Everything for Electronics
Nuts & Volts Magazine (May 2016)

Vinyl Flashback

By Bryan Bergeron    View In Digital Edition  

One of my first jobs in electronics was working in the back room of a RadioShack, repairing whatever customers dropped off — everything from portable transistor radios and car eight-track players, to audio amps and turntables. I especially liked working on turntables — simply slip on a new belt, clean the needle, adjust the speed, and fill in a repair tag. At most, it was a ten minute operation.

Turntables and vinyl records have largely disappeared in the mass market, having first been replaced by CDs and then MP3 files and players. Today, however, there’s a resurgence of vintage vinyl, turntables, and old-school tube amps.

I think I’ve licked the tube amp challenge. As mentioned in a previous editorial, I opted to overhaul a vintage tube amp: a Macintosh 240 dating back to the ‘60s. A new set of tubes, a dozen capacitors, and a few carbon composition resistors, and the amp is as good as new. Although the specifications are lackluster at best, the sound is perfect for vinyl.

My turntable project presented more of a challenge — mainly because I forgot about all of the peripherals and tools required for basic operation. Operationally, there’s an issue of static electricity on vinyl records and associated dust buildup. This calls for at least $50 of record cleaning fluid, brushes, and related supplies.

Then, there’s the issue of mechanical isolation. Despite special shock absorbing feet and foam padding, my turntable skipped whenever anyone walked near it. I relearned that hardwood floors with a bit of spring are horrible for turntables. I tried all sorts of mechanical isolation products, from spike feet to viscoelastic discs between the player and tabletop. Nothing worked. I finally solved the mechanical problem by mounting the turntable on a wall.

Another challenge was selecting an appropriate preamp. I found a nice tube preamp with great specifications, but only a few gain settings, set via jumper. Because my turntable uses a “hot” pickup, I have to use my amp volume control to vary output power. Next time around, I’m shopping for a preamp with volume control.

Lastly, my task of building a library of vinyl discs resulted in two approaches. If you have the money for new LPs, Amazon.com has quite a few vinyl offerings. If nothing else, it’s worth checking out the availability of albums on Amazon before you search elsewhere. My go-to “elsewhere” site is DisCogs.com — sort of an eBay for music lovers. I’ve been able to find near mint vinyl LPs for about $6 each, including shipping.

One of the benefits of vinyl records — also long forgotten on my part — is that the lyrics are printed on either the jacket or record sleeve. Plus, there’s the artwork on the record jacket. Contemporary MP3 files with a 16x16 bit icon just can’t compete with traditional vinyl record packing.

If you’ve made the move to vinyl, I’d like to hear about it — especially why you made the move.  NV