NOTHING quite like getting the low-down on all things vinyl from a seasoned collector, and that Adrian Wong certainly is. In fact, he runs his own specialist hi-fi store, Audio Image in Petaling Jaya, with his main wares being those of the analogue realm … yes, LP records and turntables.
It is said, for example, that when a brand new record and CD of identical title are compared on modest systems, sonically, the LP is bound to come up tops.
“I suppose it is right to say records sound euphonically superior to the more clinical-sounding CDs, but records are obviously not in the forefront. CDs have greater potential in retaining bass information whereas records capture the air and finer details better. As for collectors like us, we also know which records sound good, so we naturally spend more time listening to them than the poorer pressed ones,” reveals Wong.
Records have survived all these years because of their durability.
“Records do not deteriorate with age. They will still sound good 100 years from now. CDs do not provide perfect sound forever; I’m sure you’ve seen ones with worm-like lines in which the aluminium foil has been eaten away. Records have stood the test of time.”
Wong also reveals that the highest-paying industry in the 1950s in America was the music industry. Some of the greatest think tanks were scientists and engineers, especially those working on sound. And when NASA was formed in the 1960s, all of them went over.
“That’s why recordings from this period are virtually incomparable,” he explains.
If sonic details remain contentious, then there can be no doubt that there’s something more exciting about looking at an LP cover than CD.
“LP covers are so beautiful, partly because the artwork is so much bigger and you get to see more detail. The inner sleeve and liner notes provide a wealth of information as well.”
You’re not going to find the finest detail on all CD sleeves or music downloads, especially info like the engineer involved in the recordings (down to the tape machine operators, even) or the season in the year the band recorded the album. Apparently, even LP covers (minus the record) go for sale.
But this whole vinyl rebirth is more than just about nostalgia or attractive artwork. It all boils down to sound, and surprisingly, it’s the younger generation (perhaps a backlash of the iPod brigade?) who are pushing sales figures over the edge.
“People getting into vinyl are obviously serious about sound. The titles that move quickest with the younger people are indie band titles. That perhaps explains why a lot of bands release LP titles first, before making CDs and downloads available, because most listeners would like to listen to something before anyone else. This definitely plays a part in LP sales picking up.”
Although this is all much more than a fad, Wong feels LP records will never become the predominant format it once was.
“There are already new formats, particularly digital downloads. Besides, space is at a premium, so if you think CDs take up space, LPs take up even more,” he concedes.
One thing’s for sure though, turntable sales have sky-rocketed. In fact, turntable manufacturer Rega has sold 10 times more turntables recently than it did 10 years ago.
“The resurgence in turntable sales can only be good news.”
Wong provides a brief but useful buying guide for records and turntables:
- Always try to buy a record of an artiste from the artiste’s country of origin. This is because the artiste’s label will have access to the first generation master copy, from which other LPs are cut.
- Look at the spindle marks (the hole at the centre of a record) and condition of the record. Scratched records and ones with numerous spindle marks will indicate how frequently they have been played.
- Go for widely spaced grooves on records (which means records with minimal playing time per side). Widely spaced grooves sound better.
- Choose a belt-drive turntable over a direct-drive as it sounds better.
- The turntable’s tone arm should have anti-skating compensation device to reduce tracking error.
- Get an MM (moving magnet) cartridge, as it is easier to achieve good sound because it is more forgiving compared to an MC (moving coil) cartridge.
- Opt for a turntable with 33 1/3 and 45rpm playback capability.