Sunday, October 11, 2015

The beauty of vinyl

There's something about buying music on vinyl that is so much more of an experience than simply downloading an MP3. The sheer physicality of something that has to be treated carefully, gently, otherwise you'll damage it (though over time, you come to expect that crackle part-way through track four, side two, and you'll remember what caused it. The large, often-beautiful packaging and sleeve; sleeves that also make good wall art. The way that vinyl albums stack up, like books--ever wondered by the popular 13" cube storage systems are exactly that size? They're perfect for your vinyl collection.

It makes me very happy that many more recordings are once again being made available on vinyl. And when they come with an accompanying digital download, you have everything you need, for however you want to listen.

And the sound... the sound from vinyl played on a properly set up and well-equipped sound system cannot, in my opinion, be beaten by any rendering of digital sound. (And that view is backed up by scientific reasoning: the sound range, etc. etc., but in the end, it all comes down to what our ears are capable of hearing.)

Vinyl does mean an investment--not only in the vinyls themselves, but in a good turntable, a good cartridge and needle, an amplifier (or receiver/amp, as they are usually sold in the USA), and speakers. You can today buy a starter turntable for under $100, but you might not be happy with the sound, or with the consistency of the speed of the turntable. You'll probably need to pay upwards of $300, and don't forget--with a better turntable, you must buy the cartridge--the part that holds the needle--separately. (People are known to have multiple cartridges, one for jazz, one for rock, but I find it so darn fiddly to connect that I'm sticking to one.)

Turntables sold today usually have a switch setting to enable them to be used with both amplifiers that have a PHONO input, and with devices that do not.

If you're just starting out with vinyl, try local flea markets and thrift stores. They have receiver/amps, turntables, speakers, and you might find a bargain--or at least, be able to try and see if you're ready to make a bigger investment in something that can, quite easily, become an obsession. BestBuy now stocks a very minimalist turntable at under $100, no pre-amp (so you do not use PHONO if you're running it through an amp--any other input will work). Guitar Center has several turntables in the showroom, mostly aimed at the DJ, but talk with the sales guys and they'll help you to find one that works for you. And Frys now have Audio Technica, many of the low-end, belt-drive models in the store, and occasionally the better, direct drive LP-1240.

Research before you buy, both turntable and cartridge; some are much better than others.

Buying vinyl? Check your favourite musicians' websites to see if it's an option. Also Amazon for online ordering. Both may also provide a free digital download with your vinyl. In Sacramento, check Dimple Records--they have both new releases, and second hand, and seem to have a different selection in each store. Half-Price Books in Citrus Heights have a few vinyls, (not the most competitive pricing, even though the books are). And if you're in Old Sacramento, check out Brooks Novelty Antiques and Records on Firehouse Alley. They are tucked away, lower level of Old Sac, and once you find them you might be there for a very long time. And browsing through a whole slew of recordings may lead you to buy something just for the artwork... and then fall in love with the music, too.

My latest purchases? New releases Pop Evil's UP, Kurt Vile's "b'lieve i'm goin down"..., and a second-hand copy of Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays' As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls.

(If you are down in LA the weekend of 24th October--doubtful, cos we're all going to Aftershock--there's a major vinyl record fair, WAX, happening. Check out the website for more info: and bring me back a few goodies, please!)

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