In a world where digital music dominates, there’s something special about the tactile experience of vinyl. While technology has allowed us to carry our entire music library in our pockets, many still yearn for a more tangible connection to music. There’s a unique joy in placing a vinyl record on a turntable, gently setting the needle, and feeling the grooves under your fingers. It’s a way to truly engage with the process of making music.
If you like collecting antiques, vinyl records are among the best categories to dabble in. Be guided into starting your own vinyl record collection by reading on!
A Brief History of Vinyl Records
The origins of the modern record player can be traced back to Thomas Edison and his invention of the phonograph in the late 19th century. Edison’s phonograph was a recording and playback device that used a hand-cranked needle to etch sound waves into a foil-covered cylinder. It was different from the record player we know today, as it was primarily designed for recording.
However, the technology evolved, and Emile Berliner’s invention of the gramophone in 1877 played a crucial role. The gramophone used similar principles but replaced the cylinder with hard rubber discs that foreshadowed vinyl records. It eliminated the recording element, making it more user-friendly.
In the early 20th century, rubber discs transitioned to vinyl records, and the gramophone’s design began to look like modern turntables. One significant innovation was the introduction of stereo sound in the latter half of the 20th century, and it truly enhanced the listening experience.
While other physical music formats like CDs and cassettes became obsolete with the rise of digital music, vinyl stood the test of time. It even made a remarkable comeback in the last decade! Vinyl records have a devoted following, thanks to their collectible nature and the joy of playing physical copies of favorite albums.
Vinyl’s Resurgence in Popularity
Vinyl record sales have steadily increased in recent years, even as streaming services have gained popularity. In 2019, over 19 million records were sold, a 14.6% increase from the previous year, proving that records are here to stay.
Since 2006, vinyl record sales have consistently risen, bouncing back from a decline during the 90s and early 2000s when CDs dominated the market. With the decline of CDs and the rise of streaming, vinyl has managed to maintain its appeal and dedicated fan base.
The enduring allure of vinyl records lies in their collectibility and the tangible experience of playing a physical copy of a beloved album. Despite the digital music era, analog sound enthusiasts have remained loyal, and vinyl has gained even more devoted fans in the past decade.
Why Collect Vinyl Records?
Many of us start collecting things because we genuinely love them. But when it comes to vinyl records, there are more reasons behind this hobby. As you embark on your journey into vinyl collecting, it’s helpful to know why you’re diving into this endeavor.
1. Vinyl offers superior sound quality
Vinyl is renowned as a lossless audio format, meaning it doesn’t compress the signal like digital formats, which can cause some high and low frequencies to become inaudible. Compression is crucial for mixing and mastering the recorded music, altering the volume of different parts of a signal.
However, the inherent compression in audio formats like MP3 and MP4 can make the audio sound different from the artist’s original master. For ardent fans of musicians and artists, listening to your favorite album on vinyl provides one of the most faithful ways to experience it as the artist intended.
You might wonder if your ears can distinguish between an MP3 and lossless audio from a vinyl record. While the distinction might not be immediately apparent, listening to records can train your ears over time to recognize “lossy” audio when you hear it. After experiencing the warmth and authenticity of analog, you’ll likely start noticing a clear sonic contrast between digital music and the lossless sound of a vinyl record.
In essence, analog music offers the most accurate representation of the soundwave, while digital audio can only approximate it. This isn’t to diminish digital music; it has its merits and serves its purpose. But vinyl is the way to go if you’re after the most authentic listening experience.
2. Vinyl records double as artwork
One of the remarkable aspects of vinyl records is their dual role as art. In the age of MP3s, we’ve lost the tactile connection to an album’s visual artwork. With vinyl, you receive a 7-inch or 12-inch sleeve that showcases the artist’s creative vision. These sleeves often contain lyrics, images, credits, and other insights into the album’s creation process. While you might find lyric sheets in a CD case, the text can be incredibly tiny.
What’s more, vinyl albums can double as wall art. There are numerous creative ways to display them, whether you frame them or let them hang themselves. Even when they become too worn to play, you can give old records new life by crafting unique items like coffee table bowls from them.
3. Vinyl records are potential investments
People often wonder about the value of old records. The truth is, it varies. Some records have fetched astronomical prices, but many are worth just a few dollars. However, it’s important to remember that vinyl collecting is more than just an investment endeavor. If you’re looking to make money, consider buying stocks.
