Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How my record player helped me feel music

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Before the pandemic started, I had a record. It was resting on my red Ikea bookcase, collecting dust. The Grand Ray Charles. I picked it up at an event I attended a little over a year ago, in the Before Times. I thought I would find a way to play it some point. But then, in mid-August, a hub arrived at my doorstep.

My colleague and extraordinary WIRED audio nerd Parker Hall, stepping back after hearing I was using a pair of 10 year old computer speakers, at $ 30 for my TV audio output, lent me a pair of Klipsch speakers and a Fluance vinyl turntable. And just like that, four months later my once pathetic record collection quickly grew to 16 tracks.

I don’t think I can forget the day I finally peeled off the shrink wrap from Ray Charles’ album, suffocated by the mist of dust that billowed out. I had just finished configuring the Fluance RT80, which, by the way, was very easy. It surprised me. I always had this idea that turntables had a complicated and complex setup process, but I got it up and running in 10 minutes.

Most turntables come with a stylus (aka the needle) preinstalled. In addition, you no longer need special stereo equipment to play discs. Pretty much any set of speakers will do.

Photography: Fluance

Inspired by the ease of it all, and with a manual by my side, I put the record on the spit. I pushed the selector lever down. I moved the stylus to the edge of the vinyl and turned the knob to 33.3 rpm. The record began to spin. The minute a barrage of rushing piano keys started coming out of the speakers, I turned to my partner and said, “It’s like magic.

I remember the touch

I am no stranger to physical media. I had a Sony Walkman when I was a kid. Until 2015, I drove my mom’s squeaky 2004 Toyota Sienna with a stereo that had no Bluetooth or auxiliary input. I just relied on the music that I burned to about seven CDs to keep me commuting to and from work. (It was either that or WNYC, depending on the mood.)

Since then I have not touch music the same way. My fingers got used to tapping on my phone screen to browse my digital library on a streaming service, but owning a disc brought back a sense of connection that I hadn’t felt in years.

I went down the rabbit hole in search of some of my favorite vinyl albums, again paying attention to album names, song titles, and artists. This is a stark difference from my recent digital music listening experience, where I found myself picking a shuffle playlist and playing an endless river of melodies as I played. Work at home. It’s a pretty lazy way of listening, but it’s a quick and easy way to drown out ambient sounds and help my mind focus when I need to write.

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