The Music World Beyond MP3

by Peter Muller

Music is in a weird place right now. Never before has a person been able to carry their entire music library in their pocket, clip four thousand songs to their shirt sleeve for a run, or buy just about any song under the sun from their cell phone. Hell, cell phones can even hear, identify, and suggest songs now!

With all these changes and conveniences come consequences and headaches; pros and cons. The music industry claims to be hurting more than ever, but smaller artists that would have previously not had a chance are filling up venues. CD sales are plummeting, MC Hammer is still broke, but Lady Gaga just bought another mansion and Lars Ulrich is still a raging douche bag. It’s all very confusing.

Sometimes it helps to take it back to a simpler time: We’re talking about vinyl records. You may scoff at the thought of having to flip through a stack of the huge, flat, and heavy 12” square sleeves that house those giant black discs. There’s a reason your parents probably keep them in the basement and refuse to throw them out; it’s called listening. Because, let’s face it, no one listens to music anymore. Today it’s all about that latest single; forget the rest of the filler album it comes with. Everyone just wants to download the song that everyone knows, the one that you heard on the radio and in that new movie trailer. A pop artist today can make more money off of one song than most used to make in an entire career, so why bother spending time making good music when they only need one hit? Along with attention spans, people’s ability to hear talent has gotten drastically insufficient.

That’s why vinyl is making a comeback in a big way. Almost every new album released on CD and iTunes is now available on vinyl too. Some speculate that vinyl may even be the music industry’s last hope. Why do you ask?

Because listening to music on vinyl is a completely different experience than clicking a song on your iPod. It’s not that easy or quick to skip around songs on a record, which means you’ll drop the needle at the beginning, walk away, and listen. What do you own when you buy an mp3? Not much but a bit of computer code stored on digital memory. With vinyl, you can honestly say you own a piece of music: a 12” square piece of art that the album artist chose to communicate the sum of their enclosed work to you. Everyone should experience pulling that inky black disc from its paper sleeve, being careful to only handle the edges as you work to connect the turntable spindle with the tiny hole and the center of a seemingly endless vortex of grooves. That’s a truly interactive experience that you’ll never get from those white ear buds as you run to catch the bus.

The sound is different too. There is an arguably different level of depth in the music that emanates from vinyl. Between the occasional pops, clicks, and hiss is a warm sound that your iPod will never be able to reproduce. It’s the audio equivalent of splitting wood to build your own cooking fire when camping out on a cool fall evening.

Convinced yet? If you’re ready to give it a try, we’re here to help you out. Vinyl technology has benefited from modern advances almost as much as cell phones, so you can forget that four foot tall, two hundred pound, compressed wood laminate turntable your dad has in the garage. Today’s turntables are barely larger than the record itself, and sometimes even smaller! We’ve searched high and low, testing out different set-ups in all price ranges to find you the best one for the right price.

There is no doubt, the reigning king of turntables is the legendary (and recently discontinued) Technics SL-1200 series. In reality, there is no reason to go off spending $600-1,000+ on some audio equipment to jump on the vinyl boat. We managed to put together an awesome home system for just over $200.

The Vestax Handy Trax ($130, available here) combined with the Numark NPM5 Studio Monitor Speakers ($90, available here) will get you spinning vinyl with excellent sound in no time at all. Containing all the basic controls you’ll need to play LPs (the big ones), 45’s (the small ones), and Bakelite 78’s (the really thick mid-sized ones your grandma may have left behind), the Vestax turntable even has a small built in speaker and runs on batteries for when you’re really hooked and need to share with your friends. The built in preamp means you can connect it to any stereo system or speaker set with ease via RCA audio cables (the red and white ones). We recommend connecting it to the Numark monitor speakers because of their dedicated amp, making the sound clear, loud and proud. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing all this time.

Your mood may be affected by the music you listen to, but forming a physical connection to your music collection can change your life. Pull those old records out of the basement and raid your local record store (they could probably use your support), you’re guaranteed to expand your taste for good tunes and make some musical discoveries.

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