Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The finer point

Television: on the turntable
After the initial excitement of repatriating my record collection to my house and wiring up the turntable, there was a bit of an anticlimax. Listening to a selection of discs it became apparent that they didn't sound that great. Never mind what Neil Young says, it wasn't a patch on CD quality. It sounded fuzzy, muted and just rubbish really.
The Feelies: they've reformed
I put this down to a few things: the crap quality of the vinyl that a lot of the discs were made of (the Eighties/Nineties was the end of days for vinyl and some albums and 12 inches were practically flexidiscs); the decrepitude of my equipment (sorry dad, but the Sansui and B&W speakers are past pensionable), and the ancient stylus on the turntable.
The last one was the thing that I could do something about. The stylus had never been changed - shrugs shoulders - but who changes them anyway? I can't remember any of my mates thinking it was a big deal back in the day, despite the fact that record shops and chains like Woollies and Boots usually had a cabinet of them. Most of us had crap music systems that we assumed we'd better one day, so styluses were fairly far down our priority list. I didn't even know how to change one.
However, with my little trip into the musical past, I was prepared to give it a go, otherwise there didn't seem much point having the vinyl if it couldn't be played. Can you even still buy them?
Fugazi: turned me upside down
Well, yes you can and it wasn't very hard to track down a replacement for the Sansui FR-D25 turntable. The new stylus was £18 and turned up within two days with an anti static cloth that I added to my order.
After consulting Dr YouTube to find out how to change a stylus, I was in business, and my oh my, what a difference it makes. The old stylus must have been as blunt as a very blunt thing.
Drake: mellow classic
Suddenly I get it. I'm hearing stuff on records like Surfer Rosa, Marquee Moon and Five Leaves Left that I can't remember hearing before. Perhaps there's an element of overcompensation and I'm hearing what I want to hear, but I can't deny that it's great to listen to these discs anew on the format they were recorded for. Even the crackle and blips are endearing - I've got a fair few pre-loved albums, including the aforementioned Television and Nick Drake disc, and they still sound great.
Whether there is really a sound difference, or I'm just enjoying a trip down memory lane, I don't know, and frankly I don't care. I'm not going to repurchase a lot of this stuff on CD, and listening on streaming services like Spotify or even YouTube starts to get a bit like the musical equivalent of fast food. It is flat and invariably you're listening through less that optimum equipment.
UFO: Schenker's on fire
There's also the appreciation of the album sleeves, which I'm posting to Instagram as I work my way through the collection. That £18 could be one of the best investments I've made.