Turntables and the 'LP Sound'

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - 12:00 AM

My turntable broke about 15 years ago. It was around the time of the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company. I went to see the show and came home eager to put on my original cast album to ‘compare’. The turntable died in the middle of the title song. 

At the time, I was living in an incredibly small apartment here in New York City. I decided that the breakdown was a sign. I weeded through my LP’s and -- yes -- I gave away many of my prized recordings. Fortunately, I saved a box or two for posterity.

On a rainy Sunday several weeks ago, I discovered that my husband’s turntable is in very fine working order. And he has a wonderful collection of LP’s. On that rainy day, he sorted through his collection, dusted off a few and we listened -- The Temptations, Don Ellis, Bob Dylan -- all of the recordings sounded fabulous!

We continue to play Jerry’s LP’s from time to time and continue to be blown away by the both the quality of the sound and the warmth of the tone.  

So, what will become of the LP sound? Will we ever bring it back, or will we just listen from time to time for nostalgia’s sake -- or until we can no longer buy a new needle?

You guys know much more about this topic than I do, I’m sure of it. So, tell me what you think when you have a minute.

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Comments [36]

drdan

For those of you who might be interested, George Maran is alive and well, retired in Darmstadt, Germany. He is a great family friend and his voice is a strong as ever. He had a wonderful and lengthy career in the Darmstadt Theater (Acting, Singing, and Teaching). George also taught my German wife when she was a young student. George and his wife lived next door to my father & mother-in-law for over 2 decades until George's wife passed away after a long illness. 2 of our grandson's adopted George a few years ago. He truly contributed to music, acting, stage productions, and several generations of the same. We visit from our home in San Diego, CA as often as possible. dan & gerda

Jan. 27 2011 07:09 PM
East Side Kid from wayne, new jersey

After looking at a number of comments about LPs and turntables, I'm surprised that people who appreciate good music know little or nothing about what it takes to get good sound reproduction. Just ask an audiophile!

LPs -- with the right equipment -- will generally blow away the same recording on a sanitary CD.

I'd be glad to answer any questions as best as I can -- just email me. But, stop acting like a lost herd of sheep.

I got a kick out of one contributor who said they got out their old LPs and "dusted them off." Did it ever occur to that person that dust doesn't help reproduce sound from an LP.

And for those who wonder about the availability of NEW LPs, guess what? They're available!!!

East Side Kid

Oct. 11 2010 11:13 AM
Jon Butler from Hamden, CT

For some time, I thought that LPs had a "warmer" and more open sound and that newer digital/CD recordings were harsh.

But then I went back to my turntable/lps and played through any number of them. My result? I had just "imprinted" on the old disks. What I remembered were disks that sounded fabulous by the standards of the day--meaning early 1960s but also back into the mid-50s.

My favorite example is the old Adrian Boult performance of Handel's Messiah. By this, I mean the mono version of the mid-1950s on the "London" label, not Boult's later stereo remake. The performance still has many attractions, not least the soloists--the sparkling soprano and alto Jennifer Vyvyan and Norma Proctor, the clearly enunciating bass Owen Brannagan, and especially the beautifully voiced tenor George Maran, who didn't think that Verdi composed "Comfort Ye, My People," and didn't bleat his way through "Every Valley Shall be Exalted" as though he'd come in from an Olympic tryout.

By today's standard, Boult is a bit slow-going, but he used a harpsichord and the chorus and orchestra were great. Yet what I especially remembered were the silky-smooth strings, the transparent clarity of sound, and, yes, the harpsichord.

So I found a LP set on eBay in great shape and played it. I wasn't crushed. The performance was all I remembered and maybe even more. But the sound now seemed flat, dull, and opaque--in short, dated, if not hopelessly so, pretty dated nonetheless. And it really was pretty hard to hear the harpsichord.

What I learned, I think, is that our memories play tricks on us. We can value the old LPs for all they taught us and the wonderful music they brought us. And in their day, they really did sound fabulous. But let's not kid ourselves. Digital recordings are simply better--clearer, cleaner, and brighter, with less distortion and far greater dynamic range.

