Explaining Turntables

In the past turntables were bulky, expensive, and hard to maintain.  Now, they come in many different variations and can be cheap and extremely easy to use and keep.  There are many types, so I will try to narrow it down to what three different price ranges offer when looking to purchase a turntable.

1. Below $100 dollars: 

I do not recommend going below one hundred dollars when buying a turntable, but they are out there.  These are great for beginners or young adults trying to get into the hobby without killing their bank account.  They are often made of plastic components and do not have many of the features that standard turntables have.  Crosley has several models that are within this price range.  Please keep in mind that you are buying a cheap turntable made by a company that are marketing towards a gift-buying market.  These turntables work well and are great for starting out, but they do not offer the quality that vinyl can bring.  Most of them have built in speakers that sound from awful to decent.   I’ll admit, my first table was something similar to a Crosley.  The thing was junk and had a ceramic needle that tore up most of the records I played on it.  Be wary of this price range.  Most are mass produced and go for looks and gift-appeal over true audio quality, but they are excellent for the plug-and-play listeners.

2. $100 to $500

This is where I would recommend you explore if you are really going to be serious about vinyl.  A good turntable in this range will last decades if treated well and taken care of.  The components that are included on these turntables are standard for what makes vinyl sound the best that it can.  They are built with the serious listener in mind.

They also do not cover all of what it takes to get the needle-to-record sound.  If you buy in this range, you will need to also purchase a receiver and a set of speakers.  This is where we come into the realm of the set-up.  If you are trying to improve your living area with a sound system a good turntable, then a good receiver and a good set of speakers will fill most houses with sound.  And if you do it right and get decent components in your set-up you will start to hear music like you’ve never heard it before.

Most turntables in this range have upgradability.  This is the most important factor in beginning a music set up.  If you continue to purchase vinyl and listen to them, eventually you will want to make them sound better.  Each component in the set up can be upgraded, and that goes for everything within the turntable itself.  I highly suggest going into this price range for this reason alone.

There are several brands to explore within this range.  I would recommend going for a used table in this range, and to ask these questions when buying it:

Obviously, does it work?

How often was it used?

Was it used for DJ-ing/scratching?  (These turntables have been through a lot, don’t buy it if it has been used for this.)

What is the condition of the cartridge and stylus?

Decent turntables can be found used either in a store or online.  Just be aware that you are purchasing an electronic piece of equipment that takes care and maintenance to work.  Turntables are unique pieces of engineering, and they really have to be in tip-top shape to work the best that they can.

If you want to buy new to avoid the pitfalls of buying used, then be aware that a brand new turntable will not work directly out of the box.  Once hooked up to a receiver and speakers, the turntables tonearm (the component that holds the cartridge and needle stable on the record while the table spins) must be calibrated.  Here’s a good video that explains how to balance the tonearm.  Note that each cartridge has a different weight requirement.  If too much weight or not enough weight is put on the cartridge, the records you play will not sound the best and they could be damaged.

3. Above $500

Honestly, I have not really looked into the audiophile-quality turntables that are available at these extreme prices.  In this area, the experts come into the ring and attempt to optimize the listening experience that can be gotten from vinyl.  Do your research and talk to the experts if your’e willing to venture into this area.  There are turntables in this range that are extremely precise and come with mind-blowing design features.  They can produce some of the most clear sounding music you will ever hear.  It is inspiring to even be in the same room as some of them.  If you get into the $1000 and up range you will see that they are astonishing combinations of engineering and art.  I suggest looking at some of them just to see what’s out there, but serious consideration should involve extended research.

Features:

USB/non-USB

Some turntables sold today offer the capability of digitalizing vinyl through the use of a USB port and software.  I think that adding this capability to the price of the turntable could lower the quality of the table, but it just takes listening to different models to be sure.  If you want to digitalize a massive record collection or want to have your music in different forms then I say go for it.   Just be aware that some of these turntables are only made for this purpose and are not built with the music experience in mind.  Also, most new albums being released come with digital download codes that eliminate the need to transfer formats.

