Vinyl playback in the 21st century is the most inconvenient geek hobby but also the most sonically satisfying. Vinyl can sound vastly superior to MP3s and AACs and even better than CDs if you’re willing to invest the tremendous time and effort. You can capture that emotional connection to your favorite music again by getting back into vinyl. Remove the digital filters from your brain.
If I want to enjoy my newest vinyl buy, Calexico|Iron and Wine In the Reins, this is the procedure I have to follow to keep my status as an aspiring audiophile.
Before I even touch a record I need to warm up the amplification system. I open the right door on my entertainment cabinet and depress the power button on the Rogue Audio Magnum 99 Preamp. This tube preamp needs about 20 seconds to initialize, you hear two faint clicks, one in its external power supply and then one in the unit itself as power is released into the tube. For best sound quality you should wait ten to twenty minutes for the tubes to warm up getting their full glow on. The preamp sequence usually switches my subwoofer on but doesn’t trigger my stereo Anthem MCA-2 amp.
I walk over to my entertainment cabinet and open the left door and pull out the turntable retractable shelf. I lift off the Music Hall MMF-5’s dust cover and place it on the floor.
I carefully remove the shrink wrap covering the album (I usually damage the sleeve while wrestling with the shrink wrap, trying to cut and scrape a hole with my thumbnail), slip the vinyl from its cheap paper sleeve (I replace these with Mobile Fidelity’s anti-static record sleeves). I have large hands so it is difficult to fit them into the sleeve to press my middle finger over the spindle hole while my thumb balances on the edge of the platter and free the disc without it tipping dangerously to one side and in a panic I press my ring finger’s greasy print in the delicate grooves. I grab my Milty Zerostat 3 anti-static gun and squeeze and release one and a half bursts of anti-static clouds, discharging the vinyl.
After placing the album over the spindle post I reach under the MMF-5 and turn on the turntable. With the record spinning I clean it with the Audioquest Carbon Fiber Record Brush. I hold the brush perpendicular to the record and lightly press the bristle into the grooves for a few rotations and then sweep to the outside, repeat.
Finally I am ready to lower the needle into the groove.
After the needle drops I scurry over to the couch and try and position my head in the stereo sweet spot between my speakers. The spot is very narrow and can be lost with a slight movement to the left or right.
Now I can enjoy twenty minutes of analog vinyl musical magic before I have to flip the record to side B, again eliminating static and dust.
I don’t listen to vinyl as much as I should because it is a massive inconvenience compared to plugging in to my iPod and accessing any song in my digital music library. Every time I do listen to vinyl it is well worth the effort. I can remember every album I’ve cued up and the joy and emotion it released. Conversely, all the iPod sessions are one big shuffled blur that really just passed the time until I could play a record again.