Who would have thought vinyl records would become the physical music format to rule them all? Sales of records for the last nine years have continued to rise, so it’s safe to say there’s still something to vinyl.
The point of vinyl, here in 2015, is comprised of two main aspects. The first is the sound, which is remarkably different from the digital pointedness of CDs or audio files. It’s warmer, more visceral. You don’t have to be an audiophile to hear it. I liken it to hearing a recorded live album versus being at the concert — they’re the same on paper, yet totally different experiences.
The second reason vinyl is valuable is its potential for deeper enjoyment of the music. It’s not for people who use music as mere background noise for whatever else they might be doing — it’s for those who see music as the main attraction, the fans who’d rather spend 40 minutes listening to an album than watch TV or play video games. Not to mention it requires more personal attention, for example physically putting on a record and turning it over halfway through, among other things.
If you’re interested in getting more hands-on with your music listening, here’s a brief guide to getting started.
Turntables & Preamps
To play that beautiful vinyl collection of yours, you will need a turntable.
Among the many turntable choices suitable for beginners is U-Turn Audio’s $179 Orbit Basic. It’s a good option for people that don’t want to break the bank getting into vinyl, but also don’t want to have to buy another turntable in a few years.
The Orbit Basic offers great sound out of the box, but also offers the ability to upgrade key components (such as the cartridge) at any point down the road. While it’s definitely not the best option available, it’s a great entry-level turntable.
It’s worth mentioning that some turntables out there need a stereo receiver with a phono preamp input. Many modern tables have them built-in but there are quite a few that don’t (including the Orbit Turntable above).
Our friend John Carey — author of the awesome fiftyfootshadows photography blog and the guy who shot the beautiful image at the top of this guide — gave us his personal recommendation for an external preamp: the $189 Pro-Ject Phono Box USB. A cheaper option would be something like the Rolls VP29 ($49).
To get the most out of your new turntable, you’ll need some great speakers to go with it.
Turntable Lab has a good overview of different turntable setups and which components you might consider, including speakers. A lot of their speaker choices are on the high-end, however.
Another option is a Sonos Play:5 wireless speaker ($399) or Sonos Amp ($494) if you want to broadcast vinyl records wirelessly across your house. This has the potential benefit of simplifying your setup, depending how you go about it.
Record Shopping & Discovery
Chances are you don’t have a local record store where you live, and if you do it’s probably not close. Amazon is one of the leading retailers of vinyl, probably because there are no Tower Records stores around anymore, at least not here in the US. Another option for finding specific vinyl records is by going directly to the source — the websites of the artists or record labels themselves.
If you do want to find a brick and mortar record store, check out VinylHub. They’re aiming to build a directory of every record shop on the planet.
But maybe you’re looking for a more specialized music experience. In that case there’s Vinyl Me, Please, a vinyl subscription service that sends out a new record each month, complete with custom artwork and a cocktail recipe paired to the music style. Domestic subscriptions range between $23-27 a month (depending on if you pay monthly, tri-monthly, or annually), and each record is a unique pressing only available for VMP subscribers. Pretty cool.
You can check out past albums if you want, but part of the idea is to discover new music you might not have picked on your own. It will also be music that sounds great in the analog format.
Another company getting a lot of press recently is VNYL. This service is even more Netflix-like than VMP (if we’re talking about the classic DVD delivery system, that is), sending out records paired to your mood and then swapping those with a new selection as you send the other records back.
There’s a lot to be overwhelmed by if you didn’t grow up listening to vinyl, just as digital music and its bitrates can be confusing for other generations. There are lots of resources out there if you need help or are looking for tips and tricks.
Discogs is another useful site to keep track of your record collection digitally, as well as find info on different pressings. I can only describe it as eBay + Wikipedia for music.