12 May

Vinyl Records – New Versus Used

I was at the flea market this morning and one of the vendors had a couple of milk crates full on vinyl records. My first thought was “great.”

I went over to look at them and saw that there were about 6 Led Zeppelin records right in front. I only have there first album on vinyl so I was getting pretty psyched (sorry for those who didn’t grow up in the eighties to have heard that before). As I looked through the albums, I started thinking, “these aren’t in exactly the best shape.”

I never used to care a whole lot about that. I mean, if the record looked good, without scratches, I considered it a find. Recently though, I have been much more discriminating in the records I buy.

Do I really want gamble on a couple used (possibly very used) records for very cheap, or spend a bit more one record in excellent or new condition?

I don’t want to sound all high and mighty, but if records really do sound better, and if most vinyl listeners consider themselves audiophiles, then do we really want to buy old used records that don’t sound that good?

Would you buy records that aren’t in great shape because they are cheap?

Or will you hold out for better records and pay more?

Let me know in the comments.

07 May

How Vinyl Records are Made

It’s been a while since I posted, I have bought a house and been moving. I haven’t had the chance to even hook up my turntable yet, so I am not exactly happy. But I thought I’d explain some things about vinyl for those that don’t know.

I found on Youtube some video off of Discovery Channel that is kind of cheesy and reminds me of the “technology” video tapes that we used to watch in elementary school.

Part one of How Vinyl Records are Made.

Part Two of How Vinyl Records are Made

The only thing that bothers me is the fact that they are recording a master vinyl record from a computer. I said it in a previous post, if the original recording is digital, then will the record sound as good as it would if the original recording was analog (using 24 track tape).

Some people have wondered what the difference is between regular vinyl, 180g and 200g vinyl. The difference is weight. G equals grams. So 180g vinyl weighs 180 grams. These weights have changed over time. Originally 130g was standard, and some record labels went as low as 90g, which would have sounded like crap. Today, most vinyl pressings are of 160g, 180g or 200g. However, most audiophiles will only buy and listen to 180g or 200g vinyl.

If you see something that says virgin vinyl, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t had sex, just that it’s never been used for anything before. During the oil shortage of the 70’s, it became general practice to recycle records and other things into new records. This lowered the quality and introduced imperfections into the vinyl. Virgin vinyl is pure, never before used vinyl.

A lot of work goes into making a vinyl record. It’s not like a CD(RW) which is mass produced, and which you can burn many times. As good as everyone thought CD’s were in the late 80’s and 90’s, who buys them now? When almost nobody carries a CD player, instead an MP3 player, why would I buy a CD. I am not condoning illegal downloading as everything is available through iTunes, Amazon MP3 or the artists themselves.

Vinyl records are still being produced, and they are still being enjoyed. The debate is over, CD’s are falling in sales and Vinyl is rising. We all know which is best.

I hope this helps some of you who weren’t exactly sure what these terms meant. If you have any questions on other topics relating to vinyl records or turntables or music, please ask me in the comment section. I will respond.

21 Apr

New Styli, Cartridges and Needles

As I was playing a record the other day, I started thinking to myself, “Man, what is wrong, am I hearing what digital dorks hear when they listen to a record? This doesn’t sound so great.” Then I put on a record that I know sounds good, and it sounded like crap.

It reminded me what Steve Martin said about his record player;

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I guess it was time for a new needle. I had been looking for them before, and I tell you what. The internet is full of really crappy sites where you can spend three hours looking for a stylus for your turntable, and still not find it.

Finally I found a site called LP Gear. Still not the greatest looking site, but it sure was easier to navigate than most of the others I found. I did find the one I needed too, even though it’s a cheap Pioneer, non-audiophile record player.

The cool thing was, that not only did it give me the needle I needed, it gave two upgraded ones that would still fit my turntable. So, being the pseudo audiophile that I am, I upgraded.

I am really looking forward to hearing my records sound good again, but since I am moving, I had to have the needle sent to my parents house so I don’t miss it at my old house, or the new house, and because I have to pack up the stereo. So I probably won’t be able to soak in the warm drippy analog sounds of the vinyl magic that we call records for another few weeks.

