Getting Started in Vinyl

You want to get started in vinyl, or maybe back into it… what do you need?

Certain parts of this question may seem obvious, such as a turntable. There may be much more to the puzzle depending on what your goal is. There are several all in one turntables on the market, most notably Crosley units. I won’t get much into these products as we want to discus a higher level of listening. There is nothing wrong with an all in one table if you are looking for simplicity and convenience, they will play your vinyl just fine, however they will not have the sound quality of a well planned out system.

Let’s assume you want to put together a full system with idea of getting the most out of your records. There will be some minum requirements for this scenario. You will need at least the following:

  • Turntable
  • preamp with phono stage
  • amplifier
  • speakers

Turntables

When it comes to turntables there are hundreds of options, however we will break them into categories and the pros and cons of each. You can use that information to find one that fits your needs and budget.

  • Full Auto
    • direct drive
    • belt drive
      • The main benefit of full auto in either drive is that the turntable will que, play and return the tone arm for you. This will mitigate the chances of damaging your stylus. There aren’t many cons that come to mind, and these are usually recommended to beginners.
  • Full Manual
    • direct drive
    • belt drive
      • The main benefit to a manual table is upgradability. These tables are minimal and usually don’t have any mechanisms attached to the tone arm. In some cases this allows the user to upgrade individual components. These turntables will however require the user to do all the work.
  • Built in Phono
    • Each of the above categories may offer a built in phono stage which will allow you to hook your turntable directly to an amplifier, powered speakers or a computer. Be sure to check this option depending on your own needs.
  • Direct Drive vs Belt Drive.
    • this debate rages on, and likely will forever. Generally speaking I will always recommend a belt drive if you can find one that meets all the other criteria you are looking for and is in your price range.

A great option to look at when getting started is the used market. If you don’t want to unload your wallet on a turntable there are plenty on the used market. If you go this route also plan a new cartridge into the total price. You never know how the one thats on there was treated, when it was last cleaned if ever or how old it may be. There a plenty of cartridges that can be had for around 50 bucks from great brands such as Shure or Audio-Technica.


Preamp and Amplifier

Once you have a turntable picked out, the next piece of the puzzle is the preamp/amp. If the turntable you found has the preamp built in and you plan to use powered speakers you can skip over this section.

Many of today’s receivers have phono stage built in, this consolidates these components. If you plan do all separates you can pick up dedicated pre and power amps. Separates will almost always cost more but give the user more freedom to perfectly pair each component to the system getting the desired sound as well as power. I personally use a Marantz SR7009 AVR as my processor/preamp and a Nobsound 6P1 Tube power amp. There really are to many options in terms of manufactures and models for me to even begin to list recommendations. The best way to go about this is set a budget and find something with a preamp/phono/amp built in, referred to as an integrated amp. For a beginner these offer simplicity.


Speakers

The speakers you choose will based on a few criteria before we even get to what may sound best to you.
– Do they need to be powered or passive
– What impedance matches the available output of your amplifier
– Power requirements (wattage)
when you look at speakers these are crucial to consider as a miss match in any of these categories can cause damage to your equipment.
The next criteria to consider is size, which is dependent mostly on two things, room size and budget. In almost every scenario the bigger the speaker the bigger the price tag so keep this in mind. In small rooms it may seem obvious but smaller speakers work very well, just the same a pair of bookshelf speakers will not fill an auditorium with sound. Speakers should be auditioned in person whenever possible. Most decent audio stores have audition rooms set up and many will move speakers around to different rooms to best mimic your room at home when possible. The speaker will influence the sound more than any other single piece of equipment. Another aspect to consider is that many speakers sound better with certain types of music. A good example are Martin Logan’s that sound best for classical or very vocal music, where something from Cerwin Vega is great for bass heavy music. This brings us back to how import it is to listen and listen well to speakers in your short list before dropping serious money on a pair or more.


Now that you have all your components it’s time to get them all set up, for this portion it is best to simply read each items manual and follow those steps.

Some final accessories to consider for your setup are a Stylus cleaner, an anti static record brush and a record weight. With all that in hand you are ready to fully enjoy any and all the vinyl you can find.

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