Vinyl is a thing

I was surprised to come across the following letter to the editor I wrote to the Shepherd Express, Milwaukee’s other newspaper, which I love, inspired by a story on the vinyl resurgence. I was shocked to see the date of the document: August, 2002.

To paraphrase A.J. van den Hul, famous Dutch phonographer, “LP’s
sonically blow CD’s into the damn weeds!” It seems the missing ingredient
in Jason T. Mohr’s otherwise heartwarming piece on local vinyl
consumption is any mention of this widely observed phenomenon.

While many pursue vinyl records for their “crackling,” the size of their
accompanying documentation and artwork, their retro-hipness, their sample-
ability, and their collector cachet, perhaps the most salient feature of the
medium, to many of us, is its superior ability to present the emotional essence of the music
it contains.

LP’s remain to this day the most available, convenient and portable medium
that represents a legitimate document of the original musical performance.
It’s the most special thing about them, and the prime motivator behind much
of the resurgence of interest.

Reading it now, I am not surprised they didn’t run it. It was a bit too arcane and, I guess, remains so. Here was a writer trying to talk nice about an alternative phenomenon, the stuff that alternative newspapers love to write about. And I was sort of raining on the parade, suggesting that some people, a significant number perhaps, might be liking a thing for how it performs, at its ultimate, when you actually use it for its intended purpose.

Bring it forward now 15 years and I just read in Stereophile that the BBC did a survey of vinyl record buyers. It showed that almost half didn’t plan to play their records and 7% didn’t own a turntable. What, now? No, I don’t have a car. I just like buying tires. It’s fun!

The thing about “vinyl” at its best, still, is that it sounds damn good. As in, brings musicians and their performances into your house, our guiding principle at Ultra Fidelis. Sure, it’s “old fashioned” and difficult, and for the uninitiated conjures up the smell of musty basements and Victrolas, but, if you care for and feed it properly, it works. Incredibly well.

This isn’t mere nostalgia, like looking back fondly on those cameras that made race car tires go oblong as they slowly scanned the scene and distorted time. This is manual transmissions, which have yet to be superseded in race cars. Stuff that works is to be celebrated. And USED!

Don’t get me wrong on this. I’m not suggesting that if you have vinyl records, you are done, you’re good. Nor that if you don’t you are doomed. Far from it. As I write, in fact, I am listening to an incredible CD-sourced rip on my Aurender (Pulse! Percussion Works). I love all stuff that works. But what I am saying is that if one more scribe mentions “the crackly sound” of LP records as a reason we fall for them, I’ll lose it. That ain’t it.

In fact, it is the compelling nature of the sound, the sheer realism good vinyl well played is able to conjure in our minds, that makes us able to overlook the foibles. If you don’t have any LP’s, you might consider investigating. And if you do, but they’ve been languishing, dive back in.
Really good sounding turntables start around $500, and the great ones, albeit for more money, are a mind bending sonic experience. You can also make some fairly cost effective improvements to your existing ‘table that will quickly convince you that vinyl records are capable of much more than sustaining a fad. They can fling open the doors to the incredible, almost unlimited world of recorded music and pull you in. Finally, thanks to the fad or not, they are making records again- by the ton. You’ll have no shortage of music, new and old, to explore.