The vinyl revival in an increasingly digital world
Every February, Tonbridge hosts the UK’s largest second-hand and vintage hi-fi event, AudioJumble, which I attend religiously each year. Not to buy, necessarily, but often merely to peruse a veritable museum of classic audio equipment. In fact, it’s even better than a museum because at the AudioJumble you’re positively encouraged to touch as well as look. And discuss. At length. With people who really know their stuff. Now, I’ll admit it’s not everybody’s cup of tea – it’s one of the few events in the town that the usually game Mrs Simms point blank refuses to attend with me (just in case someone she knows sees her and makes assumptions).
This year’s show took on a slightly greater significance than usual, as I’ve just finished rebuilding the hi-fi system that I had through the early 90s – the classic Linn/Naim flat Earth approach to music reproduction (turntable, integrated amplifier, bookshelf speakers), with the addition of a much more contemporary CD player. I say rebuilding because, for various reasons – including needing to fund the block paving of our drive – the original system was long departed. It didn’t bother me too much at the time. I thought new would be better. And to be fair, in many ways it was, but it was also different, when what I really wanted was more of the same.
Having reacquired what I sold the best part of a decade ago, the AudioJumble wander this year was largely an exercise in confirming that I had indeed bought what I wanted to buy, and that there wasn’t something else I would have rather had. Happily, there wasn’t, so I came home and spent a leisurely afternoon playing legacy vinyl on my legacy turntable through my tiny integrated amp. One input for the turntable, one input for CD, and one final input for... Well now, there’s a question.
If I was buying the modern version of my Linn/Naim system, then I suspect the amplifier would be an all-in-one music server, capable not only of amplifying but also of streaming music at high resolutions and perhaps providing DAB or internet radio capability, with remote control from my iPhone. But, however I look at it, I’m not in a position to make the complete digital transformation of my processes in a single step. What I need is a scalable approach that provides sensible upgrade paths to my existing systems to enable me to take the first steps towards digitalisation. A colleague suggested just such an upgrade: a wi-fi base station, with an audio output, that would stream audio wirelessly from iTunes on the computer upstairs, perform the D/A conversion and output the audio to the third input on my legacy amplifier – and all under the control of an app on my iOS device.
Thus my first step in the digital transformation of my system has been low cost, hasn’t required me to make a massive upgrade, and has demonstrated a quick win. It’s also engaged my enthusiasm for further digitalisation. But it’s important to note that anyone trying to sell me on the big picture in one big jump would have been plugging a message that fell on deaf ears. It was too big a leap. For me, it’s about finding the easy wins, and moving up from there.
Mark Simms Editor