How to Start Collecting Vinyl Records, Cheap

How to Start Collecting Vinyl Records, Cheap

 

Maybe you’re sick of the sterile ones ‘n zeroes feel of downloads. Maybe you think vinyl is just—cool. Whatever your reason, record collecting is a great way to enjoy and discover music and—despite how things appear at first glance—an affordable hobby to get into.

The Current Vinyl Record Scene

BeatleswhitealbumVinyl records are enjoying a huge renaissance. In the UK, The Guardian reports sales of records are up 69% in a year, while players have enjoyed a full 240% increase. In the U.S., 9.2 million vinyl records were sold last year, the highest since SoundScan began keeping track  of vinyl in 1991. Almost any album that gets anything near a wide release these days is available on vinyl.

 

For vinyl fans, experienced or new to the format, the popularity is a mixed blessing. The benefits include a wider selection of new records to buy, including both contemporary music and rereleases of classic albums from legendary artists of the last century like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin. The downside is one often seen in collectables markets—sharp and fast increases in price on used vinyl, and speculators looking to exploit the rising demand.

The Player

First, you’ll need something to listen to your records on. When you’re just getting started, there’s not much reason to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on anything fancy—although that doesn’t mean you don’t have choices.

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My Sony PS-LX250H turntable, $45 in a local thrift store, with Sony home theater amp that cost $40 with subwoofer and 8 speakers.

If you want something all-in-one and easy to purchase that you can take out of the box and just start listening to records, a player like the Jensen JTA-230 might be for you. I don’t have experience with it specifically, but it’s the top seller on Amazon and in the range of $55 it’s probably not a bad deal. This  model has speakers built in, but also RCA line-out if you want to connect it to a receiver or whatever audio setup you have.

I like having a real, standalone, automatic turntable. I find this is the best way to listen to my albums. There are plenty of options that fit the bill, and I offer the Audio Technica AT-LP60 as an example of one I think is reasonably priced at around $100. An automatic turntable like this allows you to put a record on, push a button, and the needle will drop itself and do the rest, and reset itself when a side is done playing. To use a turntable like this you’ll need to connect it to a receiver/amplifier with speakers, although if you have a TV you can run your sound through its speakers by connecting it the same way you would a DVD player or other device.

You can also go the route of buying a used turntable.  Your area’s Craigslist is always worth having a look at, but you might also get lucky trying a thrift store. Some record stores offer used or refurbished hardware at reasonable prices. Whatever option you select, it’s always worth looking into as many of these possibilities as you can so that you know the market and what’s a reasonable price to pay. Also, always (always!) test a used record player before you buy it—you can save yourself a some real headaches by doing so.

Remember: occasionally replacing the needle is necessary on any turntable. A needle should last you for about 500 hours of music. When a record in perfectly good condition seems to be giving you distortion or otherwise wrong sound, it’s time for a new needle. My personal view is: if you’re wondering if it’s time for a new needle, it’s time for a new needle.

Where to Buy Records…

The short answer to this question is—anywhere that sells records. What that means in practice is knowing your area and where best will fit your specific goals. Since we’re thinking with our wallet here, we’ll start with perhaps the cheapest option.

Thrift Stores

This includes places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Savers/Value Village, and a host of local places in most areas. Not all stores like these have a record selection, and the selection and quantity can be night and day from one store to another. But if you’re willing to shop around and put a little work in on a regular basis, you will occasionally find things that are amazing. Unfortunately, most of what thrift stores have tend to be records few people want, often with scratches. But at a market price of $1-$3 each, it’s very worth digging through these to find records you have even a vague interest in. Part of the fun in collecting vinyl is discovering new music, and this is a great price to do it at. After a few weeks of thrifting, you’ll see your shelves begin to fill with records and you’ll also learn (again, without risking a huge investment) the finer points of a record’s condition, such as the difference between light wear with little effect on playback and the kind of scratching that make something not worth buying, even for just a dollar. Experience is the only reliable teacher for this.

Record Stores

Record stores, like most small businesses, come in all different varieties. There’s no real generalizing about them other than to say that they vary, and it’s worth exploring all the ones you can find in your area. Some record stores are full of reasonably priced discs and may even have deals better than you’ll find online, and many have discount sections with prices comparable to those in the thrift stores. Others sell their products for seemingly double what the market value appears to be. There’s also the questions of selection, atmosphere, friendliness, etc. A good starting point in learning your area is Yelp, but I recommend seeing each store for yourself rather than just going by the reviews there. I have found that someone else’s impression of a place isn’t always the same as my own. Different people want different things from businesses like these, but when you find your favorite record store, you’ll know it.

TIP: If you have a smartphone, The Vinyl District makes a great app for finding stores in your area, though always double check on Yelp or Google to make sure the store hasn’t closed, as the information is sometimes slow to update.

