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A Beginner’s Guide To Vinyl Records

Friday 08th June 2018

Vinyl records have been around for a very long time, way before the age of CDs and digital streaming. Most of our parents and their parents will have grown up listening to vinyl records and will surely bring them some fond memories.

We’ve seen a resurgence in popularity when it comes to vinyl over the last few years, to the point where you can even find a selection of records in your local supermarket.

Starting a record collection can be daunting task to somebody who is not in the know, so we’ve decided to create a beginner’s guide to collecting records.

What Are Vinyl Records?

Vinyl records are playable discs that are made from polyvinyl chloride, also known as (you guessed it) vinyl.

Now there is a common misconception that the plural of vinyl is vinyls, but this is not case and will likely get you a few weird looks in the record store. To save you from any embarrassment, refer to them as vinyl records or simply vinyl.

Records come in a variety of sizes, but the most common ones are 12” LPs and 7” singles. The majority of albums released will be pressed onto 12” vinyl, with some even spanning onto two or even four records depending on the length.

Each record features two sides – Side A and Side B. Side A will feature the first half of an album, and Side B will feature the latter half. The split up in the album will need you to turn it over once the side is finished, so you have to pay attention.

7” singles are mainly used for one off releases or singles from full length albums, but they can often feature songs known as “B-Sides”. These B-Sides are songs that do not feature on the album and are exclusive to that 7”. Can you guess where the name came from?

There are generally two different speeds that records are played at, 33 1/3 RPM and 45 RPM. 12” records tend to be played at 33 1/3 RPM and 7” singles are 45 RPM, but it can vary from record to record. Each turntable will feature a switch that will allow you to go back and forth from each speed.

You will definitely be able to hear if you are playing a record at the wrong speed, so don’t worry about not noticing it.

The majority of records are pressed onto standard black vinyl, but sometimes artists will release special edition versions that are pressed on different colours and varieties. These coloured records are often sought after and only a limited amount are made. Some artists will even make picture discs that feature the album artwork on the vinyl record itself.

Now that we’ve told you what they’ve made of, let’s take a look at how you actually play them.

How It Works

You’ve picked up your first record and taken it home with you, so how you do play it?

Open up the record and pull out the inner sleeve, which often features lyrics or credentials from the album. Once you’ve taken the vinyl record out of the sleeve, place it onto your turntable and switch the record player on.

Next, carefully lift up the tone arm and drag the stylus on to the spinning record. Slowly let the stylus fall on to the edge of the record and you’ll hear that signature crackle of a vinyl record. This is when the magic begins.

After the side is finished or the record is over, the stylus will run on to the dead wax in the centre of the record and you’ll need to pick up the tone arm and drag it back to it’s holding position.

A lot of record players will come with automation that allows you to push a button and pause it, as well as automatically dragging back the tone arm once the stylus hits the dead wax. If your player does not feature automation, you will have to manually do it all yourself. But that’s all part of the fun.

Vinyl records are delicate and should be handled in a safe manner, so don’t go throwing them around or stacking them on top of each other. Scratches to the record can cause it to skip and become unplayable, and being stacked on top of each other can warp the records and nobody wants that.

It’s important to always put records back in their sleeves once you’ve finished with them and to make sure you are only handling them on the edges or the centre.

We recommend storing your vinyl records in cubes or on shelves and stand them upright with the spines facing outwards. Not only will doing this keep the records safe, but it will display your music taste in a fun way.

Equipment

When it comes to equipment, you’re going to need a couple of different bits of gear.

Firstly, you’ll need a turntable. A turntable is the piece of equipment that the record is placed on and actually plays the record. It will feature a tone arm, stylus, mat to place the record on, a switch to change the playing speed and a lid to protect the record.

Next, you’re going to want to invest in a good set of speakers. Some beginner record players will come with built in speakers, but for the best audio quality you’re going to want to spend the cash on a great sounding set.

Lastly, you will need an amplifier to actually power the turntable and bring sound to the speakers. Some turntables will come with an amplifier, but it’s always best to check.

You can also get accessories such as anti-static cleaning cloths for cleaning the records and PVC sleeves to protect the records, but these are all optional.

The Benefits

One of the main benefits to buying vinyl records is the quality of sound that you get as apposed to the digital sound that we’re all used to.

When listening to a record, there is certain clarity to the sound and you can often hear small little musical details in the background that you may not have noticed on the digital version. Listeners have also previously said that it feels like you can actually hear the artists playing their instruments, with the sound popping off the record.

Another benefit to owning a physical copy of an album is being able to appreciate the album artwork and inserts, being on a bigger scale than a CD. A lot of effort goes into the production and creation of an album and the artwork is a big feature. Being able to read through the lyrics and look at the artwork up close will give you a new appreciation for an album.

Putting on a vinyl record will make you appreciate an album more in general, making you want to listen to it as a whole piece.

We generally have a short attention span in this digital age, and that extends into our music listening. With millions of songs at our fingertips, the value of a song can often get lost and we are prone to just listening to the singles from an album.

With records, you can sit down and appreciate the album as it was intended to be listened to, as a whole piece.

The Costs

Your average vinyl record can cost from around £15 – £30, depending on the size of the record. Most new releases will cost that much, but you’ll have to pay a bit more for limited presses or special boxsets.

Vinyl records might cost a little more than the average CD, but the benefits you get speak for themselves. Be warned though, as you’re going to get addicted.

You can find a beginner record player like a Crosley for around £60 – £80, but you can find a good turntable and speakers combination for about £150. We recommend spending the extra cash and investing in a set up that will last you for a while.

You can find a wide selection of vinyl records and equipment at HMV at The Harvey Centre.

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