Analog is back.
Well, to be truthful, it never left.
While millions embraced the CD in the ‘80s and got rid of a lifetime’s collection of vinyl for pennies on the dollar – or gave it away to Goodwill – as they rushed to bow at the altar of digital salvation, many shrugged and kept on buying LPs, albeit at drastically reduced costs.
For some the CD was the answer to their prayers; no ticks, pops, no cleaning of LPs, or always replacing worn stylus, the space savings, etc. Others were more than happy to watch technology rush past them as they calmly sleeved their Japanese presssing of Dark Side of The Moon.
Perhaps you’re one of those who ditched vinyl for CDs, or perhaps you’re just starting out with collecting music and prefer physucal media, and more specifically, prefer LPs.
What’s it going to take to get you up and running?
- Records. Did you inherit a collection from a relative or friend? Are you digging 20 crates out of storage? New to the game and slowly curating LPs from record stores, garage sales, secondhand shops or online? Whatever the play, you’re going to want more than six or seven albums to start with. While used LPs or 45s can be had on the very cheap, they’re usually in rough shape or less than desireable artists, think polka – remember, it’s called the ‘bargain bin’ for a reason. Quality albums, sought after pressings or rare grooves don’t fall out of the sky. It takes boots on the ground or a deft mouse click to source the albums that get the adrenaline pumping – and money. Vinyl is no longer really affordable in many senses. The tables have turned and it’s CDs which are going for $2, $3 or $5.
- Turntable. Obviously you’re going to need something to play your coveted collection of Italo-disco, but what’s your price range? There’s a lot of new, budget turntables available thanks to the ‘analog revolution,’ and pretty much all of them will get you to playing records in a matter of minutes for under $500. But, do you have the rest of the stereo you’ll need to play the turntable through? If you’ve got a receiver or integrated amplifier hooked up to a pair of speakers, then most likely you’re there – as long as the amp in question has a phono stage. The phono stage allows you to play records at the correct output. Check your selector switch, if there’s no ‘Phono’ setting, you’ll need a separate phono stage to run into the ‘Line,’ ‘Tuner’ or ‘CD” inputs.
- Phono stage. If you’ve got an integrated amplifier or receiver, but no phono stage, then you’re almost there. Luckily standalone phono stages can be had for as little $100 new, or cheaper used. You’ll need the actual phono stage and a pair of RCA or unbalanced cables to run from the phono stage outputs into your the aforementioned ‘Line,’ ‘Tuner’ or ‘CD” inputs (the turntable’s RCA output cables connect to the phono stage’s inputs).
- Record brush/stylus brush. If you’re a casual listener, or even a rabid one, but don’t want to fork over the dosh for a vacuum record cleaning machine, then a standard $30 record brush goes a long a way to keeping your LPs clean, and more importantly, your stylus clean (the stylus is the miniscule diamond tip on the end of the cartridge’s cantilever that rides in the record’s grooves turning ridges, dips and bumps into sweet analog music). It’s easy for the stylus to get bunked-up from dirty or dustry records, and thus sounding something awful. So, even with a record brush doing its job, there will eventually be a mass of ‘dust’ or ‘gunk’ clinging to your stylus. You can use a cheap model paint brush from a hobby store to clean your stylus (more expensive, audiophile versions are of course available), but for a few dollars you can get the job done. Just remember; always drag the brush from back to front and NEVER side-to-side, that will bend your cantilever and that gets expensive to repair, or most likely, replace.