Picking up a Vinyl hobby in 2024

On learning about the world's most impractical music format.

Posted by Ross Poulton on Wed 13 March 2024

We listen to a fair bit of music in our household. Standing in the middle of my living room I can play almost any song ever released by just yelling into the open air, "Alexa, play me Queen's Greatest Hits". The little black fabric cylinder on the side table starts playing music - usually the right music - with a half decent sound quality but almost zero effort.

If we're after a better sounding experience, we have a house-wide Sonos system which can be invoked with AirPlay from our phones. It sounds great, the music selection is basically infinite, and unlike voice commands we end up with exactly the song, album, or playlist that we want to listen to.

I love that there is nothing inconvenient for my family or I to listen to the tunes we like.

So, obviously, I recently bought myself a turntable.

It's absolutely a folly and it's been good fun. Here's a few things that were new to me about starting to play with the oldest still-available music distribution system.

... why?

I wanted a way to deliberably listen to good music that was separate to our almost-constant background music.

While we've got very easy access to lots of great music, I wanted to make that more of an experience, and then slowly build up a physical collection of albums that I've otherwise long forgotten. There's something really nice about flicking through a few records and choosing one to listen to for the next 40 minutes.

I've never been much of a collector, but there's a few albums that I love listening to beginning-to-end, rather than just hearing the hits. Everyone's got their favourites, but for me it's The Crane Wife by The Decemberists, various albums by The XX, Tycho's Dive, Play by Moby, American Idiot by Greenday, and a bunch more. Having physical media for those favourites is a nice feeling.

I've heard the process of putting on a record being compared to a Japanese Tea Ceremony. From the outside it appears fiddly and unnecessary, but when you're doing it there's a level of engagement you don't otherwise get.

Quick Things I Love

  • The tactile aspect is nice, but the album art is, on most albums, gorgeous. One of my kids asked to put the poster from Coexist by The XX on his wall. No way buddy, it's part of the album!
  • There's a bit of a process to putting on a record that feels like I'm giving it the attention the music deserves. What a wanker, hey?
  • The House of Marley turntable I bought off Facebook Marketplace looks beautiful. That simple bamboo finish doesn't look out of place in our dining room / entertaining area. A few people - including those who think this was a dumb idea 🤣 - have commented on the nice bit of kit.

Things I don't love

  • Is the sound great? Not really. My turntable plays through a Sonos system and good vinyl sounds good however Apple Music played on the same speakers sounds better. Half of my 'collection' (such as it is) right now is from an old collection of my parents, and some op shop1 finds I paid a buck for. Those older records definitely play with much more surface noise than new records which is, honestly, annoying.
  • Cleaning. So much cleaning. Cleaning the records themselves, cleaning the turntable, cleaning the stylus. An abundance of static-electricity attracting dust was not part of the appeal.
  • Fiddly adjustments. These aren't bad, but they're something to keep an eye on. I didn't realise that you need to adust the weighting of the tonearm, the angle of the stylus cartridge, the force used to pull/push the arm across the record. After a bit of reading these all make a lot of sense and are simple to adjust. It just took me a moment to get things 'just right'.
  • The weird feeling that every time I hear music, I'm damaging both the disc and the stylus.

And the thing I absolutely adore

As a kid, my dad had a record collection that got a fair bit of play time. In particular he loved The Beatles (Abby Road and Let It Be were in regular rotation) and Cat Stevens. Dad passed away a decade ago last year, but even before his passing I’d assumed that after a few house moves the records had been offloaded at some point. In the mid-‘90s he was particularly proud of his 5-disc CD changer system so it seemed normal that the vinyl replaced with CDs instead.

I had started picking up a few of my own records when, after doing a bit of digging, my mum found most of their records in the back of a cupboard. Some are a little damaged but many are in incredible condition. Putting on Greatest Hits by Cat Stevens - not an artist I've chosen to listen to in my entire adult life - instantly bought a wave of memories back of hearing that exact record being played before I even knew who Cat Stevens was. Somehow, I knew the words to every song.

I wasn't intending to get my hands on the records I'd heard in my childhood, but good golly it was an amazing surprise. That has been my favourite part of owning a record player so far.

Cover image: One of my Dad's 1970's originals - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

  1. Thrift shop, for my North American friends.