ANALOGUE TWEAKS

Visiting recent analogue-laden hi-fi shows was enough to turn any Baby Boomer sullen with thoughts of mortality: the current revival of interest in the LP is due in no small part to new-born vinyl lovers too young to possess any experience of record care and handling methods.

You might think that the vinyl revival is down to solidarity among old-fart, pro-analogue audiophiles, but there aren’t enough of us to account for the sales of Sundazed’s magnificent LPs, or the tens of thousands of budget turntables sold by Pro-Ject. And how many 50-year-olds are buying hip-hop garage mixes on 12in vinyl singles, which keep pressing plants on 16-hour shifts? No, we have to turn to a wave of music lovers whose initial awareness of recorded material owes more to MP3 and CDs than to the 12in LP. They are the 21st-century equivalent of a modern car enthusiast who finds himself in possession of a vehicle with a starting handle.

To those of us who grew up in the years before CD arrived, record care is something mundane but crucial, behavioural patterns so basic we take them for granted. Moreover, we assume that everyone knows how to put a record on the platter and lower the stylus, just as we all know how to open a door. But record handling isn’t as “day to day” as opening a door.

“Regular” people who still use LPs don’t handle them with care. They treat them like the (fictional) idiot in a current speaker ad, with her jazz LPs splayed out on the floor, out of their sleeves. Record care is more of a skill or a talent or even an instinct of great import only to audiophiles and record collectors.

Am I exaggerating? Do any of you above the age of 35 remember being taught how to hold a record, clean off dust, balance a pickup arm, clean a stylus? Probably not, just as you don’t remember learning to walk, speak, or hold a fork. I’m certain my father taught me how not to ruin records, but I don’t remember when or how he did so.

I suspect that today’s 12–35-year-olds who are captivated by vinyl will either turn to parents or older siblings, or, in the case of the brave, plunge headfirst into fitting an arm and cartridge as I did when I bought my first “separates” system. In many cases, because the inspiration to “go vinyl” is acid/hip-hop/scratch singles, or a budding career as a deejay, or simply being seen with “cool” vinyl, record care will not be an issue. They’ll treat records the way they treat everything else: as something disposable. The under-35s I saw at hi-fi shows during 2002, though, were not reverse-baseball-cap Beavises but budding audiophiles – vastly outnumbered I’m sure by Beavises, but they are high-end audio’s next generation, and we should nurture them.

Someone really must produce a modern pamphlet on the basics of record usage and care. How to play them, how to maintain a turntable and cartridge, how to salvage worn or dirty second-hand discs, how to store them, how to align a cartridge, how to examine a stylus. Because the young people coming fresh to vinyl know only the easy convenience of CD, it would be tragic if the more hands-on nature of LPs proved off-putting, and that first major scratch plunged them into dismay. But I doubt that will happen. For the most part, I think these “late adopters” are charmed as much by the retro appeal, the funky sleeves, the manual labour, of records as they are by the sound. (And none of them will deny that a turntable looks a whole lot cooler than any CD player.)

What this new generation of vinyl users has that beats our “old ways” hands down is access to accessories and set-up tools that didn’t exist when vinyl was the domina