My Analog Music Upgrade: Why Vinyl Records And Film Photography Go Together

Music And Photography-A Perfect Match

I've been a fan of music my entire life. I started out in the early 70's as a 7 or 8 year old listening to music on the radio or vinyl records using a turntable in the house. In middle and high school (late 70's/early 80's) I added cassette tapes to my collection and as I went through College in the mid to late 80's Compact Discs became the primary source of music. Lately (since 2000 or so) I've done nearly all my listening via streaming digital music. I'm also slightly obsessed with photography and if you've been reading this blog (or any of my postings on Google+, Flickr or 500px) you know that I'm a big fan of analog (film) photography. While I very much enjoy digital there's just something about the process of capturing and developing images on film that I find appealing. It's much more deliberate, forces me to slow down, and the end results are very pleasing.

What Was Once Old Is Now New Again

There are many parallels between music and photography and as I get older (and perhaps a bit nostalgic) I find myself appreciating the "good 'ol days" more and more. I've already embraced those days by using my vintage film cameras and now I am doing the same with my love of music. After several years of watching the re-emergence of vinyl records as a popular medium for enjoying music I am stepping back into my past and adding analog music playback to my system. I started to save some money each month starting last year knowing that I would probably get the itch to add a turntable or some other upgrade to my system. I got serious about researching options a few weeks ago and made the decision (with a little help from Santa Claus) to purchase a new turntable last week. I ended up getting this:

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC

The turntable is the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC a manual belt drive turntable currently fitted with the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. The Carbon DC is placed about midway in the Pro-Ject line of turntables and could reliably be called "low-end audiophile" in terms of quality. It is several significant steps above the typical turntable that you find in most stores but far, far, far, far, far, far below these super-expensive turntables. No doubt it is an investment, but no more than many of the lenses that photographers purchase every day. And that's how I see it, an investment in my enjoyment of life and the great memories that I have. I got the turntable setup and plugged into my "main" audio system which consists of the Cambridge Audio Azur 540A Integrated Amplifier which puts out 50wpc to a pair of Hawthorne Audio Duet Open Baffle speakers. I've been very happy with this setup for the last 8 years and I don't plan on changing anything in it. The addition of the Pro-Ject turntable gives me yet another way to listen to my favorite music.

The Analog Advantage

I've been. and continue to be, a big believer in the quality of digital music. I have over 350 CD's worth of music ripped and saved on my hard drive in the form of lossless FLAC files. I've been streaming these files wirelessly to both my main and headphone system for the last 10 years and have enjoyed it immensely. But, just as adding analog (film) cameras to my photography has improved my appreciation of photography, analog music (vinyl records) has improved my appreciation of music. Here's what I mean:

  1. Analog music is more deliberate: In order to "go analog" you have to be more aware of what you are doing. You can't load up 200 vinyl records and hit "shuffle" but rather you need to get up and turn over the typical album every 15-20 minutes. You also need to take some extra time to keep those pesky vinyl discs clean and dust free in order to ge the best sound out of them.
  2. Analog music requires more attention: To get the most out of analog music you need to be aware of what you are listening to (similar to #1 above). The dynamic range of analog is arguably lower than digital but because of that it asks for more of your attention and thought in order to appreciate it. You also need to be aware of what version of a particular album you are buying/listening to as that can make a huge difference in the quality of the listening experience
  3. The sound of analog music is more "flowing" (if that's a word) than digital: Digital recordings can reveal immense detail in the music if done right. Analog music, on the other hand, seems to have more of a flow to it that is often more natural sounding than digital (you need a good quality playback and clean album though).
  4. And Most Importantly-If you play an album on your turntable while developing film you will achieve a true "Analog Zen State" :-)

I'll be the first to admit that, in many cases, a well-produced digital recording has more detail and resolution than analog but that's not always preferred. In the short amount of time that I've had the turntable I've noticed that the sound of vinyl is a very involving thing. And maybe that's part of the appeal of analog music, the involving nature of it.

The Lure Of Finding Good Vinyl

My goal with the turntable is to get all of the records I had when growing up and then expand from that. There are a lot of resources for finding music on vinyl, both new and used. The list of available new vinyl keeps growing and the used market seems to be pretty robust. So far I have purchased 4 albums but I plan on adding to the collection each month. Three of the records were purchased used at Fantasyland Records here in Atlanta. It is a very nice shop and reminds me of several of the record shops I used to visit back in the day. The fourth album is brand new and I got it at a local Fry's. Here's my vinyl lineup as of now. The listings are from my Discogs account which is a great online music resource and marketplace:

  1. AC/DC- Rock Or Bust- The latest album from the legendary band (and one of my favorites)-Bought new
  2. Jethro Tull-Thick As A Brick-One of my childhood albums-Bought used and in great shape
  3. Kansas-Point Of Know Return-Another one of the albums I had as a kid- Used and in VG shape
  4. Don Henley-Building The Perfect Beast-One of Pam's picks-She went to this concert at Red Rocks in 1985- Used and in VG shape

I have about 10 more childhood-era albums to purchase and after that I will expand my musical horizons into other areas. The availability of vinyl is very good and growing all the time so I don't think I'll have any trouble finding music to play on the turntable.

 Long Live Analog

I expect that from this point forward in my life I will always have a turntable to play vinyl records on. While the fidelity of vinyl vs digital has been and probably always will be debated, there's no denying that listening to music on a turntable is an enjoyable experience. Just like film cameras are to photography, I think vinyl is to music- an important and necessary diversion/alternative from our ever-increasing "digital overload". I'm not planning on ever getting rid of my digital devices but I will not be ashamed to declare my "analog independence" from time to time! :-) Stay tuned to the blog for the occasional music review as well as other insights into how I try to balance my life through the use of photography and music, among other things.