Nonetheless, certain vinyl records can hold their value over time, especially with a dedicated fan base. Valuable LPs can even offer a return on investment. Many popular and cult-classic records maintain their allure, and the vinyl market thrives in buy-sell-trade stores like Record Head. If any music format is likely to have long-term value, it’s vinyl.
4. Vinyl collection is a rewarding hobby
Never forget that collecting vinyl is all about having a good time. Whether you’re on the hunt for valuable LP vinyl records or adding must-have albums to your collection, it can keep you engaged. There’s always a new record to discover, fresh ways to organize your vinyl, and opportunities to choose the perfect music for any occasion. By collecting vinyl, you also support musicians and artists through buying their merchandise.
The resurgence of vinyl means that modern artists are releasing their music in this format again. This allows dedicated vinyl enthusiasts to be a part of the excitement surrounding new music releases. And, on top of that, you always have a conversation starter on hand. People love discussing vinyl because they are passionate and knowledgeable about it. Even those who aren’t will likely pretend to be because it’s just that cool!
How to Start Your Vinyl Collection
Now that you’ve laid out your reasons, let’s dive into a step-by-step guide on beginning your vinyl record collection. Remember, only some albums will be readily available when you want them. Some collectors refer to this as the “hunt.” If you’re new to record collecting, it’s easy to get caught up in the resale market, paying high prices for hard-to-find albums (not to mention pricey turntables and accessories).
This guide will take you through the process of starting your collection wisely. Here are some tips to consider:
1. Know how to choose between new and used vinyl
When embarking on your vinyl collection journey, one of your initial decisions involves choosing between new and used records. While many contemporary albums are readily available on vinyl, you’ll often find records by your favorite current artists sitting on the shelves of record stores alongside classics from the past.
There’s a compelling case for starting your collection with a mix of old and new records. Collectors often cherish rare vintage copies of older albums for their scarcity, collectible value, and unique sound. Vintage records, especially those from the earlier half of the 20th century, are frequently mixed in mono, which means it delivers the same audio signal through both left and right speakers. Audiophiles appreciate mono mixes of classic albums because they preserve the original intended sound instead of stereo remasters.
However, acquiring vintage records also comes with some potential drawbacks. Years of wear and tear can reduce the quality and ruin the listening experience. On the other hand, when you purchase a new record, you’re assured of its pristine condition and excellent sound quality. Choosing vintage records entails some risk, as you can’t predict the exact condition of what you’ll get.
If you include used records in your collection, carefully inspect and assess their condition. Deep scratches on the record’s surface may impact playability, so consider whether it’s worth adding to your collection or using it as a display item.
2. Know where to buy records
Vinyl record shops
If you don’t know where to start, start the hunt on good old record shops. What’s fantastic about shopping for vinyl records is the unique experience of visiting these stores. Each one is like a little universe, entirely different from the world outside. The shop owner often boasts an impressively vast knowledge of every record in the store.
If you strike up a friendly conversation, they can give you some invaluable information about the best vinyl records to collect based on your musical tastes. If you play your cards right, you might even get an early heads-up when something extraordinary lands in the shop.
In case you prefer to see the vinyl before making a purchase (and it’s always a good idea), antique centers like Hemswell are a fantastic option. Dealers there are passionate about their collections and often have time to chat and answer your questions. Plus, you can personally inspect the records and their sleeves.
Independent record stores
A quick online search will help you discover all the record stores in your vicinity. The fantastic thing about independent shops is that each one is a treasure trove of unique finds. Every store carries different inventory, so you get higher chances of stumbling upon rare records that are hard to find online. Independent record shops also occasionally score exclusive pressings of albums, often in limited quantities. Also, they can land promotional singles or posters to sweeten the deal with initial album releases.
Once you’ve done your search, make sure to follow as many shops as possible on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and even TikTok. You can also check out shop websites or platforms like Discogs. They often give you the choice of having your items shipped or picking them up. So, even if you lack top-notch record stores in your vicinity, there’s still a chance you can get the music you genuinely like delivered to your doorstep.
The best independent shops also give information about upcoming releases and the expected restocking dates for out-of-print albums.
This may seem surprising to those shopping for music in the 21st century, but if you visit stores like Target, Walmart, or even Urban Outfitters, explore their music section.
