Today, I am in the market for a new turntable. And depending on how important music is to you, it may well have been awhile since you heard someone say that. Last weekend, the record player on my Detrola entertainment system, stopped working, much to the dismay of my euchre-playing friends. While typically used for its radio, the wood-laden piece can also play vinyl at 45, 33 1/3 and even 78 rpm. I miss it already.
I grew up with records. And as I recount in by book “No Static at All,” there was nothing quite like the experience of jumping on the Purple bus line of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and heading to Campustown and Record Service to purchase a new album. The very name, album, was quite apropos as, from cover art to interior band photos and typically extensive liner notes and lyrics, it was, quite literally, a visual and informational experience – a time capsule glimpse into the inspiration and impetus for who and what made this grouping of songs happen. The record inside this coffee table book-sized casing, moreover, was also aptly named; it was as much a recording of sound as it was an historical record of what had occurred leading up to and inside of the studio.
The album-buying and listening experience is one I’ve started to gravitate back toward and I know I’m not alone. My controller’s son, in fact, a 19-year old college student, is in the process of purchasing the Beatles catalogue on vinyl. He gets it. Leafing through the record bins, for example those at UHF Music in Royal Oak or Found Sound in Ferndale, for long lost gems is once again a favorite albeit too-seldom indulged enjoyment. Yet, I’m determined to replace at least a small fraction of my at one time several thousand record collection, at some point or another given away in favor of CDs and MP3s.
LPs by their very “unportability” also offer a unique aural experience. Where today we listen to music most often on the run, the album listening experience was ideal for comfortable chair and headphones, focused entirely on the music and where it could take us. This was also why audio quality was so much important then. Modern technology has made the music more accessible, yet, this same technology, with its compression limitations, has made the music less listenable.
It is why Hall of Fame artist Neil Young has unveiled PonoMusic, a player and service, which promises “lossless” audio files and “ultra-high resolution” aimed at bringing higher quality music back to the masses. Pono promises 192 kHz and 24-bit sound, as opposed to 44.1 Khz and up to 4 bit sound typically offered by traditional MP3s. The higher the bit rate, the closer to the recreation of the quality of the original recording.
Pono (which translates in “righteous” in Young’s beloved Hawaiian), could be the audio answer for the car and iPhone but I will continue my quest for the appropriate big disk player and a different kind of music enjoyment. History can repeat itself. Sometimes that’s a good thing.