33 1/3

Years ago I had a turntable. It was beautiful.  It was black, thin, with a molded translucent top.  There were no bells and whistles, no stacker, no auto-return, just a belt-driven turntable, a tone-arm, and a needle cartridge.  Playing a record was a complete sensory experience.  The feel of the cardboard jacket with the slight musty smell, the often-yellowed inside jacket, and of course the faint tang of the vinyl itself. You take it out by the edges of course.  You probably hold it edges in your palms, turning it in the light looking for scratches and dust, and maybe you blow on it. Regardless, after setting it on the turntable, you take your blocky, plastic rectangle with felt on one side and, after starting the revolutions, hold it gently on the surface of the record.

The tone arm pivots effortlessly at its end, making the setting of it a bit tricky.  No one wants the scratching staccato of a dropped tonearm blasting through the speakers.  It’s an skill, setting down perfectly.  And then the music starts, but you can’t just lay back and fall asleep.  When the first side ends, you have to get up and lift the arm so that your needle doesn’t wear down to a silent nub.  And of course you have to flip the record.

Maybe it’s Abbey Road, one of the many albums planned with two sides in mind. The first side whimsical, loud, playful; the second a suite with songs blending seamlessly into each other.  When I first converted it to an electronic format, it couldn’t be played properly—there were pauses between the songs (the technology has caught up since).

I miss my records, but not enough to get a new turntable.  I don’t miss a shelf for records, another for tapes, and the various boxes needed to play them all. Shoving my phone in my pocket and being able to play…well, anything…is worth sacrificing the other senses.

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  1. saffronrose

     /  May 5, 2012

    I have about 200 albums still in storage–most foreign, singer/band produced, not replicated in any other form. THAT, I miss.

    I do not miss the cheap record player I had in my teens–it had variable speed drive. I began to be able to tell very quickly if it wasn’t up to speed, because of the pitch. Seems to have trained my ear for flats.

  2. DLC

     /  May 5, 2012

    I’d almost bet we bought our turntables from the same company. It was a unique listening experience not reproducible by CDs. I also had an 8 track deck, but no reel-to-reel. Still have the 8 tracks, but not the platters. regrettably those were lost in shipping. well, not “lost” so much as mislabeled by the shippers and left outdoors in the summer. Yeah.. warped em. I was so dissappointed. No way to replace them.

  3. Old Geezer

     /  May 5, 2012

    Am I the only one to notice the anomaly? The illustration is the center plug for the 45rpm single needed when you wanted to play it on a “three speed” phonograph. I kept looking at it and at the title of this article and thinking “hm…” But I’m just getting too old. I even gave away my Ken Nordine albums,

  4. im glad someone noticed. mine had two gears, and to change speeds, you simply moved the belt.

  5. Deb

     /  May 6, 2012

    Heh. I never gave up my vinyl, and I have started to collect again. I have some new releases in both vinyl and cd formats, and in some cases the vinyl just kicks the cd’s butt. I have the same old belt-drive turntable I had 30 years ago, but it’s a decent one. Portability and convenience is good, which is why lots of new releases inlcude codes for free downloads, but these old ears grew up with vinyl and I guess they are gonna die with it.

  6. My family’s musical collection was an audiophile’s dream. We had record players well into the 90s.

    I have an iPod, though.

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