May 24, 2016
With Pro-Ject, Audio-Technica and VNYL‘s new wireless and integrated streaming turntables alarming analogue purists left right and centre, we set our committed audiophile Paul Rigby the challenge of seeing something more than red in the bluetooth.
Words: Paul Rigby
Back when I was a lad, if you wanted to hear music, you either turned on the radio, put on a record or listened to my dad pretending he was Frank Sinatra (most of you will have been spared the latter).
As for records, the turntables that they sat upon were fairly simple mechanical affairs. There was the on/off, volume and speed switches and the moveable arms and that was about it (with one or two fiddly exceptions from design to design). Life was simple then. Carefree, even.
Now? Every time I open a box that contains a turntable for an impending review, I have to prod it all over to see ‘what else’ it does. Turntable manufacturers have turned them into activity toys of the sort a young father might see in the Early Learning Centre. Playing records isn’t good enough, so it seems. Now, you can attach it directly to speakers (not such a big change, I’ll admit: witness ye olde Dansette), you can plug in your headphones directly into the turntable and you can even connect it to a wireless system. It’s this last option that seems to have caused ripples of disgruntlement amongst the analogue cognoscenti.
I suppose it’s the contrast. The sheer incompatibility of it. There’s even a sense of “How dare you!” about the entire idea.
After all, a turntable is analogue while wireless gizmos and streaming doodads… aren’t! For some vinyl fans, even the sheer suggestion makes them nervous, itchy, a bit icky…
I must admit that I like my analogue kit to be analogue and my digital to be digital and ‘never the twain’, if you see what I mean. That said, that irritating side of my personality, that side that likes to see things from all angles (dammit) can see a use for this repellent encroachment.
Imagine if you have the Motorhead song, ‘Ace of Spades’, on vinyl, a particular rhythmic ditty with a fine sense of energetic joie de vivre to boot. Not on MP3 or DSD, just vinyl. OK, your turntable is in your bedroom. You are outside in the garden, a million miles away (or as good as). How do you hear this metal rendition, short of melting the ears of the neighbours or encouraging a visit from the law? If you could link your deck to a Sonos system, say, and have Lemmy gently tootling on about ‘Read ’em and weep, the dead man’s hand again’, at you while your trim your roses, then everyone is happy, no?
You could go further than that, hooking up your turntable to a wireless system can also mean that, with enough speakers to hand from a Sonos or compatible wireless system (there’s plenty of them out there), you could create a low cost multi-room audio system. Hence, with a single turntable, you could have the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby crooning at you in the living room, the kitchen and even the toilet. Whistle while you work? Indeed.
The USB socket in the back, that symbol of digital drudgery and the socket that allows the wireless connection in the first place, is also very useful if you want to ‘rip’ your vinyl to a digital file to transfer to your smartphone or digital music player. Maybe you don’t have a CD player in your car, maybe you don’t have a duplicate digital copy of that vinyl album in the first place. Actually, when you come to think about it, ‘ripping’ the vinyl into a digital file actually saves you money. You don’t have to have a CD version or an inferior iTunes version: you could rip it from vinyl to a higher quality lossless WAV or FLAC. So, in a strange way, you are protecting the very core of your analogue collection by keeping the paid-for digital copies down to a bare minimum.
Hence, for some people, wireless technologies are useful and, dare I say it, practical. Although I’m darned glad that this technology ever appeared when I was a nipper. The thought of a wireless Dad spouting that He Did It His Way appearing at full volume in every room of the house is one envelope that I think should never be pushed.