The vinyl wave is here and has becoming more mainstream. You are probably also wondering why this phenomenon is happening and whether you are missing out something. I have come up with my own checklist to let you go through and decide whether vinyl collection is for you.
I feel this is important to establish early because unlike other hobbies, there is a small upfront investment to be made before you get down to enjoy the experience, that is, buying a proper turntable and some vinyl records. And this first step is important: if you buy a cheap “suitcase” turntable, the sound quality is rather uninspiring and does not do justice to the records that you buy. Here is the article I explained.
Space For Turntable and Records
Before you decide to embark on the vinyl collection, you need to first find space to sit the turntable, which will be at least 12 square inches, the size of a record. Then you also need space to store the vinyl records. Alternatively, you may want to buy a compact turntable but most of them uses low-quality cartridge and makes music sound worse than radio.
Comparatively, you don’t need any space to keep your streaming albums since they are all stored in the cloud. You can also play them on any portable audio device.
Time And Patience To Play Records
Playing record requires going through a “ritual” – a process of looking for the particular record album, removing it carefully from the sleeve, placing it carefully on the turntable, brushing the dust off the vinyl, sitting the stylus onto the vinyl, and start the turntable. After less than 30 minutes, you have to flip the vinyl and redo the steps again.
Compare this to listening to digital music: search the song or artist, tap the song to play. It goes on and on.
You Like Songs Before 1990s
To a large extent, music played on vinyl records sound better than on streaming platforms. Vinyl records of older albums before the 90s are pure analog and deliver faithful dynamics. When digital format enters, the studio engineers tried to maximise the sound level to hit the digital ceiling, resulting in a more compressed and harsh sound, which works well for some genres.
Nevertheless, there are some engineers who understand the demands of audiophiles and they have released high-definition high-bit digital albums in lossless format (e.g. 24-bit 192kHz DSD) so these versions are certainly less compressed than the streaming versions. Similarly, some genres are less aggressive in their mastering. The point is that all these recordings are already done in the digital medium and so the released digital versions are already as close to the studio versions. So an analog version of a modern recording is somewhat less faithful.
When buying pre-owned records, be careful that some may have worn grooves so the sound may be distorted or lots of noises. Also, most older vinyl records before the 1960s no longer have any mint copies circulating, so a digital re-master on streaming platforms are likely to sound better.
You Like Experiencing Audio Details
Some people listen to music superficially – beats, rhythm, melody. Others study the sound, the instrumental layering, the arrangements, the tonality, the balance, performance, etc. With vinyl, you find extracting musical details more easily. And the fun part about this hobby is that there are so many components to upgrade and improve the sound, far more than the digital domain. There is the stylus, the cartridge, the platter, the turntable, the pre-amp, to name a few.
Case Study: Earth Wind & Fire “September”
Have a listen at this groovy track from Earth Wind & Fire and see if you can hear the difference between them. First, let’s hear the “official digital” mix from the official music video:
Next, here is a vinyl audio rip, recorded over a Kenwood KP-9010 turntable and Victor Z-1 cartridge. You should be able to hear the difference: the bass is less boomy, the treble is clearer, more spatial.
Finally, check out this vinyl audio rip, recorded over an unnamed Technics turntable and an Ortofon OM20 cartridge. The sound quality is further elevated to another level. The treble is even more clear and distinct.
Conclusion: Have The Cake And Eat It
The great part about starting a vinyl collection is that you don’t have to choose one format or the other. We all can continue to subscribe to our favourite streaming platform and listen to all your songs conveniently. You can still buy vinyl albums selectively to listen to them on the turntable. There is this emotional connection when you play your favourite artist over vinyl records, as the turntable produces a more intimate and authentic sound, especially for records before the 90s. For modern albums after 90s, the vinyl versions are merely digital copies and sound-wise have no added benefits, so other than feeling retro, I don’t get the musical connection.
After over a year of vinyl experience, I have to say that vinyl format does not replace all kinds of albums. Some albums play very well while others are disappointing. Fortunately, there is a healthy after market demand for records, so I will sell those vinyl records that no longer “spark joy” to me. While I am slowing down on collection, I will still check out occasionally online or in stores to see if I can find any new treasures. Continue to read my next article where I explain why collecting vinyl is rewarding.