Sep. 08 2010 09:26 PM
Rosanne from NYC

Thank you very much, Lily from CT-- I looked at the Archiv Music Website and see that they offer two reissues of the Serkin piano version on CD. One of them is made from a Japanese RCA LP so its notes are in Japanese only.

Sep. 06 2010 08:48 PM
Dixon Carter from Upper Manhattan

To Jan from USR :

It's wrong to think records donated to libraries are invariably destroyed.What the library does with donations, more often than not, is not to hold onto them but sell them at monthly sales, the proceeds of which go to the library (not a bad idea in itself!) In this way the items come into the hands of the musically curious as well as the devoted collector : many of these curious parties take as good care of the records they obtain on the cheap, as do collectors with fortunes to spend on private collections.

I just think it's healthy, with regard to music, to let it grow and expand, not to hoard it.

Dixon Carter

Sep. 05 2010 06:09 AM
Jeffrey Gross from Brooklyn

I've gone back and forth on the question of the "vinyl sound." Bottom line, is it just a nostalgia-based fetish? Having several hundred each of LPs and CDs (and decent playback equipment for both), I've come to the conclusion that there is something that makes the LP more satisfying. And I *think* that's my ears and not my emotions speaking. What convinced me was, paradoxically, burning LPs onto CDs to play in the car. Some quality of "warmth" and presence is preserved. And in that regard, I recommend that anyone who wants to keep their LPs yet benefit from the portability of digital music buy an Ion turntable and transfer their beloved vinyl to CD, flash drive, or iPod. Which, of course, also preserves them.

Sep. 04 2010 12:13 AM
Michael Meltzer

Mr. O'Keeffe:
I recently did a sheet music appraisal of a large chamber music collection donated to the College of Staten Island of CUNY, perhaps they are interested in recordings as well.
You might call Prof. David Keberle at their Dept. of Performing & Creative Arts at 718-982-2523, or Fax 718-982-2537.

Sep. 03 2010 08:48 PM
Jan from USR

IMHO I think the best thing you can do with a collection containing some of the classical gems that have been mentioned in other comments (RCAs, Deccas and Living Presence LPs) that have been well taken care of is sell/give to a serious audiophile with the right equipment. Donating to a library etc will destroy these. They will be mishandled, scratched and otherwise damaged and they will be lost forever. They don't make this stuff anymore. These LPs are really special and need to be preserved. Until it is generally recognized how great some of these records are and the proper techniques for preservation and play is followed by an institution dedicated to their preservation, these collections are best left in the hands of those that know how to take care of them and can ensure that they are conserved and passed on to posterity.

Sep. 03 2010 05:28 PM
Marge from NJ

Love my albums, although I have no classical music there (only CDs). Enjoy listening to a wide range of music. Have a good turntable, which has stopped working. Need to find out where I can get it repaired. I don't know what I would do without music, can you imagine?

Sep. 03 2010 05:03 PM

@ Walter from Parsippany,N.J.
Here is my e-mail lets talk.
Imran11419@yahoo.com

Sep. 03 2010 02:57 PM
Imran Kissoon from Fort Worth Texas

I'm a music student studying voice, and it was about 3 years ago that I listened to my first LP Album. I had picked one up only because I liked the album art on the front cover. Then I listened to it at my parents house and was so impressed with the sound quality. I have started collecting them for my own listening pleasure. The booklets inside are also so very insightful. People don't sing like that any more, or play like that any more. What happened ? So if any of you are selling your collection, or feeling generous, send me an E-mail. :)

Sep. 03 2010 02:37 PM
Terrence O'Keeffe from Pearl River, New York

I still play a lot of music on my turnable, a nice mid-80s B&O unit with the typical Scandanavian design stylishness. After my tuner-receiver went kaput I bought a small pre-amp device from Radio Shack and tied it into my Bose CD player. The sound is fine, but I miss the ability to play with the frequency-range settings.

