How to Build a Record Library
A Collection Is The Opposite of Passive Listening.
The facts are very clear: vinyl is back and here to stay. The resurgence of vinyl records owes itself to many factors. First and foremost, is because of the continued compression of digital music. Lossy file formats are all too prevalent and lead to terrible sound quality. There is also a growing population of people who are eschewing the overwhelming feeling of having to choose from a lifetime’s worth of music on their phones or computer. Having everything means that nothing is special anymore. Vinyl has character, quality and memories in spades. A collection of LPs is the opposite of passive listening. It enriches your life and the lives of all those you share it with. As the number of enlightened listeners grows, we at Planet of Sound want to help create a sort of roadmap to building your very own vinyl collection!
New vs. Used
This age-old debate between which is better - new or old LPs - can get messy. There are many online forums and groups battling over which is superior. We will try not to fall down the rabbit hole on this one. We get asked by new vinyl listeners all the time - 'What should I be looking for? Does vintage vinyl sound better? Are reissues any good?' While there are a large number of factors at play (how good is the vinyl master, what plant pressed the record, etc.) we will be taking a broader look and give you some things to consider when choosing between old and new records.
Reissues of classic albums without a doubt will play cleaner than their used counterparts. For the most part, great care is being taken in the remastering and releasing of these albums. With the help of modern audio technology, most of our favorite LP’s are finally being reissued, and have been given new sonic life. Many of these records are mastered from the original master tapes and in most cases the tape machines and other studio electronics are now much better than anything a 60s recording engineer could have imagined. Even records that have been made from a digital source can sound great, as the mastering engineer will typically use less compression, creating a more dynamic version for vinyl than the CD version. Sometimes they may even use a better than CD quality digital file when pressing to vinyl. Don't discount a record because of this. It may still yield much better sound than any alternative. In fact, many re-issues today sound clearly superior to the originals. We are living in a golden age when we can hear quality and vibrancy that even the original studio engineer didn't experience.
For those looking at used vinyl, it's very important to know what you're looking for. Buying used vinyl can be like buying a used car; it may look good but rarely does that tell you it’s actual condition. Records can be cleaned, look shiny and new, but still sound terrible. An album that was previously owned may have been played on an improperly setup table, damaging the grooves, leaving no visual signs of wear. The only real way to know if that used record sounds good is to take it for a test drive. If you have the chance to do so, listen for distortion in the treble (a quick sign a record is worn), surface noise, and clicks and pops caused by scratches and caked on dust. Seeking out an original copy of an album because it is regarded as being the best pressing sonically is not an unworthy pursuit, but this doesn’t mean it will sound as good as it did by the time you get to play it. Always trust your ears!
The cost difference between new and used albums isn’t that big. Most new albums range in price from $20 for a standard pressing, up to $80 for a limited edition or ‘audiophile’ grade pressing. Used records range in price from $1 for a bargain bin find, up to $100 for hard to find pressings, and in some cases several thousand dollars for highly collectable albums. Buying used records can be a great way to save money and grow your collection with very popular titles, especially if you are starting out, but reissues are almost always better value when verging into rarer or less popular records. The biggest problem with buying used is the common practice of price gouging for records that may be hard to find, are worn out, but look like they are in good condition.
If you have a collectors mentality, there are a plethora of vintage albums that have managed to hold their value over time. Some original pressings of albums came with variant covers, posters, special inserts, and more. The internet will be your best resource to make sure what you are buying is the real deal. People value these records apart from their sound or musical quality. This is a personal choice, but for us, we would rather spend $20 on a great sounding reissue than $150 on a collectable version of it and never play it.
With the advent of Record Store Day, some new LP's are becoming increasingly collectable, too. This is also in part because new albums are pressed in much smaller quantities. Most LPs are pressed in 1000-5000 qty lots, so if you see something you are interested in, don't wait to buy it. It might be gone forever!
There is something very satisfying about flicking through the used bin of your local record shop and finding something you have been searching for – both new and used. There is also the opportunity to explore music that may have been overlooked or under appreciated when it was released (see Big Star, Death, Donnie & Joe Emerson) and getting it for a bargain price. We are always happy to make recommendations if you are looking to try a new release. Talking with store staff or other friends in the store is a great way to get excited about finding new music. The stories and passion that people share goes a long way to building your own appreciation of new music.
What is 180 gram & Virgin Vinyl?
When shopping for vinyl, you will come across many different stickers mentioning the record is '180 gram vinyl' or 'virgin vinyl'. What does it mean and does it really make an audible difference?
Most new vinyl pressings you find will weigh roughly 140 grams, as is the standard in the industry. From there, companies will often make pressings at higher weights, suggesting that this improves the sound. Apart from feeling sturdier and being a less susceptible to warping, 180 gram vinyl doesn't always equal a better sounding record so don't get hung up on it. The quality and care put into the pressing and mastering of the record by the manufacturing plant will have more to do with the sound than the weight. Ask the store staff about the various sound qualities of different pressings of the same album. They'll know.
Virgin vinyl simply means the record doesn't contain any recycled PVC. Occasionally manufacturers will use a mixture of recycled vinyl and virgin vinyl, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25% reused to 75% new, when pressing records. This is a standard cost-saving method whereby the vinyl that is trimmed off the newly stamped records is then re-melted and used to make more records. There isn't a lot of substantiated evidence proving that virgin vinyl sounds better, and what does exist is subjective.
33 1/3 and 45 rpm
Another thing you will notice when purchasing vinyl is 33 1/3 rpm vs. 45 rpm (and in some rare cases, 78 rpm). This is indicating the speed at which the record is meant to be played. Most turntables have the capacity to play both speeds, and there are reasons for the existence of both. First, a history lesson...
When Thomas Edison first invented his record player, he was making recordings at 80 rpm. When Victrolas created the first popularized record player, they started making recordings at 78 rpm to avoid patent infringement. This lasted for a while, but eventually there was a desire to fit more information (music) on each recording, as these 78s were only able to play about 4 minutes of music per side.
The LP (at 33 rpm) was designed to allow for up to 30 minutes per side by slowing down the speed and creating a larger, 12 inch disc. These LPs were more expensive as a result of their longer playtime, which created a demand for an inexpensive version of the 78s that people had been familiar with. Thus, the 45 rpm single was created. Eventually, some labels started making audiophile pressings at 45 rpm with 12 inch discs because they realized that the higher rotation speed on a big disc would allow more information per second than the slower 33 rpm. Good modern 45 rpm full-size pressing certainly do sound better given the same mastering care and we strongly recommend them to those who want to hear the closest thing to a master tape.
Must Own LPs
There are many 'best of' lists available online, and we have undertaken a multi-year project to stock our shelves with only the "GREATEST RECORDS OF ALL TIME". We want you to be able to go into any section and choose any record and be guaranteed a winner. Ask us why we chose something to hear the history behind a record, the musician, sound, or contribution to the musical genre.
Here are 10 of our favourite LP's which we suggest all listeners start with in order to get a great cross-section of genres and styles. Moreover, these are entry points into associate musicians or albums that can go on and on and will give you the basic musical knowledge to expand your collection wisely. We always stock them:
Owning even a small collection of 20 LPs will bring you inordinate happiness because every time you play one, it's like putting money in the bank. Your memory and experience of handling and listening to the record grows each time in a way that digital can never match. Better yet, sharing the listening experience with friends and family compounds this great feeling and before long, your records will take on treasured status. We wish you much enjoyment from your growing collection and to always find new gems.