The Magic Of The Vinyl Record
Vinyl records are considered among the original storage media that took the world by storm decades ago. Today, even though we have the CD, MP3, DVD, Blue ray, etc., vinyl records continue to charm everyone. Musicians and fans alike are passionate about having their music recorded on vinyl records. In spite of the popularity and convenience of streaming and MP3 and online downloads where you can carry with you thousands of songs in your pocket, Vinyl records still have a solid fan following among those who cherish them as well as among those who have just discovered them. The exciting full length LPs of the ‘60s and ‘70s are attracting young and old alike. So read up below on the vinyl basics and get started.
A great thing, as far as music companies are concerned, about vinyl records, is that you cannot download them illegally. Many of today’s music artists are releasing their music on vinyl records in addition to CD and MP3 formats. Record labels also throw in free MP3 downloads with these albums so that the generation next can enjoy both – great sound at home with the vinyl and also carry their music as MP3 when they are mobile.
Vinyls are especially attractive for their unusual shapes and artistic design and current presentations are geared to appeal to the current listeners. New records are available at around $ 14. Amazingly you can expect to get used LPs, depending on its condition, for as little as a penny. If it is a collectible, there are avid collectors who will not hesitate to part with thousands of dollars to acquire it, particularly if it is autographed by the artist.
But Why Do People Collect Vinyl Records?
There are several reasons why people collect vinyl records. For some, it is an obsession – the thrill of getting hold of that rare record they have always wanted. There are garage sales, flea markets, rummage sales etc where records are sold all over America. Album art covers are major collectibles among fans. There are classics like the Beatles’, Janis Joplin, and Led Zeppelin etc. that are considered great treasures. There are 45-rpm vinyl record sleeves that are considered more valuable than the actual vinyl record. These sleeves are majestically framed, displayed or just lovingly preserved.
Some also see vinyl records as an investment. On websites like eBay, millions of vinyl records are auctioned off each year. The most appealing thing about a vinyl record is its sound quality and then, of course there is the appreciation in value over time. Many people collect vinyl for its nostalgia value too. Limited editions are especially sought after, with colored vinyl, picture discs, 180-220 gram audiophile records, and album artwork coming close behind. So it is not really surprising that today’s generation also finds vinyl records as appealing as those who might have been crazy about them in the 1960’s or 70’s.
Vinyl record trading is major business today. On eBay alone, you will find something like six thousand collectible Beatles’ albums for sale – all being sold for huge amounts. Artists like the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin are the most preferred along with Motown records, blues recordings, jazz, punk and vinyl from other genres as well. Artists like John Lennon and Peter Buck of REM own massive collections that include rare, original vinyl records.
Vinyl Records – Some Features
When vinyl records were first introduced, they were seen as the unbreakable alternative to the shellac records that would easily break. Incidentally, vinyl records are popular not just because they can be reproduced or stored easily; the record covers and sleeves were also considered highly collectible too. It was possible to compile songs on 12-inch discs called albums. Small connections were compiled on EP or extended play records.
Now lets look at some of the characteristics of vinyl records and get to know them better:
Speed: You will generally find vinyl records at speeds of 16, 33, 45 and 78 rpm or rotations per minute. This basically means that these records must be played at that speed on the turntable to listen to the music the way it is meant to sound. Actually the 16 and 78 records were made decades ago at a time when there was no standard record size and are rather rare today. You will most likely come across the 33 and 45 RPM vinyl records.
Size: Vinyl records can be of 7, 10 or 12 inches where 7 and 10 inches are usually used in single play or SP recordings or singles. The 12-inch discs are the LPs or long playing records.
Time: this is a combination of the vinyl record’s size and speed because they determine the amount of music on the disc. If size is small and rpm is high, the record will spin faster. LP records play for longer – for over 25 minutes per side, making for roughly 50 minutes of music. All LPs are 33 rpm and 12-inch records. The SP or single play records usually have around two songs per side and are 7 inches with 45 rpm. So you’ll get about 6 minutes of music each side. There are maxi SP records that are 12 inch SPs and these are usually used in songs that run to twelve minutes a side. 10 inch SPs are uncommon. There are 33 rpm SPs, though.
Material: You might assume that vinyl records are black in color, but some record companies do release limited edition color vinyl records that can be red, gray, white, blue, purple, etc. In fact you may even come across colorless see-through records. While there’s barely any difference in sound when you compare the color vinyl with the black, some people feel that color tends to get damaged more easily than black. Quite a few DJs use color vinyl to release their work. As we mentioned earlier, you will also find picture discs. Picture discs essentially have a picture or some kind of art on the sides rather than the plain black. These come in see-through covers so that the art is visible. These used to be rare and limited editions, although these days they are easily available.
Mass: A vinyl record’s mass plays a crucial role in the way it plays. Almost all SPs come with the same mass. LPs weigh 120 grams, though some audiophile vinyl records are heavier and could be even 200 grams. You can safely assume that the heavier the record, the more its volume since the grooves are deeper and so, sounds a lot better. These also do not damage easily. Incidentally, most foreign 45-rpm singles were vinyl pressings while the US records are pressed on plastic.
