Vinyl is back; or so all the newspapers have restated this fact ad nauseum over the last four years. As mysterious as agave soda and one’s first love, the medium itself seems shrouded in darkness that has given it the appeal to many young music lovers for a slew of very valid reasons. I wanted to write this article to act as a primer for new people who have a mild interest and let them be better informed and decide if it’s worth it for them to get the benefit of some of my experiences. Also, I don’t mind plugging a few of my favorite Jacksonville businesses.
Why I love vinyl
A friendly gesture of Pink Floyd was my first foray into vinyl. Like most people, I got my first record before a turntable. I was quickly enamored with the covers and more importantly the thrill of getting into the format. I saved up and got my first turntable, a Technics SL-1200 MK2 and even on terrible speakers it sounded great. Now I have gone through four different systems, from solid state to tube, and from ordinary music lover to full-fledged audiophile music dork. Being a very jumpy all over the place person sitting down and paying attention to the record got me to slow down, turn of the computer screen and be immersed into a stage of sound. I can’t even begin to explain the thrills of hunting down a record for years and finally getting it, or putting that last piece of a band’s catalog on the shelf. To me its not just one thing. But most importantly, it’s the sound quality. Some direct-to-disc albums I have heard have been the most amazing sound reproductions I have ever heard; and at the end of the day it is important to remember there are musicians sharing a small studio apartment with you and that is their mind for the next 40 minutes of your life.
Why you may not
On the other hand vinyl can also be Sisyphus’ Rock, constantly waiting to push you back down the mountain. It can be expensive, exhausting, and most importantly, challenging. Do you need a PhD to get a turntable going? No. But you need a good understanding of how to get it going properly or what is good or not. Quite frankly, that hip Crosley number you’ve been eyeing at Urban Outfitters will probably destroy everything you buy within 3 years and most of the stuff on the thrift store circuit isn’t much better. There are great deals out there to be found though. Buying vinyl can also be a crap shoot. I am as guilty of buying used records and not even pulling it out of the sleeve to check the quality, a scratched record will be full of the pops and clicks that come from miss handling, not being cleaned, and improper storage that can decimate the sound quality on your record or even warp it until it’s unplayable.
Myths vs. Facts
A lot of times I hear people say “But there isn’t anywhere to buy vinyl around me and in Jacksonville.” I have seen the landscape shift from a lot of great stores to just a handful now. Flea Markets are cool and everything, but I rarely ever find records that are not destroyed or ridiculously overpriced; sometimes both. Budget Records Downtown and House of Stereo are two great stores you should check out and I will go into more detail in next week’s article. There is also a misconception that vinyl will always sound better than the CD. This simply isn’t true and it’s not a black and white explanation either. Without getting too into neck-beard audiophile territory, if the vinyl is pressed from a CD master it probably will not sound any better, and more importantly if the pressing plant does a bad job on the pressing it can come out making the Beatles sound a lame Canadian rock band called “Carl For Breakfast”. Lastly, there is a huge misconception that you can’t set up a budget system that will please the audiophiles ear, when in fact its more of a case of knowing what to look for and the know how to set it up yourself. Which means homework for your music listening. That may be a hard pill to swallow for someone who just wants to listen to the White Stripes single they got at SXSW.
In the end, I love vinyl and I hope you will too. And I hope with the coming articles we will give everyone who reads the tools they need to enjoy a great format. At the end of the day, music is music. We will all end up listening somehow and that’s what’s important here. The best sounding system in the world would mean nothing without great music. Stay tuned for guides on buying what you need, setting it all up, and a profile of the great vinyl scene here in Jacksonville, FL.