Where do you get your parts? Do you go online, or do you have a store near you?

09 Apr

Five Tips for Vinyl Listening Newbies

I read a great post today about how to get into vinyl listening for “vinyl virgins.” Many of us have been listening to vinyl for years, and some never stopped, but there are a lot of people out there who are just realizing the power of music inherent in vinyl. How the vinyl album reveals sonic information never before heard with the CD and especially the MP3.

Josh Bizar, the Marketing Director for Music Direct, says that the hardware used for analog and vinyl listening is a lot different than standard stereo equipment. It can be a daunting task for someone just starting to buy equipment to decide where to start. So, Bizar has come up with five tips to help get newbies going in the right direction.

FIND THE RIGHT TURNTABLE — Used record players are a dime a dozen at garage sales and thrift stores, but a 30 year old record player could have many problems. Make sure you get a really good service tech to get it up and playing properly. There are also countless new turntables on the market today. For an investment of $300, you can buy an amazing new turntable with 21st century technology that will be perfect right out of the box.

SET UP YOUR SYSTEM WITH CARE — Any turntable will need to be properly set-up to get the maximum amount of music out of your record. That means finding someone who knows how to install the phono cartridge (needle) properly to get the most music out of the grooves. Also, make sure you place your turntable on a rock-solid shelf to keep vibrations away.

LOOK FOR QUALITY VINYL — Thrift shops, garage sales, used record stores and even your uncle’s basement are great places to start your vinyl collection. There are also more new LPs pressed today than anytime since the mid-80s. Specialty stores can advise you on all the great music that’s available on the best quality new vinyl.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR RECORD COLLECTION — Avoid all those ticks and pops by removing the decades of grunge from the grooves with a really good record brush and record cleaning fluids. There are even special record cleaning machines that do all the work for you and will vacuum dry the LP so you can play it immediately. They can be pricey, however. Still, clean records not only sound better, they’re much more valuable.

BRING YOUR RECORDS INTO THE 21st CENTURY — The biggest trend in vinyl right now is taking your records and making them digital. Many newer turntables can connect directly to your computer via USB, and even older, standard turntables can run through a special USB Converter and achieve the same effect. Download some free “ripping” software, like Audacity, and you’re ready to put your record collection right onto your iPod.

28 Mar

Vinyl Albums Recorded Digitally?

I read an article this morning at the Idolator.com. It was basically saying that digitally recorded music already has some loss of information, so why should it sound better on vinyl than CD. This is an example of bad logic.

If you’ve picked up an arts section lately, you’ve probably seen a story with one (or both) of the following theses: “Vinyl is making a comeback.” “If you want great sound, you buy vinyl.” The hype is even starting to annoy some label folk, as it calls into question why non-audiophiles would bother buying tangible music at all. Sure, analog grooves of a vinyl record hold more information than any digital sample rate. But if an album was recorded digitally—a situation that’s becoming more and more common—are you getting more information by buying it on vinyl?

Time’s January article on the vinyl upswing offered that “LPs generally exhibit a warmer, more nuanced sound than CDs and digital downloads. MP3 files tend to produce tinnier notes, especially if compressed into a lower-resolution format that pares down the sonic information.” But what if that “sonic information” wasn’t there in the first place? Isn’t everyone using ProTools now? It would seem that this call for great sound and the rise of digital recording would be at odds.

Is vinyl mastering so superior to the “noise reduction” CDs are legendary for that even digital music sounds better on LP? Or is the hype just, well, hype? Do people just think they’re getting better sound on new records because they assume they’re getting a pure analog experience? Does the appeal of the gatefold overcome the fact that once a sound is digitized, there’s no turning back? The vinyl I buy tends to be used and $1.99, so I can’t speak from authority about the sound quality of new vinyl. But maybe you can.

Why do I say this is bad logic? First of all, yes, records are analog, they have all the information that is put on them. CD’s are digitally, they take ‘snapshots’ of information. Recording digitally takes ‘snapshots’ of the instruments. Do you see the pattern here? If something is recorded digitally, then put on CD, then you have music that ‘snapshots’ of ‘snapshots’.