Manual/Automatic

Some turntables offer the chance of an automatic cueing system.  This means that the turntable raises the tonearm and places it on the record itself.  I prefer a manual turntable because I sometimes like to skip tracks and listen to specific parts of records.  Keep in mind that it takes a precision and a steady hand to rest the needle on an album without damaging it or the needle, but it is not that hard to get down without a little practice.

I really hope that clears a lot of questions up.  There are a lot of turntables out there.  Buying the right one depends on what you want to achieve with it.  Thanks for reading.

RTR

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The 5 Spots

Record stores are plentiful in Houston, but some are obviously better than others.  These 5 places may not be the best, but they are my go-to spots to look for vinyl in this massive town.  They all have their own attributes that put them above the rest for me, and I hope to explain why they make them my favorites.

1. Sig’s Lagoon

3622 E Main St., Houston, TX 77002

I’ve covered what makes Sig’s so special to me in the past, and am not fearful of doing it again.  The place is small, but has the biggest selection in the Houston area.  I mean, the place is crammed with records, tapes and cds on both floors of the store.  The upstairs rock collection could easily stand alone as it’s own store.  That being said, Sig’s produces some brilliant finds.  The management is always kind and helpful, the place looks amazing, and the location is right in the heart of Houston.  With the Continental club right across the street, the area is saturated with music.

2. Vinal Edge

239 W. 19th St., Houston, TX 77008

Par for the course is Vinal Edge.  Vinal Edge moved its location to the Heights earlier this year.  Since their relocation, the Edge has seen a huge improvement in terms of customers, space, and organization.  Their old location was a place where a gigantic amount of vinyl was stored in one place.  There were boxes on top of boxes and little room to walk around and search.  However, now most music shoppers would lead you to Vinal Edge when someone asks them for a good all-around record store.  Vinal Edge has a huge selection that rivals Sig’s.  The two stores could easily be compared, but something about Sig’s is just more refreshing to me.  The management at the Edge includes some of the most knowledgeable people in Houston’s music scene.  The Edge is a gathering place for most of Houston’s music lovers, performers, artists, and well-knowns.  Vinal Edge has been a place that I regularly shop at for a long time.  Ask about their previous location, and they will tell you the improvements they’ve made.

3. Cactus Music

2110 Portsmouth, Houston TX 77098

Just outside of downtown is Cactus Music.  Cactus has a little bit of everything, and I think their record selection lacks because of that.  Cactus Music is part music venue and part music store.  They feature live music several times every week, and their website includes their dense schedule.  Their really is no limit to what you can find there in terms of music, but from a dedicated vinyl-only buyer, the store’s selection and prices are a disappointment.  I really like Cactus for what they offer other than vinyl, but the store is just a little too over-the top.  It’s a great place to see a live show, and most of them are FREE.  Cactus is a quintessential gathering place for the Houston music scene, and should definitely be checked out.

4. Black Dog Records

4900 Bissonet #102, Bellaire, TX 77401

If you go to Black Dog, make sure you bring some money.  You will find some pretty rare stuff there, but be prepared to pay the price for the rarity that the store owner provides.  The owner has a huge amount of knowledge about the rarest releases, albums, and bands, and he comes off as condescending sometimes because of that.  However, I’ve learned a lot from him and have seen some pretty awesome things in his store.  Whether or not you can afford some of the higher-end stuff, Black Dog believes in quality over quantity.  There are really some amazing things to see there.  Black Dog’s Jazz section is the best in Houston from my perspective.  It’s another interesting store that provides a little something extra and special than a run-of-the-mill record store.

5. Half Price Books

I’m including Half Price Books at the #5 spot because of what type of shopping experience it is.  I’ve been going to the Humble location since High School, and I have been able to pick up some pretty rare music there for a cheap price.  Their quality is lacking, but they offer the chance to find those diamonds in the rough that vinyl lovers long for.  And they don’t sell just vinyl, so if you don’t find an album you like, you can always find a good book.  I could include the massive amount of Goodwills in the Houston area.  They all sell donated albums, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get when you walk in.  To really get something good at a place like this includes dedication and frequent visits.  Go to them enough times, and you will find some good stuff.  Trust me.

