Tips for beginner vinyl collectors

Over these four years I've been collecting, I've made some glaring mistakes I could have avoided if someone warned me beforehand. I want to share these with you, so you won't have to suffer for them.

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Rough start

I started collecting records in 2019 with buying a copy of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene that was in a really poor condition. Tried to listen to it on an old Hi-Fi system that was handed down to me from my grandparents’. It had a belt-driven turntable at the top that couldn’t spin fast enough and it was a pain in the neck trying to find a compatible belt replacement (which I ultimately gave up on after the only one I could get my hands on was just a few millimeters bigger than ideal).

To no one’s surprise, the dirty, crackly record — which I had no means of cleaning at that time — combined with this cumbersome record player produced the worst listening experience of my life; the heavily undulating sound that came out of that system sounded like vomiting into a PVC pipe on a rusty carousel. I knew then and there that I had to buy some more appropriate equipment if I want to have an enjoyable experience.

Everywhere I looked, people kept recommending direct-drive turntables, meaning that the plate the record is spun not by a rubber belt, but rather an electric motor, resulting in a much less wavy, more constant movement. I didn’t have that much money to spend on something that expensive. My budget was under 100 €, which is a laughable amount of cash for such a delicate instrument that is a turntable. Luckily, I was able to snatch a used Pioneer PL-200 (video is not mine) from the 90’s that was taken care of excellently by the previous owner.

It had a new needle, needed little to no setup at home; I could try to listen to Oxygene again. Of course, it didn’t fix the issue that the condition of the record itself was garbage. Cleaning it with my disk cleaning brush didn’t help it at all, so I gave up and bought something else.

Anyway, here come the tips:

1. It’s probably the most expensive pastime you can have as a teenager

Yeah, buying a turntable with all its accessories (needle, stylus scale), a sound system and records is a hell of an initial investment. Keep this in mind before you decide on this hobby and look for bargains and secondhand equipment. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to start collecting in my late teens, but much later.

2. Your records will probably get scratched/damaged; learn to accept it

From the moment you put your new vinyl record on the turntable, it slowly but surely gets damaged. This is true for any kind of physical media including CDs, cassettes and the like; it’s natural and you’ll need to accept this. Your record will get scratched and dirty but that only means that it’s being listened to like God intended. Think of those scratches as beauty marks.

But this doesn’t mean that you are powerless against the “rotting” of your vinyl. Deteriorating can be prevented/slowed by calibrating your player correctly (especially the needle’s pressure), cleaning the records with a record brush or with a cleaner device (which costs too much for its use in my opinion) and handling the records and covers with care. Do what you are able to do to preserve their quality.

3. That little thing that is protecting your needle? Don’t put it back and forth every time you want to play a record

All turntable styluses (styli?) come with a plastic cap that protect the needle while it’s being transported. This plastic protector comes off and on pretty easily, but there’s still the possibility of you being clumsy and accidentally breaking your needle while you handle it. I managed to completely break one of my new needles this way after like two days of use; had to order a second one.

It’s best to just put it away until it’s needed for transporting the turntable from one place to the next. Your stylus really doesn’t need it if it’s just sitting there motionless for days.

4. Always lower your needle before closing its flap

If on your turntable, you have to manually lower and raise the tonearm with a switch, keep in mind that after you’re done with an album and the tonearm returns, before locking it in by closing the little flap on it, you first lower the tonearm. Otherwise, the flap will put unnecessary pressure on the arm, which can be damaging. It’s best not to tempt fate and lower it before you lock it.

5. Make sure your amplifier is compatible with a phonograph. If not, buy a preamp

If your amp comes with a dedicated phonograph input, you just need to plug in your turntable as usual. If it doesn’t come with one, you have to buy a phonograph preamp. This is because the signal that comes from your turntable needs to be amplified before it’s forwarded to your sound system. Otherwise, your playback will be awfully quiet.

In my experience, even a cheap one will suffice (like the Behringer PP400), since your main amplifier will do the heavy lifting in terms of sound quality.

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