Welcome to the first edition of Ask VMP, where we answer your questions from our mailbag. If you want to have your question answered next month—any question you have about vinyl, or about how we work, or anything else—email us as email@example.com. Now here are your questions:
Thom asks: What makes one limited pressing more collectable / more sought after than another especially when - as in the case of the upcoming Explosions in the Sky release, the Wilderness - there are SO MANY to wade through?!
In this case there is the VMP exclusive; Ltd to 1,000; Crystal Clear / a EITS Online Store Exclusive; Ltd to 1000 Copies; Blue - ALREADY SOLD OUT / a Temporary Residence LTD Exclusive; Ltd to 1000 Copies; Red - Also SOLD OUT / a Newbury Comics Exclusive; Ltd to 1000 Copies; "Opaque Wilderness Green Day & Night" - this one is still available / and the Indie Store Exclusive; Ltd to 2000 Copies; Transparent Red & Opaque White Vinyl.
OK - so why do some sell so quickly while other "Ltd." versions are readily available for sometimes years after release? I go over to Discogs and sometimes my eyes feel like they are going to bleed trying to figure out which of the 13 versions of an LP to purchase.
Cameron, Head of Music & Label Relations: With vinyl and most collectible media the primary driver of what makes it valuable/sought after is rarity/scarcity. Simply marking something as “Limited to X” often changes the mindset of the buyer immediately. In regards to having multiple variants of the same album it’s something that makes us a bit leery as it feels like it has the potential to disenfranchise fans and buyers. Some bands do it consistently and their fans don’t seem to mind, but we are actively trying to avoid projects where we’d be 1 variant of 4 or 5. It just seems a tad unnecessary. Finally, as to why some records sell more quickly than others, if you can answer that question you’ll have a guaranteed job in music for the rest of your life.
Ash asks:When can we get a Vinyl Me, Please app?
Matt Fiedler, CEO:It’s on the roadmap. Our first initiative is an entire overhaul of the online member experience. That includes store and member portal and will be integrated with the other facets of the service like the forum, referrals, etc. It’s a huge project and we’re making strides so expect to see some updates in the coming months. Everything will be mobile accessible so you should be able to do everything on your phone as well.
Danny asks: I've got a storage question for you. What do you do when you've run out of space in your apartment? Basically how do you handle small levels of overflow? As an example. Let's say a 'friend' of mine has space for roughly 500 LPs to fit comfortably in their apartment. They already have that many and do not want to stop collecting (obviously). They have access to a garage but don't really know how to properly store records in that kind of a setting. What advice do you have (other than move) for what to do when you want to start to have a cream of the crop collection...and an 'in storage' collection? How do you store records in storage safely? Thanks.
Andrew, Assistant Editor of Content:I have a lot of sympathy for you in this my pal; I used to live in a 500 square foot studio and had more records than I had shelving (a single 4X2 Ikea Expedit shelf). I ended up sacrificing other things—like having a big TV—in order to have more space in my house for record shelving. It’s a delicate balance to strike, and I understand your dilemma.
So, when I had a lot of overflow, I had crates in my closet floor to handle the overflow. But this doesn’t seem to be an option for you. I guess I’d recommend keeping some in the garage, but here are some things you need to be vigilant about and consider before doing that:
- Is the garage safe from leaks? Does it get really cold in the winter, or really hot in the summer? Is it humid where you live? Because any of these situations will be bad for your records. I’d be covering my boxes with a sheet for sure too.
- If you’re going to store them outside your house, I command you to make sure you have them all in plastic sleeves.
- Make sure you put the records in acid-free cardboard boxes, and make sure you don’t overpack the boxes; leave your records with some space. Ideally, if you have wood boxes with a cover to put them in, like this, that would be best.
Good luck my man. I hope your “friend” figures this one out.
Bo asks: What exactly is a record weight and is it necessary for ideal sound quality?
Ed Selley, Vinyl Me, Please Gear Guru:The weight of a record as listed refers to the amount that the vinyl disc itself weighs less packaging. While some albums have been pressed onto vinyl as light as 80-85 grams in the past (and these are almost translucent), more commonly encountered weights are increments between 100 grams, and 180 grams (although a few whoppers exist over the 180g threshold).
It is very important to make it clear that the weight of a record is not and never will be the defining aspect of how it performs. If you take a poorly mastered recording and press it on the best quality vinyl you can get your hands on, the result will still be pretty poor. If you have a good master however, a heavier record can do a better job at maintaining the required shape and rigidity to ensure that the information in the grooves is as good as it can be.
