Sunday, July 23, 2017

CosmicSparky's LP Stash.

Like most anybody from the first world, I began amassing music during my teens, late teens in this case. It wasn't the largest selection, primarily due to my notoriously picky nature, but boy was it ever solid. Of course poverty prevailed and one day those CD's were sold off to a nearby record store that at least had the good form to stroke my ego by praising the quality of my music selection. After that came years of lackluster downloads, and haphazard file organization. I began to miss the days when music was something to take a little pride in, so recently I wondered down the rabbit hole of getting into vinyl records. I'll tell ya, it's not a tough hobby to get started, albeit with a few potential pitfalls and some misinformation floating around. I figured it would be a fine time to start sharing some tips I've learned thus far and maybe start doing some coverage of the hobby as a recurring feature.

When I decided to look into a record collection, few things could have prepared me for the onslaught of crazy I was about to uncover. Turns out a good deal of record collectors are a truly nutty and superstitious lot. Of course like any other group there are some with more sensible outlooks. Still; there's an alarming amount of misinformation and half-truths floating around, seemingly in a sad attempt to keep the hobby feeling like an exclusive club.
Case in point, there are claims that inexpensive turntables will ruin your LP's. This is something of a half-truth. When it comes to those cheapo Crossley players I've heard legitimate, sensible explanations of how they could damage a disk. On the other hand, I've seen those same claims leveled at decent tables simply because they don't cost a months rent. Certainly it's a good idea to get as nice a player as possible but it's still totally possible to spend less than a hundred on a table and be just fine.
Even some positive reviews can make inaccurate claims. For instance, I eventually went with the Audio Technica LP60 as it is supposedly the overall best starter turntable. One favorable review of the item stated a flaw that the arm didn't automatically lift when done playing a side. As you might imagine I waited rather impatiently during my first time and guess what, the arm lifts and returns to it's rest every damn time, so why the misinformation?
Another of the big conflicts among record folk is colored vinyl. Many claim that colored vinyl has inferior sound compared to the standard black. However, I've yet to find anyone attempt an actual scientific test of this theory. Beyond that, the so-called proof of lower sound quality is a hiss, a phenomenon prevalent to all LP's due to varying amounts of static charge which can be taken care of by various means. As someone with a mix of black and colored releases, the most notable difference so far has been due to the audio master used for each release. Even on a single release, static hiss can change from one disk to another. My colored double LP of the Flower soundtrack has very noticeable static hiss on the first disc yet the second is as pure and wonderful as a purring kitten.
The biggest issue with all the different dramatic claims is the added difficulty in sussing out useful and trustworthy information. One area where there seems to be almost universal accuracy is the need for better record sleeves. Even with my fairly small collection I've already encountered several releases with god awful paper sleeves that leave bits of papery shit all over the LP. You can guess how happy the stylus is when it hits those leftovers during play. This is one area where you should totally listen to enthusiasts. A good number of them introduced me to Diskeeper Audiophile Sleeves and no joke, these things are incredible. They cut down on dust and static while making it easier to access all of my disks. A pack of 50 costs about as much as a new record but it's more than worth it.

So let's say that like me you want to get into nice physical music, but can't spend a ton. Let's look at what I picked up to give you an idea of a very basic set-up.
Turntable wise I bought the Audio Technica LP60, that companies entry level model. It's a solid piece of equipment all around, plays well, can handle two different LP sizes and speeds, plus a built in phono pre-amp which makes it crazy easy to hook up to speakers and start listening. There are a few issues however. The unit lacks a volume switch of any kind meaning you must rely solely on speakers with volume control. Also, it lacks most of the customizing options of higher end gear which means if you end up wanting something better you'll have to drop cash for a whole new machine. Honestly I'm enjoying the new hobby enough so far that I almost wished I'd opted for the next model up but this is still a good way to get started and it's easy to get for less than a hundred bucks.
Unless you're the sort who leaves sound equipment laying around, you'll need speakers. All we had in excess were some crazy cheap twelve dollar computer speakers which as you might imagine were horrid. Similar to the turntable I didn't want to destroy my bank account to get decent sound, especially since living conditions prevent complex set-ups and high volume. Thankfully I found out about Edifier. By all indications, these should be terrible. I mean we're talking about hundred dollar electronics straight outta China. After reading and viewing a stream of glowing reviews though I decided to give em a chance. Man have I ever been impressed. Once again, there's certainly a better option out there for someone with more room and cash but for a standard bedroom listener these offer surprising depth and clarity, and I haven't even begin to test the limits of their volume which is supposedly quite high.

Of course none of the means much without some tunes and that's where the real fun, and occasional frustration lie. Few hobbies offer such a wealth of content options from new releases, to rare special editions, and ancient thrift store finds. Yet even with that wealth of choice there's still some releases that will drive you crazy because of limited print runs, or finding out that one of your old favorites never hit the format. Then there's the harsh truth that albums with only two or three songs you love, simply aren't worth the effort. Vinyl is a format that promotes listening to the entire album, so be sure to get stuff that's at least 90% quality tracks.

If you're willing to go through all the work to get the equipment, some LP's, a spot to stash it all, then you get to have the real fun. I won't pretend this is a superior form of musical performance. Files are infinitely more portable and functional, not to mention a high level format like flac could potentially blow vinyl out of the water. That said, there's a comfort to the multiple step process it takes to turn on my gear, get out the Superfly soundtrack and relax. It makes listening to music an event again, and that was something I was really missing. I plan to extend that feeling into major events as well, playing horror movie soundtracks around Halloween or busting out holiday standards come Christmas Eve with the family.

And that's the newest hobby to worm its way into my bank account. I suppose that's the advantage of being a 30 odd year old without kids. I'm allowed to try new things. Plus it makes for a fine way to stay indoors and dodge the heat of summer. From here on out I'll occasionally post reviews on specialty labels, stores, accessories, and the like. Have any of you caught the record bug? Like to share any tips or info for a post? Drop a line.

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