The vinyl resurgence is being reported in the press and on social media with vinyl production being the highest it has been since it’s heyday.
Here we provide some information on vinyl, turntables and how to get the best out of both. The turntable enthusiast will know most if not all of this but this is more useful to the novice.
There us something about records that tap into our past. Holding a record is an experience that can’t quite be duplicated by any other medium. For many of us we spent our Saturdays rooting through racks of vinyl in shops that were not generic and were staffed by the coolest girls and people who actually knew enough about music to recommend what we might like. “You likes the Stones? Check out The Black Crowes; you’ll love em”
Actually playing a record is a little like a religious ritual; we approach the turntable after carefully sliding our precious vinyl out of its sleeve. We place the record on the platter, turn the turntable on and gently lower the stylus into the groove and then sit back with a sigh and relax. An element of this is nostalgia but the vinyl resurgence is about a great deal more than that.
Detractors were quick to point out that vinyl is noisy. CD players were actually launched on the silence between tracks – surely a complete and utter irrelevance? We live in a noisy environment and a little surface noise and a few clicks, ticks and pops are part of the vinyl experience to many. Some artists even put surface noise on their CD’s.
Sound quality is also something where vinyl scores; there is a warmth and a level of detail from vinyl that many people found somewhat lacking with the CD format. This sound quality keeps people hooked on vinyl and still attracts new followers to this day. Even now many people are only just finding that they can enjoy digital as much as their turntable and that is only with the arrival of HD Audio.
If you already own a turntable then you already know all this. But if you do we’d recommend getting it serviced periodically. Doing so is very good for the sound and also for your previous vinyl. As the stylus wears it starts to resemble the slopes of Everest. Instead of accurately reading the information in the groove it can actually start to do damage and of course the sound quality will deteriorate. Service will check the stylus as well as checking weight and alignment. At the same time the belt can be checked and all working components cleaned and lubricated. We recommend as a rule of thumb you have this done every four years. A service will cost £25 plus any parts required.
We check alignment, vertical tracking angle, down-force and stylus wear as standard.
If you’re wanting to enjoy records again then it needn’t be expensive to do so. Many of us have a loft or garage full of vinyl in boxes and unused. Maybe you couldn’t bear to part with them? The good news is that vinyl is quite resilient and even old records can still sound very good indeed.
The above Rega RP1 turntable comes complete with arm and cartridge and costs just £225. It does have an acrylic lid as well. It will extract a lot of information from the grooves of your vinyl and will sound fantastic. It will also give most CD players a run for their money and sets a very high standard.
What makes turntables better?
One of the most important things about a record player is that it spins at the correct speed. Most don’t. That’s VERY BAD. Turntables that don’t turn at precisely 33 and a third will sound wrong no matter how much detail they recover from the record. Speed accuracy means pitch accuracy. Pitch is everything in music reproduction.
After that turntables are all about engineering and the thing that makes engineers wax lyrical is tolerances. The better the tolerances the more accurate the turntable will “read” information off the disc. Think of this; the stylus is “reading” small movements in the groove. If there is any movement or “play” in the arm bearings then that information will be simply lost. Better record players solve this problem by being rigidly constructed and are often braced or have one-piece construction; particularly in the tone-arm. The more rigid you can built a tone-arm the better.
The SME takes a similar approach to the Rega tone-arms – in that they are totally rigid and made from a one-piece casting that has an integral bearing. The information taken from the groove is not lost in its transmission from vinyl to amplifier. The Rega is considerably cheaper.
MM or MC?
If you buy a turntable like the Rega RP1 it will have a MM cartridge already fitted. This information is more likely to be of interest to people buying better record players or upgrading the one you have.
Moving magnet (MM) cartridges are cheaper and also have a higher output. If you are spending between £25 and £300 on a cartridge then you will be wanting an MM cartridge. Most amplifiers and indeed most phono-stages are designed specifically for this kind of cartridge.
Moving Coil cartridges (MC) are better but also cost a lot more and generally cost from £300 upwards. They cost more because they are more expensive to manufacture and have higher tolerances. They also tend to be rigid one-piece designs. They have a much lower output also and often require a set-up device to make them compatible with your choice of amplifier.
Garbage in; garbage out
This has become a byword in the audiophile community. It basically means that you can only get out of any hifi system the quality that you get to start with. A poor record player will only ever sound bad no matter how expensive the amplification and loudspeakers cost.
Join us shortly for part two.