it possible to carry the music on your laptop, phone or portable music player. On the other hand, buying an older turntable means eventually running into trouble with a bad motor, worn stylus and damaged belt.
Turntable Drive and Counter-Weight
You will have the option between belt-drive and direct-drive turntables. Direct drive has accurate speed but produces some noise. Belt drive is quieter but its speeds aren’t accurate. If you can’t decide which one to choose, go for direct drive. Make sure that your turntable has a counter-weight. Without it, your records will get damaged by the stylus as they are played.
Most modern turntables offer built-in preamplifier which makes things convenient for you and does the job quite well. Don’t buy a cheap all-in-one system i.e. speakers, turntable and preamp in one machine – you’ll get terrible audio quality which defeats the purpose of listening to vinyl. If you want even more quality, get a separate preamp.
Quality turntables go between $200 and $400. For this price, you get a machine that produces quality sound, is upgradable (i.e. cartridge, needle, mat, counter-weight are replaceable) and works with higher end audio equipment like preamps, subwoofers, graphic equalizers and receivers. Once you invest in a good quality machine, you will have endless customization options.
Next, find out what kind of records you are going to play. Most records are either 12-inch spinning at 33 1/3 RPM or 7-inch spinning at 45 RPM. These settings are readily available on modern turntables. However, there are older ‘shellac’ records that spin on 78 RPM and carry older blues, gospel and ragtime music. If you plan on collecting these rare records, make sure your turntable has the setting for it.
There are so many amazing experiences to be had when you are a vinyl collector. It just takes you back to the good old times when there was something pure about music. Don’t think you are some sort of a snob or purist for being a vinyl collector. According to Nielsen’s music sales data, vinyl has become an emerging music format. From newer albums to reissues, you will find all kinds of music on vinyl. Services like Turntable Lab and Vinyl Moon make amazing records very accessible. If you love the community aspect of it, go down to your local record store and deep-dive into their records. You’ll meet like-minded people who are eager to share their love of music with you. They’ll not only open your mind to different music but also give you helpful tips on maintaining your vinyl setup and records.
But try to show a kid today the benefits of listening to music in this purist form and see what happens…