Getting Started in Analog . . . Again
Tired of buying used? Classic Records offers these as
well as other well-known titles as brand-new, high-quality viny pressings.
The whole thing started with my local public radio
stations annual Recycled Music Sale, where listeners can pick up old LPs for a
dollar apiece. CDs, which are in short supply, go for four dollars a pop. Id
attended previous Recycled sales but had never bought much because I didnt have a
turntable. This year I decided to correct that situation.
The idea was to build a library of music I wouldnt
have bought otherwise -- stuff I would never spend $10 to $20 on because I knew nothing
about it. The goal was to keep the average cost per album at or below a dollar. But what
to play it on?
Years ago, I had a nice AR turntable with a decent
cartridge. That wouldve made a terrific source component for my newfound vinyl, but,
alas, my ex gave it away years ago when I didnt have a place for it. I went looking
for a direct replacement but discovered that good used examples were going for between
$200 and $500. Eek! No, I was looking for a cheap turntable. Besides, that seemed
an awful lot to pay for a table that 20 years ago cost only $300!
I looked around at new turntables, and there were a few
that didnt look too bad in the $150-$300 range, but this was still more than I
wanted to spend -- after all, I didnt know how well my little experiment would work
out. I looked around on Audiogon.com and AudioWeb.com, and then, on eBay, came across an
old Sanyo direct-drive turntable complete with Shure cartridge for $56 delivered. To this
I added an inexpensive phono preamp for $24.
I didnt expect much for $81, but Ive been
pleasantly surprised. The table is in good but not perfect shape. It needed some
cleaning, and the dustcover has the scratches to be expected in a table this old.
The manual cueing lever doesnt work -- it probably just needs a little fluid -- but
everything else operates flawlessly. The whole thing emits a fair amount of static through
the speakers right up to the point where the stylus hits the disc, after which the noise
floor drops well below anything thats audible over the music.
I spent a little time tweaking the Sanyo, getting it level
and slightly adjusting the stylus tracking force. After that I settled in for a little
music and was stunned at how good the whole setup sounded. Sure, a lot of my Recycled
Music records are a little noisy. However, Im betting that if you were 30 or 40
years old and had never been given a bath, youd be a little noisy too. Or maybe it
would just be the people around you. Either way, vinyl will never be as convenient or as
hassle-free as the compact disc. An analog music collection requires regular care and
feeding. A preemptive dusting before playing and an occasional wash will help preserve a
long, happy relationship with your vintage music collection.
Which brings up another point: Youll need a couple of
housekeeping items to add to your system. I use the Hunt EDA brush ($25) for regular
dusting and the Allsop Orbitrac 2 wet-clean system ($40) for heavy-duty jobs. It seems
that everyone has his or her favorites, but these are inexpensive, require no additional
machinery, and are reasonably effective. Some of the records youll find will be real
messes, so be prepared to go through cleaning supplies fairly quickly. I use an older
Orbitrac pad for cleaning really grungy records the first time, to preserve the pad I use
for regular cleaning. A pack of replacement sleeves for LPs whose original sleeves have
split wouldnt be a bad idea either. My little corner of the world includes a
used-record store, so youd think I couldve bought all this stuff from them. No
such luck. I ended up ordering it all online.
Before I go any further, if you dont already, you
should know that many retailers use Goldmine magazines record-condition
rating system, or some version thereof. Knowledge of this system can prove very useful in
finding copies of the albums youre looking for in above-average condition. The
ratings can be applied to both the record and the jacket, though the rating for the disc
itself is obviously more important. Heres how it works:
Mint (M): Perfect. Its never been played and
may still be sealed.
Near Mint (NM or M-): Nearly perfect. The record
surface should still be shiny and show no obvious signs of wear.
Very Good Plus (VG+): The record will show some wear
and may have scuffs or very light scratches that dont affect playback.
Very Good (VG): Surface noise, groove wear, and
light scratches will be present.
Good (G), Good Plus (G+): The record will play, but
surface noise and heavier scratches will be noticeable.
Poor (P), Fair (F): The record wont play
In my opinion, unless a record is something you really want
and cant find otherwise, you should forget about anything rated below Very Good or
maybe Good Plus.
When the Recycled Music Sale came around, I walked away
with 70 albums in various states of preservation. Most are Very Good to Near Mint and all
are very playable, but I had to check as I dug through the bins -- some records looked as
if theyd been used as Frisbees for the last 30 years. Others looked as if
theyd never been played. I picked up a handful of Deutsche Grammophon LPs from the
late 1970s that were nearly perfect. I noticed that for records of the same relative age,
classical records were generally in the best shape, followed by jazz and blues, and last
by rock and country. By the time you get to the last two genres, you may have to search
long and hard to find older stuff thats in passable condition.
But Im not limiting myself to just music-sale finds.
Ive picked up several good to great albums from used-record stores for anything from
$1 to $15. The $15 purchase, the Grateful Deads Europe 72 three-disc
set, was in pretty good shape overall. My wife, a Deadhead from way back, was thrilled.
Because I spend a lot of time in Chicago these days, one of my favorite places to shop is
the Jazz Record Mart, at the corner of Wabash and Grand, just two blocks off the
Magnificent Mile. This is probably one of the best sources in the country for jazz and
blues LPs and CDs, with mountains of used records, a handful of new ones, and the deepest
collection of jazz on CD that Ive seen anywhere. If you love jazz and youre in
Chicago, you really need to stop by the Jazz Record Mart and explore the stacks.
My third source has been eBay, and what a source its
been! In a few months Ive added to my fledgling collection more than 200 records, in
several small lots, for a delivered total price of just under $200. Ive set a few
rules for myself for purchasing via eBay:
- Look closely at the sellers feedback scores to see if
theyre someone you want to do business with. Bypass anyone with low or no feedback.
- Dont tolerate high shipping fees. You have to watch
this; some people want $6 per LP to ship via Media Mail, which is robbery.
- Look closer at lots where the seller has individually rated
every album. I figure if the seller cares enough to rate each album, then Ive got a
better chance that theyll be in decent shape. So far, this has held mostly true.
- Set a dollar limit and stick to it. New lots come up every
day; theres no need to buy the first ones you come across.
Be prepared for the fact that a fairly high percentage of
what you purchase will turn out to be something you hate. Youll also get the
occasional album that isnt in as good condition as was claimed. Because most sellers
on eBay inspect records only visually, you have to expect some of this, but most are
careful because they dont want negative feedback. Fortunately, the occasional bad
record is balanced by others that are in nearly perfect condition.
My little experiment with cheap music has gone much better
than I could have hoped for. Of the 300 or so LPs in my newly developed collection,
Ive found perhaps three dozen that I love and about as many that I hate. The rest
fall somewhere in between. The ones I hate have been set aside to be donated to the public
radio station for the next Recycled Music Sale. That leaves me with more than 250 LPs for
a total cost, including equipment, of less than the purchase price of 30 new CDs. In my
book, thats a great deal.
If youve ever thought about getting back into analog,
I wholeheartedly recommend it. Plenty of decent, used turntables and LPs are available
from a variety of sources, so you wont have to spend a small fortune to get started.
My bet is that, somewhere along the way, youll discover loads of music you would
never have heard if youd had to pay full price for new CDs.
It used to be that you were more likely to find us watching
a movie in our spare time than anything else. With the addition of the turntable to our
audio system and a constant supply of new music, these days were more often in the
listening room spinning some old Harry James, Junior Wells, or perhaps a little Schubert.
When I first started down this path, I wasnt sure that it made any sense at all.
Today, Id call it a no-brainer.
...Jeff Van Dyne