Wednesday, March 09, 2016

I'm officially a hipster - joining the vinyl resurgence

Reading my own blog post on the vinyl records I've still got sitting around inspired me. Setting this up was my day yesterday:

And no, that wasn't a planned tribute to George R. Martin - it's a cosmic coincidence.

Still gotta hide some wires, but I've got a turntable system again!

That's a Monoprice hybrid tube amp down there - a steal at $149, though it does have some transformer hum and the Bluetooth is basically useless unless you have low bit rate files. (It works fine for my wife and her older mp3's, but it skips and pops periodically with my 256k and higher files. Small buffer, I guess.) But look at those tubes!

The turntable's a cheap old Teac P-595 that's been sitting in my attic for years - I think the last time I had it hooked up was when I was in college at NYU and working at Zapp Records on Bleecker St., maybe 20 years ago. I did do the smart thing back then and put the best cartridge I could afford on it - an Audio Technica AT331LP. I'm probably going to replace this whole turntable pretty soon, but it still sounds pretty good right now. That old stylus could be digging holes in my records for all I know, though.

The speakers are old Pinnacle PN5+ bookshelf speakers that have also been sitting around, though these in my basement. Love to repurpose old stuff again! These were basically as good as it ever got for bookshelf speakers, and they still sound amazing. (You should buy a used pair on Ebay - they regularly go for $50! Just make sure you check the model number - PN2's, PN4's, even PN8's just don't sound as good.) When I was in high school and college, I worked at a stereo store, so I got to know all the good deals. These speakers were about $150 per pair and they sounded as good even at that time as some others that cost ten times the price. All my co-workers had them, at both stores I worked at.

I've bought a few new records since the post that inspired this, including that replacement copy of The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour", which I got in Las Vegas at the Beatles Love show. This was actually the first album I ever remember listening to as a kid, when I was about five years old, so the choice here was definitely intentional. That original copy tragically met its end in a temper tantrum I had as an eight year old, in which a giant pile of records was turned into so many shards of broken black plastic. This reissue looks and feels exactly as I remember, including the big booklet and gatefold sleeve. (I remember the original one had a big green apple on the album label, though.)

There is something real about the vinyl renaissance. Having any music on demand all the time is convenient, but it's cheapened it; it's made music background noise. Playing a record brings back what it was like to really listen to music, as an active thing. It makes music seem special again. I remember when it used to be a big deal to go out to a record store and come home with a new album, then sit down and really listen to it. That record was the only thing on your turntable - you weren't going to press a button and switch to something else if 15 seconds of a song was too weird, fast, slow or quiet for you. Your attention span had to be longer.

This isn't just a nostalgia thing, it's not really about sound quality and it's also not somehow about the Rube Goldberg-like complexity of the process. It does take a little more effort to listen to a record, but every part of it's enjoyable. It's not just mashing part of your iPhone screen and hearing something pop into your earphones; even just picking up and putting down the tone arm on a turntable is a satisfying feeling. That's what it's about, and why I think this is going to last - it's about bringing back the enjoyment of listening to music.

I guess I need to start shopping at Urban Outfitters now. (That's a joke.)

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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