Last month I bought a record player. I had been meaning to do this for a very long time – years – but was daunted by the prospect of nursing a vintage record player which might be quite poorly, when I had only a hazy recollection of how they work. The only new ones I had seen were by the kind of brands that have showrooms rather than shops, and where I could probably just about afford a stylus.
But then, to my great joy, I found that I could buy new, inexpensive record players! OK, the online reviews made it clear that the sound quality wasn’t going to be fabulous, but hey, it’s not about the sound quality – if you want perfection, play a CD. An exciting box duly arrived and was unpacked. In anticipation of its arrival, I had gone down to my local junk shop where I’d recently seen loads of vinyl records, and bought a small selection – LPs, 45s and – new for me – 78s.
In honour of a recent trip to Paris, it seemed appropriate to inaugurate the machine with a 78 of Edith Piaf. Wow. Sure, there are crackles. And a hiss. And a bit of sound from the turntable. But – wow. There is a depth, an atmosphere, a living quality to this music that I had forgotten. Entranced, I played record after record.
A few weeks on, I am a little less giddy. But most evenings I will pour a drink, set up the record player, and listen to a few records. This is the main difference to playing a CD – I really listen. I don’t do anything else. I give it my full attention. Playing a record is an event: opening the lid, removing the cover of the stylus and the catch of the arm, turning up the volume knob, selecting the record and carefully sliding it out of its cover, centring it on the turntable, placing the stylus, standing back to listen in anticipation to the hiss of the first few revolutions…
Not only is the nature of the sound quite different from what a couple of decades of CDs and downloads has accustomed me to, but so is the nature of listening. Listening to music is once again something to do, not just as background but as the main event. It is considered, not casual, done mindfully and attentively. It restores music to being a thing of value for its own sake, not as a mere soundtrack to my day. And what has it cost me to acquire this thing of value? £35 for the record player, and I haven’t paid more than £1 for any record – most at 50 pence each from junk shops or charity shops, many free via Freecycle. I am aware of the current resurgence in interest in vinyl, and no doubt prices will increase accordingly, but while there continues to be little demand for these unregarded trifles, I shall continue to explore a whole new/rediscovered musical world.