Vinyl: A Beginner’s Guide

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So, you have decided to get into collecting and playing albums, or vinyl records. Vinyl has become the millennial hobby. I couldn’t tell you why. I like the sound, and I like physical media. This is a beginner’s guide, based on my own experiences.

STEP ONE: THE DON’TS OF VINYL

There are a few don’ts when it comes to collecting vinyl. Some people who take part in this hobby can be very snobby towards new collectors, and that sucks. Don’t listen to them. There are a few things that you should be aware of:

  • Firstly, avoid Chinese/Briefcase/Old Radio Turntables- The briefcase ones are a big no no. They’re cheap, and they’re nasty. That’s not to say that there aren’t good, affordable turntables. Oh, by the way…
  • Secondly, if you’re going to buy a second hand player, do some checks- You see a good deal for a mid-range turntable online, and you go to buy it, but the P&P is crap, the player has been damaged, and bits are broken off. You waste £200 on something that’s broke, and spend a whole lot more fixing it. Do your research.
  • Thirdly, don’t limit yourself to old vinyl- New ones can be just as good, if you shop at the right places, and many come with MP3 or FLAC downloads these days. If you get a good deal on an original album from your favourite band, then go for it. Just don’t be mad if you spend an arm and a leg.
  • Finally, FINGERS OFF THOSE RIDGES- Hold a record by the edges, or by its label. Body oil attracts dust, which makes the record more crackly. If you do hold it that way, you will need to clean it.

There’s many guides on what not to do with your records, though this one is probably the best.

STEP TWO- THE RIGHT TURNTABLE FOR YOUR VINYL

Picking the right turntable for you can be hard if you don’t know what you’re doing. There’s so much choice out there, but it is largely dependent on budget. I got my turntable as my 21st Birthday present, but the one I got was the Audio-Technica AT-LP60. It’s just over £100, but it has the basic features to get started, such as:

  1. The Ability to play 7′ and 12′ records at 33 1/3 or 45 RPM.
  2. Bluetooth, so you have a choice to plug in speakers or connect them.
  3. A fully automatic tonearm, so you don’t have to worry about placing it down yourself.
  4. A Built in Phono Preamp. That means you can plug in your speakers without an extra device to boost the signal.
My turntable
This is the USB model, apparently

While the Bluetooth is fiddly, the player works beautifully and is easy to set up for most people. There is a rubber belt that you have to put in yourself, which is the hardest part of set up, though you won’t have to worry about it once it’s done. And there are options, such as a USB version that you can plug into your computer, and convert the signal to MP3 (though I think that negates the purpose of collecting vinyl).

If you, however, have a higher budget, then you could afford a second hand player. EBay has a number of refurbished, used, and fully working second hand turntables from before CD and MP3 times. It can be a lottery, however (as already stated), but if you can find a good, working turntable, with a beltless drive, then you’re onto a winner.

STEP THREE- SPEAKERS, PREAMPS, AND OTHER ESSENTIALS

You’ve bought your turntable, and you’re excited to play it. Except you have no vinyl, and you haven’t got speakers. Certain turntables will require you to have a phono preamp. As I stated in Step Two, this boosts the signal of the turntable so that you can listen to the music being played. Some players require some have it built in. Mine has a built-in Phono preamp, which can be turned on and off with a switch. That’s not to say you shouldn’t buy one, but it’s less clutter if it’s built in.

As for speakers, then it is dependent on the budget. I spent £90 on my Edifier R1280T Active Speakers. These are powered speakers, meaning they have to be plugged into your plug socket, but they are really good for the price. Amazingly good. In retrospect, I’d have gone for black ones, but the wood effect is nice.

My Turntable's speakers
These are the speakers I have.

Those are really the essentials that you need to get started. There are optional extras that you could also invest in, should you want to:

  • A Vinyl cleaning kit- Cleaning kits are cheap, ideal for old vinyl, and can be bought online easily enough.
  • Platter Mat- Not really essential. Your player will almost certainly include one, but it’s a means of customisation if you’re into that.
  • Record Box- No shelf space? Put your vinyl in a Record box. You can buy both 12′ and 7′ boxes.
  • Your Vinyl-Goes without saying.
  • Turntable cartridges- Best for older turntables.

STEP FOUR: BUYING AND PICKING YOUR VINYL

Assuming your parents are old enough (or this is 20-30 years in the future, and we are your parents and grandparents) they may have some old vinyl in the loft. It may not be the stuff you like, but it will get the collection started if you have two or three good records.

As for buying, my suggestion is to limit it to the albums you absolutely love. Do not buy anything less than love. When I buy records, I only get my all time favourite albums. Do not waste money on ones you will listen to once, and never again. Many new albums are £20 a pop, so it’s best to limit.

If you know where to look, many vintage stores sell classic albums and sell them for good prices too. There was a record shop not far from where I lived, where I bought an Alice Cooper single. It sounds great, and it was a steal too. I bought it for £1. Major cities and towns will have a vintage store to buy records from. And failing that, there’s also the internet.

CONCLUSION

The moral of the story is that this is an expensive hobby, undoubtedly so. But that’s not to say it’s inaccessible. It can be quite fun, once you get over the daunting aspects of it all. Building a collection and listening to music that you own, rather than monthly spends on a subscription service that doesn’t let you own your music sounds better. And that’s maybe why vinyl has come back.

About the author

Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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