How To Build The Perfect Home Vinyl Set-Up
Want to collect electronic records on vinyl but not sure where to start? We've got you covered with this how-to guide to upgrade your at-home dance parties.
Words By Ana Monroy Yglesias
Vinyl has always gone hand in hand with dance music, beginning with disco in the '70s followed by the early days of house and techno in the '80s, when DJs literally spun records in the club. While the CD's relevance has come and gone in this time frame (the first music CD ever sold was ABBA's 'The Visitors' in 1982), vinyl's popularity has steadily increased over the past decade, with vinyl sales in the United States rising 29 percent from 2019 to 2020, racking up $619.6 million.
In case you missed it, Monstercat dropped their first-ever vinyl release in April, with Vicetone's debut album 'Legacy' on wax. With more albums to come this summer, we’re stocking up our vinyl shop starting with Vindata's highly-anticipated project, 'With Opened Eyes,' and Shingo Nakamura's third LP, 'Glow,' just announced for pre-order.
If you're new to vinyl collecting or looking to upgrade your set up, we've got you covered with this handy guide!
Shingo Nakamura's 'Glow' on vinyl
Why buy vinyl?
Vinyl hunting, whether virtually on Discogs or IRL at record stores around the world, is fun and exciting. And while streaming your beloved albums and tracks online is great, purchasing said album or EP and then pulling it out, putting it on, and immersing yourself into the record just when you need it is next level. Just like buying merch from your favourite artists, buying their music on vinyl also supports them.
The sound quality of vinyl, which is an analog format, is generally higher and less compressed than what you'll hear on most streaming services or MP3s. Vinyl delivers listeners a fuller range of sound, comparable to a CD or lossless digital format, how the artist intended the song to be heard. Beyond the fuller audio experience, vinyl allows you to engage with the project in a deeper way, including seeing its cover art close up and learning who else worked on it behind-the-scenes.
There is something special about owning a tangible record you love, and being able to show it off as art is the perfect way to make your love of music and unique tastes known.
In the early days of dance music, producers would mint new tunes on wax to test out in the clubs and warehouses. Not only does it feel great to support your favourite producers by pre-ordering their releases on vinyl or picking one up at their show, exploring dance music history through crate-digging at iconic vinyl shops like Gramaphone Records in Chicago or Hard Wax in Berlin brings new meaning to the genre.
Revisiting your own record collection is an interactive and immersive way to enjoy music with friends. If you want to take it a step further, impress them by DJing vinyl and really get the party started.
Vindata's 'With Opened Eyes' on vinyl
What record player should I get?
There are a few key things to look out for when purchasing a record player. The cartridge is one of the most important parts of the record player, as it includes the stylus, or needle, which transmits the signal from the grooves of the records out to the speakers. Magnet cartridges are the most common type, followed by moving coil ones, which are higher-end and more expensive. You can replace your cartridge when they start to wear out, and on some record players, upgrade them as well.
All-in-one style machines with built-in speakers are generally not the best quality; you’ll be better off using external speakers (we’ll get to speakers in a moment). Yet many good entry-level record players have a built-in preamp, making for one less piece of external equipment you need to buy. Audio-Technica offers a great range of turntables, starting at $179, some of which offer Bluetooth connectivity as well. The Strategist and Discogs have great guides on finding the right record player for you and your budget.
If you're thinking about DJing on vinyl, Digital DJ Tips advise buying sturdy players with direct drive instead of belt drive. They recommend players from Reloop, Pioneer and Stanton for beginner DJs. There are multiple ways you can set it up, going classic with two turntables and a mixer, or a mixer with one CDJ and one turntable, allowing you to mix digital tracks and records.
Vicetone's 'legacy' on vinyl
What are the best speakers to pair it with?
There are many speakers at a wide range of prices on the market today. Similar to opting for the built-in preamp in the record player, buying active speakers offers a built-in amplifier, making things simpler for beginners. If your record player has Bluetooth connectivity, you'll be able to pair Bluetooth speakers with it, although wired speakers generally provide better sound quality. Wifi speakers, like Sonos, fall somewhere in-between wired and Bluetooth, and can also be set up with record players.
You can go for bookshelf speakers or bigger floor-standing ones. For the bookshelves, you can either buy floor stands for them or place them next to your record player on a pad or smaller speaker stands for sound isolation. What HiFi, Wirecutter and Turntable Lab all offer helpful speaker suggestions to bring the best sound out of your records and record player. The first two sites both recommend speakers from ELAC, including the ELAC Debut 2.0 bookshelf speakers and, for those with a higher budget, ones from KEF. Audioengine makes good quality speakers at reasonable prices, including the A2 (which make Turntable Lab’s list) and A5 models, both of which offer analog input connectivity.
