As sales of CDs and digital downloads have fallen in the wake of streaming services, vinyl has become the most popular physical medium for music fans.
Vinyl has a host of benefits over streaming, from better sound to getting an album’s art all its beautiful 12” glory.
More than 19.2 million vinyl records were sold in the first six months of 2021, so if you’re wondering how to get into vinyl records, you’re not alone.
How to get into vinyl
Before you can start spinning, you’ll need a stereo, a player, and some records, but when it comes to records, that’s part of the fun.
Here’s everything you need to know about getting into vinyl.
How does a vinyl record work?
Record players may seem like simple machines, but the technology that makes them work is fascinating. Here’s how it works:
- A vinyl record is placed on a player connected to your stereo.
- Once you drop the player’s needle on the vinyl record, the needle runs over grooves in the album as it spins.
- The needle converts the vibrations from the grooves into electric signals sent to your stereo.
If you’ve ever wondered why a record makes a horrible scratching sound when the needle is bumped, that’s the needle transmitting the vibrations from its movement.
The grooves of a vinyl record are very delicate. If you want to avoid pops, crackles, and skips, you’ll need to take care of your records.
Dusty or scratched records make it difficult for the needle to play correctly. However, if you’re careful while playing them, your vinyl records will play for decades.
What do I need to get started listening to vinyl?
One of the wonderful things about getting into vinyl is that it’s simple to start exploring while offering a host of options for personalizing your setup.
There are two kinds of vinyl setups; a record player with a built-in speaker, or a turntable you connect to your stereo.
Each of these two setups has their own benefits. Let’s go over them.
Should I buy a record player with a built-in speaker?
Record players with built-in speakers are wildly popular because of how simple they are to use.
Getting started is as easy as plugging it in, putting on an album, and hitting play. These modern units are worlds better than the stereo record players of yesteryear.
Along with improved speakers, modern all-in-one turntables come with a host of features. Most models have 3.5mm AUX and RCA cables that allow you to connect them to your stereo and vinyl-to-MP3 recording over USB.
Almost all modern all-in-one tables also act as Bluetooth receivers if you want to play Spotify on them through your phone.
The downsides of all-in-one record players are mostly in durability, speaker sound quality, and possible damage to your records.
While there are exceptions, these models are usually budget-priced and not built to last years. However, they’re perfect for a college dorm or casual listening in your bedroom.
Additionally, while all-in-one speakers have improved dramatically over the years, if sound quality is your main concern, you might find the small built-in speakers too weak.
These models will always have limited volume because loud sound vibrations could make the needle skip.
Finally, many record players play with their lids open with the record partially exposed off the side. If the lid comes down while you are playing or your cat runs over it, this can damage the vinyl.
However, that doesn’t mean these aren’t great players. They’re just best suited for people with smaller living spaces or who listen to music without a ton of bass.
It’s also important to note they still function as normal record players if you hook them up to a stereo.
Should I buy a turntable to connect to my stereo?
If some record players have speakers, why should you buy one that needs to be hooked up to a stereo?
Traditional turntables have dramatically better sound than stand-alone record players due to their increased customization and use of your stereo.
The biggest difference is in sound quality. Simply put, whether you have a sound bar or high-def stereo speakers, your records will sound better on a turntable. The depth of sound you can experience cannot be beaten.
Good turntables also last longer because they’re usually built from higher-quality parts. Many of the modern models have features like Bluetooth and vinyl-to-MP3 copying over USB.
Turntables can have their downsides too. Take, for example, the preamp.
A preamp is a device that amplifies the signal from your turntable’s needle so it can be played over your stereo. The vast majority of modern turntables come with an internal preamp, but you’ll need to get one for some higher-end models.
Traditional turntables also lack the pick-up-and-go nature of portable record players.
They take up a lot of space, can be heavy, and need to be near your stereo or sound bar to work. These are all important things to consider before buying.
What are the best record players for beginners?