To see what this is like, try to take a bunch of pictures in a row with your camera to show action. Then take those pictures and flip through them really fast, and take pictures of that.

That’s a CD.

Now, the second reason that this article is just plain wrong, is that not everybody uses Protools. A lot of people do, it’s a lot cheaper than investing in an analog studio, and it’s a whole lot easier than using 8, 16 or 24 track tape. However, a lot of artists still want that tape sound. A lot of engineers still like to record using tape. More artists are seeing the benefits of using tape, and usually those are the artists who are now releasing on vinyl.

So most of these records are being mastered from analog tape recordings. Not digital.

27 Mar

Elvis Costello’s New Album on Vinyl Only. NIN Gives You Options

That’s right, Elvis Costello is releasing his new album “Momofuku” only on vinyl album. If you buy the album, you will get a code so you can download it on MP3. There will be no CD release for this.

Is this a hint of the direction of formats?

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (NIN) has already experimented with something like this. Reznor dropped his record label, and released his new album on his website. Although he had the album available on CD, it was also on vinyl and MP3. You could download the first 9 tracks on MP3 for free, or pay $5 and buy all 36 tracks with a PDF booklet. You could buy the double CD set for $10, or 2 CD’s a DVD and a blu-ray for $75. The ultimate package though, you could choose to pay over $300 for the vinyl set. This set includes everything else plus two books of photos, and prints, and four 180 gram vinyl records.

Oh, and all the MP3’s are DRM free. In many different formats too, such as FLAC and Apple Lossless.

While everyone said that this wouldn’t work, Reznor pulled in over $1.6 million the very first week. The Ultimate Vinyl package is completely sold out. Had he stayed with the record company, he would not have seen most of that money.

True artists are doing things differently. The true artists are passionate about their music, and they want to share it with us, and for us to be as passionate about it as they are. They not only want us to be happy, they want us to experience what they are feeling, what they are thinking, their music.

What better way to express your music than on vinyl.

21 Mar

What is an Audiophile?

I love records. I love the sound of a vinyl record, even if it has some imperfections. There is such a warmth and realism in the sound of a record that I just don’t get from a CD. It helps that in addition to being a musician, I have done a lot of sound engineering, and even majored in sound technology for a year in college. (I have had three majors, I think). Anyway, I can hear a difference.

Unfortunately, although I’d like to consider myself an audiophile, I really am not. I can’t afford to be. Have you ever looked at the price of audiophile grade turntables? MusicDirect (yes, you might have heard the name in the American Express Plum Card commercial) has everything for the audiophile. Amps, turntables, records, speakers, everything. But there are turntables that are over $20,000! Who can afford that? I guess if you were a millionaire.

But I digress. The question is, do you have to have the greatest and most expensive equipment to be a true audiophile? According to Webster, an audiophile is “a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction.” Well, does that say anything about owning a $20,000 turntable? It says enthusiastic about high fidelity. I’m enthusiastic. I just can’t afford it. I personally think that an audiophile is someone who can appreciate good quality recordings, and strives to get a better sound, even when they can’t afford high end equipment.

For instance, I have a great sound system I bought when I was in the Corps a few years ago. It’s a Kenwood system. Matched set of surround speakers with the receiver. It has a great clear sound. Nothing really high end, but I feel it’s a great quality for it’s price range. I even had a friend who always was upgrading his stereo to the latest and greatest equipment, but when he came and heard mine, he said it had a much better, clearer and fuller sound than anything he had. Proper setup helps too. This is all using records through a cheaper Pioneer turntable I got for Christmas one year. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. Now I need a new needle, and do you think I can find one? I’d love to upgrade to a Grado cartridge, but even the cheaper ones start at about $60. Not a lot, but when you are married, buying a house, and the price of gas being what it is, $60 is a lot.

So what’s my point you may be asking yourself, and I don’t blame you, because I think I lost track as well, you don’t need top quality, high end equipment to enjoy vinyl records. You don’t need to pay 20,000 dollars to listen to your favorite album. You can listen and enjoy your lp’s on a turntable that you bought for 20 bucks on CraigsList.

