One of my earliest memories from my childhood is of sitting beside my family’s turntable, listening to the wondrous sounds that emerged from it as someone put on a record for me. Even in those days, the turntable we had – a HMV Calypso which looked like a small travelling case when shut – was rather dated and hardly hi-fi.

HMV Calypso turntable

The Calypso was an idler-drive mono turntable (not that I knew that then), hooked up to some sort of home-made amplifier rigged by a family friend and feeding a single full-range speaker that was sometimes put inside a wooden box, and sometimes affixed to the mouth of a ‘matka’ or earthenware pot, which my uncle claimed produced a nice, rich bass.

I don’t remember whether the matka really did anything for the sound of that primitive system.

But I do remember that my mother and I spent many happy afternoons during my winter breaks from school, playing our favourite records on the Calypso. We had eclectic tastes, and so it was Engelbert Humperdinck followed by the Beatles or Elvis Presley or those LPs with what would today be best described as “elevator music” or the latest hits from Bollywood movies.

Fast forward to my college days, and tapes were in. This was before India’s economic liberalisation and none of the international music majors released their catalogues in the country. Thanks to friends and pirates, I soon built up a collection of hundreds of tapes using the cash I earned from part-time jobs.

My friends and I often swapped tapes or made copies of albums we liked. Soon we were branching out, our musical tastes expanding to include blues and jazz. Those were the days when a listening session lasting several hours would encompass albums by Dire Straits, Cream, The Robert Cray Band and Wayne Shorter.

A matka similar to the one my uncle claimed made a great natural speaker

The larger and eclectic your collection of tapes, the more “cool” and “hip” you became among your group of friends. As the market opened up in the 1980s and CDs came in, we began collecting our favourite music on those little shiny plastic discs that they said would always sound perfect and last forever.

LPs fell by the wayside as we turned up our noses at the humble turntable. It was the digital age and we all wanted our 1s and 0s. Over the years, I kept trying to strike a balance between my limited resources and the best music system I could put together.

I progressed from my first CD player – a truly horrible BPL-Sanyo with loud, tinny sound – to a Philips multi-disc changer (which I still have packed away somewhere) to  finally settling on the humble Playstation 1 (hey, if experts like the ones at 6moons.com think it’s as good as a $6,000 CD player, who am I to argue).

All the while, I kept reading about the resurgence of vinyl, and how musicians like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Metallica kept espousing vinyl. My reaction usually was: Yeah right, like who wants the pops and crackles, and the bother of changing belts and styluses and getting amplifiers with a phono stage?

Things changed when I began pottering around with audio-video gear and fixing things by myself, and came across a turntable in pretty good condition at a flea market. Paid the shop-owner Rs 900 (about $10) and brought the turntable home. Little bit of googling and I learnt how to adjust the weight on the tone-arm and set the stylus.

The turntable worked just fine and I dropped a Mario Lanza LP I’d bought the flea market on the platter, only to be greeted with a lot of pops and crackles. Next up was a Tony Bennett’s “Just One Of Those Things” LP, which was in very good condition and features tracks built around the singer and a bunch of top-notch drummers like Art Blakey and Chico Hamilton.

Tony Bennett's "Just One Of Those Things" LP

A few bars into the track “Let’s Begin” and boy, I knew I had never heard drums sound so good on any CD.

A few nights ago, I played an original pressing of Yes’ “Fragile” LP and the remastered CD of the same album for some friends, and they all agreed that the vinyl sounded better and richer despite the pops and crackles.

Thanks to the flea market, my record collection is already growing and I know where I’m headed next – a better turntable. Maybe I’ll get lucky one of these days and lay my hands on a Garrard or a Thorens somewhere!

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