Best vinyl records to test your turntable: The albums you need to own
Whether you’re upgrading your turntable or investing in your first-ever record player, you’re going to need some tasty vinyl to set your ears on fire. But aside from pilfering everything from your favourite artists, what else are you going to choose? With so much music out there, deciding on what else to buy can throw up some issues, so we’ve come up with a list of the best vinyl records for your turntable.
We’ve picked out a few classic records, some contemporary releases and a few that might even surprise you. But the one thing all our picks have in common is they sound great and are, in our humble opinion, must-haves for your record player.
Keep your eyes on this page as we’ll be updating it as 2022 continues
Best vinyl records to test your turntable: Vinyl list
Let’s face it, there are no bad albums by The Beatles, so picking just one was a bit of a quandary. However, after whittling down the list we arrived at Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road – and we’ve picked out Abbey Road as a great option to whack on your turntable, and in particular the 50th anniversary reissue.
The version of Abbey Road features the 2019 stereo album mix, which was sourced from the original eight-track session tapes, with Giles Martin working alongside Sam Okell on production duties. As you would imagine Abbey Road sounds terrific, with the mix balanced beautifully allowing John, Paul, George and Ringo’s talents to really shine. A real treat, and it’s even better when you take in the amount off wonderful songs here, including the brilliant Come Together, the quirky Octopus’s Garden and the timeless classic Here Comes The Sun. Wonderful!
A throwback to 1991 in the shape of Metallica’s much-loved “Black Album” and more specifically, the re-issue that arrived in 2021. This was an album that launched as grunge was clearing the launchpad, but if anyone though the arrival by the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins could dent the popularity of metal’s finest, they were wrong.
Gone were many of the thrash stylings that Metallica were known for, with the band delivering a slow-burning thumper of a record that is possibly their most famous alongside Master Of Puppets. Enter Sandman sounds fabulous on the reissue. It’s one of the most famous metal songs on the planet, with the vinyl almost melting under its ferocious glare. The Unforgiven is another majestic track which truly shines on the reissue, as do (let’s face it) all the songs. We’re giving a special mention to Nothing Else Matters, as it has plenty of room to blossom here, with Hetfield’s vocals rising above the crescendo.
OK, so we could have gone for Appetite For Destruction or Use Your Illusion I & II, but we’ve picked Guns N’ Roses’ Greatest Hits package instead. This was originally released on CD back in 2004, with this double vinyl edition arriving in September 2020. This new version of the record is pressed on 180g black vinyl and also features the 1986 recording of Shadow Of Your Love, which surfaced on the 2018 box set of Appetite For Destruction. It’s worth noting that Greatest Hits was also released on gold coloured vinyl with red and white splatter – although this is becoming increasing more difficult to get hold of.
A total of 15 songs are presented here including fan favourites such as Welcome To The Jungle, November Rain, You Could Be Mine and Patience. It sounds terrific too and is the perfect way to put your turntable through its paces. A final nice touch is that the band have done away with sides A, B, C and D – and instead we’re treated to sides G, N, F’N, R. Nice!
Let’s leave the reissues behind for a bit and concentrate on something a bit more contemporary: Ghost’s Impera. Leader Tobias Forge has always positioned his band somewhere between metal and classic rock, but their transformation into full-blown AOR-style stadium rockers – a move which began in earnest with 2018’s Prequelle – is now complete with their latest record.
It’s an album choc-full of satisfying riffs, big choruses and catchy moments which bring back memories of the mid-80s rock scene. Ghost have released Impera in a wide range of vinyl formats – from standard to exclusive coloured vinyl editions, so you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes. However, we’re concentrating on the standard black 1LP release.
The first track that grabbed me was Kaisarion, especially when Forge lets out an opening scream that reminded me of Stan Bush at his finest. It’s a massive sounding track crammed into five minutes and points out exactly where the record is heading. As if any reinforcement was needed, next song Spillways took me back to listening to Bon Jovi’s Runaway back in 1984.
Watcher In The Sky, with its slabs of heavy guitar sounds brilliant, as does the atmospheric first single Hunter’s Moon. With Forge’s eye for detail and Klas Åhlund’s sterling production, Impera proves that Ghost are still one of the most exciting bands around… even if they did have to go back to the 80s to claim the crown.
Before Red Hot Chili Peppers went on to global superstadom with Blood Sugar Sex Magic, they released several brilliant albums in the shape of Freaky Styley and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, However, it was 1989’s Mother’s Milk which paved the way for the band’s and was the springboard for their future success. It was also the Red Hot Chili Peppers first record to feature their classic lineup of Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Chad Smith and John Frusciante.
