The past years have seen a surge in collectors of vinyl, years after the format was deemed outdated. Here's how to start a collection of your own.
People are drawn to starting their own vinyl record collections for many reasons. Some love the beauty of records—supersized artwork, pull out sleeves and the black glossy vinyl with its grooves and sheen. Some love the collectable aspect and spend hours organising their collection by genre, artist, mood or colour. Others just can’t resist that warm, slightly crackly sound that only comes when listening to your favourite record on vinyl.
Whatever your reason, record collecting has made a huge comeback over the past few years, and with more and more artists releasing their work as LPs, it’s a perfect time to delve in. Here’s our comprehensive guide to starting your own record collection.
Choosing your turntable
There’s no point shopping for vinyl unless you have something to play them on. While record players have become more affordable than ever—just £30 could get you started with a basic set up—it really is worth investing a bit more money if you want to secure top-quality sound.
It’s key to understand the difference between turntables and record players before you begin shopping. Record players are standalone units that include built-in speakers so that you can listen to your music without plugging in anything extra. Turntables, however, rely on external amps and speakers in order to be audible and therefore are usually more expensive to set up. Generally speaking though, turntables will provide you with the best sound quality.
It’s worth spending time choosing your model carefully, as your choice in turntable/record player can make or break your experience of collecting.
There’s no point amassing a collection of top quality music and collectable vinyl if the device you’re playing them on sounds as though you were listening underwater.
If sound quality isn’t a huge concern for you, Crosley (above) offers a range of affordable (and often portable) options with decent enough audio. For a reliable and mid-range turntable with decent sound, look to Audio-Technica, whose prices begin at around £80 and are well-supported if you need any future repairs. If money is no object, Germany’s oldest producer, Transrotor, handmake stunning systems, which can reach prices of over £200,000.
We’d recommend this comprehensive Which? guide to turntable shopping for beginners.
Building your collection
Your taste in music will most likely shape the way you shop for records. If you’re a fan of vintage, older music, then you’ll probably discover the majority of your favourites at second-hand record fairs. These events are now extremely common, popping up across the country, and are great fun for music-lovers, even if you’re merely browsing.
Some of the most exciting moments in record-collecting come when you’ve flicked to the very back of an unpromising, dusty box of second-hand records, only to find one of your favourite albums tucked away at the back.
Most record fairs or record stores will have a turntable on site. It’s always worth asking to listen to a second-hand record before you purchase it to ensure the sound quality has stood the test of time. Be sure to inspect the vinyl itself too, for any signs of scratches or warping, which significantly affect the sound, or even prevent the record from playing completely.
As well as record fairs, you can look out for second-hand vinyl in charity shops, vintage markets, record shops with a pre-loved section, or online. We’d particularly recommend the website Discogs, an online music marketplace with an expansive collection of vinyl.
If you prefer modern music, you’re also in luck, as many contemporary artists now both release their new music on vinyl and offer re-releases of past work in collectable record form. Look out for special releases such as coloured vinyl, or limited-edition album artwork, as purchasing these could make for an investment—small run records tend to increase in value as they age, so long as you keep them in good condition.
You can shop for new vinyl through individual artist stores or your local record shop. It’s also worth celebrating Record Store Day on April 17th, when 200 independent record stores across the UK come together to celebrate, often collaborating with musicians on limited-edition releases, available for that day only.
If you’re new to collecting, it’s also worth asking around, to see what unwanted vinyl you could inherit. Many people have made the jump to CDs or streaming, and have no intention of dusting off their record collection any time soon. You could be doing your family or friends a favour by taking vinyl off of their hands, and you could discover a host of new favourites in the process.
How to store your collection
Make sure you store your vinyl records away from particularly warm or humid areas of your house. Storing them next to a radiator or in your bathroom, for example, is a huge no-no. Excessive heat can cause your records to warp (melt or bend out of shape), permanently damaging them. Room temperature or below is the ideal.
Light is also an enemy to a beloved record collection. Try to keep your vinyl away from direct sources of light, especially intense or ultraviolet light, which can damage your collection in a matter of minutes. Store your records away from a window, somewhere that maintains a degree of shade throughout the day.
Though it may look aesthetically pleasing, stacking your records on top of one another is a sure-fire way to damage them. The same is true if you pack them too closely together. Whatever mode of storage you're using, it should leave enough space to comfortably flip through your collection.
Placing both your records and the album cover in a plastic sleeve is a great way to maintain the quality of the vinyl and the integrity of its cover art. You can purchase these widely online, but many record stores also offer them free of charge when they have a surplus, so it’s worth checking before you invest.
Record collections are surprisingly heavy. If you’re storing them on a shelf, make sure they’re sturdy enough to support your collection. Alternatively, there are plenty of bespoke cases, crates and boxes available online to add a degree of portability to your collection.
If you really want to collect like a pro, dividers are a must. Once you’ve amassed a decent collection, you can even purchase alphabetised dividers, to allow you to store your records in order of artist. Sturdy dividers have the added bonus of supporting the form of your vinyl, giving it added durability.
Keeping your collection clean
If you want your collection to stand the test of time, it’s vital that you ensure it remains clean and cared for.
To clean a record:
- Remove all crumbs of dust or static by using a vinyl record brush to gently sweep away the debris.
- Look over your record closely for any visible marks or damage to grooves. This is a great way to highlight areas that will need extra attention during the cleaning process and is especially important for any second-hand purchases.
- Spray a specialised vinyl cleaning solution on any marks you have identified and then wipe them clean using a micro-fibre or cotton cloth in soft circular motions. Take pains to avoid dampening the label in the centre of the record, as solutions can permanently affect its appearance.
- Using a fresh and clean cloth, dry the record, before placing it back in its sleeve, holding only the edges or the label.
To clean your record player or turntable:
- You should clean the stylus (the small needle that rests against the record) every time you finish using your system. You can purchase specialised brushes to do this, or in a jam, use a soft paintbrush. Never, ever use your fingers or blow dust away. Don’t wipe the needle side to side as this can damage it, but carefully brush it from back to front instead. You can dampen your brush with a little rubbing alcohol if a more thorough cleaning is required.
- Use an anti-static dusting cloth to wipe the surface of your record player after each use. Dust is the enemy! Again, if a more thorough cleanse is required, dampen a lint-free cloth with rubbing alcohol. Work from the centre outwards in a circular motion.
- Dry off any remaining moisture with a clean cloth and replace the dust cover over the player.
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