Along with this I have a very large collection of classical music on vinyl records, going back to the 1960s. There are plenty of high-end lables (e.g., DG and its Archiv line, Angel, Decca, Phillips, RCA, L'oiseau Lyre, Mercury Living Presence LPs -- great sound there, and one of my favorite recordings, Paul Paray conducting Symphonie Fantastique -- and many so-called budget labes (Nonesuch, Treasury, Westminster, Everest, and Suprafon -- Czech -- and Hungaraton, among others.) The collection has about 2,500 records, most of them in good shape, and I'm thinking about deaccessioning most of them in the next couple of years. Indexing will take a while. It's a very balanced collection, from early baroque through mid- to late-20th century music, with lots of boxed sets (or, as they called them "integral collections") of complete symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas, etc. There is a bit of a bulge for the period of ca, 1770-1820, with a lot of Haydn (and his brother), Mozart, Beethoven, and their many contemporaries who are sometimes called the "little masters" of the classical era (e.g., the Bendas, Danzi, Krommer,
Kozeluch, Dussek, Dittersdorf, the Mannheim composers and many others). Opera, except for Haydn's and Mozart's, is under-represented, though the old Callas Carmen and Cherubini's Medea are in there (and a couple by Paisiello and Cimarosa).

For the boxed sets some of the notes are great, especially for the Antal Dorati recordings of Haydn's symphonies, with notes by H.C. Robbins-Landon, the notes that come with the Mozart symphony collection conducted by Christopher Hogwood, and the booklets with the von Karajan Beethoven sets. There are also a lot of oddball items in the collection (Haydn's baryton trios, glass harmonica music, Moog synthesizer efforts) and a great deal of music for both solo and concerted harpsichord. And probably more Rameau than most people have heard (including harpsichord, string trio, and string sextett versions of six "descriptive suites" that are wonderful).
And a lot of Boccherini, too.

I bought my first recordings around 1963 and my last in the late 1980s, when the Musical Heritage Society was dumping its vinyl inventory, so there's a big range of well-known and not so well-known performers in the collection, including some on remastered monophonic LPs that have eminent perfomers from the pre-stereophonic era.

If anyone has any idea about music schools/programs in the NYC metropolitan area who might be interested in this collection, I would welcome suggesgtions. Their only obligation would be to lug them out of my house.

Sep. 03 2010 12:49 PM
Dixon Carter from Upper Manhattan

To Walter from New Jersey : I've discarded many lp's over the years. When unable to sell them, I've donated them to the library. That way they not only won't go ignored, but will perhaps come into the hands of some (preferably young) person not wealthy enough to purchase them from a collector, and a new music-lover will be born.

Sep. 03 2010 12:18 PM
Jan from USR

I might be interested in the collection. I'd like to go through it. I live in Bergen County so I'm not too far away. BTW you need a really good turntable, cartridge and arm to really appreciate what is contained in those grooves. The best LPs are the RCA shaded dogs, white dogs especially with Lewis Layton as the recording engineer. Then there are also the Decca Blue Backs and the Mercury Living Presence LPS

Sep. 03 2010 11:20 AM
Brian Fallon from East Meadow, NY

Phonograph recordings are to CDs what tube amplifiers are to solid state amps. If you compare the electronic specs, digital beats analog in terms of true sound reproduction, i.e., frequency response, dynamic range, etc., but there is a non-quantifiable warmth and smoothness to the sound that some people prefer.

Sep. 03 2010 11:17 AM
Michael from Syracuse

Walter: is your collection indexed? That would be the first step. If it is not indexed you should compile one. Sounds like a daunting task, surely, but if you were to index, say, 25 albums a day you will be done in a few weeks. In the end some of the people who follow this blog can tell you in a right away if you have something special in that collection (I am not an expert). Record the title, artist(s), record label, date of recording. Perhaps some of you experts can chime in to help?

Sep. 02 2010 09:31 PM
Walter from Parsippany,N.J.

