Beginner’s Guide to Vinyl Collecting

Vinyl records have become a popular medium for music lovers and collectors, allowing them to enjoy their favorite songs in the format they prefer. Vinyl enthusiasts can find old vinyl from your grandparents’ record collection or start collecting new releases of today’s biggest artists only available on vinyl. But what is this mysterious world that has captured so many people with its charm? Here are some tips to get you started buying into the craze.

Vinyl records are a growing market. If you’re new to the record collecting scene, here’s a guide for beginners on how to start.

Young man lying on floor stack of records and vinyl player.

Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Cameron Schaefer.

“Is it immoral to want to stay at home and listen to your records?” Collecting records isn’t the same as collecting stamps, beermats, or antique thimbles. There’s an entire world in here, one that’s prettier, dirtier, more violent, more tranquil, more colorful, sleazier, more hazardous, more loving than the one I live in; there’s history, geography, poetry, and a plethora of other subjects I should have studied in school, including music.” High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

I’m a vinyl convert. Since I was a youngster, I’ve excitedly followed the great advancements in recording technology, beginning with the cassette tape and progressing all the way to the mp3. I never imagined defying the evolutionary trend until a year ago, yet now here I am, fully enamored with a medium that seems to defy decades of technical advancement. I’m not the only one that thinks this way.

Vinyl sales have been on the up for the last six years, after dwindling to a trickle in the early 2000s. They were up 39 percent in 2011. (3.9M albums sold). This is occurring despite a 12.6 percent drop in CD sales in the same year. While it’s easy to dismiss the current surge of interest in vinyl as a result of arrogant, hipster culture’s aesthetic tendencies, this judgment is questionable. I’ve spent the last year immersed in the world of vinyl, and I can honestly say that there’s something utterly distinct and meaningful about the medium that goes beyond simply nostalgia, picture, or even music.

How to Raise a Child

Vintage kid boy putting record onto turntable.

Music has always played a significant role in my life. A typical night in the Schaefer family as a kid was my father, a talented jazz trombonist-turned-lawyer, rummaging through his modest, dusty record collection and picking the night’s music. I can still hear him sighing as he knelt down on one knee to carefully place the needle on the record. This was his treatment after a hard day of legal labor. It was both an education and an adventure for me. I sat there waiting for the “pop” when the needle descended into the grooves and began its auditory dance.

My father would relax in his leather chair in the living room, while I sat close my mother, who was cross-stitching with one eye on her job and the other on me eating grotesquely big ice cream sundaes. The sounds of pleasure, grief, regret, wrath, love, and hope poured through the speakers like water – life’s components sifted through the treble and bass clef. Tchaikovsky, Pavarotti, Coltrane, Davis, Joplin, and McCartney were all introduced to me during these evenings.

My father was a DJ, but my mother was no slouch when it came to music. She was a talented pianist who had been collecting vinyl since high school, acquiring a sizable collection of 50s and 60s rock as well as a ridiculous number of rare 45s including everything from sing-along children’s music to Italian opera. Her death occurred during my freshman year of college, and the following inheritance of her record collection rekindled my interest in vinyl.


The Succession

Her albums lay in our garage for years. I promised I’d get to them soon enough, but the fact was that reading through her documents could be a more personal experience than I was ready for at the moment. When I spotted them again this summer while cleaning out the garage, I knew it was time. I carried them into the living room and started looking through them one by one, finding the experience to be exactly as intimate as I’d hoped, but considerably more delightful.

I wasn’t simply listening to my mother’s music; I was uncovering the concrete reflections of her life, a personal art museum of preferences and experiences brimming with the beautiful, terrible, and ugly. I giggled at several record covers, trying to imagine what was going through her mind when she bought them (she probably thought the same about a few purchases I had made in my earlier years). Many of the records still had the original shrink wrap on the exterior, and I could determine by the stickers when she acquired them – evidently during a period when 12′′ studio albums could be purchased for $3.67.

