Record store culture can be intimidating. To help you navigate through the cult of vinyl, we started For the Record(s), written by local podcaster and vinyl collector Jared Duran. Check out the introduction here and enjoy this edition on getting the perfect turntable for your budget.
There's a time in every record collector's life when some audiophile will talk down to you about your stereo.
They mean well (sometimes), but really, they're a dick. They'll throw words like "richness," “texture,” “velvety,” as if they’re describing a sofa or a fucking tracksuit. Most of us will never find ourselves in a situation where we can listen to a stereo at a volume sufficient enough to know how “buttery” a record sounds.
But does it matter how your stereo sounds when you're sitting on your kitchen floor on a Sunday afternoon, heartbroken, drinking a cheap bottle of wine, listening to Jeff Tweedy singing "Via Chicago,” and you’re about to spiral down into a deep hole of existential angst and despair?
Most people don’t have thousands of dollars to drop on a top of the line Technics turntable (over $1,500+), McIntosh pre-amp ($5,000), and a pair of vintage cabinet speakers (trust me, very pricy) - nor do they have the space to accommodate such a setup. What’s the use of having a massive stereo in a tiny apartment? It’s like owning a tank in the suburbs. You can, but why?
There’s no shame in owning a Crosley. I would argue that it’s a good way to start. Sometimes you just want something you can play records on in your room, and that’s what you can afford (or your mom got it for your birthday, and she really meant well).
This setup is a low-cost way to dip your toe in the water. If you change your mind, you haven’t lost much. You can’t go wrong spending a little more on a quality turntable, and if you find that you love listening to records, you should plan to upgrade.
Buying a turntable is not unlike buying a car in that you should always do your research and learn the lingo. For instance, know that most turntables do not have a built-in pre-amp, and the ones that do are often not great. You should also know the difference between belt-drive and direct-drive.
Do some reading up on phono cartridges. A good one makes a huge, noticeable difference. You can either buy a player based on the out-of-the-box cartridge or replace it with a better one. No need to be an expert, but you don’t want to be overwhelmed or intimidated.
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Should you have some coin to spare on your endeavor, find yourself a specialty shop. For example, there's Arizona Hi-Fi, and others are a Yelp search away. Be transparent regarding your budget. The reputation of these places is built on the loyal business of people who build and maintain their systems over time. They have no interest in fucking you over.
If you prefer shopping in your underwear, there are sites out there that will accommodate your predilection, including U-Turn and Pro-Ject. You can select from existing models or design your own. With base models starting under $200, this is a price-conscious option, but there's always a risk involved with buying something sight unseen, so be sure to read up before you rush in.
Do what makes you happy, or at least less miserable. My entire setup cost less than a grand, and I’ll tell you what—it sounds absolutely fantastic when I’m sitting alone on the kitchen floor on a Sunday afternoon, heartbroken, drinking cheap wine, and listening to Jeff Tweedy.