Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Old Music Equipment / I Am Not a Hipster

The subjects of this post and posts to come may give rise to such suspicions, but I assure you, I am not tailoring my interests to avoid or identify with any group.  I guess I'm just a scavenger of sorts who also likes to preserve historical artifacts.

So, recently, my summer shenanigans included receiving a turntable and stereo receiver from a close friend whose relatives were moving out.  Both are from the early '80s.  Reportedly, they were going to throw those away along with their record collection so my friend thought I'd get a kick out of these.  After playing some of my own records, I saw that everything worked perfectly except for the needle which was way worn down.  Having almost no knowledge about maintaining such equipment before that night, I did some research to find out the proper way to balance the arm, how to set tracking force, anti-skate, etc. and then bought an Ortofon Omega cartridge.  Based on several reviews, this was a low priced, good quality entry level cartridge and it seems they were correct.  The vinyl sounded amazing to my ears after I got the new cartridge hooked up.  Besides enjoying the lovely music, I'm currently making digital recordings of them to send back to my friend and his relatives.

Why am I such a magnet for old things anyway? To be honest, I don't know.  I don't get old things just for the sake of having old things.  The history behind old objects is undoubtedly interesting but most of the time, this was either all I had or just what was given to me at the time.  I guess it works out because it just seems like everything that appeals to me happens to be old - old cars, trucks, bikes, you name it - which is both good and bad.  Some downsides are that they may not be completely functional when found and that they tend to be bulkier and heavier than their modern counterparts.   I don't mind that, though. Old stuff is good because some of it can be found for cheap and can usually be rebuilt should something go wrong because I don't do digital stuff.  Also, I'm sure I'm doing the environment a small favor by not letting dangerous plastic electronics join the landfill and then calling for the production of a new device.

My usage of old music equipment started in the summer of 2008.  It is hard to believe now but up until then, I wasn't into music.  I started taking piano lessons at age 5 and my parents essentially raised me on classical music which I respected but did not fully enjoy.  In the summer of '08, I started listening to one of the Detroit hit music stations, 95.5 FM.  They played mostly rap and I found out I loved it.  My tastes have of course broadened since then.  Anyway, I found an old boom box in the basement that my parents got shortly after arriving in the U.S. from Taiwan in 1985.

Since I like to look for information about the things I receive, I found that this is a Panasonic RX-FT550.  Not the legendary RX-7700 "ghetto blaster" that I so wanted, but I still loved it.  Even with the bass turned up which is what most young teens seem to prefer, the sound quality was pretty well-balanced.  It had two woofers and two tweeters, two tape decks, a handy graphic equalizer, and an RCA line-in plug that would prove useful when I started burning CDs. I'd blast this thing (but not too loud since I wanted it to last) every day after school before the parents came home.  I haven't used it regularly since maybe 10th grade in 2010 (being born in 1995 has its perks) because of a bad connection in one of the speakers.  Yes, soldering is easy, but our soldering iron is ancient and cheap and does not get hot enough.  Some day, though...

I got smart and started recording songs on tape either through the radio station or by playing them on Youtube.  This way, I could have my favorite songs on demand on the boombox and in the car.  This didn't last long, though. I prepared to record 6 tapes, only ever recording three and probably listening to them a total of less than ten times.  I soon got a Walkman CD player and started burning CDs - making a total of 24 over the span of 3 years.  In my first two years of high school, I'd be in the halls toting the CD player, Sony V-150 headphones, and one of those car sun visor CD storage things sandwiched in my books.  I remember #9 was used so much and was brought to so many places that holes were worn into the silver surface.  Now that I have an ipod, I don't plan to go back to tapes for music and the CDs are only used in my mom's minivan or places where CD is the best option.  

In the winter of 2008, before the CD-burning started, I found these two in the basement.  The red Sampo Mini-slim 80, the Asian equivalent to the Sharp QT-225 (haha, cutie, I see what they did there), was something my mom got in high school 30 years earlier.  It's my favorite one.  The tape motor was loud and didn't turn and so I disconnected it a couple years ago and put in a cassette-3.5mm adapter so I could play my ipod on it.  I even filed a groove in the tape door to let the cable come out even though the door was already crooked.  I ended up bringing it to college, too.  The black Sony CFS-B11 was brand new in the box from 1996.  I keep that one in the basement for when I work on projects.  It sounds pretty good with a integral dual cone speakers and the buttons and dials operate so smoothly it's as if they were submerged in 10W-30. 

Also sitting dormant in the basement before my unearthing was a Casiotone CT-607 keyboard from the '80s that my mom's family lovingly maintained during its many years of use.  It has very few features and is just as heavy as a modern, feature-laden keyboard, but why replace it if it works so flawlessly, right? I also brought this to college and ended up teaching myself how to do blues improv in the key of F in one night in preparation for a talent show/audition. Pictured above in my college dorm, it's hooked up to my Sony V6 headphones - only 1.5 years old but they just recently ended production after 30 years.  They were the industry standard for durability, comfort, and sound reproduction of studio headphones in the $100 range.  The stylophone, also pictured above, was actually bought new for only $25 early this year.  A hall mate mentioned it and having never heard of such a thing, I Googled it and immediately wanted one.  This thing is fun.  It's essentially a pocket-sized synthesizer if you have huge pockets.  They've been in production for almost 50 years.  

As I said before, old things are nice because they're rebuildable and often make fun projects for those who like to work with their hands.  This Panasonic RQ-L11 tape player/recorder belonged to my grandmother and she was about to throw it out but I saved it when I was over at her place last summer.  The microphone must have been jammed with mold from Taiwan humidity or whatever, but it didn't record so I parted out an old, broken digital camera and soldered in the microphone.   The only reason I use it is to record architecture reviews and critiques since my phone can't record more than 9 minutes at a time while tape can record 45 on both sides.  Again, not trying to be "unique" or "retro" or anything.  

Lastly, my latest acquirement as mentioned at the top of this post, an Onkyo CP-1027F fully automatic turntable with a JVC R-S77 receiver.  I haven't been able to find reviews on the turntable but it seems to be very reliable and sounds great.  I had to make a tonearm clamp out of wood because the thin plastic original snapped.  I read that the JVC is a real powerhouse of a receiver with some of the best sound reproduction you can get.  The right side cuts out sometimes but I'm not sure why ... re-connecting the turntable usually fixes the problem for some time.  I'll thoroughly clean all of the terminals soon.  Besides through the computer, vinyl has got to be my favorite way of enjoying music.  I'm not saying this because I think the oldness of records is cool (although the history is interesting), but it's the specific experience that I enjoy and it just so happens that this technology was popular during a certain time in the past.  It's different than cassettes or CDs which I don't too much for because I can physically see the music in the grooves of the record and the care I must take in keeping this music playable makes me treasure it more.