This is my story of how I got converted to a vinyl-only audiophile some 15 years ago.
Like many music lovers, I want to own the best version of some of my favourite music titles. I was, and still is, first a rocker before an audiophile. I grew up with Classic Rock music and some of my fave titles include Ted Nugent (self-titled debut), Rush (Moving Pictures), Rainbow (Rising), Pink Floyd, The Police etc. My first “serious” hi-fi system comprised of B&W CDM1, Audiolab 8000s, Goertz cables, Marantz CD63S and was assembled after listening to my ex-classmate’s Sonus Faber Concertino playing Pink Floyd’s Shine On Your Crazy Diamond. That was the first time I heard so much “new things” at the intro of the song.
Having my first tastes of hi-fi, in the following few years, I found myself in a loop of buying and re-buying my favourite CD titles. Of course, there was exploration of new music but somehow my attention was constantly drawn to find the best version of Wish You Were Here, Moving Pictures, Frampton Comes Alive and many more, whenever newer, better version hits the stores. It was a case of standard 16bit to 24bit Re-mastered version to Gold disc version to HDCD…
Before the turn of the new millennium, I got to know a bunch of good people (audiophiles), we became best friends (till today) and one of the first hi-fi revelation happened in one of their homes – KY’s home.
KY is an elderly gentleman whose hi-fi system is situated in the basement of his Inter-terrace house – an audiophile’s wildest dream. The basement measures about 6 by 8 metres and its some space that you could place a ceiling reaching Genesis G1.1 speakers. This hi-fi bunker has seen some rock concert volume with all cylinders firing and yet without a hint of boom or distortion (KY’s an old-hand). KY likes to surprise his visiting audiophiles. He likes to use his most unassuming software or hardware to “shock” us and probably teach us a soft lesson. Like a seasoned magician, he borrowed my 24-bit newly remastered Time Out Take Five CD and spun it in his 2-box, over $20k Ensemble digital system. I recalled then, “Woah… this is Good”.
Before the song was done, he paused it and told us that he has assembled a laughable, cheapo CEC turntable with MM cartridge just to “play” around. Next, out came a dusty copy of the same in LP and the same track was played.
Just after a few bars of Take Five, nobody was laughing. Despite the pops and crackles, the simple LP system was simply more enjoyable. We were looking at each other in amazement. This got me thinking – a modest but accurately setup analogue system can kick-ass and even challenge an awesome digital gear? The best version for the music I love has already been printed? This was the start of my path to LP enlightenment.
Not long, I began to search for the truth.
One Friday evening, it was Martin’s turn (Martin is now Modular Audio’s resident analogue expert) to host the audiophiles at his home – good music after good food. Unlike many of us (audiophiles) who abandoned LP totally after CD became mainstream in the late 80s, Martin persevered. He has been a total devotee since his first love (click here) and never looked back. When I first visited his home, his LP collection totally surprised me and kept me intrigued, after all, he listens to Classic Rock too.
In my analogue memory, the pops and crackles of LP is part of LP sound. This was the sound I grew up with since my teen LP playing days. With more exposure to hi-fi and gradually climbing the stairs of hi-fi heaven, noise and distortion was the last thing I want back.
I remembered Martin asked me to bring along a few of my favourite LPs (that I’ve kept for ages) to his place to test them out in his system. I was thinking, he must be kidding me to play my crappy stuff on his MBL-based system. Anyway, I was curious and picked Little River Band’s Sleeper Catcher and Off Course Selection 1978-81. So these 2 mouldy LP saw light again (after 20 years?) when Martin pulled them out and did a round of cleaning using his long service Nitty Gritty record cleaning machine. It was then I realised LP cleaning machine was invented.
Soon after, Martin fired up his Pink Triangle turntable and lowered the needle. The background LP noise dropped to a very acceptable level and the “frying beans” noise was a case of tiny beans vis-a-vis big ones, i.e. before the wash. Sound wise, I’ve never heard LRB and Off Course LPs sounded so good.
From that evening onwards, I was completely sold and became a convert. Thank goodness, I didn’t throw away my old LPs. Soon, I was seen happy washing my LPs (VPI 16.5) during my free time, rediscovering all my favourites in superior format (to the CDs) that I could have been still re-buying.
My first analogue system after I returned to LP full-time was Spacedeck, Benz Glider MC cart with EAR 834P phono (considerably mid-end given that this was my first serious analogue outing). Not long, Martin and I were like “analgoue evangelist” paying visits to friends who has an analogue system and helping them to play it better. I used to find Martin sounding cocky then, when he said he uses digital to “warm up his hi-fi”. Not knowing shortly after, I took an extreme, one step beyond by going digital-free when I sold off my CEC TL1 transport and MSB DAC.
It was twenty years ago today,
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’ve guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you
The act you’ve known for all these years
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.