Turning tables: How to start your own vinyl collection

Chris Duncan

Artists such as Mac DeMarco, who sold 6,000 vinyl copies in the first week of his new mini-LP, Another One, are seeing a clear benefit from the resurgence of wax. Vinyl is a definite way to support your favorite artists, but, before jumping head first into collecting, it’s important to be informed on the investment needed to start a vinyl setup.
First, it isn’t cheap. Andiophiles spend thousands of dollars on their vinyl equipment and collection, but someone who’s just starting out should expect to spend between $250 and $400. This investment isn’t in vain — vinyl records often sustain or increase in value over time.

At the core of every vinyl setup is a turntable. Prices range anywhere from $20 to over $100,000, but, the design of the modern turntable hasn’t changed much since the 1970s. This means a turntable, along with almost any other necessary electronics for a setup, can easily be bought used. Craigslist and eBay are some of the best sites to find a quality used turntable. When shopping, look for known brands such as Technics, Pioneer and Stanton. Brands to stay away from include Crosley and Soundwagon, which may hurt your records by digging into the vinyl’s individual grooves and ruining the feedback. To buy new, find something from a reputable brand such as Audio-Technica or U-Turn.

Although it’s a sign of a low-budget setup, some turntables include a pre-amp, which is used to amplify the soft signal coming from a turntable into audible sounds. Other
turntables might include speakers, but generally a quality setup avoids having built-in speakers or portability gimmicks. Be sure to look for the revolutions per minute, or RPM, at which the turntable can spin vinyl. Turntables that play at 33 1/3 and 45 RPM work for most people, but if you intend to collect rarer 78 RPM records, make sure your turntable spins at all three speeds.

Amplifiers and speakers
Most turntable setups take two forms. The most common way is to connect your turntable to an amplifier and stereo system. The amplifier then connects to a set of passive speakers, which need an external amplifier to function. If the amplifier doesn’t include a built-in pre-amp, then one is required to adjust the signal from your turntable to the amplifier.

The second common setup removes the amplifier, but requires a pre-amp and generally more expensive active speakers. Active speakers include an amplifier built into their design, which is why the amplifier is not necessary.

When deciding which records to purchase first for your setup, go with something cheap and simple. Pick a new release you know won’t be damaged, but don’t shy away from used records. When buying used, make sure you inspect the condition of the vinyl, looking for surface scratches, warping of the vinyl or even damaged grooves that could ruin your needle or turntable.

To ensure your collection stays in good condition, make sure you store your records standing up. Many collectors use milk crates or cabinets along with plastic sleeves to make sure both their vinyl and its cover both play and look good.

Vinyl isn’t the most practical medium for music, considering its lack of portability, high cost of investment and its potential for confusion. But to some people, hunting for records and hearing music in this format is more than worth the effort.