Before diving into the topic, first of all, we want to welcome you to the world of vinyl records. Once you step inside, it’s usually challenging to leave (as a warning). You start with a specific detail, and the ball keeps rolling until you become a music purist on multiple levels (if you weren’t one before).
However, you can also enjoy the unique and characteristic sound that comes out of vinyl records while they spin without delving into all the technicalities associated with turntables. Or perhaps you collect them because you are drawn to the album covers of your favorite records and want them in XL size, even to hang on the wall without using them again. There are countless reasons, and some of them might be painful, but…
We are not here to judge anyone; only to help. Elitism doesn’t serve much purpose, to be honest, and neither does showing off. That’s why we bring you a comprehensive guide on where and how to buy vinyl records online and what you should consider before choosing an edition. Yes, there are as many things to consider as there are tastes when it comes to making a choice. We won’t restrict you to one or the other, but we’ll guide you towards the path that suits you best.
Where to Buy Your Vinyl Records. The Best Online Options
In the order chosen within our recommendations, the quantity of vinyl records available, the number of sellers, the level of detail of the information, and the possibilities of finding great classics, novelties, and authentic treasures from the past that have never been reissued are the main factors considered.
As we write these lines, we realize that we are going to delve too deeply into some important points when it comes to collecting vinyl records. Therefore, in this section, we will mention the best stores according to our opinion, but without going into too much detail. The most important thing is that you discover these websites and like what you see.
Against all odds, our first choice is the most obvious one. We are talking about possibly the largest online marketplace dedicated to vinyl records, although they also sell CDs and even tapes. They offer so much information, differentiate between editions so well, and allow so much customization for your user, collection, and wishlist that it’s impossible not to get immersed in opinions, discoveries, and completed purchases. Moreover, their level of information is such that anyone can learn everything directly from their website, be it about an edition, the meaning of elements, or the revolutions per minute at which each vinyl record is played.
It surpasses Amazon (in terms of size and fame) and all the famous music stores that come to mind. Its only drawback, mainly due to the origin of the website and the extensive range of registered users and sellers, is that in many cases, the shipping costs are higher than the cost of the records themselves. This is because vinyl records are very fragile objects that require significant protection, and also because if the single or album you purchased is from abroad, it is most likely that the seller is also located overseas.
One of the best things, if not the best thing, about Discogs, in addition to the customization we mentioned earlier, is the possibility of acquiring both brand-new items and used antiquities that were previously unknown to everyone. Both sellers and buyers can indicate the condition of the cover and the vinyl record, while the database of each edition usually includes information that goes far beyond the included tracks and their performers. It’s truly a delightful experience.
Amazon’s website is known worldwide. It may be the most important online store on the planet, along with Aliexpress, so its section dedicated to music couldn’t be missing from this list. Although the page doesn’t stand out for its search engine, organization, or design, the combination of its features has made it an undisputed market leader.
When you visit the section dedicated to music sales, you may find a mix of concepts, editions, and different versions in one place. Fortunately, even if you accidentally select a CD, once you’re inside the product page, you’ll find the option to switch to the vinyl edition (if available). As a plus and also a minus, they generally focus on the latest releases. That’s right: if you’re looking for an old edition or an album that was released about 10 years ago, it’s unlikely that you’ll find it here.
Aside from that, the possibility of free shipping for most products (whether or not you’re a Prime member) and the fact that they generally maintain the lowest prices in the market make it a pretty interesting option.
CD and LP
Thirdly, we recommend the store CD and LP, which, as the name suggests, focuses on both the compact format and the long play. What’s best about this website? The possibility of buying and selling records. With a concept similar to Discogs, it is not as centered on informative details about the credits of each album and so on, but at the same time, the fact that you can find information about each album or single in Spanish is something that customers who don’t speak English appreciate.
In addition, the website’s format is much more e-commerce-oriented, both in the use of filters to sort products and categories, and in the fact that you, as a customer, have the option to rate sellers, ensuring that you always buy from someone trustworthy.
How to Choose a Vinyl Record. What to Look for Before Buying
As always, this depends on your priorities and preferences. This mainly involves your preference for having all your vinyl records brand new, unopened (first edition or reissue), or your desire to collect both new and used records.
In any case, one of the most important details is to ensure the sound quality and pressing of the record. Especially if it indicates whether it is stereo or mono, and if it claims to be stereo, whether it is genuinely a stereo record or not. Keep in mind that, between these two options, there isn’t always a loss or gain in quality. The music was recorded in that way, and it was also delivered to the fans who loved it. It’s evident that stereo sound represented an advancement, but that’s also why we need to ensure that we don’t get what is not meant to be, considering that our turntables have both options when it comes to playback.
Having said that, another key point, especially if you are new to this, is to observe at how many revolutions per minute (RPM) the record should be played, as it is related to fidelity. The most common RPMs are 33 (usually for 12-inch LPs, although also for 7-inch singles), 45 (usually for 7-inch singles), and 78 (used in the first format of gramophone records and known by many as “vitrola” records). The latter is obsolete, so it’s possible that your turntable doesn’t have that option. However, if you are an avid collector of antiques, it is recommended to have it.