These big-box department stores now carry a variety of mainstream artists on vinyl. Major retailers have capitalized on the vinyl trend by releasing exclusive album releases. These often feature alternate cover art and unique color variations, making them a must-have for collectors. This is an excellent option if you’re looking for a special edition of a record but don’t have an independent record store nearby.
3. Start with bargains
Kick off your collection journey by exploring thrift shops, garage sales, or estate sales. Amidst the musical soundtracks and Perry Como records, you’ll often discover fantastic classic albums (the must-haves) in good condition, priced at $1 or less. While you may not stumble upon anything by The Beatles, this is an excellent, cost-effective way to start your collection. It also gives you time to check your commitment to vinyl before investing substantial sums.
4. Check its condition
Always check the condition of a vinyl record, especially when buying from second-hand shops. If you don’t check, you may receive empty album covers, mismatched LPs, incomplete multi-disc sets, and records riddled with scratches. Constantly scrutinize your picks before making a purchase. If you’re shopping on eBay, thoroughly review the seller’s history, customer feedback, and return policies to evaluate the level of risk.
When checking, use your eyes. When you stumble upon an album, pull it out and thoroughly examine it for quality. You’ll often find a tiny sticker in the upper corner indicating the record’s condition, but take it with a pinch of skepticism—sometimes, it can be a tad optimistic. As you inspect an album, try to see beyond the dust that may have accumulated on some of them. Instead, focus on looking for visible scratches.
If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to approach the friendly owner and request a listen on a turntable with headphones. If the record is damaged, don’t think twice—put it back on the shelf. You can likely find a pristine copy elsewhere. If the form seems undamaged but just a bit dirty, the store might offer to clean it for you. Usually, shop staff have the necessary tools for record cleaning. If not, we’ll also cover how to clean records later in this article.
5. Don’t assume bootlegged records are bad
At some point, you might encounter bootleg records. A telltale sign is that they are often suspiciously cheap. But before you jump to conclusions, let us tell you this: that the quality of bootlegs can range from terrible to excellent. Bootlegged vinyl is often lightweight, as bootleggers tend to cut corners using cheaper, thinner materials. If something seems too good to be true, don’t assume you’ve stumbled upon a rare gem—you’ve probably found a bootleg. And that’s perfectly okay.
6. Prioritize originals
Whenever feasible, choose original pressings of vintage albums instead of reissues. Why? Contemporary reissues often derive from the latest digital versions of the album because the record label might no longer possess the original analog master. This distinction primarily matters if you value vinyl for its unique sound quality. Reissues tend to replicate the album’s digital sound and lose much of the warm, classic vinyl appeal.
7. Don’t miss Record Store Day
Record Store Day (RSD) kicked off in 2007 to honor independent record stores during a time when vinyl was considered a fading format. Typically held on a Saturday in April, RSD features numerous limited-edition album releases that are either out of print or being released on vinyl for the first time.
RSD special editions are usually produced in small quantities, making them highly sought after by collectors. However, music enthusiasts who simply want to enjoy the tunes can struggle to secure these releases without planning. To check if your local store carries RSD releases, visit recordstoreday.com and use their search engine to find participating locations.
8. Embrace the classics
Need help with what kind of music to start with? We suggest turning to Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums ever. When you go vinyl hunting, always have this list to guide your search through the seemingly endless crates of possibilities. Whether it’s the Bobs (Dylan or Marley), the Boss, the Beatles, or any other artists on this list, adding them to your collection is a wise choice. While not all may be readily available, they make for an excellent wish list.
9. Collect what you love
Above all, focus on what brings you joy. If you can’t stand some famous acts or the ones in the Rolling Stone’s list, that’s perfectly fine. By sticking to your musical preferences, you can avoid any regrets, whether it’s a freshly released album or a cherished, crackling recording from the 1950s. It’s your collection, so choose albums that resonate with you and hold sentimental value.
Refrain from acquiring a highly collectible jazz record if you won’t genuinely enjoy listening to it. Remember, collecting vinyl can become costly. It’s easy to accumulate records that gather dust because you thought they were a good deal at the time or bought them for their potential collector’s value rather than their musical worth. Remember, the goal is to play and cherish your records, not just accumulate them.
