Vinyl Records and Why You Should Have a Turntable

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KAB USA Technics SL-1210M5G Audiophile Standard Turntable

(Spinning some Sinatra!)

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I am a big fan of vinyl records.  Collecting and listening to records is my very favorite part of the audio hobby, and seeing the recent resurgence of vinyl makes my heart glad. More and more people are embracing this wonderful format and there are more makes and models or turntables available now than there were twenty years ago, when doomsayers were sounding the death knell of the vinyl record.

This is the first of many upcoming pages to share my passion and hopefully encourage some of you to give it a try, and to help those of you already enjoying vinyl to get more out of your vinyl experience.  These pages will be grouped together and individually linked in a special page stored under the Buying Advice and How-Tos section.

There are unique aspects to vinyl records, and to get us started I will go over some of the pros and cons of the format here.

Advantages of vinyl records

  • Natural sound quality: There is a lot of debate as to why records sound the way they do, and why so many people prefer the warm, natural sound of vinyl to CD and digital sources, especially when CD has more impressive technical specifications.  Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter to me.  I prefer it and for a majority of audiophiles it is not even a matter of debate- vinyl offers the best sound quality.
  • Wide variety of music available very inexpensively:  Once you have your turntable the fun really starts!  You will find it fun, easy and inexpensive to start collecting and expand your musical tastes.  There has been a tremendous amount of music issued on vinyl over the past 60 years and you can pick up records in many different stores from music specialists to thrift shops.  With the recent resurgence a lot of new music is being issued on vinyl again and you can find it at J&R and Best Buy, as well as  other retailers and online stores.  Who woulda thunk?

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Album Art: Vinyl Record vs. CD vs. iPod Nano.  Vinyl wins!

  • Album art and liners: With a vinyl LP you get a nice-sized album cover that really lets you appreciate the art.  It’s beautiful to look at and easy to read.  Compare the LP to the CD and iPod above.  The iPod looks puny as it is, then consider the art is a tiny part of the display!  You will also often find your LPs include album liners with lyrics, ads for other records, and sometimes you find a poster too.  Marshall McLuhan once said “the medium is the message.”  If that is the case, what is the message as you see everything condensed,  de-contented and cheapened, as we see it above?  Not to mention as time has gone on, the music has been chopped up, digitized and compressed more and more!
  • Fun and coolness factor:  There’s something fun and cool about putting the record on the platter, cuing it up and watching it spin in the background as warm, satisfying music fills the room.  It’s retro, it’s motion, it’s beauty!
  • Fine-tunable, continuously upgradeable sound:  With digital sources you plug it in and you are done, and you get what you get.  With vinyl you can tweak your record playing system to get the sound that you want through your choice of equipment.  Want more musical detail?  You can get a new phono cartridge with a stylus shape that will pull more music from the grooves, or upgrade the stylus on your existing cartridge.  Want more warmth?  Get a phono preamp that uses vacuum tubes.  Want to improve everything?  Upgrade your turntable.  Sometimes it is surprising how it all comes together and how a change can take your system to the next level.

Disadvantages of vinyl records

  • Initial Investment: Good turntables start at around $300, and you will need a good turntable to really experience the magic of vinyl… a plastic cheapie just won’t do.  Once you have it, though, you will save as you buy music cheaply and build your collection.  It’s nice to go into Half Price Books and Music and walk out with 20 albums that cost the same as two CDs from Best Buy.
  • Record care and cleaning: They are not made of eggshells, but records require more care in handling than CDs do.  Used record purchases may require cleaning to sound their best.
  • Occasional surface noise:  As I type this I am listening to a Sinatra record I purchased used.  It is dead silent, no background pops, hisses, clicks, nothing.  You will not always be so lucky when you buy used records and if your records are worn you will get some noise, there is no getting around it.  It’s less of an issue you might think, though, as a good turntable will diminish the amount of noise and after a while you tend to tune it out when it is there anyway.
  • Storage space:  Records take up more physical space than CDs or computer files.
  • Newer music: While new music is being issued on vinyl, it is the exception rather than the rule.  Some new music will have to be purchased on CD or via download.
  • Less portable: There is more involved in digitizing your vinyl records to your computer than there is with CDs, so if you want to out your records on your iPod or burn CDs for your car it takes more time and effort.  It can be done, though, and the equipment you need is not expensive.
  • Fine-tunable sound, continuously upgradeable sound: Yes, I listed this as an advantage also.  It may become a disadvantage if you can’t exercise self control and are constantly searching and spending money looking for the next upgrade!

That’s it for today

I hope I have your interest piqued by now!  If you have any questions or comments for now, please send me some email.  Here are some topics that will be covered in future posts.  Check back soon!

Vinyl Records and Turntables Home

Future topics

The vinyl record playback system

The turntable and tonearm

The cartridge

Phono preamplifiers (phono preamps)

Where to buy

Recommended turntables

Recommended phono cartridges

Recommended phono preamps

Turntable setup and placement

Where to buy records

Record care

Storing your collection

Transferring music to your computer

Questions? Email Don

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