The Zen of Record Playing

I know I’m going to sound like an old fart. So yes, official old fart alert! Read no further if you have zero tolerance for Boomer Nostalgia.

Still here? Awesome! Remember those things called “records”? The ones that they now call “vinyl”. I have been going through a little phase pulling out  the old records, aka “LP”s. By “old” I mean those from the 70s and 80s, before the rise of the CD. (Remember things called “CDs”?)

My record player (what was later called a “turntable”) is in our living room, just a few yards away from the kitchen, which I have been spending more time in lately, learning how to cook some new dishes while my overworked sweetheart slaves away at homework. She will have her masters degree next January–oh happy day break out the champagne high five until the palms bleed perform aerial acrobatics from ceiling mounted light fixtures lounge around in stunned rapture–but I digress.

There is a certain zen to playing a record.

Carefully pull the record out of its jacket by the edges so as not to sully the surface with finger oil (which would create a potential tar pit for dust). Many of my records are preserved in special aftermarket plastic sleeves to further protect them from the inevitable abrasion caused by pulling them out of a paper sleeve.

Then grab the Dishwasher. Pull the bottle of D4 out of its holder and line up a row of drops along the Dishwasher edge (marked by the arrow), then brush the bottom of the bottle along the row of drops to redistribute the fluid evenly across the brush.

Switch the turntable stylus to the raised position and move toward the platter to start the player spinning, then gently place the wet edge of the dishwasher upon the record’s radius, not hard enough to slow the 33 1/3 revolutions-per-minute rotation and ground any dirt into the grooves, but just enough to pick up any surface dirt. Then slowly rotate the brush away from its wet edge to pull the dirt away.

Now position the stylus above the outer edge and lower it.

Hear the low pop of the stylus as it lands, then some slight rumbling as it settles into the groove.

If you have reasonably decent speakers–mine are from Polk Audio–experience how lush the bass sounds, how smooth the midtones are, how creamy the high end is (if it was a well mastered album).

There is nothing hurried about putting on a record. It is a commitment for about 15 to 20 minutes of songs that play in the order that they were intended to be played. Nothing instant. No skipping around. If you absolutely must skip around, you have to take the time to line the stylus up with the gap between songs. If you have a steady hand, like the old DJs did, you can do this feat by hand without mechanically raising, moving, then lowering the stylus. If you don’t have a steady hand, you risk accidentally dropping and dragging the stylus and scratching the record.

With modern technology, you don’t have to commit to a record. You can skip around, rearrange songs, purchase only a few songs (if you pay for them at all). The consumption of songs has become almost trivial. iTunes forever changed the calculus of music consumption and commerce. Spotify has obliterated it.

I find it ironic that the sonic quality of most music consumed today is much less than even the humble old 33 1/3 RPM vinyl LP record. Back when CDs first hit the scene, we were all touting how superior its sound was to LPs. In many cases this was true. But now people don’t even listen much to CD-quality fidelity. The compression of digital music into MP3 (or AAC) format slightly degrades the signal, making it breathe less. The quality erodes further with streaming via services like Rhapsody, Spotify, and Pandora. This is ironic because the demand for video content progresses towards higher levels of resolution.

It’s possible that the quality of music audio fidelity was only the concern of audiophiles and musicians. Yet, a recent study showed that 94% of music listeners feel that sound quality “is crucial”. Go figure!

Ah.. but enough grousing! I’m going to put a record on and cook some dinner. Anybody heard of Gino Vannelli?




Filed under Life

4 responses to “The Zen of Record Playing

  1. Yes I have heard of Gino! Were you cooking a Veal Parm?

  2. Mark Young

    Brother to Brother! (But Steps ahead “Modern Times” was also a pretty sweet record) (Yes, I also have it on vinyl)

  3. Carl

    I beleive half of the mojo of those old recordings was in their preservation of dynamic range, the rest of the mojo was between God and the artist. I was listening to a James Taylor Greatest hit CD and just for grins I pulled it up in Sound Forge (What I use for Mastering) and I was shocked to find it mastered at -18dbFS Who does that anymore? The lushness and air was splendid refreshing. Now I want to go back for a redo on everything I’ve ever done… argh!

  4. Kitty Carpenter

    At the radio station I worked at we would go in the bathroom and wash the records off with liquid soap and then dry them. I loved the sound quality of good records!

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