Playback and Recording (Vinyl)
- 1 Why vinyl?
- 2 Why not vinyl?
- 3 Availability
- 4 Turntables
- 5 Cartridges
- 6 Preamps
- 7 Cleaning
- 8 Do's and don'ts of maintenance
- 9 Recording and processing
- 10 Links
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 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.
- 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.
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.
Turntables vary widely in price, construction and age. Audiophiles will categorize the subjective qualities of a turntable on the following metrics:
The plinth is the base of the turntable, on which the platter (and usually the motor) rests. The basic function is to isolate the components mechanically from the base of the turntable and from each other.
Construction styles vary:
- No isolation whatsoever (solid box). For very cheap turntables.
- A box, often wooden, holding a metal plinth supported by springs. Usually found only on vintage turntables.
- A plinth of multiple levels, each level isolated from the other by some rubber-like substance. In some form or another most audiophile turntables use this method.
- Physical separation of the turntable components from each other, and individual isolation of each component from the ground. Certain very expensive turntables use this method.
There are few objective criteria for plinth design. Isolation issues can be resolved through the use of additional isolation placed underneath the turntable. Build quality is important and may be lacking, even for audiophile turntables.
The stick-shaped part of the turntable.
- They hold the cartridge on top of the record, keeping it properly aligned, and carry the wires down to the plinth.
- A counterweight is placed on the back to reduce the force of the needle on the record to very low levels, usually equivalent to an effective mass of roughly one gram.
- A force, the anti-skate force, is applied to the tonearm, pulling it outwards from the center of the disk, to counteract forces during playback that pull it towards the center.
- The tonearm must be lowered slowly onto the disk to prevent damage to the disk or the stylus. All quality turntables include a mechanism, usually hydraulic, to slowly lower the tonearm.
Key differences between tonearms include:
- Build material
- Shape (S-shaped or straight)
- Linear tracking or angular tracking
- Degrees of freedom on the mounting
- Antiskate force mechanism
There are several objective differences between tonearms:
- The mass of the tonearm affects the resonances of the playback system. The mass can sometimes be incompatible with the mass of the cartridge and the compliance of the stylus, leading to an excessively high or low resonant frequency that induces skipping or rumble, or can negatively affect low frequency performance.
- Tracking errors, representing angular deviations between the stylus and the record groove, are present with every tonearm, and different designs use different approaches. Linear tracking arms, in theory, have zero tracking error. In practice they require a motor to move the tonearm, with some known error in correct positioning, as well as some vibration. S-shaped tonearms are shaped to reduce tracking error but (XXXX list issues).
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- Counterweight markers are notoriously unreliable and a scale is often employed to get a correct measurement of the counterweight setting.