Vinyl records are a great option for music fans looking to build a physical music collection. But getting started can be intimidating if you’ve only ever listened to music on your phone. Here’s everything you need to know.
Start with a turntable
The first thing you need to start listening to vinyl records is a turntable. But then comes the hard part: what should you look for in a turntable? Is it okay to use a cheap turntable?
The good news is that budget turntables are better than ever. A cheap turntable today often performs similarly to high-end turntables from a few decades ago. While you can spend thousands on turntables, a budget model like the Audio-Technica AT-LP60X has everything you need.
One interesting aspect of turntables (and much of the world of high-end audio) is that you get more features when you spend more. In fact, budget turntables often offer more features than high-end turntables aimed at the audiophile market. That’s because high-end models aim to tweak the various components for sound quality, while budget turntables focus on features like Bluetooth connectivity that audiophiles won’t miss.
As with most other home stereo components, choosing a turntable is all about figuring out where you want to put your money. The highest-end turntables offer better sound quality, but it’s certainly a case of diminishing returns, and most people will be perfectly happy with mid-range or even budget models.
Headphones or speakers?
You will also need an audio output device to connect this turntable to as most models do not have built in speakers or a headphone jack.
Headphones often prove cheaper to start with than selecting speakers for a stereo, but that’s not always the case. You can get some great-sounding headphones for around $150, but that’s not all you have to spend if you don’t already have an amp or A/V receiver.
If you’re starting from scratch, your best bet for sound quality is a dedicated headphone amp. These aren’t cheap, but they won’t keep you running as long as a quality A/V receiver, and they often sound better.
Already have a home stereo? Then you’re probably good to go. The only component you may need to add is a preamp to boost the turntable’s output to line level. This is only necessary if your receiver does not have a phono input and your turntable does not have a built-in preamp.
As a final option, you can use your home theater system if you have one. These are often not ideal for music, but if you’ve spent good money on a hi-fi home theater system it will sound great. Just make sure you’re playing your records in stereo, not “virtual surround” as this can spoil stereo imaging.
Where can you buy records
Once you have a turntable and a setup with headphones or speakers, it’s time to buy some records. Of course, like anything else, you can find vinyl records on Amazon or other retailers, but that’s not necessarily where you’ll find the gems.
There are several specialist online stores that stock vinyl depending on what you are looking for. For more independent or under-the-radar artists and genres, you have Amoeba Music or even Bandcamp. Meanwhile, if you’re more of a collector and know the exact pressing you want to find, there’s Discogs.
However, none of these online options beat browsing records in person. With used records, condition is an important factor, so it’s nice to be able to inspect the records with your own eyes before you spend your precious money on them. This applies to music stores, but also to flea markets and second-hand shops.
Buying records is about both the journey and the destination, and sorting through one case at a time before you stumble upon a great find is part of the fun.
maintenance of your collection
With digital music, we’ve broken the habit of keeping physical music collections in shape. With vinyl you have to be careful every time you place the stylus on the record and every time you pick it up as this can damage both the stylus and your records.
You also need to clean and maintain your gear and collection. For your turntable, this means occasionally replacing the stylus or cartridge, while for your records, this means keeping them clean. Fortunately, there are kits like the Big Fudge Vinyl Record Cleaning Kit that make this an easy task.
That might seem like a lot of work, and compared to listening to Spotify or Apple Music, it is. It’s also a lot more rewarding, so take your time and enjoy the ride.
TIED TOGETHER: How to build an amazing vinyl collection on a budget