Complete Guide to Record Collecting

Vinyl's across the floor in guide to record collecting

Vinyl represents a fundamental need in human nature. As technology marches onward, we seem to be heading toward a sterile future where tactile sensations are a thing of the past. It is now possible to store an entire lifetime’s worth of music on a device thinner than a poor man’s wallet. We’ve done it. The scientists figured it out. It’s over.

And yet…we don’t all necessarily want that type of future.

In our hearts, those of us who like vinyl like having a physical manifestation of music. We enjoy the process of putting a record on and lightly dropping the needle in the outermost groove. We love feeling the cool, ridged surface of a record under our fingers. It is infinitely more pleasurable to us than thumbing through an on-screen library — it allows us to connect with the process of making sound.

Music is the art all other arts envy. We can enjoy it anywhere, anytime. It can seamlessly blend with practically any other form of art. It shapes culture and history more powerfully than any other art. In this article, we will explain record collecting for beginners and how to go about getting your vinyl collection up to snuff.

Why Collect Vinyl?

Well, the first reason many of us get into collecting anything is that we love it. But the reasons go far beyond that — you’re about to spend time and money on an ambitious and fulfilling hobby, and it helps to verbalize why. This justification will come in handy when you’re arguing how those bookshelves really need records to balance the room’s feng shui — convince your roommate or lover with the following rationale.

1. Vinyl sounds better.

It’s not hipster pseudoscience — it’s hipster science. Analog sound is better than digital, and here’s why.

A song is nothing more than a sound wave. Every vocal, guitar, drum and bass part that got recorded onto the track had its own sound wave, and they all got summed into one. Amazingly, this single sound wave contains all the original sound waves as if they were separate. In vinyl records, this sound wave gets physically engraved into the grooves of the record. The needle tracks over them, relaying them as voltage signals to the speakers.

Digital music gets stored as data. An analog soundwave is an infinite continuum of points — the more you zoom into a small curve of the wave, the more points you’ll find. Because computers do not have infinite storage capacity, they cannot store every point on a soundwave.

So instead, they approximate. Instead of recording every possible point of a single curve in the sound wave, for example, they may approximate it with five points. That means those five points on a digital sound file must represent an infinite number of points. Math is not everyone’s strong suit, but bear with us as we demonstrate an equation: 5 < infinity.

There you have it. Digital music does not sound as good because it is an approximation of analog music, which vinyl provides. That’s not to say digital music isn’t impressive — it is, and it serves a great purpose — it just can’t possibly represent the same amount of detail as analog. If you want the best listening experience possible, vinyl is the choice for you.

2. It doubles as artwork.

One of the most tragic losses in the age of MP3s is the loss of tangible artwork accompanying albums. With vinyl records, you get a 7″ or 12″ sleeve that puts an artist’s visual imagination on full display. Albums can contain lyrics, pictures, credits and other items that give you a closer look inside the process of making them.

Additionally, albums can hang with the best of them — on your wall, that is. Albums make lovely pieces of art, whether you frame them or let them hang by themselves.

3. Valuable LP vinyl records can sometimes be an investment.

How much are old 45 records worth? The answers vary. One thing is important to remember, though: You probably shouldn’t look at vinyl collecting as an investment. If you are interested in making money, buy stocks.

However, some vinyl can maintain its value over time, if there is a fanbase for it down the road. Valuable LPs can pack some return on investment.

As DJ Cassidy put it in an interview about vinyl’s intrinsic value, “MP3s have no character. CDs have no character….Vinyl has worldwide, agreed-upon praise on its character and its texture and its sound. People love that sound.” If any medium for music is sure to have value down the road, vinyl is it.

You won’t be pawning off your MP3s on the dark web, so what’s the harm in spending your money on a vinyl collection that brings you joy and may have some resale value?

4. It’s a fulfilling pastime.

Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that you’re collecting vinyl because it’s fun. Whether you’re hunting for valuable LP vinyl records or beefing up your vinyl collection must-haves, you’ll rarely be bored. There is always a new record to hunt for, a new way to organize your vinyl, a new occasion to pick out the perfect music for. When you collect vinyl, you are also supporting musicians and artists by buying their merchandise.

You will always have a conversation piece. People love talking about vinyl because so many others are passionate and knowledgeable about it. And if they aren’t, they’ll probably act like they are, because it’s cool.

Now that you have your arguments written out for you, here’s a vinyl record guide to walk you through exactly how to start a record collection, how to organize your records as you collect them and how to maintain and clean vinyl records, as well as the various types of turntables to choose from.

How to Collect Vinyl

Who buys used records? One answer is record shops. The coolest thing about shopping for vinyl records is the record stores themselves. Each one is a microcosm, a world apart from the one outside. The owner is likely to have an enviably encyclopedic knowledge of every vinyl in the store, and if you’re friendly, they can be a valuable source of information about the best vinyl records to collect, based on your tastes.

The first thing to know about how to collect LP records is that you’ll need to rely on your eyes. When you find an album, take it out and inspect it for quality. There is often a tiny sticker in the upper corner denoting the quality of the record, but take this with a grain of salt — it may be a bit optimistic in some cases. When you inspect an album, try to see past the dust that will inevitably have collected on some of them. Instead, look for visible scratches.

