How Vinyl Works
by Sara Clarke
A couple weeks ago, the New York Times published an article called How To Enjoy Turntables Without Obsessing. Like this one, it was an informational article hoping to educate readers on the basics of playing vinyl records in the twenty-first century.
But that’s where the similarities end. Because the Times piece is actually “how to get obsessed with turntables”. I mean, they recommend you start with middle-of-the-road affordable components and do the whole thing in moderation. And I hear that. But the Times’ idea of moderation is $100 cartridges! Which, holy shit, you don’t even really have to know much about what a cartridge is to listen to a record. Do you think your grandma back in whereversville before the war/in the war/right after the war bought a $100 cartridge, or even knew what a cartridge was beyond being able to point it out on the record player? And maybe calling it “the place where the needle goes”?
Look. I’m going to tell you REALLY how to enjoy turntables without obsessing.
Get a record player.
It can be just about any record player. It should work. By which I mean it should play records. I have a Crossley Spinnerette. It works fine. It only has one speaker, which is not optimal, but it’s nice and loud. If you are the kind of person who already has a home stereo system, Audio Technica has a good entry level turntable with a built in preamp for about the same price as my cheap portable record player. Or maybe you find something old at a garage sale, that’s probably also a good way to go. Though you might need a bunch of other components for it. Still, it’s better than the $500 turntables suggested by the Times article. If someone at a garage sale wants $500 for their old turntable from 1975, they are an asshole.
Buy some records.
As I said in my last post about vinyl, I spent way too much on my first record, just because I needed a record to play. And I’ve forked over for a couple of sought-after records since then. But I’m starting to discover the joy of the 3 for $5 bin and the crate of $2 vinyl at the stoop sale. Thrift stores also often have crazy cheap records. The only thing about bargain basement vinyl is that you really have to check the quality. I take the record out and hold it up to the light. Dirty is OK, and one or two small scratches will probably be fine. But lots of big scratches isn’t worth even a $2 investment. Also look to see if the record is warped at all. That’s not worth buying, either.
Clean your records.
OK, so you have a nice haul of $3 records from somebody’s basement. They are filthy. What now? I bought one of these cleaning kits. You put a few drops of the cleaning solution on the pad, and wipe down the record in a circular manner not unlike how we used to clean CDs. You can use the other end of the pad to dry the record off if it got really damp. According to this instructable, you can also wash records in a tray of soapy water if you get a bunch that are really encrusted. So far mine haven’t been that bad, though.
Now you have everything you need to play music on your record player. That was simple. Isn’t it great that you didn’t get all obsessed with the hardware? Remember, this is supposed to be fun!