Friday, January 10, 2014


I got a record player for Christmas.  Yesterday, I set it up after finally managing to get together a couple speakers, speaker wire, an amp, and some records.

Before 2013, I'd never really been much interested in vinyl. I love music, and I listen to a lot of it, but I am not an audiophile in the least.  Vinyl seemed almost perversely difficult: at once fragile and clunky.  Yeah, I'd heard claims that, if you got the right setup, nothing compared to a turntable.  Sure.  If you get the right setup, I would allow for the possibility at the highest level of equipment.  But then, who but the most obsessed could divine the difference?  Any minimal increase in sound quality couldn't possibly be worth an investment I couldn't come close to making.  We're talking thousand dollar styluses (styli is also correct!).  Thousand dollar speaker wire.

Why pursue an expensive, obsolete parallel music platform when I already had first tapes, then CDs?  You could get those anywhere that sold music.  But you had to go looking for vinyl.   After the dawn of constant connectivity (2007?) I got all my music from emusic for a while, then pandora and spotify took over.  Now, the only reason I even own CDs is the car CD player.

My thinking changed in the fall of 2013 when I heard Paul Green play some records on Radio Woodstock.   Maybe Led Zeppelin.  It was something rich and meaty.  It did sound richer than the rest of the (digital) tracks they were spinning.  Somehow brighter and fuller.  This perception of mine may have been a sort of placebo, but, I am sure it sounded good, and certainly not inferior to the other tracks.

I started to think I might want to sink a couple hundred bucks into a budget system.  If the purity of vinyl could come through a radio over car speakers, surely even a mediocre record player and speakers could still produce very satisfying sound.

The lure of vinyl came not just from a perceived richness of sound, but also from its anachronistic quality.
Its simplicity is its advantage.  For one, I have a rudimentary understanding of how a turntable and speakers work.  Not so much with a CD.

And then there's the feel of a record in your hands. I've long been attracted to records as objects because they flat out look cool: all glossy and grooved, spinning smoothly, cardboard jackets like this.  Even better than unfolding the paper insert from a cassette case is sliding a record out of its sleeve, and then poring over the album art and lyrics while the sound washes over you. 

If you put your ear near the turntable, you can even hear the sound coming off the record.  How cool is that?

Looking for records is an adventure with tangible rewards.  I found Born to Run for a dollar. I figured it was probably all crapped up (I can't really tell if a record is in bad shape unless it is severely scratched).   When I put it on, it popped a little on the first song, but after that, it was perfect. Won that find.

Maybe most importantly, it isn't smart, and it doesn't have Internet connectivity.  When you listen to a record, it's not collecting your data or playing commercials at you.  Record listening is a step removed from the commodity and markets that attend every online moment.   Which I think makes it easier to appreciate the music as art.

Then again, all the pre-internet nostalgia and appreciation for the object of an album itself wouldn't com to much if my contemptible little setup didn't sound at least a little awesome.  And it does.  Better than anything I've ever had.  (I admit I've spent an unforgivable lot of time listening to music over computer speakers). Now, if I plugged a CD player into the setup instead of the turntable and cued up the same album, I don't know whether it would sound better or worse or whether I would be able to tell the difference.  But I do know that I've been having a blast with it so far.  Looks like I'm going to need more than four records.