It was the 80s and digital audio had taken off. I recalled my paternal grandparents house had a turntable but I wasn’t allowed to touch it, nor I recalled any of my uncles playing with it. I suppose the era of cassettes and CDs had rendered vinyls obsolete, and faded into obscurity.
But with the recent revival of the analog format, I had pondered about vinyl for years and what the fuss is about. I have been pursuing high-resolution audio for the past decade, seeking the best quality so that I could discern every nuance and harmonics captured in the recording.
Could analog records surpass that? It’s one thing hearing and reading what people say and write, but it’s another to experience myself and determine if it’s something that I would enjoy myself.
Within weeks of ownership, I come to appreciate the process and wanted to share my thoughts about this “primitive” audio medium and what is so mesmerising about it. This article is only the first of several insights on my analog experience, because after getting my hands (and pockets) into this hobby, I have concluded that it cannot be covered in a single post.
The Spark: How It Started
I guess it’s one of those days when I was browsing Carousell when I chanced upon some turntables that were sold at ridiculously low prices like S$50 and I wonder why they were so cheap. I did a quick search and understood that these suitcase turntables are made of cheap components. My next thought is that since these players are so affordable, why not I get one to have a go?
Then I started reading up on the differences between a cheap turntable and a premium one. While I could consider myself an audiophile enthusiast, I chose not to buy an expensive turntable, because I do not know if I would be listening to vinyl regularly, so there is a chance that I might decide to chuck them aside and so I would prefer to have a small turntable for easy storage when not in use. A decent record turntable like Audio-Technica LP60 is below S$200 so it’s really not expensive, but it takes up space and if I end up giving up, it would become a white elephant around the house.
Deciding My First Turntable
I have read about poor audio performance of a budget turntable and how the poor quality cartridges and heavy tone-arm weight could potentially damage the vinyl. There are also other schools of thought that vinyl are actually quite hardy and could withstand the abuse. I guess if one wants to look for sonic perfection, then it is natural that over time the vinyl grooves would be worn and would affect the tonal accuracy. For a start, I’m not too concerned with that.
So I was struggling with whether I should get a proper turntable or a portable one. It is close to impossible to find a portable one that uses decent components, and some of the “better” portable ones were close to the price of a basic branded unit, which makes no sense for me to spend the same dollar for an inferior product.
After scouring Carousell for days on the various offers and models, I finally decided on this lifestyle brand from Thailand, Gadhouse. Here are the features which attract me:
- It has a built-in rechargeable battery to play without wall socket.
- It supports Bluetooth connection to Bluetooth speakers (strangely it does not connect to Bluetooth headphones, no audio even when pairing is successful).
- It supports RCA output so I can plug to sound systems.
- Its design is a bit more premium than the Crosleys.
I bought it brand new from a private trader listed in Carousell for S$74 and carried no manufacturer warranty.
My First Vinyl
So while I was researching on turntables, I started thinking of which vinyl records I should get. Being a huge fan of Enya, I decided that she would be my target of acquisition. Fortunately, I found a Carousell seller who had all of her first three albums, so I bought it all at one go, saving me the hassle.
The other site that I went to find vinyl records is eBay, and my purchase criteria is that shipping charges must be low to make economical sense. Discogs is another popular site but I find the prices too high.
For now, Carousell is my favourite site to search for vinyl records. Collectors term this “crate digging”, where they would visit record stores and flip through crates of records.
The First Listening Session
So I got my turntable, and I got my vinyl. I unboxed the Gadhouse Brad Black Edition, removed the “Enya The Celts” vinyl from the sleeve, sat the turntable “needle” on the edge of the record, and powered up the motor.
Then the familiar crackling sound was heard. And after what seems like an eternity, Enya’s voice finally broadcast from the built-in stereo speakers.
So what was my takeaway? The sound quality was rounded, flat, coming out of the turntable speakers. There was no deep bass, no brilliant highs, it’s like listening over a portable radio.
Except, unlike radio where someone in the broadcast studio is controlling the sound, you can “see” how the audio is played from the vinyl, picked up by the stylus, to the cartridge, through the wires within the tonearm, to the amplifier and the speaker.
True to what vinyl owners have described, it’s an experience. It gives you control over the playback, setting the stylus at any point on the record to let the turntable receive the tiny grooves and produce audio. You literally play a part in the audio performance.
How it differs from playing a cassette tape is the “connection”. Vinyl records are relatively huge, and it turns in front of your eyes, you cannot ignore the presence. If it doesn’t rotate, audio does not play. A cassette tape is small and is usually hidden from sight, so the tape movement is not essential to the whole experience. CDs spin too fast and you cannot see the laser at work, so again, no engagement.
I’m currently still at the stage of discovery, so I am going through the process of doing some minor upgrades to the Gadhouse Brad, like swapping the stylus. I want to see how much I can get out of the cheap turntable, while at the same time getting more vinyl of various genres to listen to. But I’m still uncertain about how deep I want to venture in this new medium. I have already reached out to Audio-Technica who will be loaning a few turntables.
Like what SK says, “Welcome to the Analog Club”.