Levi on Tuesdays

An old college acquaintance of mine moved into the area about this time, as if on cue. Levi was a vinyl aficionado with no one to share his well selected 500+ record collection with. Missionaries are taught to be ready to communicate their message at all times, since you never know when someone may need to hear it. Levi was a vinyl missionary, and he couldn’t have asked for a more capable or eager convert. The experience of un-crating my mother’s record had already tilled, fertilized, and watered my musical soul; all he had to do now was reap the crop. A Technics SL-1210 MK2 turntable and some outrageously amazing speakers were his sickle.

In the months that followed, I sat on his sofa for hours on end, going through his collection and listening to him explain the ins and outs of turntables, preamps, speakers, vinyl maintenance, quality, where to purchase, and so on. You could see the delight on his face as he lay it all out for me…he wasn’t doing it for any purpose other than his passion for music. I didn’t have a turntable at the time, so I filed away all of this knowledge, knowing that my days without one were limited.

During those times together, which I began to refer to as “Tuesdays With Levi,” the typical ritual involved me scanning his shelf for bands I recognized (even when I found bands I considered favorites, I realized I’d only consumed their music in bits and pieces and had rarely, if ever, listened to their albums in full, as most were created to be heard), Levi methodically placing the record on the turntable, me pouring a round of wine or beer, followed by seve rounds of wine or beer We paid attention. The music was captivating, warm, round, and much more lifelike than anything I’d heard on a CD or mp3. I’d shut my eyes and imagine myself in the front row of a concert all the time. It didn’t take much creativity.


It’s Just…Better

Vintage couple on date listening to records turntable.

Your best gal, some records, a cool jug of milk, and a platter of cookies This is paradise.

For as long as the media have coexisted, the question of whether vinyl sounds better than its digital equivalents has been passionately contested. The actual answer is that it is debatable. Vinyl is able to provide a richer, more accurate sound than CDs/mp3s because records produce an analog signal (actual sound is analog) whereas CDs/mp3s produce digital signals (near approximations or snapshots). The issue stems from the many ways in which an analog signal might degrade before reaching the listener’s ear, most notably owing to filthy vinyl or poor audio equipment. Most people prefer the sound of vinyl, assuming clean vinyl and mid to high-level audio equipment, citing the warmth and depth of the sound as contrasted to the harshness of a CD.

As I sat on Levi’s sofa, the sound of vinyl engulfed my ears in a manner that was immensely pleasurable and made me want to listen to it more. On vinyl, albums I’d listened hundreds of times on CD or mp3 seemed brand new. I didn’t understand all of the physics or sound theory at the time, but it sounded pure to me. It was fantastic.

In the end, it was this ritual, or habit of deliberately listening to music, that prompted me to buy my own turntable and records. When was the last time you sat down and listened to an album from beginning to end? “You mean just sit there for, like, an hour…just listening to music?” “You mean just sit there for, like, an hour…just listening to music?” “You mean just sit there for, like, an hour…just listening to music?” Sure, we all have our iPods shuffled through tracks like a deck of cards, or Pandora playing in the background as we do other things at home or at work. It’s music, but it’s not like any other.

The Metaphor is the Medium

Vintage Joe Louis boxer listening to records turntable.

The bulk of us have developed a habit of listening to music as background noise. Streaming providers have earned a fortune off of this trend, bending their distribution systems to fit our tweet-sized consumption habits. While this isn’t all negative, it does deny many people, even self-described “music lovers,” of a far deeper connection with music, one that can only be achieved with a certain amount of attention, care, and, most crucially, time, as with most good things.

Neil Postman stated in his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, that society’s shift from the spoken and written word to television as its major information medium marked not just a new manner of transmitting information, but also a fundamental shift in the nature of information itself. He offered “the media is the metaphor,” a slightly modified version of Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” News and opinion could no longer be presented in an elegant manner, representing all sides of an issue and holding a depth that compelled the reader or listener to go further. Now the “news” had to fit into a brief burst of visual entertainment, complete with background music, vivid graphics, and enraged commentators engaged in a heated debate.


Similarly, music has followed a similar path. The four-part opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of Nibelung), composed in the mid-nineteenth century by Richard Wagner, needed four consecutive nights of attendance for operagoers, with the last cycle lasting over five hours. Around a century later, the phonograph record helped solidify the notion of separating music into albums, with most albums including between 30 and 60 minutes of music. Much with the changeover to television culture decades before, the digital era brought about a drastic transformation in music consumption with the arrival of the mp3. Listeners may now purchase specific tracks without having to buy the whole album. While few would disagree that such a shift was beneficial, it did affect not just the way we listen to music, but also the nature and purpose of music itself.

