Imagine the excitement. First turntable purchase in over twenty years.
Frown at the brain-bending decision: what to get?
Stagger under the swirling weight of unanswerable questions. What will suit the rest of the system best? How does a Hi-Fi shop audition translate to a suburban lounge-room?
Quiver at the realisation this is the biggest purchase—after home and car—you’ve ever made.
Reflect on the provenance of the funds; a lump of inheritance quarantined after the passing of the patriarch a dozen or more year earlier, sitting quietly in an interest bearing account this past decade, supplemented by occasional small injections.
Puzzle at the problem of comparing your two short-listed turntables—Linn Sondek and Rega Planar—in two retailers ten miles apart across congested Melbourne.
Sigh with relief when you discover a reputable Hi-Fi dealer who sells both and is willing to set up a compare and contrast demo.
Prevaricate intensely about what albums to select for auditioning these two Formula One record spinners.
Perspire quietly as you strain to hear differences between the Majik LP12 and the RP10.
Sweat profusely as you realise the differences are slight but noticeable, yet neither better nor worse; more minute variations in colour and texture and space.
Savour the rich dialects of the english-speaking world as you learn from the helpful Scots salesman a new verb perfectly describing the process of oscillating between two options: to swither.
Swither agonisingly through a couple more test tracks until you realise both these units are utterly marvellous and either will provide many years of listening pleasure. So just take a bloody deep breath and decide.
Ten minutes and a phone call later
There are no Rega Planar RP10 turntables in the entire country.
Two hours later
Ms Connection thought it hilarious my new toy had to be specially ordered from the very county in the UK where she lived her entire life until transported to the colonies two decades ago. She cheerily offered to collect one from the factory in Essex; just to be helpful, you understand. I laughed a hollow laugh and distracted myself by pondering which record should have the honour of the inaugural spin.
Three weeks later
After crossing hemispheres and oceans in a big brown box emblazoned with a Union Jack, the RP10 arrived, no doubt relieved to be escaping the plebiscite insanity. Fitted with an Ortofon Black cartridge* by Darren, the same helpful Scot, it was collected from Carlton Audio Visual on a Saturday afternoon and gingerly transported the much shorter distance across north-eastern Melbourne to a new home at Vinyl Connection headquarters.
The bits were unpacked and carefully assembled. Soon I was holding the last piece—the weighty platter, white vitrified ceramic allegedly tougher than tempered steel—which was deemed by Ms Connection to be the prettiest pizza stone she’d ever seen. I assured her with another hollow laugh that an extra-large white truffle pizza garnished liberally with saffron shredded by Indian princesses and served with a 1964 Penfolds Grange would be a bargain compared to this particular oven tray.
A day or two later
‘It’s odd,’ I confided to Ms Connection, ‘But I’m slightly nervous about using the new turntable.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ she replied supportively, ‘I’m terrified being in the same room as it.’
‘Anyway, I haven’t decided what to christen it with, something old or something new.’
‘Or something borrowed, something blue. Is it bigamy if your partner is intimate with a posh turntable? Just asking.’
I laughed a hollow laugh and popped a breath mint into my mouth.
The next day
The old-new-borrowed-blue thing got me thinking. Not about intimate relations with a piece of hi-fi kit, but about albums that might be both familiar yet new. What came to mind was a new double LP I’d bought a few weeks ago but not yet spun** which seemed to fit both categories.
In 2001 Yes mounted a short tour with the European Festival Orchestra. It’s the sort of thing some bands see as a kind of maturational rite of passage. Indeed, Yes were repeat offenders, having played and recorded with the London Philharmonic in 1993. I have an abiding suspicion of such projects and thus roundly ignored this millennial indulgence… until stumbling upon it in the mark-down section of a large retailer some two or three years ago. Two-DVD set, great song-list, right price: sold.
Surprisingly, Yes: Symphonic Live is excellent. The band are in fine form—particularly Jon Anderson—and the orchestral arrangements are tight and tasteful. So when I happened across the 2LP vinyl release of concert highlights, I was tempted#.
Symphonic Live would be a perfect first spin: a band I’ve loved forever playing familiar music draped in borrowed orchestral raiment in a novel setting, the entirely blue Amsterdam Concertgebouw. That last bit is made up; I just hoped not to feel blue by the end of the inaugural spin.
With massive relief I can report that both turntable and album passed the test.
The RP10 is superb; musical, accurate, beautifully defined and able to track the dynamic changes of this complex music with understated panache. There is an openness and warmth that I enjoy these days in my hi-fi: Alan White’s drums crisp without brittleness, the liquid lightning of Steve Howe’s guitar lines articulate and bright, agility in conveying Chris Squire’s supple bass-lines, and faithful translation of the human voice, Anderson soaring wonderfully above band and orchestra. Keyboard stand-in Tom Brislin subs brilliantly, by the way. As for the orchestra, their fills were subtle and deep, often providing enriching contrast to the rock band out front.
Opening the concert with the side-long ‘Close to the edge’ was ambitious, but after a slightly distracted start (not nerves, surely?), this Yes cornerstone really picked up energy and power. Odd seeing someone not Rick Wakeman playing the organ solo on an electronic keyboard, but that’s life in a forty-year-old band folks. The LP highlights popular Yes hits, which is a tad disappointing for Relayer-addicts (‘Gates of delirium’ is really exciting on the DVD) but would satisfy more casual fans. The orchestra lifts some of the old material refreshingly; ‘And you and I’ made my heart swell and ‘Long distance runaround’ provoked a smile of delight. Even the newer songs are OK.
As the applause at the end of ‘Roundabout’ faded, I joined the celebration and spontaneously emitted a sound of appreciation and gratitude that could well be described as a right royal chortle. Not a hollow laugh to be heard.
* Funds did not stretch to the recommended moving coil cartridge and anyway, the VC amplifier has only MM capacity.
** Such is the backlog of acquisitions, an obscene number of records sit quietly in the ‘unplayed’ section for long periods, awaiting their moment on the platter.
# Which is VC code for ‘bought it’. Where music is concerned, resisting temptation is an unknown concept.
## Especially on a new turntable. [That’s the gloating bit.]
Footnote for Yes trainspotters
The Symphonic Live DVD (2 discs, 194 minutes including ‘bonus’ documentary) was released in 2001. A double CD set arrived in 2009, containing the entirety of the music on two 75 minute discs. Music on Vinyl released the double album a further six years later in 2015. The latter has about half the concert. This is disappointing, but the full monty would have been a 4LP monster. Get the DVD if you love Yes; it really is a very good performance and the sound quality is outstanding##.