How to store & care for your vinyl
Records are somewhat fragile, but handled with care, they can last decades. When handling them, hold in the center or around the edges; try not to touch the grooves. Always put them back in their covers and store them upright in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Floating shelves or cube-style bookshelves can be a fun way to show off your growing collection, and cue your house guests on the music that gets you grooving while serving as a conversation starter.
Use a soft anti-static cloth to wipe dust off of records; there are also special cleaning fluids and record washers. Seeing as your stylus will also collect dust from your records, Discogs advises using cleaning fluid or gel before each use, or at least weekly to keep it in good working order.
Dylan Todd's vinyl collection
Starting your vinyl collection
If all of that info has you excited to build your new music setup, two record collectors and Monstercat employees, Community Manager Dylan Todd and Creative Content Producer Daniel Keen, are here for you with practical advice on how to get your collection started. They also share their favourite vinyl and some of the best spots to crate dig.
How did you get into record collecting?
Daniel: Six years ago, my parents gifted me my opa's record player for Christmas, as he never used it. They were both big into music, concerts, and collecting CDs/vinyl/cassettes throughout high school, college and adulthood. Along with the player, my mom gifted me an original copy of The Beatles’ 'Blue Album,' U2's 'Under Blood Red Sky' and The Police’s 'Synchronicity,' along with my favourite band The 1975's first record. After that, I fell in love!
Dylan: I've always been into collecting stuff that revolves around music. I used to collect enamel pins back in the day, as well as posters from tours, apparel/merch drops, etcetera. I never really considered collecting vinyl until I started working at a music store and laid eyes on a record player. It seemed like a great way to support artists while also getting to listen to their music on a different platform besides streaming. I'm a huge sucker for collecting things that are visually pleasing to look at, so being able to not only listen to the music on vinyl but also essentially collect the album artwork on the packaging is really cool to me.
Daniel Keen's vinyl set up
Do you have any tips for beginners?
Daniel: My main advice is not to spend all your money on vinyl in one go. Build up your setup (speakers, player, amp) first, as a lot of the cheaper players can actually wreck your precious vinyl due to the lower quality stylus needles and ways of playing the record. Space out your hauls and keep them concise, as it is an expensive hobby. Those records you do purchase from time to time will be more meaningful.
Dylan: Start with some of your favourites. You may come across some that are sold out and being resold for hundreds of dollars. I would highly suggest not buying one of those as your first purchase. Pick a handful of artists you love, see if they still have records in stock on their website or at local record stores, and shop from there to begin. Once you get a better understanding of if something is limited-edition, or if something will ever be restocked, that is when you can start looking into resale. I'd also say never panic buy resale if you miss a sale on a new vinyl/record. Odds are they usually get restocked unless they explicitly say they won't be!
Where are your favorite spots to dig?
Daniel: Spots in Vancouver: Neptoon Records, Red Cat Records, Zulu Records, Audiophile Records, Hooked On Phono Records, Vinyl Records! There are many places in Vancouver to check out.
Spots around the world:
Seattle: Sonic Boom Records, Fat Cat Records
L.A.: Amoeba Records, Record Surplus, The Record Parlour
Amsterdam: Waxwell Records, Distortion Records
London: Reckless Records, All Ages Records
Online: Discogs has a great selection. Also, many bands, artists and producers like to sell theirs on Bandcamp or their personal sites. Pay local, independent stores and support your favourite artists!
Dylan: Online, honestly! I go through tons of various online record/vinyl shops and see what they have available. I also love checking out smaller stores when I visit surrounding cities and garage sales! Garage sales can be an unreal spot to score vinyl because some people simply just do not care about the value of what they have, or they're looking to get rid of it and pass it on to a good home, so I would highly suggest checking out garage sales if you're looking for some more vintage/older vinyl.
What is your favourite vinyl and why?
Daniel: A limited run of picture disc vinyl that was released for Dermot Kennedy's album 'Without Fear,' which was part of Record Store Day 2020. It's a favourite album of mine and perfect for an evening listen.
Dylan: It's the first one I collected! Porter Robinson has always been a favourite of mine ever since I started to dive deeper into the dance and electronic music scene. Being able to start my collection off with one of the artists I look up to the most definitely helped fuel my love for collecting records.
We hope you enjoy the grooves (literally) of your new records!