In a sea of MP3s, I’m dying of musical thirst.

During my undergraduate years, I collected a sizable mp3 library. Yet, as I sat reviewing Levi’s and my mother’s vinyl collections, I was struck by the disparity in feelings evoked in my soul by the two media. When I held an album in my hands, I was holding a work of art, a musical tale with both physical and symbolic significance. I was drowning in a sea of tunes with my mp3 collection, and I was dying of musical hunger. The soul of music was degraded and in some instances lost altogether in the cutting apart of albums — the slicing, coding, and repackaging of sound into “byte”-sized morsels. The context offered by the album’s narrative arc has vanished, replaced with the promise of low-cost convenience. Vinyl, I realized, wasn’t practical, but it was authentic.

It was with this last realization that I embarked on my own vinyl adventure. I bought a turntable and quickly found myself picking which music I wanted on vinyl, reading about the recording process, and scouring message boards for information on various pressings… I had put everything on the line. My wife and two children were, too, even if they didn’t understand it at the time. It wasn’t long before each of them was being pursued for their own vinyl choices. If my upbringing taught me anything, it was that the joy that this activity would undoubtedly provide me wouldn’t be full until it was shared.

I’m not advocating for the mp3’s demise. It is a format that meets our culture precisely where it is – immediate and portable – so such a demand would be pointless. Apart from that, being able to workout to your favorite tunes or tune out during a lengthy subway commute is something I like. However, there is no alternative for vinyl and the active listening experience that it requires to really enjoy music at a deep level, to engage the same creative, philosophical, and aesthetic muscles that one exercises while reading Tolstoy or Dickens. The feel of the cover in your hands, the scent, the warmth of the sound, the inevitable hisses and cracks that occur with extensive usage, all of it is unique to the owner, and it all comes together to create an unrivaled musical experience. In an increasingly void and texture-less world, it is a medium that adds weight and texture.


If you come into our living room today, you’ll notice my mother’s recordings prominently displayed, with a few of my father’s thrown in for good measure. However, there are several fresh additions to the collection. Others were chosen by myself, some by my wife, and even a handful by our two small children. Each one has a memory associated with it, is significant, and tells its own tale. It’s not simply music to me; it’s the stuff of a whole existence. Our family now gathers in the living room on Friday evenings for a “Friday Night Dance Party.” The evening’s music is chosen, and we all dance until we’re exhausted before collapsing in our normal listening locations. It’s not compelled; it’s a haven. Who knows whether this custom will be passed down to the third generation. I like it, my wife likes it, and the kids seem to like it based on their expressions. So, for the time being, we’ll let the record spin.

Listen to my podcast with David Sax discussing the resurgence of vinyl and other “analog” items like books and notebooks.

Listen to my podcast with David Sax discussing the resurgence of vinyl and other “analog” items like books and notebooks.

Cameron Schaefer, a pilot and early AoM writer, has spent the last five years with his wife Marelize raising their two children, hacking away at his backyard vegetable garden, completing an MBA, and, most recently, diving deep into the world of vinyl records. Vinyl + Drinks, a site where he and his buddy Levi combine their favorite songs with nice cocktails, was just launched by the two.





Watch This Video-

Vinyl records are a great way to get into the world of collecting. They’re not just for music, but can also be used in decorating your home. This guide will help you start your collection with some tips and tricks on how to go about it. Reference: collecting vinyl records tips.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start collecting vinyl records?

A: The first step is to find your favorite artist. Next, you need to decide whether or not the vinyl records are worth buying in general (this is a personal decision). Once thats done, you should start looking for any of their albums on vinyl and collect them as soon as possible.

Is collecting vinyl records a good investment?

What should I look for when collecting vinyl records?

A: In general, when you are looking for vinyl records to collect, the most important thing is that they be in good condition. This means minimal scratches and scuffs on the surface of the record with no major warping or damage to its grooves. If a record has any significant issues such as these defects it should not be considered worth collecting

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