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Turning Tables

Considering vinyl? Read on for some suggestions (and warnings) before taking the plunge.

Turntables are back (not that they ever really left for those that understood their value). And like all trends, one should ask the question of what’s behind the craze before diving in headfirst.

In the age of instantaneous digital consumption, the draw to analog processes, objects, and media is a curious but real pull. And for those collecting vinyl like it’s going out of style (again), there really is something beyond the trend and nostalgia. From time to time, there’s real beauty in enjoying the slower experience (not to mention superior sound) that vinyl affords. While it’s not for everyone, it does offer a connection to both memories and method. To something timeless and important. To having a piece of something we might actually pass on. Or perhaps simply to pull something from the past along with us into the future.

So if you’re thinking about getting a turntable and some records, let’s start with a few precursors. Record players require some manual labor. You have to set the needle (on some). You have to turn the record over (which sounds like a stupid complaint, but turning over a record every three songs is not very party friendly). Also, they don’t fit in your pocket very easily. You might have to invest in a new shelf. And, like tattoos, once you break the seal, you’ll want more.

If you’ve ticked off the above boxes and are still interested, the last thing you need is a decent set of speakers (a good amp doesn’t hurt, either). Vinyl really is the best reproduction of what happened in the studio – authentic, unfettered, and raw. But don’t waste your time or money if you don’t have the speakers that will let you hear it.

So if the time is right – if you’ve got halfway decent speakers and are feeling nostalgic and want to make time to slow down and connect to music in a new (old?) way – vinyl is worth it. Enjoying an entire record with your partner, some longtime buddies, or maybe even your dad who used to spin vinyl himself, it truly is a special experience.

To help you in your journey, we’ve picked out a few turntables that fit the bill depending on the thickness of your wallet and your commitment to hi-fi. We’ve also selected a few records that will (and should) be mainstays. Think of them as a starting foundation for your soon-to-be growing vinyl collection.

Under $100: CR6017A-MA Player 3-Speed Turntable with Portable Audio Input, by Crosley

Featuring minimalist style and simplistic lines, the Crosley Player 3-speed turntable marries mid-century design with modern audio conveniences. With an analog AM/FM radio, a dynamic full-range speaker, and a portable audio input for connecting MP3 players or other external devices – this turntable/radio/speaker combo will add an element of retro chic to any room in the house.

 

Under $300: AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Turntable, by Audio Technica

Audio-Technica’s AT-LP120-USB is a direct-drive, high-torque turntable with a high-quality elliptical diamond stylus and an internal stereo phono preamp included in the box (read: it sounds good without having to buy additional stuff).

The turntable comes with a cast aluminum record platter, a slip mat, and a professional cartridge and headshell (model AT95E) that plugs directly into the tone arm. Plug. Play. Enjoy.

 

Under $400: Debut Carbon Turntable, by Pro-Ject

The award winning Pro-Ject Debut Carbon raises the bar for the “under $500″ turntable category. Upgraded details like an 8.6″” completely carbon fiber tonearm and 2M Red cartridge by Ortofon makes for a higher fidelity presentation of sound. (Note that in order to really get what this device is capable of, you’ll need to purchase a decent pre-amp.)
Beyond amazing sound, the sexy, piano-gloss finish makes the Debut Carbon a statement piece in any living or listening room. Enjoy with thine eyes and ears alike.

Portrait of a Legend 1952-1962, by Sam Cooke
Start here. Sam Cooke embodies why we listen to things on vinyl. If anything you should have this record just for the original recording of ‘You Send Me’ to hear it like so many people did in the late fifties. You’d be hard pressed to mess this up on a date. Just get ready to have a dance in a place where you don’t care who is watching. This guy is a legend that is worth respecting.

Come Around Sundown, by Kings of Leon
The southern rock band of the times, this record is a great throwback to Kings of Leon’s country roots. Spin this all summer and find yourself craving sunshine and warm evenings. Wait till you find yourself singing along with ‘Back Down South’ along with the gang.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, by Lauryn Hill
This is one of the greatest R&B records of all time. Sit down and listen – all the way through. It makes so much sense on vinyl. After you listen, you’ll truly understand (if you didn’t already) how sad everyone was when Ms. Hill disappeared for so long.

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20/20 Experience, by Justin Timberlake
The 20/20 Experience marked JT really hitting his stride. Such great horns, hip-hop undertones, and straight up great pop music. This is an instant classic that won’t go out of style (see: ‘Suit and Tie’).

Carrie & Lowell, by Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan finally perfects his roots of Elliott Smith influence and does so in a way that helps us understand our mortality while remaining hopeful. Recordings done with primarily acoustic instruments, like this one, are particularly vibrant and present on vinyl. Sit. Listen. Repeat.

Take a Bow, by Greg Laswell
So under the radar for such great indie pop. Laswell’s rare and distinct baritone lays down relatable songs that get to something deeper.