Should I Buy a Record Player?

Should I buy a record player? I’d genuinely like some advice on this, whether from vinyl enthusiasts or from get-a-grip friends. So leave a comment below or drop me an email.

Whenever I betray my anti-consumerist, minimalist ethics by joining in with some craze or other, I usually regret it. Joining Twitter for example was a mistake that has cost much fretting and fiddling that I could have done without.

Buying a record player would be the physically-biggest move I’ve made away from minimalism in years, currently owning absolutely no physical media. After a few months or years of buying records, it would likely be the most expensive too, and it would also represent a significant bump in energy usage here at Escape Towers.

On the other hand, it would be nice to correct a certain lack of music in our lives. Yes, we can currently play music from YouTube or Spotify (and I digitised my 300-strong CD collection before selling it a decade ago, so it still lives on in the cloud). But this involves a dependency on Silicon Valley and the infernal jab-screen, which is something I’d like do less of, and it’s not much fun to stab at an app when what you want from music is human connection.

Moreover, I’m sometimes a little (though not a lot) embarrassed to invite friends to Escape Towers when we offer little here but quiet retreat. A record player, would offer a bit more event to an invitation. “We’ll play some records,” I’ll say and “bring a couple of records over.” Selecting music would become a social activity and friends won’t have to watch me fumble with an app, playing autocratically-selected music, and trying to remember if I have a certain Stereolab album because I can’t see the whole collection and the search function isn’t working properly.

I like the idea of browsing the records in Monorail (fun local spot steeped in history) on a Saturday morning with Samara and of hanging out with Friend J who works in a second-hand vinyl shop with more reason to my being there than just to stare at his face. But is this not precisely the sort of positive lifestyle situation dreamed up by any product-hungry consumer?

Having set off my own vigilance-against-consumerism alarm, I at least think this could all be done fairly cheaply and with a non-rampant consumerist credo if we just buy our equipment and the bulk of our records second-hand and never from Amazon. Of course, this could just be a sort of internal green-washing on my part to justify what would actually be quite a silly purchase.

Any strong feelings? Would this thing (and that’s what it is: a thing) enhance life or would it just be another infernal regret and a loss of personal integrity?

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

12 Responses to “Should I Buy a Record Player?”

  1. Graeme says:

    Hey Robert,

    I found your stuff through the FIRE community and quite enjoy it, so thanks. I’ve been looking for material that isn’t just about asset allocation and grocery budgets for some time now.

    As for the record player, I’d recommend finding a used one that’s been beat up a bit. I inherited one that was missing parts and had a broken belt drive and spent a few months fixing it and tuning it up. It was a rather therapeutic experience and a good exercise for an apartment dweller to actually fix something tangible.

    As for the environmental cost, I beat myself up over these decisions as well and honestly don’t know how much energy my player consumes, but I reckon it’s a fair bit because I had to add a pre amp to my modern amplifier. If you’re really curious you could estimate howuch you stream per year and come up with some estimate for how much power is used by those massive data centers. Streaming is the same idea as using an electric vehicle in an area that still uses coal power – you’re just extending the tail pipe elsewhere really.

  2. Wade says:

    I would pass on the record player. Then you need a receiver and an EQ and then good speakers.

    Then you have to start acquiring large/cumbersome LPs.

    I have 4 things:

    1. Music Subscription (pick your favorite)
    2. iPhone (pick your favorite)
    3. A BluTube bluetooth tube receiver from eBay (~$120)
    4. A pair of Wharfedale Pioneer bookshelf speakers (~$250)

    Now, almost every album ever made is at your fingertips.

    The BluTube has warm sound. Cool amber tubes for an old school look.

    This is a much more minimalist solution.

    If that seems like too much, a smart phone and a nice Bose SoundLink speaker has wonderful sound in a very tiny package.

    I did the album/LP thing, but storing LPs is a lot of work and the prices are going up on records.

    Just my ideas.

  3. Wade says:

    I messed up 2 things.

    1. Speakers are Wharfedale Diamond 225
    2. Bluetooth receiver is by Rockville. Rockville BluTube.

    Quite the amazing little system. Oh and you need a bit of speaker wire. Cheers.

  4. Nils says:

    I came into this mindset of minimalism while already owning a vinyl collection of about 300 records. I sold all my Hi-Fi equipment and kept about 80 records in storage, mostly because they hold a sentimental value to me.

    Nowadays i download almost everything from bandcamp or other DRM free music services but the idea of owning a small Hi-Fi setup in the future is still in the back of my head.

    I would say the ritualistic value of preparing a great piece of music for consumption is a very conscious thing that does not have much in common with blind consumerism. Just don’t buy 100 records a month, maybe limit yourself to records you already learned to love for a long time.

