Tech: Spinning for the record

New Straits Times , 2010/07/11

Lim with his collections of turntables and vinyl records

While audiophiles get their hands on the latest digital music gadgets, one man still finds pleasure in listening to the sweet sound of a vinyl record spinning on a turntable, writes IZWAN ISMAIL

MICHAEL Lim lifted the tonearm of his vintage Thorens model TD135 turntable. He carefully placed the needle on the spinning 12-inch vinyl album.

And the golden voice of the late Jim Reeves filled the room, crooning He'll Have To Go.The retired mechanical engineer was momentarily in a world of his own, as he went on a sentimental journey back in time.
One could see the satisfaction on his face when the song's finished.
" Nothing can beat the turntable when it comes to producing sweet sounds. Simple devices they are, yet there's something about them that keeps you wanting to play on and on, " he adds.
Growing up in the golden era of turntables and vinyl records, Lim’s love for this music player started with the family gramophone.“In the 60s, having those spinning record players was a big thing. That’s the only way people could enjoy their songs from their favourite artistes,” he says.

“Listening to vinyls is like listening to a live performance. The sound produced by the turntables is warmer and brighter. It’s like sitting at the front table in a nightclub and listening to the singer on stage. That’s the kind of crystal clear sound you will get from spinning a turntable.”

The next factor that makes turntables special goes beyond the music it produces.
“When you use the turntable and vinyl, you’ll be very much involved in the whole process. You replace the record, clean it, brush it and, after you hear it for 20 minutes, you do it all over again. It’s like a ritual exercise, which is very therapeutic,” says Lim.
Today, Lim owns 50 turntables from the 1950s to more current models. He spent more than RM100,000 on these vintage music machines. To pair up with the players, he has more than 700 vinyl records.

Death and resurrection
According to Lim, the 60s were indeed the glory days of the turntables. But in the 70s and 80s, when cassettes and CDs became popular, turntables almost completely vanished from the market as people no longer appreciated them.
“Even my wife gave my first turntable away,” recalls Lim.
Now, after almost 30 years, turntables are making a comeback, says Lim.
His love affair for these vintage machines was rekindled. More so, it opened up an opportunity for him.
“All these happened about 10 years ago. I was nearly 50 and was thinking what I should do when I retire,” he says.
So he visited the flea market in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, and Sungei Road in Singapore and bought some old turntables.
“I took the players home and played my old albums from the 60s to 70s. From then on, I started to explore this vintage music players. I studied them, opened up all the compartments and became more fascinated,” he adds.
Lim quit his job and worked as a turntable specialist at an audio video house, Asia Sound, in Amcorp Mall.
Today, the mall has become the place for turntable enthusiasts to share their hobbies and sell or exchange vinyls and turntables.

“There are those who want to get to know the products better, and this is where I come in, to share my knowledge.”

The new look
Modern turntables are slim, attractive and more colourful.

“Makers like Rega, Thoren and Denon are coming up with modern turntables in attractive design and colours to attract the young generation,” says Lim.

To cater to the tech-savvy iPod and MP3 generation, makers like Denon have also come up with fully automatic turntable equipped with an internal MP3 encoder, along with a front panel USB port. These players can convert analogue records into modern MP3 digital audio tracks and stores them onto a USB memory stick.

“There is an increasing demand for songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s from the younger generation and the older ones who want the convenience of listening from their digital media players,” says Lim.

But for him, vinyl records are best played in their original format as all the music frequencies can be reproduced through the turntable in analogue format.

“Once you converted it to digital, the sound is already compromised and it’s no longer original,” he adds.

One can get modern turntables like the Rega P1 for as low as RM900. There are also better models like the Rega P3 and Thorens.

“When these turntables are paired with modern amplifiers and speakers, the sound produced is simply exceptional,” he says.

Promising future
The demand for vinyl records has seen a 60 to 70 per cent increase over the past few years.

In line with this trend, the recording industry is moving towards producing more vinyl records. Lim says newly pressed vinyl records are also available in the market, and some recording companies have also been producing albums in vinyls.

Despite the presence of those New Age turntables, Lim still has a soft spot for the vintage breed.
“Some of the best turntables were made in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and even today they are still very much sought after by enthusiasts worldwide. It could well be the nostalgic elements they are attached with. That is priceless,” he concludes.

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