I have about 400 classical records some have never been played ,most played only once or twice. I also have about 75 opera ablums which have never been played. I say this because I am 82 years old and when I pass away these will just be placed in a corner and fade away. I would like to sell them now and give some of the money as a donation toWQXR radio station. Any thoughts on this matter.

Sep. 02 2010 09:58 AM
Lily from CT

@Rosanne from NYC - I'm an acquisitions librarian and I believe I've found the Serkin CD you were asking about. It's available from Archiv Music. Here's the link: http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=185310

Sep. 02 2010 08:43 AM

I do not see anyone here pitching for ANY digital file format, not even a wave file or some Apple file.

I have nothing but .mp3's, ranging from 128k to 320k.

Some of you are missing a bet. Not the listening room people, but, the rest.

Sep. 02 2010 06:18 AM
Elliott Kaback

The range of responses from diehard vinyl nuts to digital techies is amusing, but unenightening. The fact is, many people are predisposed to one medium or the other before they even put the stylus on(or hit the CD remote.) I have several thousand CDs AND LPs, and many sound good, some sound exceptional, and the rest are passable-mediocre. All recording systems have limitations, as their histories illustrate. Some of my LPs from the earliest stereo era sound terrific, while many from the seventies are poorly pressed and atrociously mastered. Without question, SONY's CD reissues from the 90s are more natural sounding than the harsh ugly vinyl originals.
And, as someone who wrote reviews from the earliest days of CD, I can attest that many of them bore little resemblance to real music. Yet, today, thanks to noise-shaping technology and more sophisticated recording techniques, most CDs are very listenable. So, the moral is: don't be arbitrary, and just enjoy the best quality regardless of the medium.

Sep. 01 2010 03:59 PM
Michael from Syracuse

I agree with Mr. Christiano. In my former life as a radio broadcaster before everything went to tape, then CD, then digital files that sometimes skip the 'hard-copy' media phase completely, I recall there was noticeable degradation from play after play, and it happened quickly. We had to replace popular 45 RPM records frequently. And then there was degradation from running the station signal through processors to boost the overall 'sound.' Good old days best forgot.
My advice is to convert those LPs that you cherish not already available from music sellers in digital format to high-end digital files, being sure to capture each track as a distinct file. Lots easier jogging in Central Park strapped to an iPod than strapped to a turntable. And no skip!

Sep. 01 2010 12:34 PM
Joe Pearce from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Hi, Midge,

LPs are making a minor comeback, minor because the few that are issued cost a great deal more than their CD equivalents.
But many of us still cherish the warmer sound of the LP; some CD reproductions still remind me of hearing music filtered through crushed ice. Furthermore, however, there are many out there who still listen to 78s(!), especially of the operatic variety. There is a club in New York that was founded in 1956 and still meets monthly (except in August). This is the Vocal Record Collectors Society, a group devoted to the vocal art of all the great singers past and present, but mostly past (the present ones can fend well for themselves). In addition to those eleven programs, members receive, as part of their dues, an annual CD made up of vocal recordings by great singers which have not, to the best of our knowledge, been reissued on either LP or CD up to this time. Your old buddy George Jellinek was a founding member of our group, and gave many programs for us over the years; he even had a few of us, myself included, on his Vocal Scene program several times in order to publicize our efforts. Indeed, out next CD issue (2010, probably issued in December or in early 2011) will be dedicated to his memory. If you'd like to know more about this group, we're on the Net (go in under V.R.C.S. or Vocal Record Collectors Society) or write to me at 116 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222. And for those who may be afraid that we go too far back in our devotion to the vocal arts, it might be mentioned that our next program, on September 10, will be devoted to Jussi Bjoerling (who recorded into a horn as a child and made a number of stereo recordings before his premature passing) and a special multiple-CD restoration of some two decades of his superb radio broadcasts. (Oh yes, getting back to the LP business that brought forth this e-mail, the VRCS starts every meeting out with a short auction of historically interesting vocal LPs!!!)