  5. Mark Wentworth says:

    I went down the vinyl route some years ago. Despite the aesthetic attraction, I ended up getting rid of it all. Record players are finnicky things and stuff breeds stuff.

  6. Big thanks for the tips, everyone. I’ll feed back with whatever happens as a main blog entry.

  7. Holy Christmas. I just looked at the BluTube.

  8. Frugal Surfer says:

    When I cleared out my loft I couldn’t face getting rid of my boxes of LPs even though I hadn’t listened to them for 15 years. Instead I bought an ION deck with its own mini speakers incorporated for about £70. It will no doubt / rightly get slated by audiophiles, but sitting next to it in the kitchen while playing 80s indie through it works perfectly well. Stuff like Membranes and Bogshed was lo-fi production anyway.
    I also picked up a box of 50s and 60s LPs my folks were getting rid of which sound perfect through it. I reckon those albums were recorded with Dansette players in mind.
    I suppose I only did this as I already had the records, though if you’re going to pick up occasional second-hand ones it could be a cheap and space-saving option. And LPs are of course lovely things to handle and look at.

  9. Hi Frugal. Yes indeed! A friendly club DJ whose opinion I trust on matters of vinyl suggested I get a Crosley Cruiser (similar deal to your ION) with the additional suggestion of replacing the Cruiser’s stylus for a fancier one. Checking some audiophile YouTube channels makes me think the that the built-in speakers are too tinny for my liking (even though I’m coming from an iPhone with a Bluetooth Megaboom situation). The compromise, I think, might be to spend perhaps £100 on a deck with the built-in pre-amp but separate bookcase-style speakers. Such things do exist it seems but this already feels like a slippery slope so I may just do as you and the DJ suggest! When you’re listening to your ION, are you perfectly satisfied or is there eternally a ‘someday maybe’ plan in the back of your mind that you’ll get some external speakers?

  10. Barry says:

    I have a 2000+ record collection and a high end turntable system (costing about as much as a decent car). Record collecting/listening is my hobby, so I get all of the reasons why one would want to have records – the nostalgia, the physicality of the medium, the social aspect, the artwork, and on an on…I’m there, dude, totally. It’s how I spend my spare cash and my spare time.

    That said, having a record player is one of the least minimalistic paths one can pursue. The argument that “records sound better” is a valid one, and one I mostly agree with, though it isn’t universally true. However, to make your records sound better than the music from your iphone or computer requires quite a bit of a gear investment. A song played from a higher quality streaming service (Tidal, for ex.) on a nice set of powered bookshelf speakers will sound infinitely better than any Crosley Cruiser will ever sound, upgraded needle or not, external speakers or not.

    This is a deep rabbit hole. Many of the new records you will buy today during the “vinyl revival” were actually made from a CD original. So you are paying extra money for the “warmth” of the record when you are actually just listening to a CD that someone “burned” to a record. It’s like watching a DVD that has been copied onto a VHS tape. The records that are done well are more expensive, and the ones done REALLY well are REALLY expensive. (To continue with the analogy, this would be like watching the original 70mm film print of that movie you just watched on VHS).

    I love looking in junk shops for used records – I never pass one up. But if my record collection were dependent on this source, I’d be listening to an awful lot of Streisand, Herb Alpert and Christmas music.

    So, action item: Buy a pair of nice, powered, higher end bookshelf speakers from a place that offers returns. I highly recommend Vanatoo or Audioengine brands as a starting point (I don’t work for or with them – just a consumer fan). Get a free 1-month trial subscription to Tidal. Check out this combo until your 30-day return is up and see if it works for you. Best of luck.

  11. Gone says:

    I recently came back to physical music through the CD, which has allowed me to get in the right space to sit, relax and take in a complete album. I’ve thought about getting into vinyl, but I think the modern craze is a bit fetishistic. CDs sound great, are ludicrously cheap and they’re probably at the peak of commercial unsexiness. The slight inconvenience and the lack of any idea of impressing someone helps keep the hobby very much in check.

  12. Jez says:

    Yes, get a record player.

    Because of the improvements it will make to your social interactions, because record are one of the only things worth spending money on (along with books and art and film for one’s cameras) and because records are magical – a diamond running through a tiny groove cut into a piece of plastic makes sounds? That’s amazing, right? – and because, done correctly – at a concert, for example – it’s one of the most direct ways to put money in an artist’s pocket.

    On that last point… avoid Spotify and all the other streaming service the middle men. I only use Spotify to determine whether to invest in a record. Those skimming spivs don’t deserve a cent.

    This is kind of related, and IFS is a fantastic writer and musician and you should read this piece and then go buy a Chain And The Gang record: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/07/all-power-to-the-pack-rats/

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