Record Store Day 2018 is happening on April 21, and it’s the best day of the year to find vinyl deals and limited pressings.
However, if you still use a Crosley Cruiser, maybe it’s time to upgrade – you lose all bragging rights if your vinyl sounds terrible.
To help you we’ve compiled a selection of recommended buys for those looking to get the most out of their records without blowing their entire budget on kit.
Rega Carbon Moving Magnet (MM) Cartridge
The Rega Carbon is one of the best affordable record player cartridges. You’ll want one of these when your turntable’s needle starts to wear out, which reduces sound quality and could lead to your records getting damaged.
This is a moving magnet cartridge, so you can replace either the whole enclosure that fits onto the tone arm, or just the outer stylus part.
Audio Technica AT-LP3
When you’re ready to upgrade from the cheap turntable you bought at a supermarket, or received on your birthday, the Audio Technica ATH-LP3 is one of your best options.
It has an automatic belt drive system, and a built-in phono pre-amp – this boosts the signal to the level required by the kind of amps and powered speakers that weren’t made with a turntable in mind.
There’s an upgrade path here too: you can remove and upgrade the cartridge if you really get into vinyl hardware in the future.
Rega Planar 1
The Rega Planar 1 is one of our favorite affordable, high-quality turntables. Not only does it sound great, it looks good too.
Its plinth is made from a wood composite, lighter than the MDF of the more expensive Planar 2. However, the gloss black or white finish looks great, a perfect fit for a stylish living room.
The Planar 1 uses Rega’s highly regarded Carbon cartridge, guaranteeing solid performance.
If you’re wondering why it’s only slightly more expensive than the Audio Technica AT-LP3, it’s because the Planar 1 doesn’t have a pre-amp, so you’ll need to get one if your amp or AV receiver doesn’t have a phono stage.
A pair of active speakers is a great fit for a record player setup if you want to keep things simple. The sound quality of the JBL LSR305s is hard to beat for the money, with studio-grade balance, good bass depth for speakers with 5-inch cones, and none of the audio trickery you see in the Apple HomePod.
That said, they do use JBL’s patented waveguide design for better soundstage imaging – it’s the odd contouring of the plastic housing around the tweeter drivers.
The JBL LSR305s take a 6.3mm jack input or an XLR. All you need to plug them into a turntable with a built-in phono pre-amp are a couple of phono to mono TRS adapters.
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro
You can’t beat a pair of open-back headphones for private, at-home listening. There are loads of great options to choose from, including the Sennheiser HD 600s, AKG K702s and Audio-Technica ATH-AD700Xs. But our pick of the day are the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pros.
They look great, if you like a retro flavor, and they have soft velour cups and sound that balances fun with insight.
The Beyerdynamic DT990 Pros have potent treble and the deep bass that’s often missing from pro-grade headphones. And they only cost as much as some entry-level wireless pairs.
Spin Clean Record Washer MK II
You have to commit to a little maintenance if you get into vinyl – unlike if you’re streaming from the cloud, you need to keep your music clean.
Some obsessives spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on electrical machines that do the job, but the Spin Clean Record Washer MK II does the same thing on a budget, with a bit of elbow grease applied.
It’s a bath of sorts for your vinyl. Plastic spacers hold your 45s and 12-inch discs in place, you fill its reservoir with the supplied fluid and then pour cleaning solution onto fine brushes that slot into the center; with the record in place, you simply turn it around a few times by hand. This should get rid of any clicks and pops during playback, unless you’ve done physical damage to your discs.
Edwards Audio Apprentice MM
If you buy a turntable, and plug it in only to find that its output is bizarrely quiet and weak-sounding, this is because it doesn’t have a phono pre-amp built-in. Most turntables live in the old world of hi-fi, not the shiny plug-and-play one of Bluetooth speakers.
The Edwards Audio Apprentice MM is one of the better affordable phono stages, and preps the player’s signal for a traditional line input like that of the Sonos Play:5.
It’s a small black box that doesn’t take up too much space or power. Want to plug it into a modern wireless speaker? You’ll need a phono to jack cable, as the Edwards Audio Apprentice MM has phono outputs.
Dali Spektor 2
Many people have already moved away from the traditional hi-fi setup, but if you haven’t, the Dali Spektor 2s are great bookshelf speakers.
With their grilles in place they look sober; like all Dali speakers, they have the most impact with them taken off. Colored cones outlined with white make the Spektor 2 more of a design statement than the average bookshelf or stand-mount speaker. And they sound great too.
These aren’t active speakers, though, so they need to be used with an amplifier.
Want to mix old tech and new(er)? The Sonos Play:5 can be hooked up directly to a turntable with a built-in pre-amp thanks to the aux input on its back.
It’s one of the best-sounding multi-room speakers around, with bass power to rival much larger traditional speakers.
The Play:5 lets you play music from Spotify and other streaming services. All it lacks is support for digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant – for that you have to buy a Sonos One, although as that speaker doesn’t have an aux input it won’t get on-board with your turntable.
Where to go for Record Store Day 2018
Hundreds of independent record shops take part in Record Store Day, across the US, UK and Australia. You can check out the venues involved at recordstoreday.com, recordstoreday.co.uk and recordstoreday.com.au.
At Rough Trade East in London you can check out performances by Hinds and Shopping, as well as DJ sets by Tim Burgess and Raf Rundell. Entry is free, but expect crowds.
In New York you can see The Shacks and Chris Stamey at Rough Trade, Brooklyn. However, Record Store Day is the perfect day to check out a small record store you’ve not been to before, so dig into the directory.