Back to basics: A visit to vinyl

The counter-revolution has been on for some time now, as I’m shopping for a new cartridge for my turntable.
I’m not much of a casual music listener anymore; I don’t have an iPod and don’t particularly want one.  I didn’t even use my Walkman very often.  When I listen to something, I pay attention, and I want good sound.
You may disbelieve, but nothing sounds as good as a vinyl record.  That’s not an opinion; it’s a fact.  That’s why some records were cut direct-to-disk, bypassing analog tape with 1/8” track widths.  By comparison, a cassette is just a little wider with four tracks on it, and those awful 8-track tapes had one-fourth of that track width.

Audio quality has gone steadily downhill since the ‘70s.  Studios used tube amps until the manufacturers sold them a bill of goods that transistors were the way to go.  The studios then bought tube pre-amps to regain some of the lost quality.  With CDs, they lopped off the highs and lows and were able to get more than twice the time on one disk.  MP3s subtract even more signal.  We may be headed toward the tinny AM pocket radios of the fifties; why not – who cares?
On the other hand, you have the car stereos with grossly disproportionate low frequencies that amount to scrotal massage – nothing at all like music is supposed to sound.

Donald Fagen made the first digitally recorded hit album 25 years ago.  He complained then about the dullness of the sound and digital’s deafness to nuance and dynamics.  The good part is that there is no extraneous noise from tape hiss or a speck of dust in a groove.

The four-track that the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ was recorded on was bigger than your dishwasher.  They tediously spliced different tapes together with a razor blade and tape.  Now you can put a decent four-track in a briefcase.  That certainly makes it a lot easier to record a gig.
Digital recording has made many amazing things possible.  One unit has so much RAM that you can record 256 tracks for 40 hours before dumping to a hard drive.  There is even software that composes music.  You can cut out one measure of a guitar lick and paste it into another spot.  This would be like cutting windows in tapes: nearly impossible.  You can alter the sounds into digital samples of other instruments, turn a wobbly drummer into a human clock and even make a tone-deaf banshee sing on pitch.  In short, bad musicians can be made to sound almost talented.  Is this a good idea?
These capabilities are wonderful and can be very useful.  But a perfectionist can also get bogged down in the details and literally tweeze something to death, not to mention spend far too much time in the studio reinventing the wheel.
Artists and engineers are rebelling.  One Los Angeles mixing engineer even wrote a hilarious book about a crappy band with a ridiculous budget that he was recording for a major label.  He could make a bad band sound good even without using all the tricks he could have used, but why?  It was an epiphany for him; he now produces music he actually cares about.
Some of the biggest names in music are returning to the old method: rehearse the songs and then go in and record them live, maybe overdubbing only the solos and vocal harmonies.  After all, some of the biggest sounding records ever made were recorded on one track.  The first Beatles tracks are just what they sounded like in the studio.  Creativity, talent and passion cannot be synthesized and never will be.
Mixing is an art in itself now, and good mixers command high salaries.  That’s just the way it’s done.  But, as one said, “We can give you all kinds of haircuts, but it won’t matter if you’re just ugly.”
I’m looking for a stereo tube amp, maybe even a Heathkit, to go with these nice Bozak speakers.

Editor’s Addendum:
Searching the internet, we found this post from New York:
“They have survived for almost 100 years.  The first threat to their existence came from reel-to-reel tapes, then 8-tracks and later from cassettes.  But vinyl records outlived them all.  Everybody thought their run had ended with the advent of CDs, which in the early 1990s far surpassed vinyl in popularity.

But a deep-rooted and underground cultural following helped vinyl records – older and bulkier than the recording formats that succeeded them – endure as a small niche market, and for ten straight years until 2003 manufacturers of vinyl records reported steadily increasing sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).”  Click here to read more.

Also online, a site dedicated to “all with a passion for vinyl records” has been established, but is still under construction.  Click here to see that page.

After publication,m Robert Benson contacted Tulsa Today.  Benson is an avid vinyl record collector for over 30 years and has compiled a resource for all the lovers of vinyl records.  If you are just beginning to collect, or are an established hobbyist click here.