10. Use social media to connect with the vinyl community
By following record stores on social media, you can discover accounts on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where collectors showcase their vinyl collections. This is an excellent way to find your online vinyl community. Sharing your vinyl on TikTok can be the beginning of online friendships with fellow collectors, DJs, and music enthusiasts.
While your real-life friends and family might not fully understans the excitement of receiving a new record in the mail or acquiring a special in-store release, the online community will share in your enthusiasm.
How to Enhance Your Listening Experience
This will only be a complete record-collecting guide if it delves into how to make the most of your vinyl’s sound. Achieving a top-notch listening experience starts with the proper turntable setup. Here are some critical considerations for creating your ideal listening area:
1. Observe proper placement
Ensure your turntable rests on a flat, sturdy surface, so your records can spin smoothly.
2. Choose the right turntable
Selecting a suitable turntable is one of the initial steps in building your vinyl setup. Turntables come in a wide range of price points, with some priced under a hundred dollars and others costing several hundred or even thousands. Before making your choice, it’s essential to understand the critical differences between turntables in various price ranges. While you can find budget-friendly options, it’s worth noting that some are better than others.
Generally, turntables priced under a hundred dollars are less durable and may even harm your records. The entry-level range for a high-quality turntable typically falls between one and four hundred dollars. Turntables in this range and above are expected to offer long-lasting performance.
Additionally, a high-quality turntable should not pose a risk to your records’ condition over time. Some inexpensive turntables may need better-designed needles that exert less force on records as they spin. These lower-quality turntables often have a shorter lifespan compared to their higher-quality counterparts, which can provide reliable performance for decades.
3. Consider getting an amplifier
When boosting the sound from your turntable, consider receivers or amplifiers. While many modern turntables come with in-line phono preamps, vintage models may require an external amplifier or stereo receiver.
The purpose of a phono preamp is to increase the volume before it reaches your speakers. The sound would be too quiet without this phono section, so an amplifier is essential between the turntable and speakers.
Some lower-end record players do have built-in preamps and speakers, but they typically don’t provide a high-quality listening experience that truly captures the recording’s essence. These budget record players with built-in amplification are often more novelty items than serious music enjoyment devices.
The preferred method for enjoying records involves pairing a quality turntable with equally impressive speakers and an external preamp. Speakers are often a significant part of your investment, just as important as the turntable itself. Regarding the preamp, some turntables come with a built-in one. In such cases, you won’t need to add an external preamp to your setup; you can connect your turntable to your speakers.
To find out whether your turntable has a built-in preamp, connect it to your speakers and listen to a record. If the sound is clear, without distortion, and at a good volume, it indicates that your record player includes a built-in preamp. Without a preamp, your turntable wouldn’t reproduce high-quality, loud sound even when connected to speakers. So, your ears are the best judges in this case.
4. Choose the right speakers
Whether you have an internal or external preamp, you’ll still need speakers to bring your music to life. When selecting speakers for your record player, you have two main options: active and passive.
- Active speakers – these come with built-in amplifiers, which means they can eliminate the need for an external preamp by utilizing their amplification.
- Passive speakers – these speakers still require a preamp but can be connected directly to your record player without needing additional power.
Active and passive speakers have their merits, which often depend on your preference. Some audiophiles and vinyl enthusiasts prefer to keep all the components of their setup separate. This means using a turntable, external preamp, and passive speakers. However, various combinations of equipment can produce high-quality sound.
While speakers are a significant investment in your vinyl setup, it’s well worth going all out on them. When searching for the perfect speakers, consider your budget, the preamp capabilities of your turntable, and the available space and desired volume for your records.
You’ll find smaller speakers, often known as bookshelf speakers, sold in pairs for a few hundred dollars, a more budget-friendly option than larger speakers that cost thousands each. Depending on your commitment to vinyl, larger, high-end speakers may be worth the investment.
The resurgence of analog music through vinyl has captured the attention of people who are nostalgic about the classics and the sonic craftsmanship of records that contain them. As the needle drops and the music envelops the room, the vinyl collector finds joy in listening to the record the way it is intended.
If you’re one of those people, we hope this guide can be helpful for you. Remember, it’s wiser to start with a small collection of albums you’ll listen to repeatedly than to amass a large vinyl assortment that you only play once a year—or worse, forget you even own. Take your time with it, as vinyl is here to stay.