1) Best beginner record player for an office or dorm: Wrcibo Record Player Vintage Turntable with built-in speakers
Let’s start by breaking all the rules with a record player turntable that has built-in speakers and a three-speed belt drive.
Combining the best features of a traditional record player and turntable, this little wonder sounds great on its own or hooked up to your hi-fi.
Its three-speed belt-drive lets you play standard records at 45 and 33 RPMs, along with support for older 78 RPM records.
This model also includes an aux-in if you’d like to play music off your phone, making it a great versatile record player for beginners.
The Wrcibo looks sharp with its simple wooden body and full-size clear dust cover to protect your albums as they play.
2) Best beginner record player for Bluetooth users: Audio-Technica AT-LP60XBT Wireless Belt-Drive Turntable
Audio-Technica is an industry leader in home turntable systems thanks to its incredible sound quality, innovation, and range of options.
The AT-LP60XBT Wireless Belt-Drive Turntable combines the put-it-anywhere bliss of a record player with the sound of a turntable.
While it lacks built-in speakers, this model can connect to any Bluetooth speaker wirelessly. This gives you greater freedom to place it anywhere in your living room and avoid messing with wires.
If you want to connect it manually to your stereo, this model makes installation simple by providing RCA to AUX cords. making installation simple.
The AT-LP60XBT supports 45 and 33 RPM speeds and drops the needle for you automatically when you press play.
While it can’t record MP3s on your vinyl, this simple-to-use, incredible sounding machine is a fabulous entry point for new vinyl fans.
3) Best beginner record player for audio quality: Fluance RT81 Elite High Fidelity Turntable with Built-in Preamp
The best record player for beginners is, of course, subjective. If all you care about is world-class sound without a lot of features, the Fluance RT81 Elite is the turntable for you.
Fluance’s RT81 Elite comes with a high-performance Audio-Technica AT95E needle for immersive sound.
Each model comes with a built-in preamp, so you can just connect it to your stereo and listen.
Built with quality in mind, this simple player skips Bluetooth and USB recording features to focus on producing the best sound imaginable.
We particularly love the S-type tonearm and anti-skating system, which gently pulls the best sound from your vinyl without wearing down your needle.
The Elite is also a beautiful device, coming in both Piano Black and Walnut.
This player will look beautiful sitting in your home, but it will and sound even better.
4) Best classic suitcase record player for beginners: Crosley CR8005D-TU Cruiser
If you long for the vintage look of classic all-in-one record players but need modern features Crosley’s Cruiser is a gem.
This belt-driven system can play 33 ⅓, 45, and 78 RPM records with ease and offers pitch control for fine-tuned adjustments.
Each player has two small yet mighty, dynamic full-range stereo speakers, so no matter where you go music will follow.
The Cruiser’s hard briefcase design quickly folds up for travel and comes in denim, havana, herringbone, lavender, teal, tourmaline, and white sand colors.
It can also be hooked up to a larger stereo via RCA cables if you need a little extra punch.
While the Cruiser does allow you to play music from a Bluetooth device through its speakers, you sadly can’t use Bluetooth to play it on your stereo.
However, that’s a minor complaint.
Crosley’s beloved classic design and great sound for its size haves made it one of the most popular starter record players for years.
5) Best beginner record player for teenagers or college students: Victrola VSC-400SB Bluetooth Suitcase Turntable
When it comes to the classic suitcase record player, the Victrola VSC-400SB is one of the best modern versions around.
This three-speed belt-driven record player can play 33 ⅓, 45, and 78 RPM records on its surprisingly powerful built-in speakers.
When you need a bigger sound, it can be easily hooked up to a stereo via RCA cables or Bluetooth.
We love the classic blank white look of this suitcase record player, but it comes with 50 vintage-inspired stickers should you wish to add some color.
This is a perfect record player for someone student looking to explore vinyl or someone looking for a simple, affordable setup.
6) Most beautiful entry-level model: Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN Turntable in Walnut
Combining minimalist charm, stunning design, and audiophile level sound, Audio-Technica’s AT-LPW40WN is a beautiful addition to any living room.