Does that mean you’re not an audiophile?

You decide.

And let me know what you come up with.

14 Mar

Interview With a Vinyl Record Store Owner

I saw a great interview with a record store owner in Santa Cruz, California. The article was done by City On A Hill Press, a site from the University of California.

It’s nice to see that there are still stores open that sell vinyl.

With peer-to-peer programs and CDs making music far cheaper than buying vinyl records, it seems impossible that a store that sells only vinyl could still exist.

But they do.

On the corner of Maple and Cedar streets in downtown Santa Cruz, Metamusic Records is the sole vinyl-only store in the area, selling a variety of collectible and current vinyl records to the masses. UC Santa Cruz alumnus Johnathan Schneiderman, the store’s owner, founded it in honor of a lifelong obsession with the seemingly obsolete medium. He took some time recently to talk with City on a Hill Press (CHP).

CHP: So how did the obsession start?

Schneiderman: The thing is, I never really purchased CDs. I was raised on tapes as a kid. My parents had all these records, and I got into them around when I was eight. I started getting into records and being a record nerd. I would play my friends’ CDs and then play the records, and they would stand in awe because they felt the record sounded so much better.

CHP: How did you get the idea of opening your own store?

Schneiderman: It just sort of happened, really. When I realized I wasn’t going to make it as a professional musician, I continued playing music for fun and sold records from my collection. I started selling so many that it turned into a business. I was working out of a public storage container, and it eventually got so big I figured that I could start a store. So I moved everything into a really small basement across town, opened the doors, and had one.

CHP: What sorts of people shop at your store?

Schneiderman: It’s pretty split between hipster kids, DJs, and older people reliving their past. Most people seem to know what they’re doing when they come here. Others wander in confused. As a result, I don’t feel much of a need to advertise as people who like records actively seek them out, which I do whenever I go somewhere new.

CHP: Most people don’t go out to a store to buy music these days. What do you think they might be missing out on?

Schneiderman: I find that a lot of people enjoy going to record stores to get the little nuances when buying music. People will come in, ask for a recommendation, and feel satisfied when they get something they wanted but weren’t expecting. There’s an online program called Pandora, which allows you to type in some music you like and it gives you [other] music you’ll probably like due to their similarity. But people still enjoy coming here and asking me if I like a band and if I can recommend something similar to it.

CHP: What do you think the advantages are to listening to vinyl over MP3s?

Schneiderman: I feel the experience of listening to records is more enjoyable because you’re doing more than just hearing the music. You’re also experiencing the artwork that was intended to go along with it and getting a more in-depth look at what’s going on in the recording process because records have more of what’s going on.

CHP: What about the concrete, scientific differences between the two mediums?

Schneiderman: Scientifically, vinyl has a deeper bass response and better mid-range, which is what our ears actually hear and what our mouth actually produces. If you look at it on a graph, the waves move up and down, but when you look at a CD, it looks blocky with the peaks and valleys flattened out. CDs only possess sound frequencies you can hear. While you may not be able to hear some of the bass that records produce, you can still feel it.

CHP: Do you think MP3s can achieve the level of sound that vinyl produces?

Schneiderman: It’s possible, but it’s more of an imitative sound. Digital cameras have gotten to a sampling rate where they can appear better than developed pictures, but I think it’s different with sound. The record needle is like a reverse seismograph that reads over all the vibrations that have been etched into a record, while MP3s play ones and zeros that represent the samples taken from the vibrations, so it’s always a step behind a record. You also cannot really replicate the experience that listening to a vinyl record conveys.

CHP: Why do you think people continue to buy vinyl records?

Schneiderman: There’s a sense of nostalgia that comes with records. It’s the only format that’s made it through the ages. Records were invented in the 1920s, and they’re still around. CDs will come and go, tapes are gone, VHS is gone, and despite the fact that people can hold over 500 songs in their pocket, people still go out and buy a record that’s larger than their whole iPod.

CHP: Do you think vinyl records will still be around in the future?