Sep. 01 2010 12:33 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

Speaking strictly from a technological standpoint, LPs should be neatly stored....and forgotten. They rely on mechanical reproduction of sound and therefore have a limited bandwidth. CDs use a higher bandwidth "carrier", i.e. light, so they can more faithfully reproduce sound at the higher frequencies.

Tape is ok but still suffers form mechanical wear and tear.

Nostalgia may keep us tied to our discs, but a more faithful reproduction of the music we love should drive us to the highest quality sound we can find.

Sep. 01 2010 08:39 AM
Deb from New Jersey

Dear Midge,
Thanks for being such a wonderful host on WQXR. Your comments regarding vinyl records really hit a chord with me. My father was a bit of an audio phile, so I grew up listening to everything from comedy records to classical, and everything in between. Those records have endured to this day. Even though the technology may have improved and become more portable, I still like the records best. You can drop the needle anywhere you want, or listen to a particular section over and over again with ease. Many times you are able to hear things in the background that are edited out on the newer cd recordings. Now what to do about all the reel to reel recordings sitting on the shelf?

Aug. 31 2010 11:09 PM
Rosanne from NYC

Yes, I'm still hanging on to my beloved LPs, cassette tapes, too. I have fond memories of a Sam Goody salesman who advised me decades ago to buy a piano transcription of Beethoven's violin concerto recorded on LP by Peter Serkin. I doubt that it has been repackaged as a CD, but if anyone knows differently, please speak to the issue. What I don't miss about LPs, though, when playing CDs, are flaws in the vinyl that sent my tone arm skidding, dust cling, and the weight/bulk of opera sets.

Aug. 31 2010 11:01 PM
Lee Lieberman from Fort Lee, NJ

Hi Midge,
Glad you asked. I am one of the HiFi Junkies from the 60s. I listen to WQXR all day even though I have over 4000 CDs and 300 Records. I think the records sound better than the CDs on my old Linn turntable, when they are in good condition--I've been careful. I agree with other positive comments about the notes and information with the records are generally superior to the CDs. Example is Christoff's recording of Musorgsky's Songs, the records have all the words (in four) languages and history and other info about each of them.

Aug. 31 2010 08:49 PM
Marilyn Rey from Cambria Heights, NY

Midge:
May I suggest another source for black vinyl--an estate sale. I was able to get an unopened "Zaub" with Roberta Peters and Fischer-Diskau that way. Black vinyl also had great liner notes and very nice booklets if it was a boxed set. Libretti were readable without a magnifying glass. A fault with black vinyl was that every once in a while, you came home with a record that had a tiny little mountain somewhere on it that would make the needle jump which ruined the performance and would probably ruin the needle if you tried it again. I once bought, I think, an Angel recording of Paganini vn con 2 & 4 that had that problem. I told my friends that I was going to bring it back to the store. One friend asked if it was an album. I said that it was a single record. He said that they are so cheap thhat it was not worth the bother. I felt like saying that it was an Angel-$5.95-a dollar more that an equivalent RCA or Columbia record, but I didn't want to appear stingy. I never took it back and, at the time, did not have the money to buy a duplicate. Looking back, I think he must have thought that I meant a 45rpm pop song that cost around 79 cents, not a 33 1/3rpm 12 inch record with a whole violin concerto on each side. To me, an album was and is a set of two or more disks. Yes, I liked black vinyl, too, but CDs are so convenient!

Aug. 31 2010 07:54 PM
Adam C from Brooklyn

I can come out and admit that I much prefer records to cds or mp3s for no rational reason whatsoever. To me, they are just cooler, regardless of sound quality or convenience.
Also, they are cheap used, and, yes, there are a vast number of recordings which have not yet been transferred to digital media.
I might add that scrounging for classical records at thrift stores etc is still fun and fruitful, long after the thrift stores have been picked clean of all other genres by the dj/vinyl fetishist crowd.
Within the last week alone I picked up a couple of unopened 70s Deutsche Grammophon LPs as well as a rare Conlon Nancarrow LP, among others, at secondhand stores for peanuts.

Aug. 31 2010 06:05 PM

John had a "record shop" owner on Soundcheck a while ago.

