Ready to jump into the world of vinyl and buy a record player? I get it. I’ve been collecting records seriously for almost 15 years. My interest was born admiring my parents collection as a kid. It’s a great hobby. Vinyl gives you a personal interaction with the music you listen to; an ownership that Spotify can’t provide. Now deep into its second wave of popularity, Vinyl certainly seems like it’s here to stay. Be warned, there is a small learning curve. Before you log onto Amazon or the Wirecutter and pick out a turntable, there are two paths you can travel; and one you must avoid entirely. Before that, it’s important to understand the key components that are required to produce music off the vinyl grooves.
The turntable is the primary piece. The cartridge and stylus are the focal point of where the sound is first captured, commonly referred to as the needle. Next, that sound needs to be amplified. The stylus is just tracing the grooves and collecting the details, but there is no charge there to affect volume. There are three common types of amplification at this stage. Some tables (including the recommendation below) will have a built-in-preamp. You can also purchase a stereo amplifier, commonly referred to as a receiver, that contains a phono input. Finally, you can purchase an external phono stage. This is just an extra box that will connect to your turntable and amplify the sound either directly to the speakers or to an amplifier without a phono stage.
The Colloquial recommends this turntable by U-turn for a first buyer. It will provide you with everything you need and has excellent sound for the price point. When you’re ready to upgrade, a new stylus will help this table sound just as good as a $500 table. Don’t forget to purchase the built-in phono stage too! If you’d like to start a little higher and increase your budget, other options to consider are the Fluance RT Series (83 or higher), the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon, or the absolutely gorgeous Rega Planar 1.
We have yet to discuss what is probably the most important part of any sound system, the speakers. Speakers are similar to the turntable in that they will also need amplification. Now is the time for you to decide on the path forward. The more affordable and space saving option would be to purchase a set of monitors, commonly referred to as active or powered speakers. These are speakers that do not require an added amplifier or receiver. If you are planning a speaker/amp budget of under $300, this is probably the path for you. The Colloquial recommends these for those on a tight budget: Edifier r1280. If you’re a bit more flexible with your budget, Klipsh and Monoprice have excellent options. They don’t get better than the KEF LS50, but let’s walk before we run.
Alternatively to monitor speakers, are the more common passive speakers. Passive speakers have no internal amplification like monitors and will require an external amp to power them. The combinations here are unlimited and the sound quality can be positively jaw dropping. But it comes at a cost. This path is the entry into the hifi world, where sound components are treated as luxury items. Many costing more than a car and some even a house! If this is the path you see yourself pursuing, my recommendation is simple: For a budget setup, vintage or used is the way to start. I’ll be writing more about upgrade options in a later piece, but for a tight budget the risks and struggle of buying used outweigh the costs of new.
You are now prepared to enter the exciting hobby of vinyl collecting and hifi appreciation. But for those of you whose budget still doesn’t quite reach our recommendations, please just keep saving. Let me be brutally honest; avoid all in one systems. If your budget can only cover a Crosley with built in speakers then you need to wait and keep saving. Records aren’t cheap, with new releases rarely costing under $20 and an increasing demand that makes finding a good deal on the classics difficult. I implore you to set a realistic budget. Records are tougher than cd’s, but they can still scratch and those scratches can ruin the music. A Crosley, or its competitors, will destroy your records. Also, the speakers suck. That’s not my opinion, it’s a fact.