Buying vinyl

· music ·

Yesterday, I mentioned that I'd set up a borrowed turntable. The next step, of course, was to buy some vinyl. I haven't had a turntable of my own since I was a very small child and had a plastic, two-part turntable on which I played the hits from Disney films, so I needed to go out and start a collection. My brother kindly started me off by giving me the excellent album 'Riot on an Empty Street' by the Kings of Convenience on vinyl for my birthday. As a newly-recorded album, this was rich and detailed, and the warmth and presence of the medium showed off the delicate vocals and intricate acoustic guitar playing to their best advantage. This was an excellent start.

I headed out to Birmingham's finest second-hand record shops in search of bargains. There are several good shops, which all have slightly different markets, but my favourite by far was The Diskery, the very place where Steve Winwood used to buy American R&B albums. They have a huge selection in all kinds of genres, their stock seems to generally be in excellent condition, and they are very reasonably priced. After much shuffling through the £1 bin and 'general rock' sections, I came away with four discs for a grand total of £11. Another advantage of vinyl is that you can get a lot of music for your money if you stick to second-hand, non-collectable discs.

If you promise not to laugh, here are my choices:

So there it is. Having a turntable is encouraging me to seek out formerly beloved music from my adolescence, and to take risks on music I haven't heard before. It has also reminded me that there are many different ways of listening to music. Using a turntable is quite labour-intensive, with the fussy ritual of cleaning the records, carefully positioning the stylus, and turning the record over half way through. I'm finding that this makes me actually sit down and just listen. With CDs — or worse, with MP3s — it's so easy to just shove an album or two on and do something else, that you often find yourself doing something else with music as a background.

There's nothing wrong with that of course, but sometimes it's good to do the music proper justice and concentrate on it. You could do that with CD, but I find the the need for more attention to the equipment with vinyl enforces a different kind of listening environment. I'm not about to give up my CD player or iPod (in fact, I chose my CD player because it had a vinyl-like quality), but there's also something intensely engaging about vinyl, even with a fairly budget turntable. Despite the occasional pop and crackle, with properly recorded material it just sounds more intensely alive than a digital player.