I have hundreds of gigabytes of digital music. Yet I listen to less than one percent of it. Why? Because it’s entirely overwhelming. I have so much, and it’s so intangible, that I may as well not even have it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of having entire days (weeks, months) worth of listening in my pocket. But scrolling down an endless list of albums just ain’t the same as flipping through a crate of LPs. Cover Flow? Please. Listening to records is an entirely different musical experience. For me, vinyl is more active. More visceral. More mindful. More immersive. I pick the album, admire the cover art, slip it from its sleeve, and play it. And after 20 minutes or so, I turn it over and play the other side. Remember “the other side”? I had forgotten until recently, when I retrieved my record collection from storage and immersed myself in the vintage audio forums online to find the perfect new, old stereo system. To paraphrase DIY hero Mister Jalopy, I don’t like 1970s stereo equipment because it’s old. I like it because it’s better.
I’m not going to argue about the evils of digital compression or the warmth of tube amps. Honestly, my hearing isn’t that good. Too much loud music.
But I will tell you that my c.1972 stereo system is more handsome than any lozenge-shaped docking station, blob-like computer speakers, or black box 5.1 surround system you’ll find in your neighborhood electronics emporium. And as that needle drops on side 2 of the Velvet Underground bootleg “Live at the Gymnasium,” and my authentic woodgrain speakers pop and crackle before the opening strains of “Sister Ray”, well, that’s music to my ears. Want to listen in? Here are my favorite online forums about stereo gear from the golden age of analog audio:
* VinylEngine is the hub of all turntable knowledge online. It began as an archive of free turntable manuals and is also now a thriving forum for discussions of cartridges, preamps, direct drives, idler drives, and even 78s.
* AudioKarma serves audiophiles of all stripes, including those that might boast about their $7,000 speaker cables. (I’m not kidding.) But there is also a very active and welcoming community of vintage gear heads boasting about their $10 garage sale turntable who are more than happy to point you to similar steals, share parts sources and encourage DIY repair.
* Roger Russell was the former director of acoustic research of McIntosh Laboratory, makers of 1960s vacuum tube amps that are like the Eames recliners of vintage high-end audio gear. Roger’s site is the best online resource for McIntosh history, straight from the engineer’s mouth.