How Vinyl Records Are Graded:
Vinyl records and covers are graded to describe the condition they are in. There is no actual standard as such. However, the following terminology is used popularly:
- Mint or M – brand new with all album extras intact
- Excellent or Ex – almost new, rarely played. Could have slightly worn cover
- Very good or VG – used record, but in great condition and good sound quality. Possibly some scratching but no major defects
- Good or G – slightly lower sound quality due to frequent playing, possibly with scratches and scuffed cover.
- Fair or F – a just about playable record with a damaged cover. Can probably be restored
- Poor or P – not good sound quality, damaged cover, barely playable from the scratching
- Bad or B – broken or almost impossible to play record
Often the record’s edition makes an impact. For those who are not keen on seriously looking around, there are the new releases. The best thing is a record company that releases new vinyl record pressings from the master tapes of an album for the best sound quality.
Quite a few records were released in the 50’s and 60’s were mono recordings and later released again as stereo records. Monos are quite rare since all later editions were stereo.
What Equipment Do You Need To Play Vinyl?
Once you get hold of vinyl records, you would basically need a turntable, an amp and speakers. The earlier model turntables have all the necessary features like speakers, amps and RCA jacks built in. The speakers connect to the amp to complete the sound system. Turntables are generally component type hi-fi equipment where you would need to connect an external amplifier or receiver. If there is no phono input on your turntable you will need to buy a phono preamp.
Vinyl, MP3s and CDs
There is no getting away from the fact that vinyl records have a charm all their own that is impossible to duplicate. MP3s are certainly easier to carry around since you can fit a massive collection into a hand held player. MP3s are definitely convenient. But then, nothing can compare to the joy of holding and playing a rare vinyl record. There’s a thrill when you slide it out of its sleeve and listen to all the crackles, pops and hisses that only add to the excitement. Ask any vinyl record collector. Record sleeves alone give rise to a variety of feelings with their innovative design. It is a fact that the sense of adventure you feel with vinyl is simply lacking with MP3s or CDs.
Vinyl records have a far warmer sound compared to MP3s, CDs and digital downloads. With MP3 if the compression has been done in a low-resolution format, then it could sound tinny.
Apart from the above, vinyl records come with extra perks. The album art, pullout photos, and even full size posters are big attractions. In fact, the alternative rock genre vinyl records actually had 16 page booklets that were big collectibles. You will also find bonus tracks on some LPs that you wont find on the CD version, which is definitely extra value. Most of all, vinyl records are more socially interactive as you can see, feel and relate with their physical presence with your friends while enjoying the music.
The good news, naturally, is that you can actually get your vinyl records on to your computer hard drive with a turntable. This turntable lets you plug and play into your computer with a USB interface to produce sound files identical to the vinyl recordings. You can then transfer them to your iPod and carry them around or just enjoy them from your pc.
Where Can You Buy Vinyl Records?
You can find vinyl records at your local music store, flea markets, thrift shops, garage or rummage sales, etc. Online, on eBay, there are plenty of mass sellers who auction them. The best bets are collectors who sell from their collection since they are usually in the best condition.
Looking After Your Vinyl Record Collection
You should always store your vinyl records in a vertical standing position on a shelf. Do not ever stack them horizontally as they will damage the discs and the covers because of the weight. Vinyl records must be stored in a moisture free place. It goes without saying that they must not be exposed to sunlight or cigarette smoke as they could get warped. Thus – in short – vinyl records must be kept free from heat and moisture. Preferably handle your records by only touching the edge or center where the label is. Avoid touching the grooves.
Records can be cleaned with a soft micro fiber cloth to keep them free from dust and dirt. Your turntable’s stylus must also be occasionally cleaned with a stylus brush according to the instructions that came with your equipment. And of course, your record covers and sleeves must also be taken care of. Keep your album covers in a plastic sleeve – who knows, you might be sitting on a fortune! There are collectors who frame their rare album covers beautifully to display them as wall art.
Popular Vinyl Genres
Currently, the most popular vinyl genres, according to Amazon, which sells something like 150,000 titles across more than twenty genres on vinyl, are alternative rock and classic rock. The high-resolution vinyl format has a huge fan following. You will find vinyl in almost all genres – some sites specialize in selling modern jazz, bebop, pre ’75 R&B, psychedelic, Motown, blues, soul, funk, progressive rock and so on. The most popular classic rock artists are the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, etc. The most loved soul artists on vinyl are James Brown, Funkadelic, quite a few Motown and Stax labels, psychedelic artists and British invasion groups. Most collectors go for are blues, jazz, classic rock and classical records.
The great thing about vinyl records is that they are a part of the unforgettable rock and roll age and a cherished part of pop culture. Collecting, storing, restoring and preserving of vinyl records is like actually having a piece of the artist, the music and the memory of times gone by. In addition to this, it is a fact that vinyl sounds truly genuine. Because of the way it is recorded, vinyl brings a warm sound reproduction that is unmatched by digital MP3s or CDs. Vinyl is certainly here to stay.