I hope that wraps up the best spots in Houston for buying vinyl and music in general.  They are all unique and interesting places to go, and all offer their own special music searching experience.  They are all worth checking out.  Thanks again for reading.

RTR

Wild Colors, Wild Sounds: Death Waltz Records

One of the coolest variables within the world of purchasing vinyl is color.  The colored vinyl has been around for a long time, but recently the creativity involved in pressing some of these albums to create more and more interesting effects has increased.  Colored records add a little flash and are becoming a huge selling point for record companies.  Pressing albums has changed because of this, it adds a little jolt of fascination when you buy new albums, anticipating what the color of the vinyl will be.

Death Waltz Recording Company has been revolutionizing what record pressing companies are doing for the past couple years.   They mainly specialize in rereleasing soundtracks from independent and some old and forgotten horror films.  Their cover art is all done originally, and every album they produce comes in a unique color and style.

deathwaltzrecordingcompany.com

deathwaltzrecordingcompany.com

This fine example of what Death Waltz offers is a soundtrack from and Italian Film, Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters.  The composer on this film was Fabio Frizzi, and its release marks the first time it has been pressed on vinyl.  The vinyl is pressed in a beautiful red tone, and the artwork was done by Graham Humphreys, poster artist for The Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street 1-5, and Return of The Living Dead.  The colorful vinyl mixed with the original artwork makes this a presentation that should be rivaled by other record companies.

deathwaltzrecordingcompany.com

deathwaltzrecordingcompany.com

Another fine example from the discography of Death Waltz comes from a movie that might be a little more recognizable.  The film, Donnie Darko, featured a dark and morbid soundtrack mixed with 80s pop tunes.  The soundtrack also features the top single from Gary Jules, his remake of the Tears For Fears song “Mad World.”  The brilliant blue vinyl is paired with original artwork by Tom French.  The soundtrack was remastered for vinyl with permission from its original releaser, Everloving Records.

Death Waltz’s dedication to presenting their customers with a truly unique product is paramount to what the purchasing vinyl is about today.  Music lovers want the whole presentation, and are willing to pay the money for it.  I should note that most of the products Death Waltz offers are around 25 dollars, a figure that would steer most thrifters to the nearest Goodwill.  However, I find it not hard to drop a few dollars on a record that looks as cool as what Death Waltz puts out.  They should be proud of what they sell, and more people should be aware of the quality product that they are capable of producing.

Does Marketability Equal Quality?

What is the state of the music industry?  Why does the public not demand choice and variety when over what is broadcasted by radio?  Is vinyl helping this trend? Where have CDs gone?

Not everyone involved with the music industry agrees with what is pumping out of today’s radio stations on a daily basis.  It seems that recently all radio stations aside from those outliers in in each metro area such as NPR and KPFT hear in Houston each have their own Top 40 that they constantly have on rewind.  The radio stations I grew up listening to, 93.7 the Arrow and Rock 101 KLOL, from what I remember, allowed for free requests from listeners and played more than just what they are required to play from the tired old owners of the same tired old songs.  With radio, the quality of the music doesn’t matter.  Why do these stations play the same songs?  It’s due to the fact that 90% of American media is owned by only 6 companies.  Among these massive conglomerates is Clear Channel Communication, a massive corporation that owns almost all of the radio stations in the U.S.  They own the rights to many of the songs you hear on the radio, and those contracts require a specific amount of airtime for many of the songs you hear.  Since basically the entirety of our media in the U.S. is consolidated, we get the same regurgitated music day in and day out.

The trend of consolidation of music inevitably leads to piracy.  It’s incredibly easy to illegally download music these days, and  it’s become commonplace.  And it’s not going away.  There are those that argue for the acceptance of the availability of free music downloads, and there are those that care about protecting the artists rights to a market share of the product they create.  Music is marketable in many forms.  But does marketability equal quality?  The artists that are making tons of money are making it due to the radio and the companies that agree to play their songs a required amount of times a week.  But most would argue that quality lacks when music becomes that important to a business and the almighty dollar.

