Before the pandemic began, I had one record. It sat atop my red Ikea bookshelf, collecting dust. The Great Ray Charles. I picked it up at an event I attended a little more than a year ago, in the Before Times. I figured I’d find a way to play it at some point. But then, in mid-August, a turntable arrived at my doorstep.

My colleague and WIRED audio nerd extraordinaire, Parker Hall, recoiling after hearing I use a pair of decade-old, $30 computer speakers for my TV’s audio output, loaned me a pair of Klipsch speakers and a Fluance turntable. And just like that, four months later, my once pathetic record collection has swiftly grown to 16 pieces.

I don’t think I can forget the day I finally peeled the shrink-wrap from the Ray Charles album, choking from the mist of dust that sloughed off it. I had just finished setting up the Fluance RT80, which, by the way, was very easy. That surprised me. I always had this idea that turntables had a complicated and involved setup process, but I had it up and running in 10 minutes.

Most turntables come with a stylus (aka the needle) pre-installed. Also, you don’t need special stereo hardware to play records anymore. Just about any set of speakers will do.

Photograph: FluanceĀ 

Inspired by the ease of it all, and with a manual by my side, I put the record on the spindle. I pushed the cue lever down. I moved the stylus to the edge of the vinyl, and I flipped the knob to 33.3 rotations per minute. The record began to spin. The minute a barrage of hurried piano keys began barreling out of the speakers, I turned to my partner and said, “It’s like magic.”

I Remember Touch

I’m no stranger to physical media. I had a Sony Walkman when I was a kid. Up until 2015, I drove my mum’s squeaky 2004 Toyota Sienna equipped with a stereo that didn’t have Bluetooth or an aux input. I just relied on the music I burned onto seven or so CDs to get me through my commutes to and from work. (It was that or WNYC, depending on the mood.)

Since then, I haven’t touched music in a similar fashion. My fingers have gotten used to tapping my phone’s screen to cycle through my digital library on a streaming service, but holding a record has brought back a sense of connectedness I haven’t felt in years.

I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of hunting for some of my favorite albums in a vinyl format, actually paying attention to album names, song titles, and artists again. It’s a stark difference from my digital music listening experience of late, where I’ve found myself picking a random playlist and streaming an endless river of tunes as I work from home. That’s a rather lazy way of listening, but it’s a quick and easy way to drown out ambient sounds and help my mind focus when I need to write.

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