Have you ever wondered why record players are still around? I remember growing up in the early 1980’s, and having record players and dozens of vinyl albums to listen to. Some were my parents’, some were my sister’s. Some may have been mine. But those vinyl records soon gave way to cassette tapes, and by the time I was a teenager CD’s were starting to proliferate. As I entered adulthood, digital music in the form of MP3 files were starting to supplant physical media, and now it feels like streaming music services are pushing all physical media into obscurity. There was a time when I thought I’d never play another record.
And it makes sense when I look at it from the standpoint of where I was at in each point of this cycle. There’s a universe of music, and we don’t have enough time to hear it all enough to thoroughly experience it. When you’re a kid, more is better, and we don’t think about what we’re compromising when we’re trying to stuff more content onto one widget of X format. Cheaper is better, and we don’t think about what we’re losing when we’re cutting costs and corners.
But as we turned away from vinyl, we actually turned our backs on the last analog media format we had; when the industry moved to cassette tapes, it was all about portability. You could play it in your car, and it wouldn’t skip when you hit a bump. The Sony Walkman made it possible to wear it on your belt and listen through headphones, and you’d look amazing doing it. These are moves that were designed to help grow the music industry and get more music into everyone’s hands; but this is when we moved to — by and large — encoding sound into data, storing it as ones and zeroes on a magnetic medium; indeed, cassette tapes were the floppy disks of music, and all we wanted was more, at the expense of that dusty dinosaur, the record player. At some point, they went from the centerpiece of a massive, luxurious stereo system to nothing more than a decorative element on a (relatively) cheap Crosley all-in-one throwback entertainment center, where the only thing that didn’t sound decent was . . . the record player. With the move to digital and streaming music, encoding formats increasingly cut out so-called superfluous data in order to save space. But the data lost was the heart and soul of the vinyl experience.
I think that we are realizing that as vinyl is returning as a popular medium, although it will probably never eclipse the portability and use volume of digital music and streaming services. Indeed, it shouldn’t. You can’t put a record player in your pocket and mow the lawn while listening to Bruno Mars on your bluetooth earbuds. But, given the right equipment — a decent turntable and decent speakers would do the trick — we can bring that experience back home to the places where we like to get away.
The fact is, vinyl brings the listener as close to the music as they’re going to get in lieu of a live performance. The record player and vinyl album constitute a musical instrument in their own right, because that needle riding in the groove allows for certain resonant qualities: the warmth, depth, and richness of sound that don’t make the cut with digital recordings. Combine that with the resonant quality of an open speaker, rather than headphones or earbuds. Combine that with the resonance of the space in which your music is playing. Now consider the ritual of playing vinyl: flipping through a stack of albums in a crate, pulling the album from its sleeve and placing it on the turntable, and checking that the speed selector is in the right position. Perhaps you even have to move the armature and place the needle by hand. And you go about your business, but you don’t get sucked in because twenty minutes later you get to flip the album.
Vinyl is Zen. When you have vinyl in your life, your life flows around the vinyl; and your music is a true interactive experience. Vinyl recordings are simply better. There’s more to the music, and more to the medium. That’s why record players are still around. That’s why we all deserve to have a decent turntable in our lives, not some cheap little suitcase player that was on sale for thirty bucks at Walmart. Not an all-in-one art-deco kitschy paperweight. A legitimate turntable that turns hearts and minds into true believers.
What do you think? Do you own a turntable? Do you enjoy vinyl? When was the last time you did? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Happy Solstice, friends; Snowtide is upon us, the days are getting longer, and better things are always ahead.
I’ll be honest, as I was saying that you can’t put vinyl in your pocket and listen to it as you’re moving the lawn, I had a vision of playing Fortnite with a turntable back bling on my character. I should email Epic Games and see if they could make that happen. 🙂
Still have a turntable, a couple actually, a Thorens where yes, I have to put the needle down and lift it back up at the end. Fabulous.
Ooh, I hear those Thorens players are nice!
Your childhood sounds exactly like mine, for I also grew up in the early ’80s! We had a turntable and used it regularly. It was one that we had to place the needle ourselves—the needle with the penny taped on top to keep it from skipping. 😀 My mom still has every record we used to listen to back then, she never got rid of them. She’s tried finding decent record players over the years, but no such luck. I loved this post, very nostalgic and I agree with everything you said 100%. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
I no longer have a turntable and I long ago gave away my entire collection of vinyl albums. Same with my CDs after I burned them into MP3s to store on iTunes. Yes, I gave up the sound quality of vinyl for the portability and convenience of MP3s, but as someone who has profound hearing loss in one ear and moderate hearing loss in the other, I am anything but an audiophile. I also gave up physical books for ebooks, as well.
I don’t blame you on any of that, to be honest. If anything, going digital frees up physical space. May I ask the cause of your hearing loss? Is it military, manufacturing, or something else?
My left ear, where I’m virtually deaf, was due to surgery to remove a growth (non cancerous) in my middle ear that ate the little domes that transmit sounds from the ear drum to the inner ear. My right ear hearing loss is due to too many heavy metal and rock concerts from my teenage years until when the pandemic hit. They took their toll.
You’re quite welcome, and thanks for stopping by and reading! Yes, a good record player is not easy to come by at the stores we frequent anymore, but they are out there. Amazon is the easiest place to look, that’s where I got mine. I tried the penny trick with the player I had, but had limited success, and while researching the issue I found out that brand was one to avoid, period! 😊😊