My love affair with the world of vinyl has been a young one and an expensive one at that. Vinyl is kind of like that old-fashioned family friend that you’ve written off as weird, the girl whose profile pictures you sometimes like on Facebook knowing that you don’t really care about her staring thoughtfully into the distance at sunset or whatever. Until you give her a chance. Until you get to know her and realize that wow, there’s actually a lot you can learn from her. That’s me and vinyl.
Let me explain. I’ve always enjoyed browsing through record stores, knowing full well that it’s a pointless endeavor since I don’t own a record player. There’s a certain briskness with which I go through the store, only stopping every so often to point out an artist that I have actually heard of. However, apart from the “hipster vibe”, there’s always been something about the general ambience of record stores that appeals to me. Maybe it’s because the superficial part of me really loves judging artists by their album art. I guess I can also have a pretty eclectic taste in music shoutout to my bands with less than 20,000 monthly Spotify listeners, and record stores are often the only places where I can find the most elusive artists.
So these sentiments, coupled with the shopper’s impulsivity induced by Urban Outfitters employee appreciation period, allowed me to finally purchase a record player from Urban at a generous 40% discount. As a disclaimer, I am no expert on the intricacies of vinyl, but I hope to share my experience building a vinyl collection for other novices who are thinking about making the plunge as well.
The Record Player
The hardest decision for some may be of which model and brand to purchase. If you’re new to vinyl, expect to spend a minimum of $100 on the record player itself. When most people think record player, a cute little Crosley turntable is usually what comes to mind. No matter how cute it looks, do not purchase the Crosley Cruiser portable turntable. The Crosley model is well known for its poor sound quality and tendency to damage vinyl
Something I didn’t realize when I first bought my record player (otherwise known as a turntable), is that not all record players come with internal speakers. And this is a good thing for audiophiles who are more picky about sound quality. What this means is that if you have a record player without internal speakers, it will work only in the most technical sense in other words, it will play with no sound.
Now that’s okay if you’re using your turntable as hipster decor for your house, but if you would like to be able to listen to your vinyls, a good pair of speakers is paramount.
The specifics of audiophile terminology elude me, but in addition to the speakers, a PHONO preamp may be necessary to convert the signal coming out of the speakers to one that the turntable can recognize. To determine whether you need to purchase a preamp, check if your speakers are externally powered. If so, you don’t need a preamp; the speakers can connect directly to the turntable and you have a complete setup . If your speakers don’t have a power cord, you’ll need a preamp that will connect to both the turntable and the speakers . However, if your turntable has a built-in preamp, you don’t need to worry about any of this.
Lastly, if your turntable doesn’t have volume control like mine, you’ll need an amplifier to adjust the volume of your music. To connect the amplifier to your setup, the RCA cables from your turntable or preamp (if you have one) will be your input, while output will house the wires connecting to your speakers.
Now that you have your turntable setup complete, you probably want to purchase some records. New record player reviews can be purchased pretty easily at places like Urban Outfitters and Amoeba, but these come at a heftier price tag. If you’re looking to quickly build up a vinyl collection on a budget, the best places to go are used record stores, yard sales, and thrift stores. You’re unlikely to find recent releases like Adele’s 25 used, but record stores specifically are a goldmine for the oldies that you forgot existed. Besides purchasing music that you already know and love on vinyl, part of vinyl’s appeal lies in discovering new music by bands you’ve probably never heard of. Most record stores will have a listening station where you can try out random records. In addition, most stores have a section of one dollar records that may be worth a look if you can spare the time.
After all this, perhaps you’re still wondering what edge vinyl has over its CD and MP3 counterparts (besides being a lot more expensive). To an untrained ear, there is no appreciable difference between the sound quality of vinyl versus digital recordings. Those who are familiar with acoustic engineering, however, will tell you that the analog format of vinyl allows for more dynamic variation, along with adding a sonority and warmth to the overall sound that you cannot find in digital MP3s.
For me, the appeal of vinyl lies in engaging in a more personal experience with music. The act of picking out a record, placing it carefully on the turntable, and truly listening to the music is simply a different experience. It may be one that many could do without, but for me, it is one that is certainly worthwhile.