Where the arguments start is if a record needs to be 180 grams to achieve this required rigidity. There are some pretty convincing measurement based arguments that everything after 160 grams is pointless and there have been some truly stellar pressings on 120-gram vinyl. There's a more emotive though argument that a good heavyweight pressing is a wonderful thing to use and it does at least mean that more effort is being put into pressing and mastering as a whole.
A Martinez asks:Do you think you might ever put a skip a month into play - where if we are not into the record of the month we can skip it or choose something from the store instead?
Matt Fiedler, CEO: We’re actually in the process of integrating a new feature called SWAPS. We’ll be announcing it soon but essentially it will allow you to exchange a featured record with something from the VMP archive. It will be available for members on 3, 6 or 12-month membership plans. Keep an eye out for more details in the very near future!
Ben Malone asks:If you were being sent away to a desert island and could bring a very specific turntable set up, what would you choose? Speakers? Turntable? Pre-amp? Amp? What about the five records you would bring?
Andrew, Assistant Editor of Content:Here’s the thing: I’m going to say that I want to bring a Crosley All-in-One Jobber, but I want there to be my own external speakers, and a receiver too. I figure I can fashion the speaker cones into cups or digging tools, and the receiver into a paddle or a knife for killing animals on the island, and then still have access to a working turntable.
As far as records go this is an impossible question but this is how I feel about it in April, 2016: Kanye West, Graduation; Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear; Talking Heads, Remain in Light; Led Zeppelin, IV; and Sam Hunt, Montevallo.
Matt Hessler, Director of Marketing:I am going to go with stuff I have actually heard in person and not go into crazy in audiophile extremes with stuff that I am sure sounds great, but that I have no personal experience with. Also a desert island sounds like a terrible place to have a crazy audio set up, I think I would trade the whole thing for an iPod with a ton of music and a set of AudioQuest Nighthawk headphones.
Speakers:Magnepan 3.7 Turntable:VPI Prime. Only because we are dreaming and I have lusted for them since I was a kid; all McInstosh to power the system Pre-amp:McIntosh C1100 Amp:McIntosh 2301 (2x Monoblocks)
Albums:Russian Circles: Memorial, Junior Wells: Hoodoo Man Blues, Katy Perry: Teenage Dream(It’s going to get really lonely, and have you seen the cover?), This Will Destroy You: Young Mountain and Rainer Maria: Catastrophe Keeps Us Together.
I gave this task about 30 minutes and I think I could have spent a full day figuring this out.
Matt Fiedler, CEO:Hmm… this is a tough question. I’m not the resident gear expert and I actually like my set up as it exists (which is not fancy by any means). I have a Pro-Ject debut carbon turntable, TCC TC-750 BLACK Audiophile Phono Preamp, and a basic Onkyo receiver (with some nice speakers). It’s a set up that I plan on upgrading quite a bit over time :-)
As for records, Led Zeppelin’s debut, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Bastards of the Beat (mentioned below), good kid, m.A.A.d city and maybe The Books’ Lemon of Pink.
Emily, Account Manager: Well considering I am no gear connoisseur by any means, I'd probably take my good ole' U-Turn Orbit Plus. As far as the rest of the set up goes ... I mean ... I'd bring along the Despacio set up. ISLAND DISCO. The five records I'd bring along with me are Portugal. The Man Satantic Satanist, Fela Kuti Roforofo Fight, Pretty Lights Filling Up The City Skies (I know this has not been pressed, but this also is make-believe time, haha), The Raconteurs Consolers Of The Lonely, and Lorde Pure Heroine.
[caption id="attachment_2285" align="aligncenter" width="628"]Bonus: Emily sent in this rendering of her enjoying a Marg while on the island of her dreams.[/caption]
Tyler, Head of Content: Speakers: Avalon Sentinels: These bump and since it's just me on the island I don't have to worry about noise complaints Turntable: Gramavox. I'll be by myself so it will be dope to be able to feel like my records are staring at me while they play so I can feel a sense of companionship. I'm stealing the power components from Hessler because he knows his shit and I trust him: Pre-amp: Mcintosh C1100 Amp: McIntosh 2301 (2x monoblocks) Albums:Boxer by The National, Spaces by Nils Frahm, The Life of Pablo by Kanye West, Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie, Deja Entenduby Brand New
David, Operations and CS Manager: I don't know shit about this, but here's my records: LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver; Arcade Fire, Funeral; The National, High Violet; Death Cab for Cutie, Transatlanticism; Sigur Ros, Takk.