Many new and independent artists are embracing vinyl as a way to connect with their listeners and to provide a unique product to them.  More and more record companies are popping up because of this, and more people today are buying and new and old music on the medium than ever before.  Digital and Vinyl have become the praised formats of today’s music lovers and artists.  Media conglomerates in control of the radio have not recognized these trends and will eventually be on the brink of collapse in the future because of it.  Where the radio lacks, the other side is bountiful.  The radio is what it is because of money, and most people know that.  Given vinyl’s rise and the digital revolution, the radio is becoming antiquated.

Another medium that is virtually out of existence is the CD.  Because they are smaller than vinyl, CDs were never meant to have a tangible or collectable appeal to them.  With the advent of digital music, websites like spotify and last.fm, music is widely becoming accessible.  There is almost no need for the huge amount of people who purchased CDs to go out and buy them anymore.  And the truly harsh thing about that is that very few people are buying music in a tangible format anymore.  Vinyl purchases have risen because of this, but until recent years they attracted only the hardcore music listeners, collectors and djs.  Music listeners can be fit into groups, but artists should know of the benefits that can be gotten from releasing large format vinyl records to their listeners.  More people are beginning to appreciate it, and if they come at a reasonable price, they will buy them much like many people bought CDs.

Problems that plague the music industry today have been around for many years.  I’m assuming that most know that when you turn on the radio you’ll inevitably hear the same old stuff.  Inevitably, its a personal choice when you go out in search of music.  I support what the internet has done and is doing for music, but I also believe in owning it.  Thanks for reading, and keep your ears open to new and exciting sounds.

RTR

Looking Back on Lou Reed’s Definitive Career

Yesterday morning Rolling Stone magazine reported on the death of rock and roll legend Lou Reed’s death.  He was 71, and the cause of his death stated as complications from liver disease.  It is known that Lou underwent a liver transplant earlier this year in May, and he was reported as stating that after the surgery he felt “bigger and stronger” than ever.

As a musician and artist, Lou’s career is incredible.  He is most commonly known for his time as the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the American rock band The Velvet Underground.  Despite that fact that the Velvet Underground was commercially unsuccessful, their music has been celebrated since the 70s as a cult group.  They produced a very unique sound that has been influential to many bands.  Lou Reeds simplistic voice and deep and dark subject matter, combined with a smooth pop rock sound infused with folk tones, has brought the Velvet Underground a following among many of today’s  and the past couple decades rock legends.

Lou departed from the Velvet Underground in the early 70s to pursue a solo career, and immediately started putting out radio hits.  Most people have heard “Walk on the Wild Side” and have contemplated its controversial subject matter.  Possibly Lou’s most popular album, “Transformer”, was released in 1972 alongside help from producer Mick Ronson and fellow songwriter and devious frontman David Bowie.  The album was Lou’s critical and commercial pinnacle, and solidified his presence in rock and roll history.  “Transformer” including songs and stories surrounding the hanger’s on of pop artist Andy Warhol, a person who Lou Reed and David Bowie are commonly known to have been in collaboration with.

For myself, the news of Lou’s death came was surprising and depressing.  He is a musician who always strayed off the straight path, and for the most part put out music that only kindred spirits can appreciate.  His career was highlighted with moments that were controversial, most notably his album produced alongside Metallica.  Also, he followed up his most successful album “Transformer,” with his least successful album, “Metal Machine Music,” possibly one of the more controversial albums ever produced.  The album was a continuous recording of electronically generated audio feedback.  The album was called a statement of contempt by the artist himself, and could have been his attempt to end a contract withe RCA or to get some of his least sophisticated fans to move along.  He never did what critics thought he should do, and that should be influential to any musician ever.  If you have time, take a moment to reflect on Lou Reed’s fantastic musical career and reject all the jive talk against him.  His body of work is dense and important to rock music.  I know that the Velvet Underground will be occupying my turntable for the next few weeks.  As Lou said, “my life was saved by rock and roll.”  Rock on Lou, and rest in peace.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to hoping every day is a perfect one.

