I’ve been riding a vinyl high of sorts lately. After almost six months of continuing problems with turntables and cartridges, two the fault of manufacturers and the rest mine, and after practically rebuilding my turntable and, count them, three separate Clearaudio da Vinci cartridges, my analog section is finally listenable. So my interest over the past few months has been in playing LP’s. Wonderful though that is, I’m facing a completely new and different set of issues with which I must contend.
As the audiophile world seemingly snowballs towards a streamed centric universe, those of us who actually prefer physical media are finding that we are not being paid as much attention as in years past. If your preference is a CD, you can still find music available – perhaps not with the widespread availability as in the recent past, but a representative selection is still available in local stores. Online outlets usually offer a greater selection than a local store if one is tolerant with the time it takes to ship something.
Then comes the humble LP. So venerable in it’s heritage, so worshiped in modern audiophile circles, and rapidly gaining popularity in the mainstream, analog has become a hot commodity. A growing number of television commercials are now advertising products with a turntable somewhere in the spot. Most importantly, the analog revolution has introduced a new generation of music listeners to a technology that is now almost seventy years old. As much as that is good news to LP loving audiophiles, it does create one little sticking point – LP availability.
Recognizing that recorded music is first, foremost and will always be a business, record companies carefully consider which format in which to release an artists work. Before I go any further, let me readily admit that record pressing plants are running full tilt, new ones are opening up, companies the world over are looking high and low for moth balled pressing equipment, and the only physical media enjoying increased production volume is the venerable LP. Still, it seems readily obvious that the music I would really love to have on LP isn’t available, mostly because it wasn’t produced in that manner to begin with.
I stood in front of my record collection the other day looking in vain for something to play. Maybe something I hadn’t heard in recent memory. Something that satisfied my then musical tastes or rekindled memories of music enjoyed in times past. All I could manage, however, is to look at album after album without finding anything I wanted to actually hear.
I decided I needed some new blood so I went to a popular online music outlet, choose new arrivals / LP’s, and started looing at the 35 or so pages of new releases. Certainly, obviously, I’d find something to order. After forty minutes, and making my way through about page 30 with no success, I decided to opt for plan B – a trip the the local music store.
Starting with new albums, most of what I saw were groups with which I wasn’t familiar, and the idea of forking over roughly $30.00 or more dollars for an unknown work was too much of a gamble. I can’t even remember how often I’ve been burned when I bought an LP because I liked the cover. I tell myself I’ve grown past that. Many of the albums I saw that I did recognize were artists I didn’t really want. I’m not exactly sure where all of the additional LP production in the world is going, but it seems clear that it’s not music that interests me at my local record store.
Out of a lack of any other simple option I turned to the used LP section. I’m normally skeptical of used LP’s and, yes, I am fully aware of what marvelous finds can be found in the used section. I’ve found them myself. Some I’ve found I consider cherished works. The used LP section typically offers a lot of variety. In my local store, for instance, the used section is larger than the new section. And while that is all well and good, it doesn’t displace the fact that being saddled with a horrible sounding LP is possible.
I found three that were early jazz works of several of my favorite artists. Total cost? $11.45. Can’t hardly go wrong there. Upon my return home, and after four minutes of ultrasonic cleaning and three minutes of drying per album, I was ready to spin my new finds.
The first LP was burdened by pops and clicks – and not the usual assortment that one normally expects. This was basically an unlistenable condition. The second LP was remarkably silent and sounded very good. The third, while not as quiet as the second one, was also very enjoyable. So all in all, two out of three – not really the best odds. The summation of all of this is if you can’t find music that interests you at the moment, then all the increased production in the world does little to enable a valued listening session.
I’ve considered breaking my turntable and cartridge again so I don’t have to worry about finding an LP to play for the next six months. After careful consideration however, and remembering how much my last adventure cost, I decided that was not a smart idea. So I’ll continue to look for LP’s in as many places as I am able, and perhaps talk myself in to playing all that crap, well that’s not really fair, all that music I bought in the 1980’s. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a change of heart.