Vinyl – Higher fidelity or novelty?

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Vinyl records have made a remarkable comeback in the past few years.

There is an undeniable “rightness” and warmth to the sound of a well made and played vinyl record, particularly when compared to compressed digital files (the vast majority of downloaded material) or disc players of limited quality (the majority of CD players in use). I get frequent inquiries regarding both new turntables and the repair and alignment of older equipment. There are some great new products available which bring high fidelity replay of LP’s well within reach of most people. Alternatively, there are good older turntables out there which are well worth a tune up, and which are capable decent sound with low record wear. So, basically, this is good news – affordable new and used equipment, lots of inexpensive used LP’s and many new LP’s, of both classic and new music.

But there is another side to this story. Vinyl LP’s are inherently different from the digital media which dominate the market (CD’s and downloads) in that they are delicate by nature. They are subject to wear when played improperly and need precision in the playback equipment to deliver the sound quality of which they are capable. I’ve dealt with a surprising number of people who have purchased or are considering new very low cost turntables of low quality, or have come across a poor quality used turntable. These are best avoided. They will not sound good (in some cases they won’t even reliably play through a complete record side), and they will excessively wear the LP as it is played. Even a single play using this type of machine can damage an LP. Given the irreplaceable nature of older, out of print LP’s and the cost of new vinyl, it makes no sense to use these turntables – it would be far better to download the music. These machines are essentially novelty devices – aimed at the current trendiness of LP’s, but bringing no sound advantage to the consumer.

In short, LP’s can provide great sound. If you have a decent turntable which hasn’t been adjusted for some time, have it evaluated by an experienced person. If necessary, invest in a new phono cartridge, and have a correct alignment done. If you don’t have an adequate turntable, don’t be tempted to play your LP’s on a machine which will damage them – consider a new turntable from a specialty manufacturer such as Pro-Ject or Rega. Verify that your system is equipped with a phono input – if not, there are very good outboard units available at reasonable prices.

Finally, pick up a good record brush and stylus cleaner. Now you’re set to enjoy good analog sound!

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