First, let me preface this by making it clear (if the parentheses above hasn’t already done so) that I really do love turntables. I love the way they look, I love the rich, analogue sound they produce, I love the tangibility of vinyl and I even love the way records demand that you physically interact with your music.
Allow me to also point out that I’m no wet-behind-the-ears young pup. True, vinyl’s original moment in the sun was long before my time, but I’ve been reviewing at What Hi-Fi? for over 12 years – I know and appreciate great sound.
But I also appreciate convenience. And great sound is now more convenient than ever.
Hands-down, the biggest obstacle between me and turntable ownership is the toddler that’s right now (as in almost certainly right now) turning my lounge into a Thomas the Tank Engine-themed apocalyptic wasteland.
The rest of my kit (half high-end hi-fi streaming and half Atmos-certified home cinema, craftily conjoined) is contained in a conveniently located (and carefully ventilated) cupboard towards the front of the room, with only the TV and speakers visible and all cables concealed within toddler-proof (at least so far) trunking.
Where does a turntable fit into such a system? It doesn’t.
Sure, I could add one to my covetable cupboard of kit, but I really don’t see the point in buying a turntable that you can’t see. Some will disagree (largely disingenuously), but a good amount of the pleasure of analogue audio is to be derived from the observation of its action.
The requirement for aesthetic appeal would be stunningly satisfied by one of those lovely-looking wall-mountable, vertical decks but, while the Pro-Ject name ensures a product of high quality, it’s more or less inconceivable that a vertical turntable will sound as good as a similarly priced, traditional, horizontal design. That knowledge would nag at me incessantly, thus rendering the whole exercise pointless.
A typical hi-fi stand, meanwhile, is out of the question for space and tampering-toddler reasons, so my only option would be to mount a shelf on the wall out of the reach of pudgy, probing digits. Of course, the need for a turntable to be sturdily supported means a wafer-thin bit of Ikea shelving simply won’t do, but, with the likes of Hi-Fi Racks producing dedicated wall-mounts for turntables, I have little doubt that a turntable on a shelf could sound almost as good as one on a rack.
But positioning isn’t the only obstacle between me and analogue happiness. Another is that I don’t have any vinyl.
Now, let’s assume for just a moment that I have enough disposable income to even consider starting a whole new music collection (which I don’t): do I even want to start a whole new music collection? Not particularly, and that’s despite the fact that I’m terrifically susceptible to the expansive album art of a vinyl sleeve.
Perhaps I’d feel differently if vinyl was the only way one could hear music at its best, but in a world in which hi-res digital music exists, I don’t believe that it is. Now, I’m not saying that every hi-res digital tune will definitely sound better than its vinyl equivalent. It’s more that these are two, equally valid options for those hunting down the pinnacle of musical reproduction.
I’m sure there are those who would have me burned at the stake for even suggesting that a digital track could match its analogue equivalent, but I don’t have the romantic attachment to pops and crackles that others do. They’re imperfections. Charming imperfections, for sure, but imperfections all the same. I simply prefer the clean crispness of hi-res digital, but if pops and crackles are your jam, you’ll hear no criticism from me.
You’ll notice that I’ve not yet had a moan about the fiddliness of setting a turntable up or the requirement to physically change records – and neither will I.
The careful calibration of a piece of kit is the sort of thing I live for, and the ritual of placing a record on the platter, starting the motor and lowering the stylus is something I find genuinely joyous. Besides, I’m one of those increasingly rare people who likes to listen to an entire album from start to finish, and getting out of my seat every hour or so to switch records is hardly a hardship.
That said, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t love having complete control at my fingertips. I’m never going to stop streaming music, so vinyl would be a partner to that, rather than a replacement. Am I going to halt my Tidal session when inspiration strikes to play a record? Irregularly at best. But am I going to use my phone to dig up an MQA stream or DSD file? You bet I am.
By now, this probably reads like a vitriolic, anti-vinyl rant, but it’s actually just a peek at the inner monologue of someone who, on a more or less bi-weekly basis, gets within a gnat’s whisker of taking a turntable home and talks himself out of it with practical considerations.
And there’s one other thing to consider here. I’m very lucky. For me, not owning a turntable doesn’t mean not listening to vinyl. I can spend my weekend playing digital tunes of all stripes to my heart’s content, and when I go to work on Monday I can pick a record from What Hi-Fi?’s substantial selection, place it on one of the very best turntables in existence (our current reference is the Technics SL-1000R), and hear it via a fabulous, high-end amp (currently the Burmester 088/911 Mk 3 pre/power combi) and the awesome ATC SCM50 speakers.
Now I really think about it, perhaps if I didn’t work for What Hi-Fi? I’d have lost the battle with my practical self and bought a turntable a long time ago. And perhaps I’d right now be mourning its destruction at the hands of a troublesome toddler.