Vinyl records are not dead. On the contrary, as music becomes increasingly digitized, sterilized, and neutralized, a growing number of purists are turning back to traditional vinyl records, which they consider to be of superior sound quality. In fact, many rock music icons are big proponents of the vinyl movement, including Mick Jagger, who co-produced the recent HBO television show about the 1970s music industry fittingly called Vinyl, and Neil Young, who is the founder and principal investor of a company called “PonoMusic” that seeks to replicate the sound of vinyl records through digital recordings. Along with Mick and Neil, there are many other vinyl enthusiasts who scour specialty record shops, flea markets, and search online for the perfect old school album or recording. If you’re wondering how to get in on the vinyl renaiisance yourself, here are 10 tips for starting your own record collection:
10. Get Yourself A Turntable
First thing’s first. You can’t start a vinyl collection without a turntable (or record player) to play the music on. This is easier than you might expect, as the resurgent interest in vinyl recordings has led to a revival in record player and turntable manufacturing. Many leading stores such as Target and Walmart are selling these devices, as are local record stores. These turntables are likely to be pretty generic and cost in the $75 to $100 range. If you’re truly serious about audio perfection, then you’ll likely want to visit a specialty stereo shop to buy a superior sound system. An upgraded record player can cost as much as $300; more if you add in equalizers, speakers, etc. Of course, you can also search online for vintage turntables, but this can be a risky proposition as it is difficult to determine the quality of the player without hearing it firsthand. You’ll definitely want to hear the record player before purchasing it.
9. Find A Reliable Record Store
Before iTunes, there used to be actual record stores where people would meet, congregate, and check out the vinyl records and compact discs. While those stores are mostly gone now, some local shops dedicated to vinyl do still exist. The key, of course, is to find them. Locate a record store in your area that is reliable. By that, we mean make sure they carry a decent selection of records that are in good shape. Try to avoid perusing second hand records in somebody’s basement, as these are often scratched and damaged. Also, find a store that enables you to place special orders for vinyl you want to add to your collection and one that receives regular shipments of new records on vinyl. Finding this type of store in your area may not be easy, but once located, it will be like finding heaven. It’ll become your new go-to place, and hopefully you’ll meet like-minded vinyl lovers there too.
8. Invest In A Storage Unit
Your record collection should not be stored in old milk crates … or any crates for that matter. If you’re serious about getting into vinyl, then you’ll want to protect the records you buy. Think of it as protecting your investment, which in this case requires a proper record storage unit. By proper storage, we’re talking about, at a minimum, shelves. However, you can also find storage units – both permanent and portable – that are designed specifically to hold vinyl record collections. A few of the better ones include the Ikea Kallax Shelving Unit, the Crosley vinyl case, and a portable record storage case from Wax Stacks. A few tips to keep in mind when storing records: try to keep the records in a climate controlled environment, or at the very least, keep your vinyl records away from a heat source. Never leave the records in the trunk of your car or near a fireplace, for example. Also, anti-static sleeves are a good investment as they keep the records from being damaged by static electricity.
7. Clean The Records Before Playing Them
Records should be kept clean and free of dust and debris that can get into the vinyl grooves and distort the sound, or worse, cause the record to skip on the turntable. That being said, cleaning records requires some special tools and consideration. While there are machines available that promise to clean the records for you, we’d personally advocate for cleaning vinyl by hand – the old fashioned way. What does this involve? Well, for starters, it means using a carbon fiber brush to gently (and we mean gently) wipe the dust and debris off the record. You can also use a dry cloth to wipe the record, though always be sure to follow the grooves and wipe in a circular direction. For grime that may be more difficult to get off, you can use a little water with the cloth. While some people advocate using rubbing alcohol mixed with water, we think that may be a little too aggressive and risks permanently damaging the record.
6. Consider Buying Components
It’s hard to remember in today’s simplified music era, where we walk around with one tiny device to play music on, that listening to your favorite bands and albums used to be a big undertaking. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, many people didn’t just own a record player’ they owned a full-fledged stereo system, complete with adjustable equalizers, sub-woofers and, quite often, huge speakers – some of which were made by hand. Building a sonic temple such as this in your home required people to buy components for their record player. Lots of components. Fortunately, many of those components are still for sale today at audio visual stores, specialty record shops, and online. Shop around, educate yourself about what can help maximize the sound of your record collection, and consider expanding the sound of your records by building a true stereo system.
Headphones have always been a great way to listen to vinyl records. Believe it or not, headphones were not created for use with the first Walkman; in fact, they were around way before portable music players ever existed. Headphones were invented as yet another component for a stereo system, and meant to be used indoors to enhance the music listening experience. There is a generation of people who grew up listening to music while lying on the floor of their parents’ living room or rec room with headphones on. Try out some headphones today with your record player. They don’t have to be Beats by Dre either; an older pair of headphones (the kind with the vinyl cushion around them) will suffice, and you’ll be amazed at how intimate the listening experience becomes.
4. Get Your Turntable System Professionally Calibrated
If you’re really serious about getting into vinyl and want to ensure that your turntable or stereo system is set-up to deliver the very best sound experience, then you should give consideration to having your record player professionally calibrated. This involves bringing in an audio expert to do things such as set the tracking force, calibrate the tonearm’s position and counterbalance, and adjust the turntable’s speed. This might sound a little crazy, but trust us when we say that you will not regret getting your system professionally tweaked. The sound quality and depth of the music experience will blow your mind. It may be a little pricey to get the calibration done, but it is money well spent.
3. Upgrade The Stylus And Cartridge
Without getting too technical, the stylus and cartridge is basically the needle that you drop on a vinyl record to make it play music. Most record players and turntables sold today come with a very basic stylus and cartridge. Consider upgrading these items for your record player. The type of stylus and cartridge used does make a difference to the overall sound quality as it can affect the speed at which the record plays (also known as RPM). Consult an audio expert to find the right cartridge and stylus for your audio system. Eventually, the stylus will wear down from use, so at some point, you’re going to have to replace this item anyway. You might as well learn how and get used to it.
2. Find Like-Minded People
As previously mentioned, one of the joys of getting into collecting vinyl records is the people you meet who share your interest and passion. Finding other like-minded people will also help you to learn about vinyl and stereo systems. Talking to people who are knowledgeable will help you to learn more about records, where to find them, and how to enhance your collection and stereo system. You may even find people who are interested in swapping or trading vinyl, or who will sell you an LP you’ve always wanted but haven’t been able to find. Plus, having a common interest in vinyl records is a great way to develop lifelong friendships and to enjoy the company of people you might not otherwise meet … but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Become a regular at the local record shop where you live and you’ll be sure to meet other vinyl lovers.
1. Enjoy The Hunt
Collecting records is enjoyable not just because of the superior quality of the music you’re listening to. It’s also enjoyable because of the hunt; the search for that vinyl record you’ve always wanted but couldn’t find right away. Whether you come across a rare or desirable record in an old vinyl shop, at a garage sale, in a church basement or online, pursuing the records you’ve always wanted is what makes becoming an avid and committed vinyl collector so much fun. So get out there and see what you can find. Stay positive, keep your eyes peeled, and enjoy the hunt!