Over the past few years, I’ve amassed a small collection of vinyl records, but I’d never given any of them a spin owing to the fact that I didn’t own a record player until a couple of weeks ago.
Previously, I was using my records as display pieces or buying them as a way to support some of my favorite artists, but when I was given the chance to go hands-on with a Lenco record player, I jumped at the opportunity to finally see what all the fuss was about.
And I’m clearly not the only music fan that is curious about vinyl right now. The format has been making a major comeback over the last decade. In 2021 sales of vinyl doubled year-over-year to 41.7 million records shifted in the US alone. Last year marked 16 consecutive years of increased growth without any signs of slowing down.
In fact, the demand for vinyl is growing so much that manufacturing plants are struggling to keep up. I've noticed multiple artists opting to delay new music until they can print enough discs to satisfy demand.
So with my small stack of records itching to be played and a Lenco LS-410WA record player now in my possession, I was ready to see if vinyl truly lives up to the hype…
Not quite a smooth setup
Out of the box, what surprised me most about using a record player was how involved the setup process is. I had, perhaps naively, assumed that I’d pull the player out of the box, plug it in, slap a vinyl onto the turntable, click play and would be listening to my favorite music within minutes.
Instead, the initial setup process took me more than thirty minutes — some assembly was definitely required here. Placing the belt on the motor pulley was a little fiddly, but I managed it easy enough. It was the act of balancing the tonearm that really caused me grief. In fact, I had to resort to a helpful YouTube tutorial after several attempts of playing with the counterweight left the tonearm hopelessly out of balance.
However, with a little video assistance, I eventually got the record player set up and was ready to finally give one of my records a spin. At this point, I was a little frustrated, but also eager to hear what a record actually sounded like.
Sounds good to me
With the record player setup and ready to start spinning some wax, I pulled out one of my favorite albums, Tourist History by Two Door Cinema Club, and very carefully placed it on the turntable. A single button press later, and it was spinning. I lowered the tonearm — half expecting it to need rebalancing again — and watched with bated breath as it slowly made its way down onto the revolving vinyl record surface.
Within moments a crackle emitted from the player’s built-in speakers and the first seconds of the first track began. And...I was immediately impressed. There was a fullness to the song that I’d not experienced before when listening to it many times through streaming services or on CD (remember those?). It could arguably be the placebo effect, but listening to music through a vinyl player in my experience so far really does sound better.
Later when I played the same album for my partner (who is also a vinyl newcomer) she was equally enthusiastic, describing the sound as noticeably crisper than what you hear through a Bluetooth speaker and a streaming service combo.
Even now many spins later, I’m still equally as impressed. In a short space of time listening through vinyl has become my favorite way to enjoy music. I also greatly enjoy that vinyl strongly encourages you to listen to albums in full, rather than jumping around between singles. Most albums are meticulously crafted with the track order debated for hours; vinyl offers a stark reminder of why a well-constructed album is such an artistic achievement.
The disadvantages of vinyl
Of course, there are drawbacks to vinyl. For starters, records themselves are pretty pricey. For example, a copy of the aforementioned Two Door Cinema Club album costs $38 on Amazon — that’s more than the price of three months of Spotify Premium.
Even as a fresh vinyl convert it’s still hard to see me ever buying more than a couple of dozen vinyls; if I’m going to be spending between $20-40 for a record it needs to be an album that I really love all the way through. I’m comfortable(ish) spending that on LPs that I regularly want to listen to front-to-back, but for albums where I only enjoy a handful of tracks, the investment wouldn’t be worthwhile.
There’s no denying that vinyl has a high barrier to entry, but it also comes at the cost of convenience. On a streaming service, I can quickly hop between artists, creating a playlist of my favorite tracks from across genres, whereas with vinyl the process of switching records is laborious and not something you’d want to be doing after every three-minute song. Not to mention, vinyl greatly limits your ability to discover new music, because realistically who's likely to spend $40 on a record they've never heard before?
The real appeal of records
In a lot of ways, I would compare using a record player to driving a manual car. It’s much easier to drive an automatic vehicle, but some people still opt to drive stick because they appreciate the additional control and the more hands-on nature of the process.
It’s the same with vinyl. If you want the most straightforward and cheapest way to enjoy your music then I wouldn’t recommend investing in a turntable. But if you can take pleasure from the more involved process of using, operating and maintaining a record player, then vinyl is absolutely a valid way to consume your music. Plus, a record player comes with the added bonus of sounding absolutely brilliant.
Even with the clear audio advantage of vinyl, I’ll definitely not be canceling my Spotify subscription anytime soon. However, in the space of a few weeks, I’ve gone from somebody with no first-hand experience of vinyl to someone who would happily join the growing chorus of support for the format. And I look forward to expanding my record collection even larger in the future, but I might wait to see if Black Friday deals bring any vinyl record discounts first.