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This classic gift has made a return
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Imperial Records owners, from left, Iris Romero, Edwin Hughs, Joey Summer and Brock Johnson stand outside of their Bradford Street shop on Friday, Oct. 5. The downtown cooperative aims to bring vinyl back to Gainesville.

This year, catch the carols and Christmas classics as their creators intended – on vinyl.

It’s easier than ever to hear Sinatra serenade through “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and listen to Nat King Cole snap through “Frosty The Snowman” as they would have sounded when they were recording.

All it takes is a trip to downtown Gainesville – or to just about any of the antique shops dotting North Georgia – to find the equipment you need to either treat yourself or get that elusive gift for the friend or relative who has everything.

Vinyl records have become more and more popular in recent years, and a record player might be the best gift to give – young or old.

“Right now we all carry phones in our pocket where for $10 a month, we can get pretty much get any song that’s ever been recorded on a major label and listen to it streaming, which is insane,” said Brock Johnson, co-owner of Imperial Records in Gainesville. “If you’re on your Spotify or whatever, you’re probably just going to hear one song from one artist and then it goes to another song from another artist. But if you buy a record, you’re going to listen to both sides of that one album.”

Listening to a record front-to-back not only gives you the whole picture of the sound the artist was shooting for at the time – stuff sounds different mastered for vinyl as opposed to digital – but allows you to relate to the music more. Listeners get to hear an entire album, song-by-song, in the proper order, which he said “kind of facilitates a deeper dive, a deeper connection with an artist’s music.”

But if you’re buying records, you’ll need a record player, and there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to checking this item off your list.

First, you’ll probably see the term turntable thrown around when looking at record players. Don’t fret; it’s used interchangeably and means the same thing as record player. 

Johnson said turntable was just the cool name used for it when DJs busted onto the scene in the 1980s.

“There’s no functional difference between those two words,” he said.

You’ll probably see things like a belt-drive and direct-drive record player, too. Now, there is a difference here.

Belt-drive record players have a belt you can see from the outside that wraps around and spins the platter the record sits on. Some people swear by these, saying they provide a crisper, more unique sound, but to the average person, Johnson said they won’t be able to tell the difference. 

“If you are a total audiophile and you’re all about the highest fidelity music you can get, the belt drives are preferred,” Johnson said. “The motor that spins the belt is located on the side of the record player, so the idea is there is less vibration, thus creating a higher-quality sound.”

A direct-drive, or automatic, record player is a little simpler. Its motor sits just below the platter, which could cause some unwanted distortion in the music. Unless you have a fine-tuned ear, you won’t be able to pick any of that up, though.

“Most of the budget options and things for a more casual listener would be an automatic drive,” Johnson said.

Record player setups can be had for as little as double-digit dollars to $1,000 and beyond, depending on the quality you want. Some of the best brands out there are ones like Audio-Technica, ION Audio and Numark. There are also more boutique brands, but they’ll run the cost up significantly and quickly.

Record players aren’t complete without speakers, either. And this is where you can go new-school or old-school.

Johnson said one of the “best, relatively inexpensive, especially for a millennial” gift ideas are record players with Bluetooth capabilities. That way, it can be connected with the Bluetooth speaker you probably already have. And if you don’t, they’re pretty affordable to pick up.

The old-school way is purchasing a couple of typical stereo speakers and an amplifier to make everything sound just right. Johnson said you don’t have to go all out on these. A lot of times, speakers can be found at Goodwill or thrift stores around town.

If you’re searching for an all-new setup or have questions, Imperial Records will be stocked up on Audio-Technica record players and plenty of vinyl records for the holiday season.

“We also have a number of older, vintage ones like ones from the ‘70s that are really cool,” Johnson said.

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