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The Paste Beginner’s Guide to Vinyl Records

February 19, 2012  |  1:15pm
The <i>Paste</i> Beginner&#8217;s Guide to Vinyl Records

It’s hard to believe that it was only 134 years ago today that the phonograph was first patented. But since then, the vinyl record listening experience has seen an upgrade or two. With vinyl’s recent resurgence, many people who have yet to drop a needle themselves are buying up turntables and twelve-inches left and right. And it’s no surprise — people love the format’s “warm,” uncompressed sound; its deliberate, thoughtful listening experience and quite frankly, the artwork on a big twelve-inch just looks cooler.

But before you go dropping loads of money to update your collection to vinyl records (a new, single album record can cost up to $25), here are some helpful tips to help you along the way.

8. Start with the used stuff
When building your collection, there’s no better place to bulk up than at the used record store. It’s at places like these where you’ll find classic albums, many of which were replaced with CDs, iPods and Spotify years ago, for fractions of what you would pay for new records. Just make sure you carefully inspect these diamonds in the rough before handing over cash for them.

7. The stylus makes a difference
When replacing or just purchasing your first stylus, it’s probably tempting to go with the cheapest option, which is generally a spherical stylus. The option is cheap for a reason — it generally covers much less of the records’ groove and creates shock waves in the records’ playback. Turntablebasics.com suggests linear contact or micro line styli.

6. Pick your speakers wisely
With speaker campaigns that tout “huge bass” and volume, it’s important to remember what the musicians producing a given album had in mind to begin with. When concerning frequency response, usually the less-enhanced, simpler speakers are better, and your ears (and album mixers around the country) will thank you for it.

5. Spend the extra money for 180-gram records
While it’s been rumored for a long time that 180-gram records —a thicker, stronger record which is almost a millimeter thicker than standard 120 gram pressings— have deeper grooves than other pressings, that’s not the case. The 180-gram record’s advantage is its lasting, improved fidelity and is surely worth the extra cash to listeners.

4. The amplifier is important, too
While the turntable is the device that plays your music, the amplifier is the power behind it that boosts your tunes to neighbor-maddening levels, and should be carefully considered. With boutique dealers and at-home audio craftsmen now selling high-grade, tube stereo amplifiers online, now is one of the best times to be in that market. And if you’re not feeling too adventurous, trusted brands like Pyle and Harman Kardon are all producing quality stereo amps.

3. Use headphones
Whether it’s Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Sufjan Stevens’ latest sonic masterpiece, The Age of Adz, some records beg to be listened to on headphones, especially in this format. There’s no easier way to appreciate the jobs of great engineers and mixers around the country than with a big fat pair of headphones.

2. Use a decent turntable
“There is so much crap out there,” my regular record-slinging guru/clerk tells me about the turntables that are being produced these days. And to an extent, it’s true. Depending on what you want out of listening to music in the vinyl format —we’re talking to people who are looking for fidelity over nostalgia— investing in a decent turntable is the best thing you can do. Although prices for decent turntables can range from affordable to unobtainable for most (Technics’ go-to automatic turntable, the SL-1200 retails for $1,200), there are a few qualities to keep in mind for higher fidelity—manual tonearms, adjustable tracking weights and simple design all benefit the listening experience.

1. Take care of your collection
Although maintenance, cleaning and careful handling don’t sound like the funnest ideas for some vinyl romantics out there, these are the best ways to ensure your collection will last a long time. Maintenance and proper storage doesn’t have to be expensive or hard. You can check out a few great resources on maintaining your new collection.

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