The Internet is full of articles with tips on how to build your collection of vinyl records. I am 3 months into this new hobby and I already owned about 70 titles. I made some purchase mistakes along the way, but they are good lessons. Sharing them here is a great reminder of how this vinyl journey.
My First Vinyl
When I decide to buy my first turntable, I was looking around for vinyl records that I would like to own, so naturally I looked for records of my favourite artists. As luck would have it, I found a Carousell seller who was selling Enya’s first four albums, so I picked them up in one transaction. As an Enya fan, it’s a check off my buy list.
Vinyl for Testing
While digging records of my favourite artists, I was also randomly looking for vinyl to test the turntable, so I browsed on Carousell and picked those which interested me at a reasonable price. I picked up Earth Wind & Fire “I Am” (1979), Richard Clayderman “Reveries” (1979), Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 (1982). I also grabbed a couple of 7-inch singles off eBay with low shipping fees since 7-inches are smaller.
What piques my interest when digging around vinyl is the nostalgia of discovering record titles. For instance, I came across a sale of The Sound of Music Original Soundtrack that was pressed in 1965. Imagine the number of homes and turntables it played over the decades and now it’s in my hands in Year 2021. I also uncovered more titles from my favourite artists which I would love to own but I was careful not to overpay. In fact, I already owned the CD versions, so getting vinyl is “extra”.
The Most Durable Analog Medium
Having said that, vinyl remains the most durable analog medium, so durable that you can wash it in the kitchen sink and still play music. Even if there are scratches or mouldy, music can still be heard. On the other hand, cassette tapes don’t sound as clean and dynamic, while CDs requires decoders to read the data, and if the disc surface is too beaten up, there is a chance of read errors that result in an unplayable format. On vinyl, even if some parts of the surface is damaged, you can still skip over and play the rest of the parts.
New vs. Old Pressing
Michael Jackson Thriller is the most popular album in the world. Naturally it also has a huge circulation of vinyl records in the market. In fact, new ones are still being manufactured in the factory. Should you buy a newly pressed title or an older pressed title?
I would say, the initial press are more authentic because they come from the original production. Many times, the remastered version could sound better due to newer technology, but I feel they lose the authenticity of the first release. One of the driving forces behind vinyl listening is to go back to the analogue source and not all about the cleanest mix.
Then there is the fun factor: vinyl can come in various shapes and designs. Picture vinyl are 100% playable but audiophile stay away from them because they produce an audible surface noise which sounds like a distant plane flying in the sky.
Ultimately, if you are really concerned with the quality, you might need to do some research to determine which re-press editions should be avoided. In any case, you won’t go wrong if you can find some of the earliest presses.
Discovering More Music Than From Spotify
My interest in vinyl has led me to discover more music than from my Spotify subscription. On Spotify, I would not have the patience to listen the entire album. After a few seconds, if the music doesn’t hook my interest, I would skip the next track or jump to another part of the track. I would also skim the tracks rather than listening through from start to end.
When digging around the vinyl sales sites like Discogs.com, I would frequently come across titles that I was not aware. For instance, I uncovered Tracy Huang, a popular Chinese singer, that she had lived and married in Singapore and recorded English albums produced in Singapore. I managed to hunt down her debut English album and paid S$20.
Similarly, I might get interested in vinyl albums for a few popular tracks, but I would play through the entire vinyl record without skipping any song. I also did research on the single or album to get some back story, which sometimes led me to another related singer or album. For instance, my interest in Shelby Lynne’s version of “Just A Little Lovin’ ” led me digging and realised that the original artist was Dusty Springfield, which led me to sampling her album “Dusty in Memphis” on Spotify. I also finally got to listen the full album soundtrack of “Fame”, “Flashdance”, “Arthur” movies.
The Turntable (featuring Audio-Technica AT-LP5X)
Many people “worship” their turntables, but they should, because the quality of what’s playing all starts with the stylus that reads the vinyl spinning on the platter. All the audio processing thereafter can only be good if the needle does its job. If the vinyl is dusty and dirty, all the best amplifiers and speakers can’t bring back the details.
