Introduction to Vinyl

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Why vinyl?

Why invest in an obsolete, 50+ year old music medium?

  • Used vinyl is often extremely inexpensive - 50 cents to two dollars a disc is somewhat common. Vinyl is a very cheap way to expand your collection in older artists that you cannot justify spending $15/CD on listening to.
  • Some albums have simply never been released on CD.
  • Some album art is better suited to the larger scale of LP covers and sleeves.
  • The mastering of an original LP release is often considered superior to a CD remaster of the same release. This can be for any number of reasons, including:
    • Increased use of compression and limiting on the CD release, reducing dynamics
    • The master tapes have often degraded in the time between the LP and CD releases
    • The equalization and even mixing of some CD releases is radically different than on the LP releases. For instance, many Zappa LPs have had entire drum tracks replaced for the CD release.
  • Properly maintained vinyl is of a surprisingly good quality and is often not objectionable.

Why not vinyl?

There are several disadvantages.

  • Vinyl is particularly finicky to maintain and easy to damage.
  • Surface noise, while often inaudible, will always be present, even on a brand new LP.
  • The quality of a record often cannot be determined until you play it, increasing the risk of the purchase. Even brand new, sealed LPs can have significant pressing and warping problems.
  • Not portable.
  • Investing in a reasonable vinyl system is hundreds to thousands of dollars more expensive than investing in a reasonable CD/computer system. Financially, any benefits of the cheaper media must be compared against the amortized cost of the equipment needed to play and maintain it.
  • There is also a not insignificant running cost in playing LPs. The stylus does wear out, and top class cartridges use stylii costing several hundred (or even thousand) dollars. Playing one LP with an audiophile cartridge can easily cost over a dollar in stylus wear.
  • Records are large and heavy. Transporting them correctly is logistically difficult.
  • Many record stores have a considerable markup on used LPs and it may be hard to find records for cheaper than $10 in some stores. This makes it much harder to completely justify vinyl on a financial basis.
  • Some vinyl has a very high collector's value which makes it nearly impossible to locate for prices cheaper than CD.

Vinyl Myths and Misconceptions

Note: These are preliminary notes, are a little opinionated, and are subject to change. Please edit as appropriate or comment on the discussion page.

  • The vinyl surface is heated to several hundred degrees on playback, and repeat play of the same track should wait until the vinyl has cooled.
  • Proper vinyl playback is click-free.
  • Vinyl is better than digital because the analog signal on the vinyl tracks the analog signal exactly, while digital is quantized into steps.
  • Vinyl is objectively worse than digital.
  • Vinyl is objectively better than digital.
  • Adding a penny to the headshell improves tracking/sound.
  • Vinyl sounds better with the dustcover on/off.
  • A cartridge is permanently damaged and should be replaced if the stylus appears even slightly bent.
  • A record cleaning machine is required for proper playback.

Vinyl Availability

Note that a lot of this info is currently US centric.

The "market rate" for LPs depends primarily on the collector's value. Mass-produced and unpopular LPs will not cost more than a dollar. Original pressing Beatles LPs are usually over several hundred dollars. Jazz records tend to be very expensive. Classical records tend to be quite inexpensive. Rock, blues and electronica lie somewhere in the middle.

Depending on how clued the store is to the by-the-book market prices of vinyl, prices can range anywhere from 50 cents on up. Record stores tend to have the highest prices and charity stores the lowest, but there are always exceptions.

  • Many cities have local record stores that specialize in certain genres. Check your yellow pages and local music listings for ads.
  • Half Price Books (US) tends to have extremely good vinyl selections. Vinyl is not transferred between stores, so the quantity/quality varies widely even by the neighborhood.
  • Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other charity stores often have good deals on vinyl.
  • The Austin Record Convention http://www.austinrecords.com/ has a very, very large quantity of LPs. Biannual. Similar conventions exist in many other large cities.