Shopping for Records Online

Here, all the same rules about comparing prices apply, with the added consideration of shipping costs. For brand new vinyl, Amazon tends to underprice its competitors and offer attractive shipping deals, and also often offers Autorip, a service where buying the physical record automatically grants you access to the same album as a download. For used records, eBay and Discogs are usually your best bets. Buying used online can be tricky because grading quality for scratches and the like is so subjective, so it’s a must to verify what you’re getting before you buy it. Buying from sellers with strong feedback ratings is highly recommended.

Have Fun

The best reason to start a record collection is for your own enjoyment. Records may be very popular and command high prices today, but as with all collectable markets that become suddenly hot, there will come a day where demand fades and prices fall. This was true for comic books, baseball cards, and Beanie Babies, and vinyl records won’t be an exception. The only way secure the value of your collection against disappointment is to make that value a personal one—buy albums you want to own, for prices you believe they’re worth. In the long term, this is the only kind of value that can be counted on to last.

 

Step by Step Oscar Night Recap: I Didn’t Watch

In my home of Los Angeles, Oscar mania has been raging for over a week. It’s been practically raining stars! But literally raining rain, for several days. Both phenomenons were making driving more difficult in Hollywood, and it all led up to last night’s broadcast of the 86th Academy Awards! Who would win? Who would go home without a trophy? What would they wear? The show started at 7pm EST, and here’s a recap of the night’s highlights.

Jared Leto

Wow, that broad needs a shave!

4pm PST—I went to Vons to pick up some supplies for dinner. I bought chicken, and parmesan cheese but only because it was on sale. When I was backing out to leave, an old man in a  Grand Marquis abruptly backed out of his space and lingered for a while in front of my car, as though he had forgotten what he was doing. I became agitated, and said “Move it, you fucking corpse!” I said this only to myself, and not out the window or anything. I felt no guilt. WINNER for most clever attack on a possible WWII veteran: Me

5pm PST—I did some writing, but felt unsatisfied. I began to suspect I might technically qualify as a non-genius. I tabled the issue, and ran the dishwasher.

6pm PST—I realized the garbage gets picked up tomorrow, so I dragged the barrel out of the garage and into the alley. Then I remembered that there was a disgusting rubbermaid container on the patio full of tree waste that has been filling with rain for several days, and now emitted what I would call a “swamp smell.” After a half-hearted attempt to drain it, I dropped the entire container into the trash barrel, and hoped that the city would be willing to take it away in this form.

7pm PST—I decided I should like to eat Frozen Yogurt after dinner, so I made a trip down to Yogurtland. There was an unruly man with several children ahead of me, and they sure moved slowly. He kept scolding his kids for various reasons, but he didn’t really raise his voice, proving he had more restraint than the men of my family. He seemed perpetually out of breath. I chose to mix Peanut Butter and Cookies ‘n Cream, and got cookie dough bites as a topping.

8pm PST—Realizing the Oscars were going on, I checked the updated winners list online. Jared Leto had won for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” I hadn’t really enjoyed that movie, though it was okay. I decided to concern myself with something more engaging, so I started boiling water to cook rice.

830 PST—I ate Spanish rice, into which I mixed some spinach, and two chicken breasts. I felt full, and couldn’t finish all of the rice on my plate. I felt the anticipation building for the big moment that would come later in the night, and hoped my body would sufficiently digest my dinner to such an extent that I would be hungry for froyo.

9pm PST—I looked at Amazon Prime movies, and they were mostly bad. I settled for “Hannibal”, a film that went completely overlooked by the Academy in 2001. Quickly it became apparent that the film was much more enjoyable when I saw it as an 18 year old. I pondered whether Ridley Scott had an earnest belief that awful post-production slow motion is good technique, or if it was simply more acceptable to employ this device in 2001.

10pm PST—I felt hungry enough to eat the frozen yogurt, so I did. But first I let it thaw for a few minutes. Hannibal Lecter  fed Ray Liotta some of his own brain, but my appetite had no reaction. I thought about how if someone asked me outright, I might think to lie and say I was grossed out by it, disgusted even, while I was trying to enjoy eating something. But no, not so. I like eating under almost any circumstances. I was a little put off when, in a subsequent scene, Lecter took out a tupperware container on an airplane, revealing some of Liotta’s brain inside—but only because leftover, cold meat is always on some level a disappointment.

11pm PST—I read the Oscar results online, and had no reaction. I didn’t care who won and who didn’t, but I didn’t want to risk being out of the loop in subsequent days. Several sites offered a write-up recapping the performance of host Ellen DeGeneres, the comedy bits, the musical numbers, etc—but I read none of these.

1115 PST—I thought this might be a good idea for a blog post, so I started writing it.

1130 PST—Reaching the end of this entry, I was unhappy with the result and didn’t really see it as having any value.

1131 PST—I began to reconsider the direction my life is taking.