Are You 'Vinyl' By Nature?

Are you ‘vinyl’ by nature?


I was sitting around on a Saturday morning playing records with my son who had got some new fresh copies in during the week and the phone rang.

Geoff Haynes says “hey I just got a boxed set of Rolling Stones, just arrived from Greville Street Records, can’t wait to play them!”.

I joked “you know you’re only a vinyl beginner when you actually play the contents, advanced practitioners of the art keep them sealed and on the humidity-controlled shelf”. Geoff quipped “he’d rather hear the music and he recalls his mum collected stamps and said the stamps that had postmarked travel history had more appeal”. We’re both vinyl tragics…

Got me thinking about a recent client interaction where the gentleman had listened to the studio Helix One turntable after a long listening session comparing digital sources. He had not heard vinyl at any great length before then and had avoided the format due to “all the hassles involved”.

So like a figurative Ulysses strapped to the mast he asked for a sail by the Island of the Sirens.

We played an ordinary pressing of a Greek artist (The Faces of George Dalaras – Live). Then we played ‘You Want It Darker’ by Leonard Cohen. After the LPs had played, the gentleman uttered “Wow!” and just sat there in silence, contemplating the experience.

He’s curating a new system built from the ground up and wanted to know what the fuss is all about regarding vinyl. I guess we were able to show him that the format has an immense ability to connect to the emotional core of the music (with all the distortion artifacts that such an imperfect medium has).

He owns a good collection of CD’s and is regularly listening to digital streaming sources via laptop and phone sources. He’s currently in the process of auditioning streamers, dacs, etc in order to make an investment decision on the main source of his new system. He wanted to make sure he was making the right choice and needed to rule out the “Vinyl thing”.

Somehow the sirens call of vinyl made a lasting impression – enough to return back to the conversation this week. So how do you know you are vinyl by nature?

Yesterday we had a lengthy conversation and I explained for me that vinyl is more than the medium. It’s definitely more than the distortion polemic with the perfect sound forever digital alternative. I have good friends whose logical brain prohibits them from accepting the inherent scratches, pops and crackles to hear the underlying analog nuance and detail that vinyl can deliver in spades. You have to be able to overcome that block.

I explained that the collector mindset is a part of the vinyl experience. That a Saturday morning (or afternoon) drive to one of the vinyl hotspots in Melbourne to catch up with a buddy for a coffee and then go crate digging is a pleasurable escape in its own terms.

You know the drill – “Hey Tricky, coffee? Yeah bud! Heading over to Mario’s on Glenferrie catch you around 10”. Then heading around the corner down the lane to the Reggae specialist tucked in under the railway station and finding some rare gems they’ve sourced during the week.

Damn inconvenient, greenhouse gas inducing sojourn to get there, play chance it with parking inspectors, and always an expensive experience (vinyl prices these days – sheesh!).

So much easier to sit in Tidal, Spotify, Roon, Apple, Deezer, YouTube, Qobuz etc etc etc etc… from the safety and comfort of the home detention center.

Vinyl is getting an SMS from buddies showing latest acquisitions by mail or drop-ins to record bars. It’s getting pics from mates at Kissa Bars in Tokyo with whiskey and LP’s on display. It’s memories of empty Lagavullin 16’s in front of an open fire with albums strewn over the floor from a 2am listening session with mates who’ve dropped in from LA.

It’s discussions on cartridge matching and effective mass calculations, it’s upgrade decisions, it’s planning vinyl nights, it’s getting into new music at your buddies place whose tastes are eclectically aligned with yours. It’s heading around the corner to a Wine Bar and getting munted over a crab pasta and French red served by Lucy Liu before starting the late-night listening session with a 6am flight out of Mascot that same morning (that’s how you learn to sleep on a plane).

It’s high fiving with a Californian audio buddy whose uber-expensive hi-fi setup is where you shook hands with Robert Plant one night.

It’s crazy illogical passionate pursuits.

Are you sure you’re vinyl by nature?

I reasoned that going to a book library is safe and easy. You walk in and have a large proportion of the world’s literature AT YOUR FINGER TIPS. Soooo convenient and airconditioned and all the hard work is done for you by the lovely people working at the library.

Its super quiet in there. No annoying distracting noises. You can lose yourself in skimming through all the books and the loaning and return process is simple. Your home bookshelf can be outsourced to the library and think how much less packing and boxing hassles if you ever have to move house. Makes a lot of sense and why stop there? LPs and CDs are like physical books heavy and expensive. Subscribing to music streaming services saves you a bunch of money. “All you can eat” for one low annual subscription.

But are you vinyl by nature?

I reasoned that in comparison going to a music concert is not safe and easy. You’ve got to get ready to go to the venue, often late at night, find parking on the mean streets and then stand in a queue with others outside and then cram in the doors to get to the best position to see the artist. Then there’s the support acts that may or may not be any good and then the main act. The night explodes and the artist takes you to another planet. You leave late, tired and exhausted but the next day tell all your friends “that was the best concert/night ever!”. But convenient? No!

I guess the answer to the question is a deeply personal one for each of us.

For me, I’ve never been able to say “that was the best library visit ever!”

