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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Should you invest in a Record Player?

A record player and vinyl records. Jonas Hellebuyck/Flickr
A record player and vinyl records. Jonas Hellebuyck/Flickr

Should I get a record player? Chances are you’ve asked yourself that question while walking past a record shop or listening to records at a friend’s house. Or maybe you’ve thought about record collecting as a hobby to take up during quarantine. Either way, record players and vinyl collections are investments, and there are plenty of factors to consider when making your decision. 

Pro: A break from screens.

If you want to relax with some music without adding to the seven hours you already spend on screens every day, record players are great. No blue light whatsoever is involved in the process of removing a record from its sleeve, turning on the record player, and placing the needle on the vinyl surface. You’ll find taking time to set up the music makes listening a much more immersive experience than clicking a few buttons on your phone. Some even insist that records sound better than any other format. Building a record collection builds a personal connection to your music, especially if you own rare records or a physical copy of music that’s important to you. 

Con: Takes a while to set up.

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Every time you want to listen to a record, you need to walk over to your collection, find the right record, remove it from its sleeve, place it on the platter, turn on the record player, and lower the needle onto the record. You may even need to change the speed of the platter before you lower the needle. Then you have to stay put in the same room as your record player in order to hear the whole album. 

Sounds exhausting, right? I haven’t found this process to be terribly inconvenient, but if your music needs to be instantaneous and portable, then a record player probably isn’t for you. 

Pro: More appreciation for the album.

Music ends up on a vinyl record as tiny grooves that spiral inward towards the center of the disk. When you buy a record, you’re stuck with songs in the order they were pressed — the grooves aren’t going anywhere. Shuffling songs isn’t an option. If you want to skip a song, you have to pick up the needle and move it to the song you want to play instead. Yes, this inflexibility is a good thing. Records force the listener to hear entire albums from start to finish, every song in the order the artist intended. The album becomes a unique form of artistic expression since every part of the record, from the tracklist to the cover art to the liner notes to the color of the record, contribute to its message. 

Some records in history teacher Don Boehm’s collection. Rose Boehm/International Dateline

Colored vinyl. swimfinfan/Flickr

Con: Some music sounds bad on vinyl, and some isn’t on vinyl at all. 

If the song you’re looking for isn’t on any streaming platform on Earth, it’s generally because the song doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with vinyl. Most releases by both modern and classic popular artists are available on vinyl, but Frank Ocean and a few others are exceptions. Ocean’s records sell out during the pre-order phase and can be found for resale on eBay, where prices for his two studio albums on vinyl reach hundreds or thousands of dollars. 

A lot of older recordings exist as digitally-remastered vinyl, which can sound the same as or worse than music available on streaming services. So if you want the pure, analog sound of a pre-digital age, you’ll need to hunt down original records. These can be hard to find online, depending on what record you’re looking for. Some more obscure records were never released as remasters, making your search even harder. 

Contemporary records are generally mastered from a digital file, so while some modern music translates to great-sounding records, some sound mediocre or truly awful on vinyl. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk, for example, sounds rich and full of life, while I’ve found the vinyl version of Ctrl by SZA to be somewhat lackluster in comparison (but a terrific album nonetheless). There’s really no way to know how a newer album will sound on vinyl, unless someone plays the record for you before you buy it. 

Both pro and con: You own your music.

Streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music make you pay $9.99 to keep your music for another month. A record store owner will never make you give your records back after you’ve bought them. While Spotify and Apple Music each grant instant access to tens of millions of songs, records need to be collected over time. If you get sick of music quickly and easily, don’t get a record player; your records will eventually bore you and pile up. 

The average record takes $20-$40 from your wallet and 12 inches of shelf space. It can get scratched. It can warp if stored horizontally or stacked under other records. It can get dusty and require cleaning. It can get damaged by one of those terrible, cheap Crosley suitcase record players; the needle cartridge on Crosley players puts too much pressure on the surface of records, and the tonearms are often badly calibrated, so the player will scrape the sound out of your music collection. 

But if you take good care of your vinyl, you can keep it forever or hand it down to future generations, who will always associate that music with you. Records are a 12-inch reminder of who you were when you bought them or heard them for the first time. They’re a great way to showcase not only your music library itself but also the time and effort you put into curating it. And they force you to connect with the music you love on a level streaming will never achieve. 

A record needle tracing the grooves of a record. Jonas Smith/Flickr

So, should I get a record player?

Yes, if most of the pros appeal to you and most of the cons won’t bother you. If you like building collections and crave a personal connection to music, a record player is a great use of money. If you get tired of listening to the same music over and over again, if you value your extra storage space, or if you’re interested in a record player solely for aesthetic purposes, you probably won’t get great use out of your vinyl. 

I’ve had zero regrets about investing in a record player. I rarely get tired of records, if ever, and there are albums I can only listen to on vinyl because the Spotify versions are so inferior (Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, for example). Harder-to-find records will sometimes materialize at a record shop or on eBay at low prices, or I’ll receive them as gifts. Four years since I got my first records, I have yet to run low of storage space. 

There are plenty of great record players out there. On the cheaper end are players such as Audio-Technica AT-LP60; good  medium-priced turntables include Audio-Technica AT-LP3 and Sony PS-LX310BT; and more expensive players include Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Rega Planar 1. Of course, these are all relatively cheap by audiophile standards — plenty of record players are priced at over $1,000. 

It’s up to you to decide what matters most when you listen to music. But if you crave real engagement with the music you love, a record player is the way to go.

By Elise Naftulin

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    Jonas HellebuyckApr 19, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    Lovely picture!