I’ll never forget my first iPod. A white iPod Shuffle, the USB kind, which my dad and I bought from Fortress on a trip back to Hong Kong. I was in year 5 at school, I was the only kid who had one. I remember the way it smelt (weird?).
I had a special playlist on our home computer iTunes which I’d update almost daily with the 50 songs I wanted on my shuffle, because that is all it held. A few years later I got a new one, a metallic green iPod Nano, then a massive iPod Classic which then drowned in a pool of melted ice cream, which was then hastily replaced with another iPod Classic. This iPod now sits completely dormant in a drawer at my parent’s house.
So why the extended diatribe on the brief history of my iPod collection? Well, before iPods we had Discmans, before Discmans we had Walkmans and before then, well I wasn’t alive to know, perhaps this was the cordless-boombox-on-the-shoulder time period, but the point is we have these devices, we adore them and then suddenly they’re rendered completely obsolete by the next big thing.
But lately, something magic happened and suddenly… what’s old is new again. Enter the record player.
So you want to buy a record player? With vinyl raining from the sky and the world turning to a time-lost format, there’s never been a better time.
There’s always that one guy at a party, that one music-sounds-better-on-vinyl guy. He’s probably a douche, but I’m here to tell you that your probable party douche might actually be right, and in my humble opinion there’s basically two reasons why:
So you dig into your parent’s old vinyl collection, find Bob Dylan’s Desire or Led Zeppelin III (real examples from my real life) and pop them onto the old turntable. They’re crackly as fuck, and then you jump onto your Spotify account with your big-ass Bose headphones and think to yourself, whoever thinks vinyl sounds better than digital is cooked – but listen harder.
The digital files we’re listening to on our phones, computers (or iPods if you’re still playing that game) are a compressed digital format, meaning the quality of the audio is compressed. This also means that, in pretty simple terms, all the notes and noise that were once complementing one another are now competing with one another, losing all the texture and melody and gaining that slightly uncomfortable loudness.
Vinyl records are also lossless, which means that nothing sound-wise was lost (get it – lossless) when the creating the record.
Aside from the obvious technical benefits, there’s also something to be said for the warm, crisp, rich sounds that come out of a record player. I’m no gung-ho audiophile, boasting the budget option of an Audio-Technica USB turntable, but even for someone new to the wax there’s an immediate and definitive feeling that’s pretty addictive.
So your Dad’s Zeppelin record is a little beat up. It’s, what, about 45 years old? It sounds old, and rich, and full and so it should. It’s seen some things.
We’re a generation of sharers. From music-sharing to ride-sharing and even house-sharing, we’ve become way less engaged with the actual ownership side of having something. But owning something can be kind of nice.
The purchase experience is nice, making a decision about what album you want to own, physically buying it and then consciously listen is a little too addictive. But adding to the niceness of actually standing in that record store and making a decision is the listening experience itself.
In our lifetime, mixtapes turned into iTunes playlists which turned into Spotify which turned into NEVER LISTENING TO AN ALBUM IN FULL EVER AGAIN and this is a sad state of affairs.
Listening to a record through, all its intricacies, not noticing where one track ends and another begins can be a relaxing and fulfilling experience, particularly in the case of older records. You’re listening to the music the way it was intended to be heard, and there’s something pretty magical in that.
Along the same lines as “what will WSFM play when I’m 50?”, a thought sometimes enters my mind of “how will my kids know what I listen to?”. Will I give them my old iPod, or the password to my Spotify account? A hard drive? The experience of owning something, listening to it and loving it is made even better by the experience of then sharing it with others. I know my Dad loves the idea that his old Booker T. & The M.G.’s is getting another run.
Long story short, if you’re a music lover and you’re thinking about buying a record player, it’s time to. You’ll notice the difference, become more of an active listener (in music, not in life… I can’t help you with that) and who knows? Maybe you’ll end up being that classic music-sounds-better-on-vinyl guy.
Oh my god, I just realised… I’m that guy.