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Do you remember the first time? Was it in the sitting room? The bedroom? At the school disco? Or, like George Harrison in a car when he was trying out a new variation?
As a reader of this newsletter, I’m certain that you can recall the very first time that you used a turntable. For most of us the gentle process of removing the record from its sleeve, placing it on the platter, switching on the motor and then lowering the needle into the groove is an almost religious act.
I can recall with exceptional clarity the first time that I used a turntable on my own. My parents were out for a walk, and I had been left to my own devices and decided that I would use their Philips record player whilst they weren’t looking. I selected our copy of Peter and the Wolf, lifted the smoked plastic turntable lid, and placed the LP on the deck. I pressed the 33 button, chose AutoStart, lowered the lid and let the Philips work its magic. And that was it, my very first time. I played both sides of the record and had the vinyl back in its sleeve before my parents returned. I was hooked.
Over the years, the Philips made its way into my bedroom as it was upgraded by a succession of different turntables by my parents. A Grundig was followed by a Fisher and then a Technics stack that is still happily spinning. The Philips was the one that kept me happy as it delivered the performance I needed from my ever-growing collection of singles and albums. I had a brief dalliance with a Sharp Vertical record player (what was I/they thinking?) but returned to my first turntable as I loved its clear musical reproduction which led me to believe I was hearing the full sound of a recording.
I kept away from cassettes – apart from in the car. I would have loved an in-car player like George Harrison had but they were just a brief fad in the U.K. Although, I did recently see a bright red Oldsmobile which had one.
When the CD era dawned, I stepped back from the shiny plastics for as long as possible – until I inherited a Sony player. I bought my first few CDs and their ease of use together with the ability to select tracks and to skip the inevitable dud on any album initially won me over. However, despite what Tomorrow’s World and everyone else was telling me, I was never convinced that the sound of a CD was better than that of a vinyl LP. And, when I updated my Beatles collection, I was certain that the playback was significantly worse.
It was the digital music revolution that sadly did for the Philips. Once I could stream tracks in detailed resolution, the little turntable made the Toy Storyesque journey to the attic. However, the spin was not stopped for long as a journalist friend of mine offered me a Pro-ject record player on the cheap and I decided to enter the modern world of vinyl.
First up, I thought I’d try a 45rpm single, and then noticed I’d have to move the large rubber band – belt-driven turntables had become a thing during my short hiatus. So, I grabbed an LP and put that on. And what else had changed? Well, it seemed that the sound had become even better than I remembered. I took the old Philips down from the attic and used the same amp, same speakers, and the same vinyl to compare the two, and yes, the sound from the new turntable was definitely better than that of the Philips.
In the last ten years, everything about turntable design has been improved. Boards and damping are better, motors are more accurate, tonearms are stronger and easier to use, circuitry has been dramatically upgraded and cartridge performance is way above what I could ever have imagined – whether you select MM or MC the detail they deliver will be a revelation. Couple this with heavyweight vinyl and I am now really sure that I am hearing every aspect of a recording.
Once I was literally back in the vinyl groove, my next step was to try a VPI turntable, and even though this was an entry level model, wow! This was way better than the Pro-ject! So, I then needed to hear more of these North American players in action. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to hear a wide selection of VPI turntables and I can promise you that this is definitely one area in hi-fi where the more money you spend the better sound you get. The performance from the current generation of turntable models is fantastic. To my ears, it is way better than that of a CD or streaming performance. I just love the warmth and life that I now hear.
So, I believe that it is time that I bought myself the turntable of my dreams. I’m still heavily influenced by that little Philips, so I am looking for sparkling performance, start/stop and 33/45 buttons, some nice wood veneer, and a smoked-glass lid. And do you know what? I think I may well have just found it. I think the VPI HW-40 direct drive is my perfect turntable. Save one for me!
Matt Tasker (Ammonite Media), May 2023