Vinyl sales are booming.
In the age of Spotify and Apple Music, where millions of songs are just at your fingertips, vinyl records can seem like a confusing, if not archaic, form of music consumption. In fact, less than two decades ago, the medium was almost obsolete, but was saved by a few dedicated enthusiasts.
But things seem to have turned out to be records.
According to an annual report by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), vinyl record purchases in the UK represented 23% of album sales in 2021. The figure is impressive, especially since it is the most high since 1990.
So, what was it that inspired a lot of people to get back on track?
The Covid-19 pandemic appears to have contributed to the recent surge in vinyl sales, but a new appreciation for the medium and its warm sound was also ignited in the years leading up to lockdowns and travel restrictions.
It’s not necessarily that vinyl records sound better than digital formats. It depends a lot on the equipment you are using, and even then, although the medium easily trumps mp3 files and most streaming services, CDs and lossless digital are still superior in terms of performance. sound quality.
Vinyl, however, provides a much more fun listening experience. Sleeves are works of art in themselves and look great stacked in a bookshelf or displayed on a wall. Removing a record from its sleeve, placing it on the turntable platter, brushing the record to remove dust and placing the needle along the outer groove, provides a unique tactile interaction with the music. Treat your records well, and their analog voice will be all the more warm.
If you’ve been planning to jump into this hobby for a while and live in the United Arab Emirates, here’s a guide to get you started. Warning: the rabbit hole is deep and can be quite expensive.
To get the most out of your vinyl, you’ll need to invest in a good record player.
Try to get a turntable with an adjustable, anti-slip counterweight.
The counterweight is an integral part. It ensures that the needle meets the groove with the right amount of vertical pressure. Too much pressure will damage your backrest. Too little and the record will jump. The anti-skate setting will prevent your tone arm from moving toward the center of the record as it spins. It also minimizes distortion and ensures that the left and right channels have equal volume.
When you shop for a drive, you’ll find that some are direct-drive, while others have a belt-driven platter.
Direct drive turntables, with a rotary motor located directly below the turntable, are generally preferred by DJs. They have a faster start, speed controls, and let you spin your discs in any direction without risking damage to the motor. But because of the location of the motor, the vibrations propagate to the platter and are then picked up by the cartridge, resulting in some distortion.
In a belt-driven turntable, the motor is offset from the main plate and connected to it by a belt. The belt dampens much of the engine vibration. Belt-driven turntables are usually the go-to type if you only want to listen to your records. One downside to belt driven turntables is that the belt can stretch over time causing your platter speed to fluctuate, meaning it won’t spin at the desired 33 or 45 RPM. While they typically last for years, you’ll need to replace your belt if it gets too loose, which is as easy as loosening the belt from the motor pulley and removing the platter from the turntable.
While each type has its pros and cons, you can’t go wrong with either one. A good direct drive turntable to start with is the Audio Technica AT-LP120, which will cost you around 1,400 Dh. The Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN is also a good belt drive that you can find here, great for its elliptical stylus and the speed stability feature of its motor. It will cost you around 1,500 Dh. The Thorens TD 201 is another rugged belt drive option in the same price range.
You can get a decent record player from Virgin Megastore or Dubai retailer Raw Music Store.
All of the aforementioned models have a built-in phono preamp, so you can connect them directly to the speakers without the need to purchase a stand-alone device. A preamp is needed to amplify the signal from a turntable.
A pair of good powered speakers is essential for a solid listening experience. Of course, it all depends on your budget and where you plan to install the speakers.
Fortunately, you don’t have to splurge on the more expensive speakers to make sure your music sings. Audioengine makes some great speakers, but they’re generally hard to find in the UAE. Klipsch is also a must-have brand and you can buy a pair of their coveted R-41M for around Dh900 on Amazon.
Raw Music Store has several reliable speaker options, including models from Elac and Kanto.
If you’re looking to make a pretty dime on a premium listening experience, the Raw Music Store website currently has a bundle that includes an Audio Technica AT-LP5X direct-drive turntable, Elac Debut speakers, and an amplifier. Marantz PM6007 for a nail over 5,000 Dh.
But you can also simply opt for an Audio Technica LPW30TK for a little over 1,100 Dh, and pair it with Pioneer Dh700 speakers and still enjoy your records.
If you are looking for Bluetooth compatibility, the Sony PS-LX310BT, which costs around 1000 Dh, may be a good choice. However, if you’re dabbling in vinyl for analog appeal, do you really want to stream your records via Bluetooth?
Now for the fun part.
If you’re not sure what to look for and want to go and search cash registers in person for your records, The Flip Side is a great place to start.
Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue record store is home to a sprawling collection that spans divergent genres, from jazz and ambient to hip-hop and classical. You will also find relatively specialized titles and Arabic records which are more difficult to find elsewhere.
If you’re looking for more mainstream artwork, Virgin Megastore has some awesome deals too. However, their collection varies considerably from branch to branch.
Raw Music Store also has a fantastic collection of new and used records. The store, located in Dubai’s international financial hub, has frequent sales and has an intuitive gender-based categorization system on their website, making it easy to click through their collection.
Bandcamp is also a great online resource for discovering new music and vinyl records. As much a record store as a music community, the website allows you to support and connect directly with independent artists from around the world. The vinyls you buy from Bandcamp will almost always come with their digital files so you can listen to the songs on the go.
Finally, if you’re looking for more rare or out of print titles, Discogs is the way to go. The site’s Marketplace allows you to connect with other collectors to buy and sell your records. Discogs also bills itself as the “largest database online,” containing information on audio recordings as well as boot-legged and off-label releases.
Update: December 31, 2021, 5:57 am