When in doubt, go up to the kindly owner and ask to listen to it on a turntable with some headphones. If it is damaged, don’t think twice — put it back on the shelf. You can find a functioning copy somewhere else. If the record looks undamaged but dirty, the store might be able to clean it for you. Typically, the shop staff has the materials to clean records on hand. If not, we’ll also cover how to clean records later in this article.

At some point, you will run into the issue of bootleg records. The first sign is that they are often suspiciously cheap. Now before you go casting any judgment, know that the quality of bootlegs can range from zero to excellent. Vinyl that are lightweight are possibly bootlegged, as the bootleggers will attempt to print the record on cheaper, thinner material. If things seem too good to be true, don’t assume you’ve scored the holy grail — you’ve probably landed a bootleg. And that’s OK.

Ready to start your album collection? Go to your local record store or visit vinyl record websites to find quality vinyl.

How to Organize Your Records

First of all, make sure to always store your records vertically. That’s Vinyl Collecting 101 — do not stack them. This practice leads to warped records, and it makes it hard to pull one out without scratching. Also, avoid using milk crates. Although these are quite popular and tantalizingly cheap, they have flex to them. That means once you’ve loaded one up with records, it can bend, putting stress on the records that can lead to warping. They also tend to tear up record sleeves.

As for how to store your records, IKEA and similar companies make some excellent vinyl storage options. Best of all, many of these are modular, meaning you can continue adding more shelves as your collection grows. A company called Vinyl Me, Please also makes dedicated vinyl shelving that is a bit higher quality. Plenty of wooden crates are out there that may fit your aesthetic preferences as well.

A few other notes on vinyl collecting essentials:

  • Make sure the records are in a temperature-controlled room.
  • Keep records well away from any heat sources such as radiators, baseboard heaters, wood stoves or fireplaces.
  • Keep the records in anti-static plastic sleeves to prevent static electricity from causing damage.

Now, here are some options for how to organize your records efficiently.

  1. Artist’s name, alphabetically: Going by the band or artist name is a classic organizational method. It makes things pretty surefire and allows anyone to replace the records in the right spot. Remember to go by the last name.
  2. Organize by genre: This method is useful for when you know what mood you’re in, but there’s no particular artist coming to mind. Just go to the blues section and let your eyes dance over the albums’ spines, and one will inevitably jump out at you. It’s useful to organize alphabetically within these genres.
  3. By record label: Are you a true aficionado of record trivia? Organizing by the record label is a classy move, and depending on how you categorize music mentally, may be the secret to making sense of your collection. Merge on this shelf, Kill Rock Stars on that — you get the idea.

How to Clean Your Records

Records attract dust and grunge — after all, they are a series of tiny grooves. That means you’ll need to keep your records clean to keep them sounding their best. Don’t worry, it is a pretty painless process.

One of the best tools you can buy is a carbon-fiber brush to get dust out of the records. As you can imagine, it is crucial to use this tool with a delicate touch. Digging into the grooves can damage them by scratching. To use it, place the edge of the brush on the vinyl and sweep the dust toward yourself. You can then remove any excess with the back of the brush. Repeat this several times until there is no more dust.

The best way to keep your records clean is to do a quick brushing before every listen. This way, you won’t have to dedicate any large chunk of time to cleaning all your records at once. Note that you should buy an anti-static brush, as static is the enemy of records. However, brushes are not for any sort of deep cleaning. They are purely for removing dust. To perform a deep clean, you’ll need to use a machine.

A decent record-cleaning machine will set you back a couple hundred dollars. However, they will be solely responsible for cleaning your vinyl and keeping them fresh for decades. To use one, clamp the record on and spread cleaning liquid over it with a brush. The record cleaner comes with a vacuum to suck this liquid up, which removes all the grime that has accumulated on it.

If you can’t afford the machine, use the poor man’s method: wood glue and a spreading stick. Pour a large amount of wood glue over the entire surface of the record, making sure you have a good coating on every part. Let it dry for 24 hours and then pull it off — all the grit will come with it.

Types of Turntables

When you set out to buy a turntable, knowing what to avoid is the first step. Avoid buying from big chain stores, as turntables you’ll find there are likely to be low-quality. Also, avoid turntables that are “all-in-one,” with speakers built in. While these are great for a quick sonic solution, they impose a limit on what you can do — you’re stuck listening through those speakers and can’t really add your own.

If you buy a turntable, you’ll also need to buy speakers and an amplifier. Some great choices for turntables include:

  • Stanton T62 (~$160 new)
  • Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable (~$400 new)
  • Clearaudio Concept Turntable (~$1,400 new)

Next will come speakers:

  • JBL Professional LSR305 speakers (~$129 each new)
  • ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 Speakers (~$500 each new)
  • KEF LS50 Mini Monitor Speakers (~$1,000 each new)

And finally, an amplifier:

  • Pro-Ject Phono Box E Phono preamplifier (~$60 new)
  • PS Audio Sprout Amplifier (~$500 new)
  • Rogue Audio Sphinx Amplifier (~$1,500 new)

You can find excellent deals on used equipment at Record Head, where the staff is passionate about vinyl and all the associated equipment.

Come to Record Head to Get Started

At Record Head, it is our goal to help you find the gear you need at a price you can afford. We will help vinyl record buyers choose the right speakers, turntables, amplifiers and vinyl with experience and friendly customer service. We offer both new and used items, so you’ll be happy with your bank account and even happier with your gear. Contact Record Head with any questions.