Finally, since you are going to buy online, the most crucial thing of all (although we place it last) is to pay attention to the condition of the vinyl record according to what the seller indicates. On Amazon, this condition will be defined as “new” or “used.” However, on Discogs, you have a lot of grades that they themselves explain briefly. In essence, we can summarize it as follows: “Mint” implies that it is new, unused, and usually unopened. Going from that point to less, and always considering that these grades are defined by individuals and their subjectivity. Hence, if you have any doubts about the condition of the vinyl record, contact the seller. They will be happy to answer you.
Music in Its Original Edition or Remastered Version?
If you are starting to collect vinyl albums and singles, you have probably already wondered whether it is better to collect original versions, usually old ones, especially with classics, or the remastered versions, which are modern and recently released.
Different people collect for different reasons. Some do it out of love for the artist or the album; some care more about audio dynamics than others. Some collect because they hold personal memories or even historical reasons behind a particular piece of music, etc. The value that each individual assigns to a vinyl record is largely determined by what that recording means to you as a collector.
I have heard original pressings that sound much better than their recent remastered versions, but at the same time, I have seen many cases where it’s just the opposite. For example, the stereo remaster of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in 2017 is a delight, but the original mono pressing is also appreciated for its unique audio profile. They are different, and what’s best depends solely on you.
In general, in my personal case, I don’t trust remastered versions (whether vinyl or CD) much more than the original version. The reason is the well-known “Loudness Wars.” Original releases sound as they were intended, even if the creators themselves were not happy with the result. They sound as they were loved in the first place. Furthermore, an album dominated by volume can be tiring to the ears, although it may sound technically superior when measured, it may not flow subjectively as well to your ears.
Additionally, is the original harder to find in perfect condition? Is the sound worse compared to some remastered versions?
Not necessarily. I have come across many original releases that are easy to find and are sold at reasonable prices, even at flea markets if it’s your lucky day. Scarcity could make an original LP expensive, but the same could easily happen with any particular version of a reissue, especially a limited edition. As in any other market, it’s a matter of supply and demand.
Regarding the sound quality, you have already read what I think. Besides that, the result of remastering has a lot to do with the effort made by the sound engineer, the techniques used, and the technology used. Nevertheless, I have learned that these are very subjective matters, and dealing with them as such on a case-by-case basis could make collecting vinyl records a more enjoyable or less enjoyable experience depending on the consumer.
Lastly, perhaps a much more prosaic detail, but true in any case. Our records only belong to us while we are alive. Some people have them thinking of making money later, while others want to add some value to their life journey.
Let’s Talk About the Sound Wars (and Noise). Do Vinyl Records Sound Better in Stereo Than in Mono?
Because you were probably left wanting to know more when we mentioned it, this topic needs its own section. In this case, it is essential not to confuse this issue with Duophonic, the process with which Capitol Records denoted its fake stereo releases (which we have already mentioned). That is one thing, and another thing is to record a record in mono or stereo, something that was often done almost simultaneously. It was common to create both a mono master and a stereo master in the same session, so many albums from the 1950s and 1960s were available in both mono and stereo versions. The trick is to find out whether the album you desire is a true stereo (or a true mono, as some later mono editions were “folded” from stereo tapes). For this, it’s always necessary to do some research and ask around.
At this point, we practically enter a question of extreme purity. Let this be said to Jazz listeners, who are the ones who make the most purchases of first editions, if not of the first pressings, of a release, something that is not always possible (either because it’s not available or too costly). In that case, don’t worry; it’s better to have some reissues than none.
And this is without fully delving into the digital era. Digitalization as the only form of the remastering process. It’s a delicate issue, to be honest. Of course, music in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s wasn’t digitized, and it’s impossible to imagine that they would re-record the music again, this time in stereo. Many editions from those decades suffer a loss of quality when digitized and remastered, in some way, it no longer feels real, which makes you wonder how the original versions and reissues were made analogically. Did they record all the musicians together, or in separate tracks, as they do today? The latter, of course, makes digitization quite easy and without any loss of quality. It’s a complex matter that only true experts can resolve for you.
And What About Colored Vinyl Records? Does That Affect the Sound?
At first glance, it’s purely about appearance, once again a matter of taste. Some people are not so interested in colored vinyl as they are in the audio quality of the pressing. Technically speaking, black vinyl is also colored. However, one of the reasons why I prefer black vinyl over colored vinyl is the ease of visual grading and detecting imperfections such as scratches and marks.
I have heard audiophiles debate on how colored PVC affects the sonic characteristics. (Fortunately?) My ears are not sensitive to that level of detail.
From here, my advice is always to stay in the middle ground. Limited edition releases can be good additions to your collection. Also, collect for the sheer auditory experience (especially for this reason), and even for the visual aesthetics of a release, which is almost never my priority, if you like it.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.