By SEBASTIAN HEGMAR | March 1, 2020
Illustration by Rania Djojosugito
There are tons of record stores in Amsterdam, where people of all ages are digging in the crates to find their favorite albums (myself included). You can attribute this to the vinyl revival, which started back in 2007. Maybe you also want to purchase a turntable and start your very own collection? Perhaps your life is lacking some old-school flavor? I get it. I’ve been there. My journey down this rabbit hole started around three years ago with little to no consideration about anything. Nonetheless, there are in fact some crucial aspects of the vinyl hustle which you should keep in mind before finally dropping the needle. Let’s get started.
Vinyl records are cool, let’s just get that out of the way. They have this hipster/vintage aesthetic to them which a pair of brown corduroy pants can only dream of living up to. Everything about it screams culturally inclined music aficionado who works in a tech startup and resides in NDSM. Taking the record out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable, pressing play, lowering the tonearm and eventually flipping it over is simply mesmerizing. As a result, you’re more likely to hear the music from beginning to end – presumably how the artists intended you to appreciate their work. Therefore, it acts as a refreshing substitute to streaming services by offering the listener something tangible. Simply studying the album cover up close as the record spins in the background makes me all giddy inside. Every now and then you will find extra artwork inside of the packaging, which makes it all the more special. And while they’re not being played, I suggest putting them on the wall to personalize your room. All of this truly adds a different level of enjoyment to your favorite albums.
That being said, the vinyl route, unfortunately, has a few roadblocks on the way. First of all, your setup and LP’s will take up a considerable amount of precious space in your not-so-luxurious 13-square-meter student accommodation. Don’t be shocked if you have to sacrifice an area fit for something more “important” like a desk, couch or storage cabinet. And let’s not forget that buying all the right equipment from scratch (no pun intended) is super expensive. A turntable is not enough; you need to consider the amplifier, preamplifier, speakers, accessories and more. Going for the cheaper all-in-one alternatives that you can find in places like Urban Outfitters is sadly not advisable. They generate a poor sound quality and can damage the grooves of your records, essentially ruining them. As if that wasn’t enough, the LP’s themselves are also pricey, with new releases usually going for €30–40. It can be difficult to justify spending such crazy amounts when you already have the entire world’s music catalogue in your pocket. Buying only second hand is also an option, of course, but that will massively restrict your freedom of choice.
But what about the sound quality? Many people claim that vinyl records offer a richer and warmer depth to the music. Surely that must be true right? I have honestly not experienced this to be the case, at least not for contemporary music. An in-depth piece appropriately titled “The Inconvenient Truth About Vinyl” elaborates on this topic further. Many records also vary in sound quality because of the mastering process, vinyl pressing or the setup on which they are being played. It can, therefore, be hard to determine what the source of the problem is. I have purchased many albums that, for whatever reason, ended up sounding a bit off – most notably in vocals. A common issue has to do with ‘sibilance’ which means that words with sharp ‘s-sounds’ get distorted (I’ve found this to be extra noticeable when listening to rap albums). Some albums also decline in sound quality towards the end of each side; this is because of an issue called ‘inner-groove distortion.’ Personally, I can’t stand listening to it, but some people don’t care because it’s just part of the experience, man. The bottom line is this: if you are an audiophile who values super crisp and clean audio at all times, vinyl records are definitely not for you.
There are seemingly endless streams of theories, rules, tips and troubleshooting procedures in the vinyl community. This is a recipe for a mental breakdown if you’re a frickin’ nerd like me. A bad habit I have is spending way too much time researching stupid things like this. And by researching, I mean watching YouTube videos, reading blog posts, going through dated forum threads and asking questions to store personnel. It never ends. If you have a similar type of personality, I would honestly advise you to steer away from the vinyl grind altogether. The time you spend learning about whether 200g LP’s outperform their 180g counterpart is simply not worth it. In my opinion, enjoying the music should be your main priority.
I would assume that my stance is pretty clear. Try not to listen to people who do nothing but romanticize vinyl records all day long, which can get, to be honest, a bit cringy. Truthfully, it would be wisest for most people to simply stick with streaming services and go on with their twenty-first-century lives. That being said, don’t let my opinion stop you from going all-in if you still have the itch to do so. Just know that you are essentially buying a feeling and an aesthetic, not an objectively superior way of listening to music. But that’s okay. Most people aren’t buying clothes just for the functionality of covering their bodies; they’re buying clothes for what they represent and look like. Most people aren’t buying expensive wines to get drunk, but to appreciate the history that comes with it. Why should this be treated as any different?