Flea’s bass really pops on this record, while Frusciante fresh licks elevate tracks such as Nobody Weird Like Me, Taste Like Me, Stone Cold Bush and the scintillating cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground. They might have recorded better albums over the years, but Mother’s Milk still sounds edgy and vibrant and the vinyl release should definitely be on your shopping list.
Released in 1993, just seven months after the death of vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain, Nirvana: MTV Unplugged In New York is perhaps the definitive MTV Unplugged recording. The series gave artists across a wide spectrum of genres the chance to strip back their usual electric performances and give a different kind of groove to their live sets.
Nirvana’s performance was filmed and recorded at Sony Music Studios in New York City in November 1993, with the setlist featuring Nirvana staples such as Come As You Are, About A Girl and Polly. However, it also has a number of excellent covers, including David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World and Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam by The Vaselines.
The double vinyl released in 2019 to mark the album’s 25th anniversary sounds fantastic, with the music given plenty of room to breathe. About A Girl is terrific with Cobain’s vocals sounding gritty and fresh, while On A Plain’s mellow beat really shines. There’s even the bonus of five extra rehearsal tracks. A real slice of musical history.
Tesseract’s fourth studio album Sonder is next on our list, partly because the tracks from the UK prog-metal outfit are quality and the production work on it is top-drawer. The band’s guitarist Ace Kahney co-produced the 2018 record with Aiden O’Brien and the results are brilliant. Opener Luminary is sharp, with Jay Postones’ drums cutting through the mix beautifully, while the quieter moments simply shine.
Orbital is a gentle, multi-textured track which reminds me of US post rockers Hammock and it sound brilliant on vinyl, and it’s a great contrast to the punchy and choppy Juno which is up next. My favourite cut on the record, however, is the sprawling 11-minute Beneath My Skin/Mirror Image which ebbs and flows through menacing riffs and clean as a whistle drumming. It also shows off frontman Daniel Tompkins’ vocal range perfectly, with the singer happy to mix up styles in his delivery.
While Sonder might not be an album you expected to see in this list, it’s guaranteed to put your record player through its paces.
U2’s release of Achtung Baby in 1991 coincided with the rise of grunge – but that didn’t stop the band’s seventh album from going stratospheric. You could argue U2 had already released enough great albums to be regarded as one of the biggest rock bands on the planet by the time the 90s rolled around, but Achtung Baby, with its mix of memorable tracks spanning a variety of genres such as alt-rock, seemed to put Bono on co. on another level. It was popular with pop fans, rockers, indie kids and even goths got a kick out of Achtung Baby thanks to tracks like One, Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, The Fly and the magnificent Ultra Violet.
With Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois on production duties, there’s a definite darker edge to this collection of 12 tracks from some of U2’s previous records. Bono is in great form on the album, with The Edge’s signature guitar on fire throughout. I don’t think you have to be a fan of U2’s work before or after Achtung Baby to appreciate it either, it a superb record to test your turntable on. We recommend grabbing the 30th anniversary edition which was released on 2LP in 2021.
Everyone has their favourite era of The Cure, with some preferring the lighter side of the band rather than the darker material they’re perhaps better known for. I fall into the latter camp, and that means another spin of 1989’s Disintegration. It came just two years after Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, and had an altogether different vibe from that record which contained the upbeat singles Why Can’t I Be You? and Just Like Heaven.
This 2LP reissue of Disintegration is pressed on heavyweight 180g vinyl with standout tracks including Pictures Of You, Lovesong, Lullaby, Closedown, the galloping title track along with sublime opener Plainsong. For this reason, it’s highly regarded among fans of The Cure, with many believing Robert Smith and co. have never quite bettered it. That’s a debate for another time, but as we patiently wait for the band’s two new studio albums, this is a fine slice of vinyl to test out your record player – and a great place to start if you’re new to The Cure.
Elizium is, in my opinion, a gothic masterpiece that was originally released way back in 1990. Sadly, it was to be the last featuring Fields Of The Nephilim’s classic lineup of Carl McCoy, Tony Pettitt, Nod Wright, Peter Yates and Paul Wright, with McCoy departing the following year, shattering the band in the process. McCoy resurrected the name with new members for 2005’s Mourning Sun, but they’ve never managed to top Elizium.
This green vinyl pressing was released in December 2020 to mark Elizium’s 30th anniversary and it sounds even better than it did before thanks to Loud’s John Dent and his work transferring it to 96khz/24. Geoff Pesche at Abbey Road then got involved in mastering the vinyl making this the definitive edition of one of goth’s finest moments.
It’s an album in the truest sense – it simply has to be listened to in one sitting to get the most from its dark, Pink Floydian atmosphere. Every track’s a winner, with special mention going to the audio delights of the superb 24-minute b-side which features Sumerland (What Dreams May Come), Wail Of Sumer and And There Will Your Heart Be Also. Vinyl perfection.