Schneiderman: I think so. At the moment, I think they’re a bit more popular than usual. Demand for records rises and falls over the years, and once MP3s sound better than now, demand for them will probably decrease. I don’t think MP3s will ever be able to make up for the packaging that goes into a record. I may not always have a record store, but I’ll always love vinyl.

They’re like a time: I can remember everything that happened surrounding where I was in my life when I bought each of my records, and most people probably can’t tell you what they were doing when they were downloading songs off LimeWire. [That’s so true, I can remember where I got every record I have.]

I think a lot of people go out of the way to collect something with nostalgic value and having fun collecting rare things. It’s a multifaceted interest that goes beyond just listening to music.

I think it’s great how the owner doesn’t really knock CD’s and MP3’s, but he makes the case for the superiority of vinyl. What do you think?

27 Feb

Procol Harum – Live on Vinyl Record

This is an interesting album. Up until this time (1972), many people thought of Procol Harum as a one hit wonder with their hit song “Whiter Shade of Pale”. When they decided to do this album, guitarist Robin Trower quit the band because he did not want to play with an orchestra again.

Procol Harum - Live Vinyl Album

What was so different about this concert is that the band decided not to include their hit song in the set list. They wanted to show that they were more than just one song. Because of this, the first song “Conquistador” hit 16 on the US charts, even thought the band didn’t actually have time to rehearse it with the orchestra. Here is Conquistador in MP3,

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One thing to remember is this album was recorded live before even 4 track recorders. If you don’t know what that means, it just means that recording an entire symphony, plus a rock band was not as easy as it is today.

Also used in this concert was quadraphonic effects. The album isn’t in quadraphonic sound (some are) but the concert-goers would have been treated to an early surround sound. Quadraphonic sound is basically four speakers surrounding you.

Procol Harum were already at the forefront of progressive rock, and this album put them at the beginnings of symphonic rock also. They were one of the first bands to successfully bring together the rock band and the orchestra sound.

You’ll definitely want to buy some Procol Harum on vinyl at Musicstack.

22 Feb

Collecting Vinyl Records

I’m reading this e-book about collecting vinyl records. It has a lot of history and reasons why people collect records. you can find “The Fascinating Hobby of Vinyl Record Collecting’ at Robert Benson’s blog, Collecting Vinyl Records.

The one part that really stands out to me is the difference between CD’s and vinyl. It’s not saying CD’s are inferior, but just different. Which I can understand, CD’s have the sound that some people are looking for, those people don’t like vinyl. It’s all preference. The book says “…CD’s are convenient, portable and have great clarity, but an album just has a warmth and a depth to it that CD’s just can’t produce.” Then the best statement that really sums up the difference, “…a CD was like walking into a room with a high-watt, bare bulb illuminating every nook and cranny in the room. An LP was like walking into the same room, but with soft indirect lighting that bathed you in the warmth of its glow.”

Wow. Yeah, that’s it.

An LP might not have the clarity of a CD, but it has warmth and depth of sound that can sound more, I hesitate to say realistic, but more real I guess.

CD’s have a very clean, sterile sound. There are people who like the cleanness of a CD, they don’t like the warmth of records. Hey people are different. No one is stupid for liking a certain format over another, unless they like MP3’s.

CD’s have also been compressed and mastered to the loudest degree they can get it. This translates into more volume, less dynamics (and more hearing loss).Vinyl has a lower dynamic range, so it has stayed away from the “loudness wars” and has kept the dynamics that make music musical.

Benson also starts talking about MP3’s and the shortcomings of them. I have a lot of MP3’s. I had an extensive library of music before MP3’s came, and now I’m trying to replace it. But since I started listening more to my vinyl again, the MP3’s just sound like crap. And before you say that it is because of the people who encoded the music did a bad job, songs from iTunes sound the worst. They are (as I stated in the previous paragraph) compressed to get the loudest volume they can, and therefor are distorted. Almost everything I have off of iTunes is distorted and is fixable by lowering the overall volume. That’s wrong, You shouldn’t have to fix music that you’ve bought.