David Millar is re-connecting with his hi-fi essence.
ABOUT CHRISTMAS LAST year I was doing some cleaning and pulled out from the bookcase a few of my old albums from their resting place. “Hello old friends”, I whispered. And then I spent a wonderful half an hour looking at the large glossy sleeves, reading the lyrics, and smiling a lot.
It was that simple pleasure of something a CD simply couldn’t offer. I had a few years ago sold my turntable and also said adieu to a few hundred albums to the team at Real Groovy. I had moved on. You know how it is.
A few days later I was listening to radio station The Sound, and they ran an ad for AV World in Dominion Road and its sale. ‘Hmm, that sounds like a bit of me’, I said.
Some swift and elegant negotiations with my wife meant I had a tick of approval (must have been the Christmas sherry). But I should explain why I wanted to return to vinyl. After all, I had a great CD collection with jewel cases spilling out from every bookcase and drawer. The thing is, I never seemed to have anything suitable to listen to, but it wasn’t that I didn’t have the right music. It was because I wanted to hear music with the kind of scale and detail I would experience it in a live setting, and over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that only vinyl can give me that particular sonic thrill. It better reflects the human condition, it shows the imperfections, but also the beauty. It’s just better.
Back to the turntable hunt. My requirements were that it had to have hi-fi street cred, be simple to set-up, and represent excellent value. Complicated set-up of overly fussy arms was something I wanted to avoid. I wanted the minimum of set up dramas as friends who had owned very elaborate turntable get- ups needed to become like engineers, and have the fingers of pianists.
My hope was finding an excellent sounding deck on a great deal. Trade Me has had a lot to do with the shrinking of specialist retailers, and made us become obsessed as consumers with a deal. But I hate to think about how many items I’ve purchased that way only to find they don’t really fit the bill.
The Linn Sondek LP12 on Trade Me was very tempting, if a bit pricey, but I decided to purchase from a retailer instead, knowing that something of significant value would be more wisely hunted down from an outfit that provided a consumer guarantee.
There’s a bewildering array of turntables available locally, however. Eventually, I narrowed it down to two options:
They had a good selection of the highly rated Pro-Ject range. The Debut Carbon turntable in black was very smart, with a carbon fiber tone arm, Ortofon OM10 cartridge belt drive and dust cover. This looked like good value at $699.
Option 2: AV World, Dominion Road
AV World stocks Rega, Marantz and Dual. I popped in and the team ran through the various turntable options. The Rega RP 1 looked like a good option with choice of dark grey, light grey or white finishes. At $750, it was more than my budget, but being in the sale I decided on the Rega. No, I didn’t listen to the gear, therefore breaking the first rule of buying any equipment. But I felt confident with the recommendation. Chris and the team were very helpful and a pleasure to deal with.
So my question to Chris was: “This might sound daft, but is it plug-and-play? “Almost”, he replied. “All you need to do is pop the belt on the pulleys, slide on the counter weight and remove the cartridge stylus’s protective clip. Pop on the platter and mat and all set.”
Now, still with the old memories of setting up arms and suchlike, I was cautious. Back at home, I removed the items from their boxes, and proceeded to follow exactly what Chris and the handbook suggested. All I had read suggested the Rega designed the RP 1 for exactly people like me. How clever! Instructions were clear and all fitted well.
Okay, so now comes the moment we’ve been waiting for. But what to listen to? Steve Winwood, Arc Of Diver. Perfect to start. Uh-oh, wrong speed, let’s try again. Wonderful, what a beautifully crafted album. The sound was rich and sweet, with lots of ‘I’ve never heard that before!’ moments. The sound had more headroom than an Alfa Spider. And not to put too fine a point on it, the album and the sound was a revelation.
My ears were now tingling with joy. So we have the turntable and the first steps to audio fulfillment. Where to from here? DAVID MILLAR