Sunday, November 11, 2012

Musical rewind: turning time backward is sounding better by the minute

I’m having an affair.

It started innocently enough. Our old receiver/audio controller died and I had to buy a new one to enjoy music and HDTV in stereo. Of course, that meant a digital system as opposed to the old analog setup.  When I plugged our old school turntable into the new device, the sound was thin and scratchy. A little Web research revealed the source of the problem. Digital sound systems don't include preamplifiers in the phonograph jack. In fact, there are no designated inputs for phono.

Now there was no way my wife, Ellen, and I were going to blow off our collection of vinyl records. Jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, classical, blues, Christmas, even an antique 78 rpm recording of Charles Lawton as Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, circa 1946 on the Decca Records label. Four, 12-inch discs that include music and sound effects to dramatize the literary classic.

So, we’d invest in a turntable. As a former DJ for my college radio station, WAYN 860AM (Wayne State University), I wasn’t satisfied with the belt-drive Sony model available at Best Buy for 100 bucks. After all, this was undoubtedly going to be the last turntable we bought in our lives. Audio-Technica offered a professional grade, direct drive model that included a preamp, standard RCA stereo jacks and USB port. Plus, the turntable included the well-reviewed Audacity software to convert the output of our analog discs into digital files.

Out came Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Maynard Ferguson, Deodato, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Grover Washington, Jr., Miles Davis, Modern Jazz Quartet, Pat Metheny, The Commodores, Chopin, Kris Kristofferson,  Neil Diamond, Dave Brubeck, Joe Cocker and Bob Dylan. And that’s just scratching the surface — no pun intended.

It was like reconnecting with a long lost love. The tactile experience of handling and cleaning an oversized disk; selecting playback speed; dropping the needle on the desired track and flipping the record over for side two unleashed a tidal wave of memories. The sound was real and deliciously imperfect. It was authentic and not virtual like compact discs and electronic files that only exist as ones and zeroes. The jacket art was larger and colorful. I have rediscovered a passion of my youth.

It’s no secret that I’m not the only rejuvenated vinyl addict. J&R, the New York City electronics store, ran a full-page ad on the back of the Arts & Leisure section of this Sunday’s New York Times, promoting classic albums on vinyl. They’re selling The Beatles starting at $20.00 per LP. That’s Long Play record for you new school kids.

In my neighborhood, Dearborn, Michigan, we’re still blessed to have a good old-fashioned local record shop, Dearborn Music. In fact, after 53 years at their iconic location on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe, the store is moving a little West off the avenue to Newman Street across from Sacred Heart Church. The new spot is smaller, but the store still offers its full collection of CDs and LPs, new and used. The Beatles Abbey Road LP is in stock at Dearborn Music for $14.07.

Oh! Darling! I think its time for a vinyl holiday party. 

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