Monday, January 4, 2010

Turn the tables

Found this interesting, it's a big world that we live in....

Anand Sankar / New Delhi January 02, 2010

Tired of fiddling around with your iPod? Anand Sankar says it’s time to go retro with a good-old phonograph.

The music at the rather run-down shop no. 256 in Delhi’s historical Meena Bazar is being piped through a state-of-art amplifier. It is a rich sound, punctuated by a series of random “clicks and pops”, with none of the synthetic flatness you get with a CD or MP3 player. For it’s not a CD or MP3 player that’s playing the music, but an old-fashioned gramophone, hooked to the amp.

But if you want to recreate the sound at home, you will need to do a bit of legwork. The effort is worth the bother, as good old vinyl (as the records were called because that's what they were made of), outdoes digital music any day.

Records and players went out of mass production and vogue by the 1990s, so all you get today are discarded heirlooms at auction houses or cheaper replicas of classic machines. The former are far more than devices to playback sound. They were design masterpieces, whose prices can go into lakhs. Often finished in precious stones or ivory, some even used the winding mechanism of the gramophone to activate dancing figures. Prized by collectors, audiophiles, however, have little use for them.

Gramophone replicas, on the other hand, are a thriving industry, with prices starting from as low as Rs 1,500 and going up to Rs 10,000 if you want detailing on the wooden box or horn.

The shops making these are easy to come by — the internet will throw up a host of them in Chandni Chowk and Meena Bazaar (Delhi), Colaba (Mumbai), Free School Street (Kolkata) where you can buy both records and players — but do research the technology a bit before you venture out.

Basically phonographs are of two types — electronic and mechanical. The most popular of the latter variety is the “gramophone”. There is a huge market for gramophone replicas, since they make great drawing-room accessories with their picturesque trumpet-like cones.

The drawbacks — you have to manually wind the machine every time, the sound is good enough only for a medium-sized room (a maximum of five decibels) and if not made well, can break down easily.

As for the electronic record players, there are a number of makes by manufacturers like Phillips, Sony, Akai, Bush, and Sansui. The electronic players too use two technologies — belt drive and direct drive.

A belt drive has a small, cheap motor which turns the disc using a belt. The direct drive too uses a motor to turn the disc; in addition it has sophisticated electronics to control the speed of the motor, so the direct drive gramophone can control pitch very accurately.

Phillips, which has a wide range of sizes and colours, some with built-in speakers, was the most popular brand in record players. And you can get a refurbished Phillips machines between Rs 2,000 and 3,000.

Other popular brands such as Akai, Bush and Sansui are a little more expensive, costing up to Rs 5,000. While most Phillips systems used the belt drive, these other manufacturers offered a mix of belt and direct drives.

Look out also for large players such as the Hitachi HT-50S, which give you greater options to fiddle with the sound output. They also cost a bit more — about Rs 6,000. If you’re willing to pay even more (Rs 15,000 or so), you could get yourself a system with a built-in amplifier and radio. Avoid them, however, if you want to hook up the player to your existing audio system.

One record player to keep an eye out for is the Mister Disc. Made by Audio Technica, a Japanese company which specialises in audio equipment, it is a tiny gadget that is one of the few battery-powered portable record players around — definitely high on the cool factor.

Audio Technica is also one of the very few companies that continue to make record players. The company has two models in the market — one with a belt drive and the other with a direct drive, priced at Rs 15,000 and Rs 35,000, respectively. The good thing about Audio Technica players is that they have USB connectivity, which means you can also digitise your vinyl — along with all those comforting “clicks and pops”.

However, if you want to buy a replica, it’s best to use your judgement to determine their condition, and always ask for a trial. The shopowner will do the output wiring to suit your audio system, and tie up with him for after-sales service, as you will also have to depend on him for spares such as needles or new motors.


No comments: