The Vinyl Noob Diaries, Part One | Audio-Life

diary of a vinyl noob

As a vinyl noob, I declare that vinyl is the perfect format forever.

Whaaa??? How can such a cockamamie thing possibly be said? This is 2023, damn it! Digital has evolved into the de facto format of recorded music, digital analog converters have reached a golden age of sonics, we have hi-res music at our fingertips wherever we want to go, and you are making such ridiculous
claims? This vinyl noob must be off his proverbial rocker.

All of the above is true.

Words and Photos by Graig Neville

Vinyl is the realm of voodoo, tweaks, snake oil, and boat anchors. It is the antithesis of mobile with turntable rigs the size of washing machines that weigh more than boat anchors. These days you can walk into a room, connect with Bluetooth and get access to thousands if not millions of songs in a few seconds. Selecting an LP to play and firing up the turntable can last several minutes, and you need to hustle back to your seat before the music starts if you want to catch the beginning of the song.


Digital is plug and play. Vinyl requires a turntable, tone arm, cartridge, platter, platter mat, phono preamplification, and the list goes on. Everyone of those items in the chain makes a difference, even vibration isolation devices, cables, and record cleaning can impact the sound. Here there be dragons, witchcraft, and shenanigans all in the pursuit of the elusive “perfect audio bliss.”

Vinyl is the perfect format forever. Yes, I might be certifiably crazy to make such a claim. Yes, I am a vinyl noob.

schiit mani

A Vinyl Noob Gets Started

I met Scot Hull, Part-Time Audiophile’s grand poobah, at his storage locker which I call “The Vault.” I had recently signed on to the PTA review staff and Scot felt I needed some equipment upgrades during my freshman review year to really understand my role as a reviewer and what type of equipment was out there.

As we rummaged through the locker, piled eight feet high with gear, we shimmied between the stacks and Scot pulled out amplifiers, speakers, cables, and DACs. My trusty X5 was filled to the brim by the time we were done. In those early days we would meet every month or so and swap out gear as I played around with new things. I was in paradise. I was a gear slut, and much to my wife’s chagrin I was loving every minute.

Eventually Scot said, “Here, take this.” He handed me an Onkyo CP-1050(D) turntable, perfect for a vinyl noob. Little did I know this somewhat cast-off, still unopened box containing a modestly priced entry-level turntable would lead me down a road of ruination, delusion, and paradise. As Pandora lurked within the downright plebeian Onkyo box, I found a free afternoon and opened it up. No explosions, no apocalyptic brimstone, just a turntable, relatively easy to set up.

Little did I know the Pandora worked by degrees in this instance. Turntable set
up, I realized, would include a phono stage. Well look at that, a Schiit Mani was lurking like a mouse hidden in one of my audiophile hidey-holes. Ok, turntable, phono stage, all set up and ready. Uh. I’ve got zero records.


Kiss the Sky Records, in nearby Batavia IL, is my closest real record store. Yeah, I’ve dug through the trash bins at Half Price Books, but Kiss the Sky is the real deal. The store owner I had met a few times before when I had tagged along with Grover back when he actually was listening to records, and I picked up a few CDs. (Ha! I don’t even own a CD player any longer!) But here was a real opportunity, as a vinyl noob, to start a vinyl collection from true ground zero.


I selected Herbie Hancock’s Secrets, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and a new Dave Mathews Band release (I can’t remember the title and it’s not important enough for me to look it up, but the green vinyl was neat) and I headed back to the house.

On first listen, I sat riveted in my listening chair waiting. Would it be terrible, would it be bliss and blow away digital, or would it be velvety and sumptuous like great tubes? I soon realized that it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t bliss either. It definitely did this analog thing that I felt had potential, but compared to my considerably more refined (and expensive) digital setup it just ain’t that special. So, I kept the Onkyo in my rig for a bit longer and played one of my three records here and there just for kicks and then I put vinyl out of my mind for awhile.

A Second Try for the Vinyl Noob

Then we had HUBCON and AXPONA, and the vinyl bug began to stick its grubby little hands into my pockets. I was beginning to hear what a good vinyl rig could do and I wanted to experience more, at least in the comfort of my own home. Back at The Vault I asked Scot if he had something a step up from the modest Onkyo. “Here try this, it was a gift,” said Scot and he handed me two boxes. “And you’ll need this too,” he added, heaving a mystery box onto the vinyl noob pile.

rega p3

Getting home, I discovered the “gift” was a Shinola Runwell. Shinola is still around, but they’ve gotten out of the audio industry. Overall, that’s a good decision, but there’s neat history and some good YouTube content. Basically, the Runwell is a cosmetically fancy VPI table with a Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge and built-in phono stage. I’ll get to the second mystery box later.

Compared to the Onkyo, the Runwell was a significant step up. My socks were still not blown off, but the sound was substantially better with improved imaging, focus, and an analog vibe that I was starting to enjoy.


My trips to Kiss the Sky Records became more frequent and my collection slowly started to grow. Pandora’s hooks were beginning to tighten. And here is where my first vinyl noob tragedy occurred. I was putting the cover back on the Ortofon 2M cartridge and was having difficulty. It slipped and I bent the needle. [You’re now no longer a vinyl noob–Ed.]

My chagrin was somewhat abated since a replacement head was under $200, but it was a hard lesson to learn that with vinyl things are delicate, very delicate, and a soft, gentle and knowledgeable hand was needed moving forward.

vinyl noob

The needle was replaced and the Shinola was back up and running. I would play vinyl more often as it was enjoyable and a different kind of sound than what digital offered, still nowhere close to better than digital, but different. I kept wondering “What if I upgraded the cartridge, or could bypass the phono stage?” The Runwell did not lend itself to any tweaks besides replacing the cartridge, and since it was borrowed and a gift I knew I would have to make my dreaded first purchase as a vinyl noob.

“Just Buy a Rega P3”

Having experienced vinyl friends on the Part-Time Audiophile staff was a godsend. The amount of rabbit holes I could have delved down as a vinyl noob are myriad. After much discussion, Dave McNair just blurted out, “Buy a Rega P3 and be done with it.” That was followed quickly by Eric Franklin Shook: “I wonder how far you can tweak a P3?” And that’s when the idea hit me. I would document my pursuit of audio perfection and rapture through vinyl by starting with a Rega P3. First dilemma: go with the stock Rega cart or upgrade from the start?

rega planar3

Christopher Livengood from Ember Audio + Design suggested either a Hana or Dynavector. The Hana would be more vibe and the Dynavector more clarity. Audio is an emotional journey for me, so I decided on vibe and procured a Hana SH. And with that the hooks were in as I stood at the precipice of the abyss that is the rabbit hole of vinyl and took my first fateful step into bliss, madness, despair, and elation.

Next up: Unpacking Red, Ockham’s Razor is a Lie, and the Mysterious Box.