RTR

The Houston Record Convention

A lot of records, knowledge, and money were being thrown around in one of the ballrooms at the Houston Hilton Hotel near Hillcroft on Sunday.  The Houston Record convention occurs once in every several months, and this months was one of the best so far.  Many vendors showed up, some new and some returning.  I made sure to be one of the many people in attendance ready to learn, find, and return home with new music.

I quickly learned as I usually do that I did not bring an amount of money necessary to bring home everything I saw that interested me.  The quality of music and memorabilia you can find at these conventions really is overwhelming.  The shows draws a crowd that include djs, serious collectors, people who restore and resell albums, and casual listeners like myself.  Most of the vendors brought a huge amount of music in all formats.

A refreshing aspect of these shows is the variance in content you get from each vendor.  Some have huge selections that span all genres, and some carry only specific types of music.  One of the vendors was displaying custom-made clocks out of old LPs.  Some of the content you find you definitely cannot find anywhere else.  The show really is a place to buy records that should not be overlooked and passed up.

What I like more about these shows is not just how much vinyl is being sold in one place.  All the vendors are willing to barter.  They will all cut deals and are always willing to haggle prices.  It gives many a chance to find better prices for albums that you can’t get in a store or online.  Also, the setting encourages and breeds knowledge of music.  Conversations about a wide variety of subjects within the music community are occurring all at once, and you can really learn some interesting things about music either by just listening in or engaging.

Obviously, since it is next week, the annual Austin Record Convention was on the topic of most of the vendors minds.  Most of the vendors at the Houston show are excited about making the trip to the huge convention center in Austin.  The Austin show will be massive and will span an entire weekend.  They bill the show as the largest music sale in the United States, and there will be a very large amount of music in one place to look through.  I’m not sure if I will be making it to that show, but If I do I will make sure to report on it.  It really is something to witness for anyone who has any interest in music.

All in all, the Houston show was a success as always, and I’m glad that I’m able to shed a little light on what happens at them.  Sure, the Austin show will be at least ten times as large, but the Houston shows occur much more often.  Be sure to check out the next one in December, you will definitely not regret taking the trip.

Thanks for reading,

RTR

Sig’s Lagoon: The Biggest Little Record Store In Houston

Sig’s Lagoon, located in Houston’s Midtown, is easily my favorite record store in the area.  The store has many redeeming factors that make me and should make music lovers continuous shoppers.  It’s so small, but it packs a punch.  The selection at Sig’s really is amazing.  The bottom floor is vibrantly filled with racks of new and used records, cds, tapes, clothing, and assorted memorabilia.  Also, picture discs hang from the ceiling.  When you walk into Sig’s, you are truly ensconced in music.  That is the way a record store should be.

Image

The most unique thing about Sig’s is probably the fact that it has two floors.  Sig’s bottom floor is filled with racks of record crammed into the allowed space.  The right wall is dedicated to only new albums.  All of the represses and new releases can be found there.  The middle of the floor has soundtracks, funk and hip hop.  The left wall continues into the country/folk and more obscure genres.    The store gives off a vintage vibe that is extremely important to me when you are record shopping.  It’s as if you are walking into a museum and there just happens to be a cash register and an employee there letting you buy what you are looking at.

You can easily spend hours looking through what Sig’s has on display on its bottom floor.  But if you just can’t get enough and if your pockets still have a little weight to them, there are stairs in the back.  I’ll say that again.  There are stairs in the back.  Upstairs at Sig’s is one of my favorite places in the world.  There are so much more records upstairs and the rewards you can find there are endless.  The selection upstairs is all rock and roll, and it’s one of the best amalgamations of records on sale available in Houston.

Sig’s is not just a record store.  Like many of the other stores in inner-cities, live music is welcomed and showcased.  Sig’s has a dense concert schedule, and right across the street is the Continental Club, one of Houston’s smaller venue/bars.  The area is great for music.  Sig’s is a pivotal marketplace for any music fan in Houston.  It’s small and nearly unknown, perfect for the collector looking for the good finds.

Thanks for reading,

RTR