I’m still not at that fanatic stage yet, but I have the fortune of loaning turntables from Audio-Technica to experience how different models sound. And through this invaluable trial, I realise the importance of a good turntable. Elsewhere, turntables can sell for thousands of dollars, but the AT-LP5X is priced at S$548. It offers a good balance of manual controls and versatility. It supports USB audio input and plays 33.3 to 78 rpm. Its tonearm is adjustable and the headshell is easily swappable.
I was rather daunted that I need to assemble the turntable, but I come to realise that this is a necessary introduction to the analog hobby. One must understand the works of the turntable component and I definitely learn through assembling them together.
Compared to the LP60XBT, the LP5X is a full manual turntable, which means I have to operate the tonearm manually to place it on the vinyl as the platter spins. Its motor is direct-drive, meaning its motor is turning the platter directly and not using belt. The theoretical disadvantage is that it is noisier than belt-drive because the motor is coupled directly on the platter. The advantage is that the turntable speed is more accurate and starts-stops faster. The thicker platter mat possibly counters the motor activity.
I enjoy the convenience of operating the LP60XBT, and the sound quality is quite good. But the LP5X plays slightly better with the VM95E cartridge, delivering more precise treble details with a little less bass intensity. With a 2-gram tracking force, it tracks with less skip. The tonearm is highly adjustable and the cartridge can be readily swapped by unscrewing the headshell. The rubber matter is very thick which keeps the vinyl stable. It comes with built-in amplifier, or you can switch to phono mode to let your external phono stage do the amplifier job.
Despite built more solid than LP60XBT, the LP5X chassis appears to be the source of vibrations which the cartridge easily picks up due to its high sensitivity. Opening the dust cover, brushing or tapping against the chassis will produce audible low-frequency signals.
Personally, at this stage of my vinyl journey, I’m quite happy to just go with the LP60XBT, but the LP5X is the absolute entry-level model for serious vinyl listeners that can be upgraded without replacing the turntable, through swapping cartridges, using premium phono stage and amps.
Where To Buy Vinyl Records in Singapore
So, now comes the most important segment of the article. Singapore has a handful of physical record shops, like Roxy, Simply Music at The Adelphi, Fook Yu Records at Fook Hai Building, Red Point Warehouse at Kapo Building, Zenn Audio at Bedok Shopping Complex. Carousell is a convenient platform to look for new and used vinyl and CDs. Once a while, you can find some sellers putting up cheap items, but generally, the prices are high compared to overseas market. For instance, local listings of Johnny Hates Jazz “Turn Back the Clock” are priced about S$50 and up, but I found a copy selling at eBay for less than S$20 including shipping.
I am surprised to find Amazon selling some vinyl titles at low prices too. I recently purchased Michael Jackson “Dangerous” picture vinyl for less than S$40 with free shipping thanks to Amazon Prime membership. The cheaper titles are usually those that are still in abundance or still manufacturing. Urban Outfitters also sell exclusive vinyl at reasonable prices, but the shipping cost at S$30 is as expensive a the vinyl itself, unless your shopping cart is above S$200.
Another site that was recommended by readers (see comment) is shop4sg.com, a localised site from shop4world.com. Predominantly a gaming merch site, all prices are in Singapore dollars and they have a good selection of reasonably-priced vinyl. The product details are not as detailed as Discogs, so I was not able to tell what pressing it was, especially when they listed a few variants of the same title.
The benefit of buying locally is that you do not have to wait for weeks to receive the item, and there is also no risk of damage. So far, all my overseas orders turn up in good condition, thanks to proper packaging by the sellers. If the price difference is high, I would buy from overseas sellers. Discogs.com is probably the best platform to search for titles and to get a gauge of the market value.
Conclusion: Forge Your Own Collection
There are so many audio formats, and there is no need to stick with one. We can listen to music in various formats depending on the circumstances – CD, tapes, vinyl, MP3. Three months into this new hobby, I have found that I like to listen to vinyl on older music genres and older album pressings, because very often they produced the albums with vinyl medium in mind. The most important thing is to enjoy the music, the listening process, and the fact that no one can take away the music from you, simply because you own the record.
I am still amazed at the fact that those tiny physical grooves on the vinyl can actually convert into music. Interestingly, when my wife heard some of the vinyl, she said they don’t sound like records. In her impression, records have loud random pops and cracks, sound flat and muffled, probably a little wobbly. Ya, she watched too much Hollywood movies.