Bo asks: How far out do you guys select the Album of the Month? In other words, do you guys already know what the AotM will be for May, June, etc?
Cameron, Head of Music & Label Relations: We’re generally planning monthly features between 4-8 months in advance. The primary driver of the timeline is whether or not the album is a new release or reissue. If it’s a new release our limitation is simply a function of how far in advance from street date the band is recording the album. For example, we’re presently keeping September open for a new release and the majority of the artists we’re considering for it are just finishing up in the studio. With reissues, on the other hand, the sooner we can lock them in, the better. We already know what our December 2016 featured album will be and are currently getting the original analog tapes remastered.
Matt asks: What do I need for a wireless setup? Something like Sonos. Or, how can I build my system for the best of both worlds (digital and analog)?
Ed Selley, Vinyl Me, Please Gear Guru:The wonderful (ish) thing about the audio industry is that if you throw enough money at the problem, you can do almost anything you like. You'll have to decide how much you'd like to spend on the means of going wireless and how much this functionality matters versus raw performance.
Sonos remains a class act in terms of wireless audio and you can easily attach a turntable to most of their products. There's even a dedicated version of a Rega RP1 sold under the Flexson brand name that is designed to work with the Sonos equipment. Despite this, if you are looking for a vinyl system with wireless and multiroom ability, I'd actually have a good look at Yamaha's MusicCast system. Not only is this a wireless multiroom system like Sonos, it also features a huge variety of equipment that can be incorporated into the system- including a stereo receiver with a decent phono preamp. This means you can attach any turntable you like, send the signal wirelessly to other rooms (along with digital and streaming services) and also get strong performance in the main room.
Mark asks: How often do I need to balance my tone arm? Can an unbalanced tonearm damage my collection?
Andrew, Assistant Editor of Content:This question has a lot of variables, but I’ll tackle the second part first: yes, a severely unbalanced tonearm could damage your records in the long run. But I sense given that you’re thinking about this, this is not going to be a problem for you.
The first part is harder to answer, but the easiest answer is to rebalance it anytime you move your turntable. If you’re a DJ taking your deck into bars and clubs, you should be doing this a lot. If you’re a person who’s just bumping records on Sunday mornings in your crib and never moving your turntable, you probably don’t need to rebalance very often.
The forums asked: What is your favorite music documentary?
Andrew, Assistant Editor of Content:Mine is Dig!,the movie about the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre. A weird picture of two bands as they navigate labels, being hyped, and fighting with each other for a weird supremacy. I mean, who even cared, even in 1996, who won the battle between them? It turns out I do.
David, Operations and CS Manager:Shut Up and Play the Hits.
Matt Fiedler, CEO: I have a few. I am Trying To Break Your Heart is a great one. Soaked in Bleach is another great one (I love conspiracy theories & murder mysteries. This doc does a really good job at pointing out a view that is separate from what we’ve been told re: Kurt Cobain’s death. There’s a ton of evidence that would suggest it wasn’t a suicide. Highly recommended). Golden Days is another great one. It’s a doc about a band called The Damnwells; they’re an average alt-rock band but their album Bastards of the Beat is one of my favorite all-time records. The doc follows the band as they’re writing / recording their second full length and the trials and tribulations of being an emerging indie band with big expectations.
Bradley writes: I want to upgrade to an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge I recently bought, but don't know anything about alignment or tracking weight. Can you guys help? I was also wondering about a good phono pre amp. Right now I am running a Bellari VP130 with two.
Ed Selley, Vinyl Me, Please Gear Guru:Setting the alignment on a cartridge in the age of the internet is a pretty straightforward business. If you register as a member at the Vinylengine site, you have access to a variety of alignment protractors; you don't specify what deck you have but most can be set using the Baerwald alignment setting available on the first protractor and achieve good results.
The Ortofon tracks at 1.8 grams which should not be too tricky for most tonearms to achieve. Measuring this force is harder than it once was as Ortofon no longer supplies a basic stylus gauge with the cartridge. You can buy the basic Ortofon one as a standalone for $15 or you can buy something like the Shure SFG-2, which has been in production for decades and is extremely accurate used correctly. Once you've bought something like the Shure, it is unlikely you'll ever need to buy another one.
