Vinyl Redux

The REGA RP-1 is the starter turntable of choice for today's audiophileThe holiday season seems to be a trigger for music lovers to dust off their turntables and return to those days long before downloaded music. Many of us never gave up our vinyl addiction, I picked up a couple dozen new albums just the other day. You’ll still find new displays of vinyl LPs appearing in most record stores as vinyl sales enjoy a current growth rate of 29% a year according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The growth is fantastic but it is still less than a single percent of total global music sales. Nonetheless, there is a growing interest in rediscovering vinyl, and for the newest generation, many are discovering it for the first time.

Proper cleaning and maintenance is a must to preserve your vinyl collection.If you are going to dive into your existing record collection you will need to literally dust it off. Record care and cleaning products are still readily available and can range from basic $20 brushes with carbon fibre bristles to motorized vacuum pump models that sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars. The needle (stylus) also requires cleaning as dust in the record grooves get picked up and accumulate. A good stylus cleaner needs to use solvent and a stiff bristle. Make sure your record cleaning products are specifically designed for records. Don’t use household cleaners, alcohol or cloths for cleaning your collection.

One of the challenges of playing records today is that most home theatre (or even stereo) receivers and amplifiers are missing a dedicated “phono” input. A phonograph produces about one-tenth the electrical voltage of a cd player or other audio sources. You will need a phono “pre-amplifier” that boosts the signal level of the phonograph while applying special frequency equalization. At one time, every amplifier was equipped with a phono pre-amplifier. However, as phonographs fell into oblivion the unnecessary circuitry was removed from amplifiers to reduce cost. Most modern amplifiers will require and external phono preamplifier to play back your phonograph Thankfully, out-board phono preamplifiers are readily available and can be used with any turntable and amplifier. The cost of an outboard phono preamp begins at $80.00 and can run up to many thousands depending on quality. Some phono preamps also allow you to digitize your records via USB with help of computer software.

If your adventure into vinyl requires you to acquire a turntable, there are plenty of choices in new tables and a huge wealth of used turntables available. Many turntables 30 years or older can be easily resurrected. An old Dual belt drive turntable is the garage sale find of choice for an aspiring record collectorIf you are scouring garage sales, I would recommend looking for proven belt-drive units from manufactures like Dual, Linn, Thorens or Rega. Typically, with a replacement belt, some set up, and a new phono cartridge, these turntables can perform like new. Try to avoid direct drive turntables from the mainstream Japanese brands. While they may be more readily available on the used market, they do not sound as good as the European belt-drive designs. Another potential problem is that the quartz speed control circuits and motors themselves can fail with age. Belt-drive turntables have proven to be a much better choice in terms of sound quality and durability.

Similar advice applies if you’re on the hunt for a new turntable. You can still buy belt-drive turntables built in Germany or the UK. The Dual turntables begin at $350 for a fully automatic belt-drive model and the Rega turntables begin at $450.00. These are heirloom grade products that will perform at their best for thirty or more years.

Dust off that collection of records and take your favourite album for a spin. Listening to vinyl is fun and often a trip down memory lane. I can still remember when and where I bought most of the records in my collection. I can’t make that claim for anything I’ve downloaded.

The Linn LP-12 Turntable continues to defined the state of the art in turntable design