Rotating The Platter - 01.26.98

A couple months ago, I went out and did something that I had been wanting to do for a long time. My birthday had been the week before and I had a little extra money, so I went out and treated myself to a new turntable. Technically, it wasn't new in any way, except to me. I had one while I was in college, but it had seen better days and upon moving into my apartment, I found that it didn't work anymore.

Instead of replacing it right away, I simply didn't worry about for almost 5 months. My records sat in a crate un-used and I managed to get by with my tapes and CD's. Eventually, though, it started eating at me. I'd look at the cover art every once in awhile and show friends some rare stuff that I had.

The whole story of the record player is another saga in itself. I bought a belt-drive model (without a belt) hoping I could go to a local Radio Shack and pick up what I needed. After calling around almost for almost an hour one Saturday, I discovered that only one store in town had what I needed and they wouldn't be open until Monday. I sat and waited impatiently and eventually hooked everything up and spun records around trying to listen to something. I couldn't maintain the pitch, though, and it was no use.

On Monday, I took a short lunch and busted out of work early so I would arrive at the store by 5pm. As I ran around the corner at 4:50, I saw the shop-owner getting into his car and heading home. I swore all the way back to my apartment. The next day I didn't take any chances. I called to make sure they had the belt, then took off at lunch and picked up the 7 dollar part.

I sat anxious at work for the final 3.5 hours of the day. When I told my supervisor about it, he said, "you're kind of going back in technology, aren't you?" Instead of ripping off a great retort, I instead said "yes" and mumbled off something about how records hold almost the same (even better actually) quality as CD's on some systems. Granted, I don't have a true audiophile set-up, but I still don't mind the sound.

One of the thing I like the most about records is that they have more character than CD's. The artwork is bigger and there's usually a lot more of it. Even if I didn't have a record player, I'd probably still have a bunch of records, simply to hang up on my wall. There's also something very tactile about holding a big old platter in your hands, delicately placing it down onto the rotating wheel, and gently setting the needle down onto the surface (I also don't own an auto-start player). There is no control like this with a CD. The machine does all the work, and although they are nicer for maneuvering (skipping tracks, fast forwarding), there's something about having to put a little more work into it that makes records sound better once they're finally spinning.

Records are definitely a lot more work than compact discs. Instead of whipping them out of the case and throwing them into a slot, you have to make sure that there's not a lot of dust or other crap on their playing surface. You also have to make sure that you put them back in their sleeves correctly, lest you scratch them or get some other foulness on them.

Just the other day, I was out and purchased an old Brian Eno record (which would have been very difficult and much more expensive to find on CD) at a local store. I brought it home and put the needle down and listened to all the subtleties. I could hear very low bass, a couple of intersecting ambient washes, and even a couple small pops every once in awhile. Although the small pops weren't supposed to be there, they didn't detract from the recording in my mind. In fact, they simple fell into place on the recording, which is a beautiful, minimal piece anyway. The small impurities in the record format (and the enviroment it was in) gave the record an even more real sound.

Later that day, I pulled out a bunch of old LPs again and started listening all anew. My CD player has been off for a couple days now, and I'm not missing it right now. I know that I'll go back to that digital, pure format of the CD soon, but I'll always have moments like the one I'm having now-where nothing sounds better than the physical touch of the needle slowly making its way through hundreds of feet of tiny grooves.