He said that what people bought depended on other life conditions. Well off enough for a "listening room"? He sells them LP's, and there are plenty available. NYC apartment and not a lot of space? CD's, he sells plenty. Highly mobile? They buy .mp3's, he sells them, the quality at 320k is just fine.

Aug. 31 2010 03:56 PM
Tom from Jackson Heights, NY

Perhaps, a CD sounds like the master tape. But that is cold and clinical. That is why we pay engineers and producers to mix the master, to achieve achieve pleasant sounds. Music has a warmth and charm that the CD just doesn't do justice. I've got several issues on both vinyl and CD. Sometimes I play them back to back. While the CD's are direct and clean the vinyl's draw you in and just make for more enjoyable listening.

Aug. 31 2010 03:26 PM
Dr. Wallace Sife from Brooklyn, NY

Hi Midge,

Yes, there is a wonderful world of LP recordings out there! And even if the sound quality is not as perfect as CDs some LPs are priceless. In addition to about 300 CDs I still keep and occasionally listen to a few hundred LP recordings that are unmatched, anywhere else. A lot of great music is lost to technical purists and snobs, eh?

Aug. 31 2010 03:23 PM
Jonathan Bates from NYC

You have discovered an old truth forgotten only by those who do not understand that just because it's "new" doesn't mean it's progress. CD's are a great step backwards, as is everything that is reduced to a string of numbers, as CD's are.
That LP sounded especially good when you were upstairs, and the sound had travelled, mixed, and mellowed, and hence was better, sort of like casseroles that are eaten on the days after being cooked, rather than fresh out of the oven.
Digital is to analogue as cloning is to making a baby. Next discovery: tube amplifiers are better than transistor amps.

Aug. 31 2010 03:23 PM
J. Patrick Francois from Yorktown, NY

The very first classical record I bought was a recording by Jascha Heifetz. It was a 12" shellac recording which eventually wore out. Next came the 45 rpm 7" disk, the 10" vinyl, and then the 12" disks, which remained a staple for many years (and I have many of them to prove it!) and then the 4 and 8 track tapes. The best? The LP, until the CD. Gone was hiss, warble pop and wobble. In was constant pitch, dynamic range, and lasting clarity. (I did miss the video tape as an audio source; it never caught on.) The "warm" LP sound? It's in the ear of the beholder. I know that when I put my stereo to a room-filling volume, close my eyes, have a good CD in the slot I can have a baton in my hand just like Lennie or Kurt or......{still hoping for improved signal...we have to use our steroe on mono to listen at all.}

Aug. 31 2010 03:19 PM
Carol Seischab

Oh my goodness, how can one part with such treasures as those black discs from the past. My collection varies from The Fifth Dimension, Bob Denver, The Kingston Trio, The Mike Curb Congregation, Bob & Ray Present Mary Backstayge Noble Wife, South Pacific (with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza) to Jackie Gleason's orchestra and Percy Faith to recordings of Bach and Beethoven just to name a few. My favorite Bach recording was produced in the former German Democratic Republic featuring the Thomanerchor Leipzig. On that particular album is Gott ist mein Koenig BWV71, something I have yet to hear played anywhere over the airwaves. Now all I have to do is find a turntable.

Aug. 31 2010 03:17 PM
marilyn froelich

I agree with you about lps but I also use aconverter to make cds for my car and boat.I am along time fan of wqxr. keep up the good work. M Froelich from Freehold , NJ.

Aug. 31 2010 03:08 PM
Alan Polinsky from jBrooklyn

A turntable, with very few exceptions, produces sound inferior to a compact disc. The top recording engineers of the most prized RCA performances have said that compact discs are much closer to the original master tapes. With that out of the way, I can say that I regularly listen to records (not vinyl). I have performances that have never been repackaged on compact discs. Though I am a computer programmer by trade, I find that records are much easier to understand than are compact discs. I'll find a way to keep all my record palyers working one way or another. When a compact disc player fails, it is generally thrown out.

Aug. 31 2010 03:08 PM

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