You would think, as much as I love music, that I would have some sweet set-up for listening to my tunes. A nice stereo receiver/amp with kick ass speakers and some high end headphones for use when I couldn’t crank it up to 11

You would be wrong

Since going fully digital about a decade ago, I’ve relied on pretty modest listening hardware. Most of my music has poured from speakers hooked up to my rotating cast of Macs. What wasn’t played there often got digitally spun on one iPod/iPhone/iPad or another, through either the cheap-o Apple earbuds or some $20 Sony headphones. That worked and I was always focused on pouring my hobby cash into the Mac side of the equation

That’s recently changed, though. As I shared in Wednesday’s Reading post, I completed Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue in January. Reading roughly 400 pages that were often set in a used record store got me pondering the world of vinyl. When I took breaks from reading, I did some casual research on record players. I wasn’t necessarily going to make the jump, but wanted to know what it would cost if I did. Turns out it doesn’t take much. About a week after finishing Telegraph Avenue my Audio-Technica turntable arrived and I made a trip to one of our local record stores, which I had never set foot into over almost 10 years in Indy

My first vinyl purchases? Two recent favorites and one all-time classic: Slave Ambient by The War On Drugs, Only In Dreams by Dum Dum Girls, and Prince & The Revolution’s Purple Rain. I’ve been spinning each LP a couple times a week, still hooked up straight to computer speakers1 or through the Sony headphones. I must say, I’m digging it. The sound is better than the compressed digital files I’m used to. I was never a huge vinyl guy back in the day – my youth was dominated by the age of the cassette – but there was instant recall to the memories of my parents’ music pouring from their turntable when I was little. The pops and hisses. The much-loved “warmness” that was stripped away when music was put on tape, CDs, or converted to bits

And there was a different experience with the music. I select an album, put it on the turntable, and press start. Then the album plays, in the order the artist(s) originally intended, until it’s time to flip it to the other side. That forces a keener focus on the music. There’s no part of your brain guessing at what iTunes will select next. No wondering if I misidentified or accidentally deleted a song from my digital version of the album and I’m going to miss what should be side 1, track 4. It’s the purest listening experience possible

I checked in with a couple friends who had recently returned to vinyl for advice on how to balance more expensive platters with wanting to keep up with new music. Both suggested using vinyl as the medium for my very favorite albums, mostly ones from the past, and sticking with digital for tracking what’s new and exciting. That seems like a solid plan, so I’m sticking with it for the time being

I’m allowing myself one trip to the record store each month, and then only 2-3 pieces of vinyl can come home with me. That way I have time to digest each work, rather than rushing through one to get to the next in the stack of new records. I’m going to focus on albums that are in my 20-30 favorites of all time, even if I already own them in multiple formats.2

I made my second record buying trip on Wednesday. I added my (co) all-time favorite album London Calling and Radiohead’s The Bends.3 Last week I bought some nice Audio-Technica headphones that cost more than any headphones I’ve ever owned, but still weren’t ridiculously expensive. I’ve done some light research on receivers and speakers, knowing running a cord straight to computer speakers is still leaving out some of the depth of sound vinyl offers.

So it’s another old-man hobby, I guess. But it’s a pretty cool one, and a natural extension of perhaps the favorite pastime of my life. Let me know if you ever want to come over and listen to records together.

  1. The turntable I bought has a built-in pre-amplifier so you can run it straight to bookshelf speakers and get nice sound. 
  2. I’ve owned Purple Rain on cassette, CD, and probably repurchased a song or two digitally over the years. 
  3. A controversial choice since my other co-favorite album of all-time is Radiohead’s OK Computer. But The Bends is more of a pure rock album, and I thought that would sound better on vinyl. OK Computer will join the collection at some point, though.