With all the streaming music services, online music stores, portable audio players and smartphone apps it has never been easier (or more complicated) for you to listen to music. You can download one track at a time or entire albums. Stream it on Bluetooth to speakers. Or create a playlist, pop in your headphones and go for a quick run. But what about when you want a true music experience?
Vinyl lovers put an emphasis on experiencing music. You can’t play an LP while jogging or in the car. You don’t put on a record to skip to one or two songs. You wouldn’t watch a movie only to skip to the good scenes, would you? That’s what the highlight reel is for. You put on a record to experience it, not to supplement another experience. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is the perfect example. Listening from start to finish, the way it was intended, is a completely different experience than just skipping to Money. It’s an active experience. You get to shut off the world for a while and focus on the music.
Last year, just under 12 million vinyl records were sold in the U.S. This has been the 10th straight year of growth for vinyl. The first six weeks of 2016 alone, sales were up 17 percent versus 2015. Its popularity has spawned new startups and services such as Vinyl Me, Please, an online record of the month club. Services like Vinyl Me, Please have helped newcomers build their collection and assisted in the resurgence of vinyl. One of the biggest influences in vinyl’s return to the spotlight is Record Store Day.
Founded in 2007, Record Store Day is celebrated by thousands of local record stores the third Saturday of April each year. Hundreds of artists participate by making special appearances, performances, holding art exhibits, and issuing special vinyl releases to mark the occasion. A number of records are pressed specifically for Record Store Day, and are only distributed to shops participating in the event. This is the culture of vinyl and its growing.
Some of us were raised on vinyl. Vinyl is something you can hand down. It lasts forever. And once you buy a record, you own the music. No streaming. No borrowing. This adds up to a much more personal experience than handing your kids a flash drive filled with your favorite music. Plus, most vinyl records now come with a digital download.
Vinyl mixes also have a much better dynamic range over streaming or a digital mp3 file. The right audio set-up will also provide a warmer sound.
To get the best experience out of your records you need a good turntable set-up. While portable turntables are decent entry-level solutions, a stand-alone turntable will offer the best possible vinyl-listening experience. If you have an existing record collection, you may want to get a turntable with a USB connector. This allows recording vinyl to a computer. Turntables have two basic types: Belt-drive and Direct-drive. Belt-drive turntables are believed to produce better sound quality due to less noise interference from the motor. The elastic belt absorbs shock and prevents vibrations that are generated by the motor from reaching the platter. Direct-drive turntables – mostly used by DJ’s – offer more constant and accurate speeds and generally feature faster start up times.
A phono preamp is required to clean up and boost the low signal from the stylus (needle). Some turntables come with a built in preamp or you can purchase an external phono preamp. To increase sound quality, you’ll need a good cartridge. Some turntables have a pre-installed cartridge which is the small component connected to the tonearm holding the stylus. Worn cartridges can reduce sound quality and cause fast wear to your records.
If you want to step it up, you can look at Sony’s new High-Resolution turntable which allows you to “rip” the record into a HRA (High Resolution Audio) file and take the “pops and cracks” with you in a format that is portable.
Keep in mind, the turntable’s placement can negatively affect its sound quality. No wobbly furniture. A turntable should rest on a solid shelf or stand. Using a bubble level will ensure the turntable platter is perfectly level. Plug the turntable into your receiver, pick out a record, give it a nice brush down and let it ride.
It’s a great escape to come home, unwind with some music and honestly, a bit of nostalgia. Interestingly, vinyl’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down. With the increasing selection of vinyl records and upcoming record store day, this is a great time to join in its resurgence and buy a turntable.