For our client who is contemplating coming over to the “dark side” he’s toying with the idea of starting out slowly with a moderate-cost record player, arm and AT OC9 cartridge to play a few albums he loves on CD. He ultimately loves music which moves him emotionally and provides a small escape from a very busy family and work/life balance. I think he would be a welcome member of the tribe of passionate vinyl lovers out there. Vinyl is the important thing. The gear comes afterwards. This is happening all over the world. We’re seeing the tribe grow globally and making wonderful connections across all borders. Yes it’s a niche. A niche of community for many.

For me it’s too late. I’m so far down that rabbit hole that I crashed the boat on the Sirens Shore. I’m vinyl by nature.

Where do you sit on the “spectrum”?

PS. Geoff Haynes did explain the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt was his best library visit ever in response to my postulate above. As a philistine who hasn’t yet ventured into the cradle of civilization, I can only surmise it was an amazing experience. For now, I’m stuck with North Balwyn version thereof ☹

Happy listening!!

Am I Vinyl by Nature? (An answer by Chris Camilleri)

After having a friendly chat with Mark Dohmann, well revered in Melbourne for introducing some amazing top-end turntables (check this link out for more info if you’re interested to learn more), he pointed me to a blog post he recently published called Are You “Vinyl” by Nature.

It resonated so strongly with me that I felt compelled to write about my experience to give people a feel for what has driven me to the vinyl world.

You see, apparently my first affinity with vinyl was to wreck it. Having much older sisters and growing up in their 20s while I was around 6, they would play vinyl. One of my sisters I recall only played Chariots of Fire which was great. My other sister played a variety of music that I liked too. As a 6 year old, I used to sneak into their rooms while they were working or studying through the day and play their records. It turns out while I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them, they were strewn all over the floor and some deeply scratched. Oops.

One of my sisters, hitting the clubs at the time had a boyfriend who was a DJ. He drove around in his Mitsubishi Scorpion, kitted out with a Pioneer KPX-777 (check it out—cutting edge for the 80s, the light show was something different and the fold-down face to accept a cassette topped it all off). I recall listening to tunes from the likes of Bobby O, Dead or Alive, Lime and Modern Talking. I could sing them all and they were so influential that I still remember every… single… note of these songs up to today. Walking into his bedroom and seeing a pair of SL-1200s simply made my mouth water and bladder suddenly feel a tad weak.

Pioneer KPX 777

Growing up in my teens and into my 20s, CD was king. Easily playable in the car where I basically lived, I became infatuated with car audio, even competing in ‘SPL drags’ where the loudest bass won the day. Through this time, I still loved my vinyl, but 12” versions of tracks which I could mix with a pair of Technics decks was the go at this stage.

But something took me back to vinyl more deeply as I grew older. My now ex-DJ and brother-in-law kept his records all these years, and hearing him playing them on a Sunday visit is deeply special to me. It is this sense of occasion which goes to the heart of my love for vinyl. The larger format cover art, the ritual of loading a record and listening to it from start to end, the imperfection making it perfect (more on this later), and the memories you associate with that vinyl is what really makes it special. For almost every record I have in my collection, I can recall the place I got it, my thoughts and the stories behind them.

We make jokes that one day if my brother-in-law passes, I will inherit his vinyl collection in celebration. I also inherited my auntie’s collection recently too. Just think literally generations of people can pass on media to others to share their passion for music, something quite intimate to many people. You simply cannot do this with a music subscription.

And let’s not forget about the sound of vinyl. Yes, it’s not perfect. Scratches can be easily heard, you need to contend with distortion, it can be a pain to get up to switch sides, machinery needs to be properly calibrated and the list just keeps going on. Yet here we are in 2021 still buying it. People who want to throw science and measurements will tell you about shortcomings, yet when I listen to a record which was recorded as early as the 1950s and translated to vinyl, it can compete with the best fully digital recordings of today. I’ve listened to enough systems, including some beautiful high-end streaming equipment through a $1m+ system, yet the same system playing vinyl has an edge which cannot be described in words, despite all the imperfections vinyl playback presents.

Perhaps all these imperfections form part of the art of music? I recall once trying to beat mix my 12” Australian pressing of Prince – Controversy. Anybody who has attempted this will tell you how difficult it is. The tempo of those drums wavers around, and I recall throwing down my headphones in frustration. Time for Dr Google to help a man in need – it turns out you can ‘warp’ a track. This is literally bending the track to ensure the tempo of those drums are perfect throughout the track. A perfect solution for beat mixing, but something happened to the track which I wasn’t expecting. All the life in the track was sapped away, rendering a mechanical interpretation of the song which had lost a lot if its appeal. It became perfect, and it became bland all at the same time.


Am I saying digital audio equipment and media is ‘bland’? Of course not. I enjoy listening to amazing digital systems too. All I’m saying is that sometimes imperfections, in this case, the ones presented by vinyl, may add a secret spice that we didn’t know we needed until we hear it. Even music producers these days can present perfect music but elect to add some variance such a slightly offbeat percussive instrument. Sometimes artists manufacture a record crackle into the track to mimic vinyl!

So Mr. Dohmann, am I vinyl by Nature? You betcha!