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Drop the needle

Looking at the Resurgence of Vinyl

These days, listening has very nearly become a lost art, especially when it comes to music.
Although the technology gods have bestowed upon the world the gifts of iPods and other portable music players, most worshippers seem to have reveled in these devices’ portability rather than their musicality.
In fact, these white ear-bud-wearing zombies can’t help but be continually plugged in while doing a multitude of tasks such as walking to class, texting, doing homework and surfing Facebook. Heaven forbid the soundtrack of their lives skip a beat.
The dawning of the MP3 has brought this convenience to the multitasking masses, but in the process it has robbed America of one of its favorite pastimes – simply listening to music.
Thankfully, a recent revival is starting to change this by bringing back an audiophile staple, the vinyl record. As counterintuitive as it may seem, recent LP releases such as Elvis Costello’s “Momofuku” and the Raconteurs’ “Consolers of the Lonely” are evidence that records are far from dead.
Still, those accustomed to their button-pressing ways may not find much to love with the vinyl experience, since its need for proper preparation and care is often viewed today as cumbersome and unnecessary. After all, it’s easier to just scroll and click “play” instead of dusting off and cleaning a favorite LP.
Even so, the process of setting up the turntable is a rewarding one, from the methodical wiping down of the record itself to the cleaning of the ever-delicate stylus. Plus, a certain intimacy and connection to the music is often gained by going through these motions.
Besides, unlike the pristine sound of a CD, each snap and hiss on a record is a defining listening experience for its owner, with each imperfection giving the old recordings far more character than its successor will ever achieve. Paradoxically, this noise also allows for an even fuller sound, since the listener often becomes so engrossed in the music these few sonic flaws just fade away.
On the other hand, being able to play this classic format properly can put a noticeable ding in the bank account.
Turntable prices alone can run the gamut from flea market freebie to costing as much as a small house.
However, budding audiophiles will need to purchase yet another piece of archaic equipment, the phono cartridge. These little contraptions are an integral part of the machine, seeing as they translate the grooves of albums such as The Who’s “Tommy” into “Pinball Wizard” and “Sparks.”
The downside is these thumb-sized apparatuses can be costly as well, running from a measly $35 to a staggering $35,000.
The escalating dollar signs don’t end here, though, because these two devices will need a compatible receiver as well. After all, being able to hear a record through a set of speakers is rather imperative to the whole listening experience. But with the purchase of an external preamp, a modern phono-deprived receiver can do just that and join in on vinyl’s renaissance.
While it’s blatantly obvious that properly playing LPs come with numerous additional costs when compared to the average CD or iPod, those willing to put forth a bit of coin will be more than thrilled with their efforts. Remember, vinyl has been the audiophile standard for years and for good reason.
While CDs supposedly have a wider dynamic range, many listeners find their harsher tones and tinnier sound fatiguing to the ear.
The same theory applies to digital music, but on a far grander scale.
Even though the digital revolution has given way to wonderful compression technologies, it has only lead to a degradation in audio quality. But it’s the nature of the beast, since most consumers these days are willing to sacrifice audio quality for iPod-friendly file sizes.
Vinyl, on the other hand, has been exempt from much of these pitfalls. With its much warmer and nuanced sound, records allow for a much more pleasant experience in spite of the slight top-end loss. Ask any audiophile – there is just something magical in those grooves.
But like most things in life, vinyl is definitely an acquired musical taste. However, for those discerning listeners who desire the presence of large album art and yearn for the division of sides, it’s arguably the format of choice. Casual listeners need not apply.
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