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Best Albums to Own on Vinyl

Whether you're buying records as a gift or for your own collection, these are the 20 of the best-sounding albums, according to CNET.

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Ty Pendlebury
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1 of 21 Josh Miller/CNET

The 20 essential albums to own on vinyl

Vinyl is booming, and if you own a record player, you've probably got a nice collection of records with music you love. One of vinyl's great benefits is sound quality, but which records bring out the best in the format?

We've picked 20 of the best-sounding records from a bunch of different genres -- including jazz, pop, punk and electronica -- starting in the 2010s and going back to the 1950s. Keep in mind that it's subjective, as these kind of lists always are. But if you want to augment your record collection, or perhaps buy a record for your favorite music fan, you'll find something to like here.

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2 of 21 Interscope

Karen O and Danger Mouse -- Lux Prima (2019)

If there's one producer who appreciates the '70s vinyl aesthetic, it's Danger Mouse. His productions are brimming with horns, mellotrons and surf guitars, and on the underrated Lux Prima he goes all out. Collaborator Karen O has never sounded better, and the record also boasts her best writing -- Woman and Redeemer are fantastic.

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3 of 21 Daft Life

Daft Punk -- Random Access Memories (2013)

Daft Punk's richest-sounding record, Random Access Memories is less '90s rave and more '70s discotheque. This album is single-handedly responsible for rekindling the careers of producer Giorgio Moroder and producer-guitarist Nile Rodgers.

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4 of 21 Island Records

Amy Winehouse -- Back to Black (2006)

Easily one of the best albums released since the turn of the century, Amy Winehouse's Back to Black captures her soon-to-be tragic life in amber. Recorded by Mark Ronson at Daptone Records (see CNET's tour here), this LP deserves to be in any self-respecting collection.

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5 of 21 DFA

LCD Soundsystem -- This Is Happening (2010)

You can tell James Murphy is an old-school DJ from the care he puts into his vinyl releases. The first three records are the band's strongest, and not surprisingly they all go out of stock quickly. This Is Happening may be the Return of the Jedi of the three, but that still means it's great. If you haven't heard an LCD Soundsystem record playing on a turntable, have you really heard it? 

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6 of 21 Drag City

Palace Brothers -- Viva Last Blues (1995)

Will Oldham has had a long career under many names, most involving the word "palace", but Viva Last Blues is one of his most memorable efforts. Steve Albini engineered the record specifically to be heard on vinyl, and songs such as the creepy Tonight's Decision (And Hereafter) will stick with you.

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7 of 21 Interscope Records

Portishead -- Dummy (1994)

Portishead's Dummy is the musical version of the movie Withnail and I -- its meaning shifts depending on your mood at the time. It works as a soundtrack to your next dinner party or can take you through a post break-up period. Final track Glory Box is one of the finest songs ever written.

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8 of 21 Amazon

A Tribe Called Quest -- Midnight Marauders (1993)

Early '90s hip-hop at its finest, Midnight Marauders shows A Tribe Called Quest imitators like Us-3 how it's really done. Also check out the excellent Low End Theory.

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9 of 21 Sire

The Replacements -- Pleased to Meet Me (1987)

Though many rock critics point to Let It Be as the band's high point, Pleased to Meet Me dispenses with the toilet humor for a more consistent listen. Alex Chilton makes you want to drive down a freeway in a top-down Cadillac, while the album's penultimate song, Skyway, predicted the coming of Wilco and alt-country.

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10 of 21 Rhino

Talking Heads -- Speaking in Tongues

While the preceding Remain in Light album gets all of the accolades, I'll come right out and say that Speaking in Tongues is more consistent. It's also less self-consciously weird and more danceable -- has there ever been a better kick drum sound than the one on Slippery People? This album is also the source of Talking Head's unlikely hit single, Burning Down the House.

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11 of 21 CBS/Epic

The Clash -- London Calling (1979)

Much more fun than the title track would have you believe, London Calling is a celebration of British outsider music in all of its late-'70s forms. If you only buy one punk album, make it this one.

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12 of 21 Capitol Records

Kraftwerk -- The Man-Machine (1978)

Yes, we could have chosen any one of Kraftwerk's '70s records but Man-Machine loses the meandering approach of other albums in favor of actual songs, even "hits" (The Model).

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13 of 21 Epic

Cheap Trick -- At Budokan (1978)

Arguably one of the most famous live records, Cheap Trick at Budokan is also the band's best album. Every song slays any previous versions, and it's easy to see why the band was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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14 of 21 Rhino

Television -- Marquee Moon (1977)

While not as famous as other late-'70s NYC bands like Blondie or Talking Heads, Television's debut album is one of our most cherished vinyl records. Minimalist, edgy and often hilarious, this release is a real stayer.

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15 of 21 Amazon

Pink Floyd -- Wish You Were Here (1975)

Every fan has a favorite Pink Floyd album, and this is ours. The first side is a chemical-free drug trip, while the title track on side 2 is simply devastating.  

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16 of 21 Mercury Records

Parliament -- Mothership Connection (1975)

There can be no argument that '70s funk and soul sounds best on vinyl, and Parliament's Mothership Connection is a high-water mark for the genre. Beats co-founder Dr. Dre sampled this record extensively for his album The Chronic.

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17 of 21

Steve Wonder -- Talking Book (1972)

You could take any one of Stevie Wonder's '70s albums and put it here, yet Talking Book is one of his most diverse. It goes from the almost-country of Blame it on the Sun to torch ballads like I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) to the irrepressible funk of Superstition. Get 'em all, but get this one first.

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18 of 21

Lou Reed -- Transformer (1972)

I've heard Transformer dozens of times, and Walk on the Wild Side dozens more. Yet, I had a religious experience listening to the album on a high-end Yamaha system (CES 2018). The female backing vocals (1min25s) emerged from a fog and advanced threateningly into the room and surrounding me -- the sense of 3D space was uncanny. If rock and roll doesn't scare you like this, it's not rock and roll.

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19 of 21 Apple Music

The Beatles -- Abbey Road (1969)

The Beatles' music still endures 50 years after the band broke up, and every vinyl fan probably owns at least one of their records.

Though the Sgt. Pepper stereo remix was released to great fanfare several years ago, we were bigger fans of the band's penultimate record, Abbey Road. The 2009 remaster already sounds fantastic, but the 50th anniversary remix truly brings the record into the 21st century.

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20 of 21 Amazon

King Crimson -- In The Court of the Crimson King (1969)

If your tastes in rock tend to have the "prog-" prefix attached, then you are likely a King Crimson fan. From the iconic cover art to the genre-defining fantasy and sci-fi themes, In The Court of the Crimson King still sounds fresh today.

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21 of 21 Amazon

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers -- Moanin' (1959)

The best jazz albums on vinyl are deserving of their own gallery but here's one album you don't see as often. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' Moanin' appeared around the same time as better-known albums like Miles' Kind of Blue and Brubeck's Time Out, but it is just as iconic.

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