Simple button controls lets you switch between 33 and 44rpms, as the built-in phono preamp lulls the highest highs and deepest lows from your vinyl.
This elegant piece is an investment in the future of your vinyl collection. Why not start on the right foot?
7) Best audiophile quality stereo and turntable set up in one: T1 Phono SB / Sonos Five / Turntable Pack from Turntable Lab
There’s a very good chance if you’re just getting started with vinyl you also don’t have a home stereo set up yet.
Kill two birds with one stone thanks to this incredible deal on T1 Phone Turntable and a Sonos Five speaker.
This bundle from Turntable Lab is a complete musical experience, seamlessly switching from streaming to vinyl with a button press.
The Sonos Five’s speaker is crisp, loud, and dynamic, pulling out every last morsel of sound from your vinyl.
T1’s Phone SB is an incredibly user-friendly turntable, easy to set up and play thanks to its minimalist design.
In a space where a great turntable alone can cost hundreds, getting a full stereo and table set up for under $1,000 is a steal.
8) Best turntable when money is no object: Concept Black Turntable
If money is no object jump right into the deep end of the pool with the stunning Concept turntable.
Featuring an ultra-streamlined award-winning design, the Concept is equal parts work of art and music listening device.
Able to handle 33/44/78rpm records and coming pre-installed $999 concept moving coil cartridge needle, your vinyl will never sound better than on a Ceoncept table.
Just make sure to pick up a preamp, as this model does not have one built-in.
This elegant piece is an investment in the future of your vinyl collection. Why not start on the right foot?
Where do you buy records?
Now that you have your record player, the real fun begins. As you travel through life, you will now feel the pull of every record store that passes you by.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find incredible records online. Here are our five favorite places to buy vinyl online.
1) Best online indie mail order: Turntable Lab
If you normally do all your shopping on Amazon, turn your eyes first to the fine folks at Turntable Lab. In most cases, this independent retailer will have anything you’re looking for, from turntables to the hottest new releases. Grab a new Audio-Technica record player and exclusive color vinyl to play it on.
From the newest indie hits like Snail Mail’s Valentine to color reissues of hip hop classics like The Roots’ Tipping Point, Turntable Labs is a joy to browse. Especially if you’re looking for hard-to-find gems like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Paper Mache Dream Balloon with the lenticular cover.
2) Best place for major label records: Amazon
Amazon truly does it all, and vinyl is no exception. The online mega-retailer is one of the best places online to buy vinyl from major label acts. Its regular discounts, national warehouses full of options enormous inventory, and fast shipping make Amazon a reliable source for new albums. From country to rap to pop and death metal, Amazon brings it all to your door fast.
3) Best indie record store in America: Amoeba
California’s Amoeba Records is a legendary brick-and-mortar store that has fed millions of vinyl fans over the years. Now you can search their vast library of albums from the comfort of your home. When you’re looking for a hard-to-find, out-of-print title or an obscure indie band, turn to Amoeba first. It’s rare they won’t have what you’re looking for.
4) Best international indie store: Rough Trade
Founded in 1979 in London, Rough Trade has grown over the years into one of the world’s largest independent record stores and record labels. Over the years, Rough Trade has helped introduce the world to bands like The Strokes and Arcade Fire. But its online record store remains an incredible place to discover new music outside the mainstream.
5) Best place for limited classic reissues: Victrola
Looking to fill in some gaps in your classic rock, country, or hip hop collections? Check out the incredible Victrola store. You’ll discover the entire history of rock in roll within its digital walls, with stunning new pressings of yesterday and today’s best bands.
Agent Orange, Nina Simone, Joan Baez, Donna Summer, Creedence Clearw Water Revival, and Kendrick Lamar alike hold court at Victrola. With free shipping on orders over $75, Victrola makes it easy to fill up your cart with favorites. Just make sure you don’t skip the pre-order section for their upcoming color vinyl exclusives.
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