Posted by: ben | May 22, 2009

new adventures in hi-fi

(title with obvious apologies to R.E.M.)

Ben: For the most part, moving into the new flat has been pretty much stress-free save for the odd telephone problem. Sadly, there was one major tragedy, something so personal it had me glum for days.

My beloved JVC MX-MD70 – a beautiful mid-nineties silver-and-electric-blue stereo with awesome sound, 3CD changer and built-in MiniDisc deck – died.

It had been uprooted one too many times. Since scraping every penny I had back in 1998 at the tender age of fourteen it’s survived a move to Scotland where it was shunted between three different flats, a move back to my parents’ home two years ago and numerous parties and things in between. After over ten years of the most faithful service, her CD spinning motor refused to spin any more.

I loved that bloody stereo. Loved it to pieces. I listened to all my favourite music on that thing. I crafted intricate mixtapes and gave them to departed friends. I impressed the odd girl with an esoteric White Stripes 7″.

Sad as it may seem, I can’t live without a stereo. I started researching for something else, armed myself with the emergency credit card and headed into town.

If ever there’s just cause for using the emergency credit card, this is it!

Have you tried buying a stereo recently? Five years ago I helped a friend in Glasgow choose a new system and was overwhelmed by smartly-designed units with excellent inputs and great sound, but now everyone and their mother has an iPod every unit on shop floors nowadays are just glorified speakers with MP3 player compatibility. Even worse, now that people spend £200 on such an MP3 player they seem unhappy to spend on a set of speakers so what is in store is both very cheap and quite meagre in selection.

Old faithful

Old faithful

I do a lot of things with my stereo. As well as listening to CDs and LPs, I normally have it plugged into my TV and using Airtunes I stream music from my computer. This means that ideally I need three inputs. Old stereos (including my beloved JVC) always had two inputs if not more but pretty much all the ones in Currys, Comet, Argos etc has one or none. None! It’d be unthinkable such a short time ago that you could buy a stereo and not add a turntable or something later on!


I ended up trekking to Richer Sounds in Reading and, with a little help, bought hi-fi separates.

This, really, is the point of this whole post.

My little JVC was complemented by a cheap Bush turntable. It was servicable. I replaced the needle, once. I have nothing else I can say about it.

In Richer Sounds, I ended up spending far too much money on a new Sony turntable. It has lots of bells and whistles I don’t understand but – but but but but but – it makes my records sound astonishing.

Fancy new record player

Fancy new record player

I am used to vinyl being a little fuzzy and indistinct, with ‘ess’ sounds being shimmery and overwhelming and with some pretty non-existant bass. This new Sony…. thing…. is a marvel. I played The Divine Comedy’s best of album on it, then Scott Walker’s fourth solo album, then Belle & Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit, then put on the CD versions of the same. Besides a difference in volume (due to something technical involving my CD player being more powerful than my pre-amp), I couldn’t tell the difference.

So what? So I’ve become obsessed with vinyl!

It was bound to happen, really. I’ve sold a lot of my really good stuff from the old days already so I don’t have a huge amount of stuff to play on this new beast. I’ve ordered some bits and pieces already and this weekend will be traipsing to two little shops to delve further.

I’m not a vinyl addict, by any means. I’m just wondering what’s out there. Who knows what I’ll discover?

(Incidentally, there are proper vinyl enthusiasts elsewhere online, should you be looking for recommendations. This chap‘s a good place to start.)



  1. You didn’t apologise to R.E.M. :p

    I’ve found “The Name of this band is Talking Heads” on vinyl recently, and it really sounds amazing on it.

    • I keep getting Psycho Killer stuck in my head recently. I may have to start liking Talking Heads; an album purchase might be in order.

    • I didn’t – I thought the reference was too obvious. I’ll go back and edit that, just for you and your pedantry.

      Newbury’s very light on record shops nowadays, but there’s a place down by the library which stocks nothing but very, very old vinyl. I’m going there with a hitlist of wants which includes Speaking in Tongues.

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