The Bellari is a decent phono preamp in its own right. In order to get the most bang for your buck, I would strongly advise you to keep it in the system until after the 2M Blue is fitted and run in, allowing you to get a handle on how it performs with the new cartridge. If you do want to upgrade and assuming you like a bit of valve goodness in your life, the logical candidates to look at are the Pro-Ject Tube Box S and DS models. Further up the scale, Rogue Audio and Jolida make some excellent performers too.
Dan asks: I've had a Crosley player for a few months and have used it a little bit, the sound isn't great but it does the job for what I need at the moment.
My question really is, is the Crosley stylus that is supplied bad for my records? I've played some vinyl on there but after reading some reviews, I have been reluctant to play some of my rarer vinyls.
Also, what type of player would you recommend for someone on a budget?
Andrew, Assistant Editor of Content:Dan, there is no shame in the Crosley game. I can’t believe I’m admitting this publicly, but for a solid 3 years I shared a Crosley with my roommates after my stereo system self-destructed and I couldn’t afford to replace it. Played my records on it everyday. It’s a utilitarian player that allows a lot of people to get into vinyl, and for that, I’m okay with them.
But to answer your question: yes, the supplied stylus and cartridge is not going to be anywhere near as good for your records as the models listed here. The problem with Crosleys is that they require a Crosley stylus in most cases, so upgrading isn’t possible. I would continue not playing my rarer stuff if I was you.
As far as a cheap player, Ed, our gear guy, is dropping a new piece tomorrow on this topic. But I personally would recommend the AT-LP60, which has some customizable options, and is usually under $100, which is only a little bit more expensive than a Crosley. I’ve had one of these for 4 years and have no complaints. You’ll need a receiver and some speakers, but the turntable won’t break your bank, at least.
Joe asks:There are a handful of records that we all know are either VERY out of print or, worse, have never been pressed to vinyl.
What are the rules here? Can you go ahead and press a never-pressed record to wax? Can you repress an out-of-print album? Would love to know the deal on that and if you COULD press any of those, I have some good suggestions!
Cameron, Head of Music & Label Relations: The short answer is yes, but it’s definitely a case-by-case thing. If it hasn’t been pressed either recently or ever, the first question I ask the label is “why?” Sometimes it’s due to legal issues or issues with the artist contract, i.e. things that prevent us or anyone from pressing it. But, if that’s not the case, then it’s usually just a matter of finding out what the label’s plans are for the album and how we can augment them by pressing an exclusive variant for Vinyl Me, Please. There have definitely been scenarios where the label didn’t have plans to press something and our interest/order was the impetus for making it happen.
ADG11501 Asks:I've been using 70% isopropyl alcohol and a clean rag to clean my vinyl. I've been doing this for the past year and it hasn't damaged my records as far as I can tell. Do you have any better ideas as far as cleaning my albums?
Andrew, Assistant Editor of Content:I guess it depends on what alcohol you’re using—is it a store bought mixture, or are you making it youself?—and what kind of rag you are using—is it static free? The alcohol mixture being “off” could damage your records in the long run, and a regular rag could leave surface scratches.
To be honest the easiest way to clean records is just having one of these static-free brushes. Use it before and after you play your records and you shouldn’t have to do much cleaning. For records that require more than that, a kit like this is all you need, and they last a long time; I’ve had one for 3 years I haven’t had to replace.
Matt asks:What are some simple/cheap tweaks and upgrades I can do to my setup to get a better sound?
Ed Selley, Vinyl Me, Please Gear Guru:I'm going to be writing a column on this very subject to go on the blog in the near future so I won't try and double up on the material that's going in there as to augmentations you can make to a deck but there are some other things you can do to ensure you can get the best out of it.
Firstly, you can check our setup guides to ensure your deck is running as it should be. Make sure your stylus isn't too worn and if it is in good order, a cleaner like Clearaudio's Diamond Elixir Stylus Cleaner ($30) can be applied to your stylus to keep it in good order.
Depending on the age of your turntable and the last time you checked, it won't hurt to check the bearing and to make sure that there is some clean oil in there. Don't apply too much to the bearing but a few drops of oil (synthetic is best) can make a big difference.
Finally, if you have a belt drive turntable, when was the last time you changed the belt? Over time a rubber belt will stretch and lose its tension which can affect the speed stability of the turntable. A fresh belt ought not to be too expensive and can make a big difference to its performance so this is well worth checking too.